Mike's musings

Whatever thoughts have been on my mind will probably end up here. Updated weekly, but perhaps more initially as I throw in some older things.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

What can fundraisers learn from the Music Industry? Ask @amandapalmer

I’ve just watched Amanda Palmer's TEDtalk.  It wasn’t what I was expecting.

When my brother was starting out in his first band (maybe around the year 2000) I wondered if there was a different way.  A way of instead of being ‘discovered’, and selling music through a label, a band could give away their music, and be funded / backed by their fans. They could eat for free because their fans would buy them lunch – things like that.  There would always be a fan to buy it.
















After a fair bit of thinking it over, I dismissed it as just another of my weird ideas. No-one could do that.


Turns out they can.


Since this blog is my attempt to write on the subject of fundraising, if you’re a fundraiser, there’s a very important thing to take-away from Amanda’s talk.

1.      The need to ASK people to be involved. – You can’t make people help you, but you can ask them to.

2.      When you connect with people, they want to help you.

3.      Don’t ask, how do we make people pay to help, ask how can we LET people help us.


For some reason, hyperlinks were acting up.  You can find the talk here:   


Now I'm off to look over some more of my weird ideas from back then, just in case!

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Beyond Fundraising?

Another post that has given me pause for thought this month comes from The Agitator, who dares to consider whether fundraising is enough. 

Not the kind of question fundraisers like to ask. 

I dislike considering fundraising to be akin to a begging bowl, but for some outside of the sector that's their perception.  We can try to change their perception or do we need to find an alternative way to engage them?

Non-profits take out loans on capital builds from time to time – I believe it’s not uncommon for Universities.


 Let me ask you.

Is it ok for an institution – whether a university, or a children’s charity, to borrow the cost of building or buying premises it needs?


In which case, what’s the difference between paying back interest of 5% against a loan taken out on property, and paying interest of 5% on a loan taken out to ramp up capacity?  Or a return on an equivalent of a ‘share’.

It makes me wonder - how long will it be before we see some of the biggest / most modern universities in this country or elsewhere floating on stock exchanges?


For your organisation – is there a different way that you could create the change you’re creating?


A few years ago, I attended a seminar when Jon Duschinsky talked about 1001 fontaines.  It works a bit like this.  Instead of providing free drinking water to a village with no suitable water, the aim is to install a system that provides water at a price they can afford to pay.  90% of the proceeds from this go to ensuring the water supply is maintained.  10% goes to a holding company, who use this to install a water system in the next village, and then the next village.  Year one – a hundred new villages.  Year two – FOUR hundred..  Year three - 1600.  A completely different model from fundraising to build a well.  How long would it take to increase fundraising 16 fold?


RSPCA run ‘Home for Life’, where they promise to look after or rehome your pet if you die.  It works by having you include a provision in your will so that your pets are left to the charity, and I assume that if you’re changing or making a will with this in, then you’ll likely include a gift to the charity with it.    I like it – it’s a very ‘soft sell’ towards a legacy gift – which can be very valuable to a charity.

I wonder if they considered offering it as more of an ‘insurance’ package, for a few pounds a month?


What if as part of your life insurance a children’s charity offered grief counselling and mentoring to your children? 

Perhaps shares in your charity, or finding a way for beneficiaries to contribute to the cost of the service seems a step too far for your charity, but I dare you to take 30 minutes this week to wonder ‘what if’, and see what you can come up with.  It may seem entirely impossible, but dare to share it with us anyway – you never know what action it may spark! 

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Top 3 ways to throw away a potential sale at yourweddingexhibition.

Number 3. Criticise your competitors.  Certainly, they may not work in a style like yours (photographer / venue etc), but consider that they may have been the first choice of your visitor, who now wants someone similar, but available on the date.  Even if this isn’t the case, being overly critical simply doesn’t sound good.  Instead, focus on what makes YOU special.


