What’s the golden thread that unites us?

The 2018 edition of SOFII’s flagship event, I Wish I’d Thought Of That (IWITOT), was a rip-roaring success. Fundraising expert Richard Turner shares his memories of a great afternoon and looks at the ideas that truly inspired him. Which ones will inspire you?

Written by
Richard Turner
February 15, 2018

It’s been four weeks since SOFII hosted the 6th I Wish I'd Thought Of That (IWITOT), with a sold-out audience, and live streamed too (and available to watch again).  

So many great stories packed into a few hours and so many simple, yet powerful, insights. Here is a whirlwind summary, with links if you wish to dig deeper, and what I took away.

It began from the kick-off when John Grain shared the amazing fundraiser by the charity Shine selling virtual balloons — mapping their journey online in a race. I was struck by its simplicity and in particular how it attracts the support of so many small companies (with over 620,000 balloons launched!). What an amazing concept. I think they should franchise it.  

Emily Collins-Ellis then shared the extraordinary partnership between miners and the lesbian and gay community from the 1980s — united in a common cause against persecution. It made me think that you need to ask yourself who believes in what you believe, or is fighting the same enemy, and see what collaboration that could lead to?  

Harry Owens reflected on a memorable fundraiser he took part in by sleeping outside in the bitter cold — just a taste of what it really feels like. It made him think (and that was just one night). Sally Falvey also spoke of an immersive experience Forced to Flee, run by Save the Children, on what it was like to escape conflict. What could you do to give supporters a taste of the issues your cause is seeking to solve?

Leesa Harwood took up an idea from years ago that was way head of its time — putting your boss in prison and getting her, or him, to fundraise her way out. A concept she believes that digital communications could now take to another level by the live buzz you could create from attracting donations to get your boss kept in or released. With the learning banked she even offered to mentor anyone wishing to take that idea forward for her own cause.  

Speaking of live, Mark Astarita OBE shared the Dutch concept of a live radio broadcast from a glass box that is filled with money as the public pay for their favourite requests. Billed as a Serious Request. Genius.

Sarah Wilson championed the fundraising simplicity of Red Nose Day – which is now spreading around the world. From established fundraisers we heard of new movements, Bhavesh Dave, giving us the background and context leading to Veganuary, from the growing movement of veganism.  

Daryl Upsall opened our minds with the beginnings of philanthropy in China and their ‘internet plus’, which takes app integration to a new level. His take out? It’s going to be HUGE. One to watch.

There were examples of clever ways of engaging donors - Carol Akiwumi linking the greatest story ever told from the Bible with stories of refugees. Michael Dent just had to reserve a place at the Crisis Christmas Dinner — he could even book which seat he would pay for a guest to sit at. Two great examples of how to engage people in complex issues in a simple and powerful way.  

Catherine Harris picked Hope and Homes End the Silence campaign, which invited supporters to upload their childhood song. Over 10,000 songs were uploaded to the campaign website. It took years to turn the concept — the silence experienced from children isolated and abandoned in orphanages — into a campaign. She made the point that these ideas take time. What’s the lesson? Be patient, persevere and get to know ‘the why’ of your organisation.  

The boldest story for me was told by Serena Castiglione telling how WarChild took forward a partnership with World of Tanks who approached the charity. Instead of WarChild turning them away they explored how it could work, creating Armistice within the gaming environment — to encourage peaceful gameplay; $130k was raised in eight weeks effectively from a new market. The telling insight from the detail of the story she shared? Having two trustees with a background to fundraising on your board. Check out the make-up of your board.


(Editor's note: you can read all about the 'Armistice' campaign here)

Ashley Rowthorn shared some brain scans and how emotional memories are key to the decisions people make when which cause to leave a legacy to. So how have you provided that lasting memory to supporters?  

Which couldn’t have been better illustrated by Kathryn Holloway who shared her passion and love for the RNLI collection box — a childhood experience of giving that she remembers to this day. Engaging and interactive by releasing the RNLI boat down the slipway ramp from as your coin drops. Bring it back please RNLI!  

Owen Watkins fought back his own emotion recalling the fearless work of the White Helmets in search and rescue for those trapped in rubble and how, by the weight of what they do, their cause is advocated by others, like The Syria Campaign. A point which was re-enforced by Ali Walker Davies sharing how The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) just got down to work by sending lawyers to the airports when Trump set up the travel ban. The result? A total of $24 million was donated in a weekend — six times their annual income — with very little asking, but plenty advocating on their behalf. All this from just getting on and doing by ‘leading the resistance’ and lots of thanking.

And we finished with an extraordinary story by Damian O’Broin on seeking support for abortion rights in Ireland by simply asking, and sharing, with donors why they support the abortion movement. His insight? Donors loved being asked why they give. An appeal filled with donor voices, or in his words ‘passionate pissed-off people’, shows the growing power of community, social proofing and the importance of passion from your donors. So simple.  

It won the vote from all the amazing stories told in just one afternoon. Yet each and every one could have taken that accolade.

(Editor's note: you can read all about the ASN's campaign here)

What struck me was the common golden thread that unites all these: the experience of the donor or supporter. It wasn’t about ROI. It was about connecting and delivering a great experience and then belief that the money will come.  

Whether it’s the buzz of watching your virtual balloon cross the ocean, or hearing your request on the radio, the feeling of being frozen whilst sleeping on the street, buying a place at a Christmas dinner for someone, or experiencing what it’s like to flee from conflict, fighting back against Trump by funding a lawyer, to the simplicity of uploading a childhood song or placing a coin in a RNLI collection box.  

These were stories of how to engage people where they are whether they are playing in a computer game or from relating the Christmas story to the plight of refugees.  

Instead of donors being targets they can become the voice of your cause as shown beautifully by Damian’s closing story. ‘Passionate voices raise more money’ was the point raised by Sally in sharing Force to Flee. And supporters spread your story too as ALCU’s weekend bonanza shows.  

This is how movements like veganism are born and grow and how groups like miners and the gay movement collaborate together. Creating experiences that are memorable. Ones you want to repeat. This is how Red Nose Day or Serious Request in the Netherlands, have become part of the make-up of who we are.

What also struck me is that each of these leading fundraisers personally picked these stories because they were inspired by them and felt they are important to share right now. They understood that the donor experience matters more than ever. And we have so much to draw upon that we do so well as these new ‘exhibits’ to SOFII show.  

Is it the job of the fundraiser to ask for money? That’s just part of it. This packed afternoon of inspiring fundraising stories reminded us it’s the job of the fundraiser to give the donor what they are buying — an emotional experience. One they will talk about and want to come back for.  

And of course, there is all the practical guidance you will now find within each of the Donor Experience Projects  now hosted on SOFII.  

We just need to do more of it: giving a great donor experience that is memorable. Now you’ve really no excuse because the commission projects will give you the guidance you need and at least one of these stories will get you inspired.  

The question for you is which one?

SOFII's 32 lightbulb moments are another great resource for fundraising inspiration. These short, incisive videos get to the core of essential fundraising principles. Click here to discover how you can transform your fundraising.

About the author: Richard Turner

Richard Turner

Richard Turner was chief fundraiser at Solar Aid from 2011 to 2016 and is senior consultant for Alan Clayton Associates. 

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