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15 Aug 16

The Future of Fundraising Podcast: David Burgess

Posted by Rory White

Following the hugely successful Future of Fundraising meetups hosted by Flow Caritas and SolarAid’s Richard Turner, we’ve carried on the momentum of the events by transferring these discussions to a digital format via our brand new Future of Fundraising podcast. Every two weeks we will be hosting a podcast for fundraisers and charity folk to have the same conversations about what the future has in store for the fundraising profession, but in a format that can be shared with a wider audience.

In our very first podcast we talk to David Burgess from Apollo Fundraising about supporter journeys and engaging donors. Check out the podcast and transcript below.

Rory: Welcome to our first podcast. I’m Rory, I’m the director of Flow Caritas, and we decided to put together a series of podcasts dealing with what we feel is a very pertinent issue in the sector, which is ‘what is the future of fundraising?’ I’m very pleased to be able to welcome David Burgess.

David: Hello!

Rory: David is our first guest on this podcast, David, could you just introduce yourself?

David: So I’m David Burgess, I’m the Director of Apollo Fundraising, which is a fundraising consultancy specialising in the arts and culture sector.

Rory: And you’ve recently set the business up, is that right?

David: Yes, it’s our one month birthday today, which is quite exciting. I’m working with some really interesting organisations, a lot of museums at the moment, working with them on building up fundraising income, particularly from individual donors.

Rory: Just to give our listeners an understanding of what you do, what does a typical day in the life of you look like?

David: Well today I’ve been up in Suffolk with the Museum of East Anglian Life, looking at online supporter journeys. Look at who’s using their website, what journies they’re being taken on through the website, the information they’re looking for, and how we can match appropriate fundraising messages to those users. It was based on the reason that the majority of people don’t visit that site to make a donation, they’re going for other reasons. So how can we provide them with interesting content that matches their interests and might lead to them making a donation and supporting the museum?

Rory: And is that an issue or a subject that you’re talking about more and more with your clients?

David: Yes. I mean, particularly in building up individual giving programs in the arts and culture sector. Organisations have gotten very good at applying for trusts and foundations and finding project support. They’re now looking at how they can really build up that revenue funding in a sustainable way, and individual giving for them is the natural place. They generally have large numbers of people engaging with their work who are absolutely passionate about what they do, it’s now moving that into a different type of relationship that goes beyond audience member or visitor. It’s a much more engaged, much stronger relationship that helps build up the sustainability of the organisation.

Rory: So you said you’ve worked in arts for ten years?

David: Yeah, just coming up to ten years. I started in Manchester, I’m a failed musician, I had my music degree there. I worked for Manchester Camerata, delivering education projects that I was fundraising for, and I just fell in love with the fundraising side of it. I really enjoyed trying to match funds to potential projects. I went to the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, working trusts and foundations with a little bit of individual giving, to Glyndebourne, to English Touring Opera, before becoming a consultant eighteen months ago with the Management Centre. I’m still a partner consultant there through Apollo Fundraising.

Rory: You were talking about about this supporter journey piece you were doing today, is that something in your career, I guess it’s something that’s appeared relatively recently?

David: No, at English Touring Opera I was doing a lot to try and build up individual giving for the same reasons that I’ve mentioned; trusts and foundations were fairly stable. They had a network of members, individual supporters across the UK. How can we increase the number of people who are supporters? How can we make sure that our retention of supporters is high? How can we make sure that this really is a two way relationship, that the people who are supporting us enjoy supporting us and will continue to do so? And so that’s largely the workshops and the approach I take in building individual journeys. It’s about trying to find things that match the motivations of the individuals and making that the focus of the relationship.

Rory: Right, so engagement, is that… Is that part of the journey?

David: Yeah, I think it’s understanding why people support an organisation, what it is that motivates them to give, and knowing that that’s different for different people. And trying to make sure that the relationship focuses on that and builds on that shared interest.

Rory: And what do you think the biggest challenge is in fundraising today?

David: Big question. I mean, I think you just have to look at the sector press to see what’s happened in terms of general trust in charities and feeling towards charities. And even if that’s not necessarily amongst the people that are already supporting, it’s not going to be long before that really creeps into their mindsets. I mean, I was back home the other day, I went to visit my gran, and she got something through from a well known animal charity – a charity I know she’s been supporting for ages. It was a newsletter, and when I said ‘do you want this? ‘Oh no, that’s rubbish, throw it away!’ Even though I know she passionately cares about that charity, she’s now starting to see that as being junk and being bombarded.

Rory: Right.

David: So we really do need to try and make sure that people do see it as a relationship, not just one way communication. That it is interesting stuff that they’re receiving, it’s relevant to them, rather than feeling that they’re being sold to or hounded too much.

Rory: Right, and digital plays a big part in this supporter journey?