Number 2.  LAUNCH into your sales pitch, packages and pricing with gusto, before I’ve had the chance to see if I like your product or service.  I don’t care what it costs if I don’t know if I like what you’re selling.  Chill out a bit, leave showing me your enthusiasm until you know I’m interested.


And the Number 1, top way to ensure that regardless of how good you think you are (or even might be) is:


Exhibitor: So what do you do?  (barely disguised question to discover how much money I’ve got)

Me:  I’m a fundraiser.

Exhibitor:  And they *PAY* you for that?



I may carry on a civil conversation with you for a short while, but I suspect you may find many people bodyswerving your stand for the rest of the day.


What would be your top tips for exhibitors to make the most of any exhibition?


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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Just how irritating are fundraisers anyway?

Earlier this week, I read Joe Saxton’s blog “Is the fundraising community in denial about donor irritation?” I absolutely agree that Botton Village seem to be getting in right, when so many others aren’t.

 All of us should be asking our donors (and all the people on our databases) what they’d like to hear about, how often, (indeed if they’d like to hear at all) and then we should make sure we do it.


It seems simple!

So why don’t we all do it?


I’d suggest that the main reasons are:

·         a lack of time

·         an inability or a reluctance to invest in stewardship and processes / systems, and

·         frankly, rubbish systems.

None of these are good reasons – they’re poor excuses, but in a lot of cases fundamental change is required - and these are not always things that can be changed by the fundraiser doing the work.

Maybe your director isn’t a fundraiser, maybe their own personal opinion overrules the evidence on what works and doesn’t.  Maybe it’ll be reviewed next year, or the next, or maybe “we know it’s not ideal, but it’s what we have.”

There may be a sense within the organisation that we don’t have time to sort out our stewardship, our clunky database, or remembering that we’re dealing with people, not ‘market segments’?  Yet how much time is wasted chasing new donors, and ‘irritating’ Joe?


We know from Adrian Sargeant that boosting retention can be far more valuable than ‘churn and burn’ fundraising, but it takes bravery for a fundraiser ‘on the ground’ to say ‘No more new asks this month, I’m going to just focus on looking after people who already give’.

It also presumes that you have (or will have) enough donors to sustain the organisation and grow– and what if you just don’t have enough income NOW?

Regardless of how we act, I think another factor is that people simply do need to get slightly thicker skinned at saying no.  Even the nicest call or letter to only find out contact preferences can be considered irritating by the most, let’s say, sensitive of people. (I can’t be alone in experiencing this?)

Joe says he’s been called 30 times about this balloon thing, describing it as ‘bombardment’.  I suspect that either:

1.                 He’s been called by a ‘team’, who haven’t noticed that he’s been called 30 times (back to rubbish systems / processes) and / or

2.                 They know it’s a mobile no, they know Joe’s busy, and they expect he won’t call back, so they just need to try to catch him – and are being persistent (when do persistency and tenacity become bombardment?) -  after all, he gave last time, and hasn’t SAID no….


How hard would it be for Joe (who after all has insight of the sector), to take one call, and say, “hiya thanks, but we’ve decided not to take part this year.”  I’d be very surprised if the calls didn’t stop immediately (perhaps he’d get a call next year)


I’m not sure I agree with “We should aim for the maximum reduction in aggravation for the minimum reduction in income”

Some people are simply aggravated that charities dare to ever ask anyone anything.  Trust me, I’ve met some of these people.  A number of charities simply can’t afford any reduction in income, and I’m not sure ethically, it’s right to accept it.  Ultimately, looking after existing donors better should see an INCREASE in income, but there’s the perception within the sector that this is much riskier than ‘doing the same thing’.  Combined with the reluctance to invest in tools and training for stewardship (for anything in some cases), trying to focus only on existing supporters without being able to do it properly may not create the ‘Sargeant effect’ in income.


Doing the same thing as always is in fact way more risky than regularly trying new things – and I’m looking forward to The Fundraising Detective’s upcoming post around the topic of Fundraisers as Artists, which I think may cover some of this.

Some people will never give (for example on the street) until they’re asked, but other will never give even if they’re asked.  How can we ‘weed out’ (as it were) the latter, without losing the former?

