Time to Sharpen Up Your Proposition

Monday, August 6, 2012 - 12:47

The fundraising proposition transcends medium, culture and class. Sometimes it’s given to you on a plate – other times you’ve got work hard to uncover it, but one thing’s for sure – it’s fundamental to a successful fundraising campaign.
 
The increasing number of fundraising channels becoming available are whetting the appetites of fundraisers all over the world, yet they will yield little if the case for support is weak. And as disposable income comes under pressure and advertising messages increase, it’s simply not enough to say that ‘your donation will make a difference’
 
Lucy Gower, who provides training and consultancy to charities in fundraising innovation and will be speaking at the International Fundraising Congress in October 2012 agrees. “Sometimes we chase the new shiny exciting things and forget the basic principles of good fundraising. As well as looking forward, we need to constantly remind ourselves what fundraising propositions have worked in the past and never forget those lessons, because they are at the core of what good fundraising is all about.
 
“A classic example of a beautifully simple and effective case for support was Help the Aged’s press ad ‘Make a blind man see – £10’ which was created by the legendary fundraiser, Harold Sumption, and ran for many years during the 1990s. Those six words tell you all you need to know.”
 
There are many classic fundraising propositions like this, picking a particular aspect of the charity’s work, while others embrace the whole of an organisation’s work just as succinctly.
 
WaterAid’s proposition which had run unbeaten for many years until recently was ‘Give water. Give life. Give £2 a month.’ Again, an artful distillation of their case for support, made even more relevant to their audience by the insertion of the message into every household’s water bill.
 
Great fundraising propositions can be just round the corner. Sometimes they are handed to a charity on a plate, as in the case of high profile emergency work where the media coverage makes it easy for international or emergency charities to simply say ‘We are here and we need your help’.
 
External influences on your work can be a rich seam to mine for propositions. The RSPCA involved their supporters in fighting for a change in the law that would allow their inspectors to intervene when they saw evidence that might lead to an animal suffering (previously by law they would have to wait until the animal was actually suffering).
 
The law was passed, but it meant an immediate increase in the society’s workload, for its inspectors and animal centres. The RSPCA made a call to animal lovers to ‘Join our biggest animal rescue’ in mail, DRTV and online. The campaign ran for several years and when the economic downturn saw people unable to look after their pets and dumping them outside RSPCA animal centres, this bolstered the case for support. Another proposition was born: ‘Help the credit crunch victims’.
 
So even events which might be seen as detrimental to charitable giving can be used to create compelling propositions. This is where charities have to examine the way they work, the external influences on their services and identify reasons to give, even from the most unpromising situations.
 
Tangible propositions, where the audience is asked to donate to fund a specific item or project are very effective. Whether it’s a sachet of rehydration salts to stop a child dying from diarrhoeal diseases, a square metre of a wildlife reserve or a meal for a person living on the street, donors like to feel that their gift is doing something that they can easily visualise.
 
When Greenpeace commissioned their new Rainbow Warrior vessel a couple of years ago, they used the online arena to demonstrate a compelling proposition. Donors could see the plans of the ship online and choose which parts to pay for, from a bolt, to an anchor, from a soap dish to a piece of her sail or even the whole wheelhouse. This ‘crowdsourcing’ attracted over 100 000 donors, each buying a different part of the vessel.
 
Propositions like this can work in any media – and in different cultures too. In 1997 the Ethiopian branch of a small charity, Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief, was working to replant trees in Ethiopia to counter the damaging effects of deforestation. This was the first time direct mail fundraising had been tried in Ethiopia, but the proposition that a donation would plant a tree brought a fantastic response rate. You can read the fascinating story behind this campaign on the SOFII website. SOFII (a nonprofit resource for charity fundraising) is really useful, giving hundreds of examples of campaigns, along with tips and critiques and should be in every fundraiser’s bookmark list.
 
Great fundraising propositions should always have need at their centre. But this does not necessarily have to be over the top in dramatising the problem. Be informed by the audience you are talking to. The more personal the cause, for example a medical condition, the more positive the proposition should be.
 
Most people might have been touched by cancer, so they know what a terrible thing it is and won’t want to be reminded of this. Cancer Research UK has used variations of their core proposition ‘A gift to CR-UK brings hope to people touched by cancer’ very successfully for many years. The need is expressed as donations to help research find treatments – to bring hope.
 
Relevance to your audience can also be geographical. Many people subscribe to the belief that ‘charity begins at home’ and are more likely to give if they feel that their gift will be used to make a difference in their town or region. For example, the proposition ‘Your gift will provide a meal for a homeless person’ will work much harder if presented to residents of the West Midlands expressed as ‘Your gift will provide a meal for a homeless person in Birmingham’. The more you can tailor your proposition to your audience, the better it will work.
 
- Ruth Ruderham, Head of Fundraising at the newly formed Canal and River Trust who will also be speaking at the 2012 International Fundraising Congress, is currently working on a campaign that is about as local as you can get.
 
“We are starting many small wildlife projects throughout the canal and river network and we wanted to engage with people as they walk through these areas. For example, in an area by the Llangollen Canal, volunteers are creating a community orchard that will benefit local people and wildlife.
 
“So we are displaying signs along the towpath by the canal asking people to donate three pounds by text, which will pay for planting one fruit tree. We’re engaging with the right audience, people who enjoy walking by canals – and in exactly the right place, where the work is being carried out. They can do it right there on the spot.”
 
Charity propositions mostly offer the ‘customer’ a sense of satisfaction in making something good happen, but there are some instances where value can be given to the donor. Membership organisations offer incentives that are attractive to an interested audience, such as free entry to museums, galleries or nature reserves, special events, magazines and other benefits. Propositions are borrowed from the commercial sector, such as ‘3 months free membership when you join by direct debit’ and time specific offers like ‘Free bird feeder if you reply within 14 days’. Although some purists dislike these ‘commercial’ propositions, there is no doubt that they are very effective in increasing membership and engaging more people with the issues that the organisations are involved in.
 
‘Sponsorship’ can be a very successful way to reach more supporters. International development charities such as Plan, World Vision and ActionAid have built large and loyal supporter bases around the proposition of ‘Sponsor a child’. Donors want evidence that their gift is doing good, and are prepared to pay a premium to read that evidence in letters from a child or community that they are sponsoring.
 
The fundraising proposition should be one of the sharpest tools in the fundraiser’s toolbox, but its blade should never be allowed to dull. Look inside your organization to develop new propositions and keep an eye on the external environment too. Examine the propositions you use and ask yourself “Could they do with sharpening up a little?”
 
Learn how to sharpen your fundraising proposition at the 2012 International Fundraising Congress held in the Netherlands on the 16th – 19th October. This event attracts around 1,000 participants from over 60 countries, and is renowned for its outstanding learning and networking opportunities. Here you can attend sessions, workshops and masterclasses on how to get the best out of your fundraising and exchange experiences.  Attending will allow you to spend 4 days with the brightest fundraising minds on the planet and is guaranteed to give you ideas for great fundraising propositions.
 
For more information about the International Fundraising Congress, refer to www.internationalfundraisingcongress.com.
 
For more information about the Resource Alliance, the organisation behind the IFC, refer to www.resource-alliance.org.