Don’t worry if things go wrong. Failing is fab.
What were the key lessons from the International Fundraising Congress this year? Imogen Ward, Director of Marketing & Communications at Merlin, shares her thoughts, including why we need to fail at least three times a year.
We, the more ‘seasoned’ fundraisers, approach the International Funding Congress in The Netherlands with mixed emotions. It is of course a brilliant professional development tool and consistently provides some of the best global insight out there.
Sessions tend to be pitched at more senior levels, and speakers are often the best in the world. This is perhaps the most important bit for all of us working at the coalface. The Congress is really enjoyable and is engineered to remind us, often in the most beautiful way, why we decided to join this funny business in the first place and why we should stay.
But, it’s nearly a week out of the office! You can feel that you need to hop in and out of sessions to take calls and deal with stuff back at the ranch. Oh, and Wifi is generally crap so it really does have to be phone calls not tap, tap, tapping. And, as someone who works for an emergency organisation (in my case Merlin) you always think ‘what would I do if an earthquake/volcano/hurricane hits?’
There is also a little bit of feeling you are in an open prison. Yes, you can escape, but by day two you feel so institutionalised you are pretty scared to make the leap until those little shuttle buses arrive on Friday to whisk you back to Schiphol.
So dear reader, I did approach my fourth visit with a little bit of trepidation. So what did I learn this time around, and how did a 2012 global congress compare with our very own national convention? I am sure you can’t wait to hear my thoughts…so here we go.
1. Philanthropy fans. I was delighted to be invited to the Resource Alliance’s Forum on the World of Philanthropy, which fell a day and half before the Congress started (so people I was actually there for FIVE days). This is a great initiative and one that Resource Alliance should build on. Getting access to global donors and speaking openly with these guys is such a brilliant idea but one that we as a sector have often failed to do properly. I think this could be the start of something very special.
2. Our friends corporate. With that in mind, the Congress itself was very focused on learning from the corporate world and how we can adapt this. Sometimes we can become quite entrenched in our charity world and looking outside to the commercial sector really can benefit us. Obviously it’s rare our budgets match theirs, but the learning is there – ripe for the picking. So, IFC, more on what we can learn from ‘the others’ would be great!
3. Austerity, austerity all is austerity. Well, actually it wasn’t really. There were some exceptional case studies from our friends on mainland Europe – notably with Spain and Italy on all things mobile (of course.) Oh, and policy geeks I learnt a fair bit about telecoms regulation that made me realise that we in the UK really do have it pretty good. In fact, I would say there was a spirit of optimism – okay maybe not ‘gung ho we can raise zillions,’ but there was a sense of purpose to a lot sessions and dare I say…confidence.
4. Thanking lucky stars. Did you know that the US government is seriously looking at removing tax breaks for donors? Seriously? While the word on the street from our cousins is that this is unlikely, the fact that the unthinkable is becoming thinkable and in open discussion is frankly alarming.
5. Winston Churchill is a dude. His famous quote “sometimes it is not enough to do your best. Sometimes you must do what’s required” came up several times both at Plenary and in session. I think it’s one that works for our time. It linked a lot into this general approach across all of the Congress that we have to fail. In fact the ever articulate Alan Clayton (more below) demanded that we fail ‘at least’ three times a year. At a time when our bosses and our boards may be calling for caution, maybe calling for endless testing, tortuous business models and a tiptoe approach to growth this was really refreshing. We have to fail to grow, to thrive and to dream. It’s as simple as that.
6. Alan Clayton makes people cry. No he doesn’t bully you! He moves you. If you’ve seen him at National Convention, you’ll know just how good he is. But, really this time around he was brilliant, and echoed a lot of what the awesome Dan Palotta rallied us all with in 2012. Never apologise for being a fundraiser, but do explain and explain again and again. “People need to give,” said our Al. “People complain about fundraising because they do not like saying no. It’s our job for them to say no and feel bad about it, because then they will eventually say yes.”
7. Best of British. And finally? Well that our own dear, dear Chair of the Institute should always win the prize for best costume on gala night. HANDS DOWN!
Recently voted as the 11th most influential person is fundraising, Imogen has been the Director of Marketing and Communications at Merlin, since 2003. Since joining, Merlin's turnover has increased from £8 million to over £60 million with voluntary income increasing by 760%. She is now leading a programme of further growth in all areas of funding and brand awareness. More about Imogen.