Perhaps if we are expecting people to get better at interacting with charities, to get slightly thicker skinned, and to be able to say no, then we DO need to ‘give’ a little and make it easier for people to opt-out.

Alongside making it easier for people to opt-out, we need to make it more desirable to opt-in!


When it comes to helping people opt-out, Joe’s ideas make sense MoneySavingExpert already offer a sign for doorsteps (helpful also for other cold callers)

There might well be something in the lapel badge (could your charity be the first to produce it?)   More years ago than I care to remember as a street collector shoogling buckets, one tactic was to give EVERYONE we’d asked a sticker, whether they gave or not.  That way, we knew they’d been asked, and either had given or didn’t want to – that meant when one of us saw them later, we could smile, thank them and ask someone else, rather than people who didn’t want to give being asked repeatedly – the fact it reduced ‘irritation’ was secondary to increased income*.

The last one is the one you can start – dare you make 2013 the year you blanket mail everyone asking what they want?  Dare you stop being ‘busy’ and invest the time and money in updating your system so that you actually have the ability to do this?  Because until you can do it, there’s no point in offering it – that’s a guaranteed way to upset more people!!


For a lot of us, being able to do the ‘simple’ things, will take a few complicated steps. 

Which step can you work on today?


*not remotely scientifically tested.


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Wednesday, November 28, 2012


GAH!!!  “Thanks for the follow! Did you know we're also on Facebook? You can 'like' our page at..”  why even send that?.


I recently started following an ‘organisation’. I have my reservations about the organisation.  I think its name reveals the true intent behind it and that the focus is all wrong.  However, the aims are broadly positive.  Which is why I’m not naming it.


And then I get this auto- DM through twitter.

“Thanks for the follow! Did you know we're also on Facebook? You can 'like' our page at..” 


Why bother sending that? Maybe I HAVE ‘liked’ you on facebook, Maybe I don’t use facebook, or Maybe I don’t want you filling my facebook timeline with the things I read on twitter.  They have no idea how I feel about facebook.


But they DO know one thing.  When I’m reading that message, I’m on twitter so ENGAGE WITH ME THERE!

Otherwise they’re saying

a)      We’re ‘doing social media’ by broadcasting the same message on every medium

b)      We don’t really get it

c)       We don’t care what you think, we’re here to tell you what we think you should think.

And frankly, that last one was one of my reservations in the first place.

But it gets me thinking – when I get a new follower, I try to send a personal DM but don’t always have time – and sometimes decide I’m being followed by someone who will change their mind pretty quickly, and I don't bother - and sometimes, I'm clearly being auto-followed by an account I'm going to have no interest in engaging with.


I've never figured out a good startegy though.


So, on the off-chance that my latest twits find a post like this one – what are your thoughts on auto-DMs - and DMs to new followers in general? 

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What's next for Aberdeen?

I expected this blog to be along the lines of “here’s what you could have won”, as councillors decided to place all of our economic eggs in one basket-case of an idea.  I HOPED I’d be writing about a brave decision to abandon a flawed expensive project.


I did not expect the councillors to vote to throw out the expensive City Garden Project aspect of the plan, yet seek to gain TIF funding for other projects.


Arguably, this would have been wisest decision from the start.  The business case made no direct correlation between the CGP and the benefits claimed – the entire case discussed a ‘vibrant cosmopolitan city centre’.


We’re now back to where we should have been 3 years ago.  What’s the best way to invest £92m to improve Aberdeen?  (and if we borrow it, will it give us the right ROI)


As Steve Harris of VisitAberdeen asked me on twitter last week  - If not this what?


I’ve tried to split this into regenerating the city centre, improving the city and fixing the infrastructure.  I’ll start by saying that I can see the appeal of a ‘big ticket’ project.   After all, you get a real sense of what the money has done, even though the effects may be less than wisely investing in a range of projects.  But ‘big tickets projects don’t “just work” – see my earlier post – they need to be alongside wider strategy.


