The Greatest Fundraising Idea Ever

One of the challenges of working in fundraising is how to deal with the many, many people who approach you trying to sell you fundraising ideas. In the vast majority of cases these are pretty terrible. Or when not terrible just not at all new. But you can’t just ignore these approaches because every so often there’s a really good idea which could make a real difference to your programme.

I can think of a couple of times in my career when I was able to spot something that turned into a game changer for my charity. Being able to get into face to face fundraising early for instance. And a couple of times when I didn’t but really wished I had.

But usually, when someone approaches you with great excitement about some great idea that you really can’t ignore, this is just going to waste your most precious resource, your time. So how do you separate out the time wasting rubbish from the occasional nuggets of fundraising gold?

I’ve no foolproof solution to this problem, but here are some ways to identify the ideas you really don’t want to use up your energy on.

The person is obviously a nutter. The ideas you get written in a letter on green ink can safely be discarded. Or that mention aliens. More usually, the person isn’t obviously struggling with mental health issues (sorry , just remembered my audience) but they don’t seem to have any clear basis of knowledge for their suggestion. So you get ideas like, “you should get Bill Gates to give you money” which, it’s fair to say, are probably not that useful.

They haven’t done their research on you. Not infallible this one, but it’s not a good sign if they obviously have no idea about you or your charity. If they can’t be bothered to look you up online at the very least it doesn’t bode well for how well thought through their idea is.

It isn’t new. On the subject of research of the lack of it, it is amazing how often you get approached about new fundraising ideas that have been around for ages. If we weren’t already doing it, why would we now?

They want you to sell their stuff for them. Probably the biggest category by number of approaches. We’ll give you £x if you sell our product to your supporters. This is almost always a bad idea. If you can’t sell your own product why do you think I will be able to? And why do you think my supporters will want to buy your product which has no relation with our cause just because we ask them to? Trust me, they won’t.

It’s too good to be true. Sadly I have never come across an idea that promised to raise $1 billion for charity that ever came anywhere near. When new ideas claim to change familiar paradigms it is wise to be sceptical. A good test is looking at forecast response rates for the activity in question (if it’s aimed at consumers). When I see a business case with response rates for email marketing of, say 10% per time, I compare it to average open rates for charity email of only about 20%, so to get that response rate you would need half the people who actually read the message to respond. Not going to happen unless you were giving away free money. And even then, people are pretty sceptical.

As I said, there are exceptions to all of this (except the ideas from mad people) which means that most things you get through are worth at least a cursory glance. But 99% of time, that’s all they should get. And what you should never do is change your approach because of the person suggesting the idea. Because the chair of trustees thinks this is a good idea is absolutely no justification for spending time on something that is going to be a dog.

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