Evolving agency partnerships and meaningful collaboration
Agencies exist to help charity clients succeed in making a difference, with most having a genuine desire to support rather than just provide a paid-for service, says Helen Mackenzie, Chief Executive of telephone fundraising agency Purity Fundraising.
Barnardo’s recent announcement that it is to create a foundation to fund not only its own projects but those of partner charities as well, highlights the shift in the sector towards greater, more meaningful, collaboration. And it’s a change we’re not only seeing amongst charities but in how agencies and charities are working together too.
While the word ‘partnership’ has always been used to describe the working relationship between organisations, there’s now increasingly new strength of meaning behind it. Today, third sector specific agencies are more in tune with their charity clients, with more than ever now focused on altruistic models and co-ops that give back through ethical, high quality service and supportive, positive cultures. There is a distinct shift away from being purely maximum profit-making businesses.
In a large part, this is a result of those difficult post-fundraising crisis years. While 2015 and its subsequent fallout of negative media attention, loss of public confidence, and increased regulations presented many difficult challenges, we’ve unquestionably emerged as a stronger, better sector. In fundraising there’s been a move away from high volume and purely transactional models towards a more holistic approach with a much greater focus on integration and the supporter experience.
Coupled with this, as digital has brought additional channels into the fundraising mix, the complexity of today’s integrated campaigns means charities generally need a raft of specialist skills and resources from their agency partners. In response, agencies are also widening their own service offerings to include other disciplines, while we’re seeing more frequent collaboration to achieve streamlined campaigns and better results.
‘Everyone brings their own expertise to the table’
To provide supporters with this joined up journey, and charities with real value, it requires a different way of working. Rather than a charity appointing one lead agency who then subcontracts to others where necessary to fulfill the brief, as in the past, it’s becoming increasingly common for all agencies involved to work together with the charity as part of a collaborative team, with everyone bringing their own specialist expertise to the table.
For charities, there are obvious benefits to this approach: they get the combined expertise of the collaborating agency partners, campaigns run more smoothly with any issues that arise more easily identified and addressed, and standards tend to be higher. And for smaller charities, it also opens the door to being able to get more complicated campaigns off the ground by gaining expertise they might not otherwise be able to access. Supporters and beneficiaries also benefit from the better service provided, and the increased funds that can result.
It’s good news too for us agencies: widening our horizons by letting us see more sides of a campaign and opening up more opportunities to feed in strategically. And, because everyone is working together, all parties reap the benefits of those human relationships with the trust and easier communication they bring, helping them work to the best of their ability and achieve successful campaigns.
‘Communication and accountability is key’
But for this level of collaboration to work, communication and accountability is key, and all partners – the strategists and creative marketing agencies, the backend CRM, digital technology, data and payments providers, the front-line telephone and face-to-face fundraising agencies, everyone involved – need to be equally respected. When different parties are brought together, comprehensive briefings and training is vital for ensuring that all sides understand the role of each other’s work as part of the whole, and that standards are met and improved. Keeping communications open and honest is also vital. Joint reviews and planning meetings, as well as regular phone conversations also help to ensure that trust is built and fostered, and that should a problem occur at any stage of a campaign, issues can be sorted out quickly.
Whatever our discipline, as agencies we’re here to help our charity clients succeed in making a difference, many of us with a genuine desire to support rather than just provide a paid-for service. We do, of course, need to make financial gains to cover overheads and continue business development, but also to invest in and drive innovation where our charity clients cannot, and importantly to be able to motivate our teams who are fantastic ambassadors for our charity clients.
And while some more traditional commercial business minds will undoubtedly see the whole point of a for-profit agency as just that, purely for making profit, it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s great to see the sector is evolving and that profit is no longer the only emphasis. It’s a partnership model that benefits all sides, from agency to charity, fundraiser, and beneficiaries – and everyone in-between. I lead my agency this way, and it makes me proud to be an agency fundraiser.
Helen Mackenzie is Founder and CEO of Purity Fundraising, a telephone fundraising agency specialising in real conversations for a positive supporter experience.