David: It does in some supporter journeys. Digital technology has made it easier for us to access people, to engage with people, to reach people. But I think we can get caught up on new technology without really thinking about what it can do. The latest Pokemon GO craze is a fantastic example of this. There are some people doing some really interesting things with it. There’s an organisation in Birmingham using it because they’ve seen that there’s a need to bring different communities together, and they’ve seen this app as a way of doing that. You can get people into a place, engaging with people they might not usually talk to. So it can be really good if you know that the people who are using that channel are the people you are trying to reach, to share your message. If the people using that channel aren’t the people you’re targeting, then it’s a waste of investment, I think. If you’re not really sure what that tool or what that channel can be used for, you’re chasing after the next shiny new thing rather than using it in a strategic way.

Rory: So what would be your advice to an organisation that is interested in looking at their supporter journey? What would be their first steps?

David: Understand who it is you’re trying to engage, first and foremost. Who are the people you’re trying to reach? What are the characteristics of that group, and particularly what are their motivations and interests, because that’s the bit you’re trying to focus on; where’s that overlap between what they’re interested in and what they charity’s delivering? And then it’s a case of saying ‘okay, well, how do we develop this into a story that engages those people? How do we get them to see that there’s needs, that need is important to them, and that they have a role to play in solving that need?’ And then show them how they can solve it, what part they can play.

Rory: So it’s the story that you talked about there, the story is a big part of it, is that something that your clients are aware of?

David: I think increasingly so. It’s one of the nice things about working in the arts and culture sector is that you’re working with creative people. The challenge is working out what story it is they want to tell. When it comes to actually expressing that, there are some really interesting approaches people are using, quite innovative approaches. The challenge then is, what need are they addressing? Why should a donor care enough to put their hand in their pocket and donate? There’s still a large assumption that the state funds a lot of the arts and culture activity, and obviously it does, but it’s not by any means one hundred per cent. And also you;re looking at a lot of organisations who are charging ticket entry, so if I’ve paid thirty, forty pounds to go and see something, and then someone asks me for a donation, it’s obviously ‘well, haven’t I already paid for that already, why do you need more money from me?’

Rory: Right.

David: So working out what the need is, both for their work and their support is the hardest thing for the organisations I’m working with.

Rory: So have you got, you don’t have to name any names, but are there any examples of people who are doing it really well?

David: I’m going to try not to be smug and mention any organisations that I’ve worked for! Well, one of the organisations I always mention is SolarAid and Richard.

Rory: Richard Turner, yeah.

David: I remember reading a blog particularly about their online supporter journey and someone really raving about it. And I thought, well let’s have a look and let’s see how good it really is. And it is! It is fantastic the way they get the message across quite clearly and show what it is they’re asking people to do. It’s a very clear proposition delivered in very clear ways, and certainly one of the organisations I tend to use as a good example for fundraising. It tends to be some of the smaller organisations who are really good at this, because they, I think that their size means they can build really nice, really close relationships with individuals. It doesn’t get into that faceless, almost production line approach to communication. The supporters genuinely know who it is in that organisation they have a relationship with. They know each other. We’ve seen some nice examples of just beautiful production pictures and handwritten cards that people get as a result of making a donation, and that’s the kind of thing that engages people and leads to people making further donations in the future.

Rory: Right, so, people, from what I understand, people want to engaged in a different way nowadays than they might have done five years ago?

David: Um, I don’t know about that.

Rory: But all the press last year that talked about bombarding potential donors, was that the problem? That we’ve gone over the top with our fundraising?

David: Yeah, I think it’s the fact that there is an ever-increasing need for financial support as costs increase, and the need for our work as the sector increases. The challenge with that is that I think we’re trying to raise more money but trying to keep the expenditure per donor or per relationship as low as possible. So when you’re trying to bring more money in without investing properly, I think that’s when you start looking at, again, this production line approach. How can we automate this process as much as possible? How can we keep the cost as low as possible? And I think it;s that approach that people start to think ‘actually, this isn’t a genuine relationship, I’m receiving lots of stuff, it almost feels as if things are being done by numbers.’ Because we know that there’s a formula that works, and we focus more on the science side of fundraising and fundraising relationship more than the arty, creative side of relationships.

Rory: Yeah, so what would be your key things for an organisation, a charity or arts organisation, to think of? You mentioned about understanding your audience, what else are kind of the key things?

David: Yeah, I think understanding who they are and what motivates them, also understanding how they make decisions. There’s some really interesting work being done in behavioural economics. The science behind the way people make decisions. And it’s interesting to see where those two sides complement each other and where you do see that difference between what people say they want to do and how they actually act. It’s really acting on what those stories are telling you.

Rory: Really personalising the journey.

David: Yeah.

Rory: Brilliant David, thank you very much for that, really interesting. So in two words it sounds like if you were going to look at supporter journeys as a charity or an arts organisation, it’s really about listening and giving it a proper response.

David: Yep!

Rory: Thank you very much for your time today.

David: Thank you.

It’s clear that these conversations about what the future holds for the charity sector have a tremendous amount of relevance and we don’t want to let anybody’s ideas and opinions fall by the wayside. If you’re interested in getting involved in our Future of Fundraising podcast, please get in touch! There’s no topic too big or small – we want to hear about what you’re passionate about in fundraising!