So here are a few ideas.  Some could be done in conjunction with each other, others would use all funding.  Given the strong desire within the business community, including offer made by people such as James Milne of Balmoral, as well as plans and funds earned by the Aberdeen BID, I’m sure that private funding could be added to the mix.


1.     Lower rates on city centre units so that small businesses can move in, reversing the decay.


2.     Buy back empty units from pension funds / absent landlords, so that they can be offered for free or at miniscule rents to local artistmakers / entrepreneurs / retailers / food and drink producers to create a vibrant and unique city centre offering. 


3.     Possibly combine the above with starting a fund to attract ‘creatives’ from around the world to base themselves here for a year.  Think a City-wide, global artists in residence program, like Glenfiddich’s., but on a bigger scale.


4.     Use part of the TIF loan to improve the gardens – consider a design around the Peacock Visual Arts Plan (£15m), consider further improving access with swooping bridge / ramps from Union St.


5.     Use part of the TIF loan to buy back the Sainsbury’s/Co-op eyesore building on Union St next to the Music Hall.  Knock it down, and create a 3000 capacity life music venue of interesting design.  Have it managed by APA, who have the experience in this kind of thing. 


6.     Invest the remainder in expanding the size and accessibility of the city centre, improving connections to the beach – which after all is barely ONE MILE from Union Terrace.


7.     Redevelop ‘Amadeus’ and surrounds at the beach to create a venue for music / performance / art.  


8.     Use the TIF funds to create a ‘city park’ space between the beach and Union street using the derelict and unused ground around Cotton St and Fish St.  This would improve accessibility and connect up two of Aberdeen’s assets.   Millennium Park in Chicago (which FYI came in 2.5x overbudget and 4 years late) was part of a wider strategy to EXPAND the size of the downtown city.  Why do we want to focus all the efforts around a tiny space – expand Aberdeen’s city centre.


9.      Use the funds to convert empty units above Union Street shops to flats for low income families, or for people looking to retrain to enter the energy industry – addressing our drastic skills shortages.


10.   Invest in a renewables energy skills centre in conjunction with the Universities.  As well as educating young people for careers in the industry, there could be a focus on relocating people with experience in other industries to the area (see #9), and reskilling.


If we really want to be bold, here are two rather more daring options. 

11.   Golden Square – install Japanese style” robot-parking” underground parking, and convert the above ground space into a miniature art park with cafe etc. 


12.   Be really DARING, and try something like this to improve travel and infrastructure in the city.  Imagine being the first city in the UK to have this: http://www.psfk.com/2012/06/on-demand-subway.html


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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

10 reasons to finally drop the City Garden Project.

I started this as 5 reasons, however, in the end I’ve limited it to ten reasons, addressing just ten of the flaws with this project.  I’ve made this as succinct as I can in the time I have.

1.       1. Complete lack of correlation between THIS project (CGP) and benefits claimed.  The business case outlines the need for a regenerated City Centre, but at no point is there a direct correlation between the divisive City Garden Project, and the benefits claimed.  It’s clear that investing the £70m earmarked for the CGP in wider ranging improvements throughout the city could equally well be claimed to bring the same – or greater – benefits.  Access to the gardens could be improved, with theatres / exhibition space and an amphitheatre created elsewhere in the city for lower cost – reducing risk and reaping greater rewards.


2.       2. Funding gap.  Even after three years of promotion and lobbying, it is only now, at the last minute, that 7 of the hundreds of claimed supporters have stepped in to pledge to help raise the £15m ‘private funding gap’.  This is not a pledge of meeting it, merely of helping to meet it. Beyond that, there remains a £20m funding gap for the Art Gallery project.  Typically when seeking trust funding, lottery funding and private donations, fund seekers need to identify potential funders to the value of between 3 to 5 times the sum sought.  At this stage, within the business case, only “Creative Scotland /Lottery” have even been identified as potential funders.  The funding available from these sources is way below the amount required, never mind the amount that needs to be identified to provide a reasonable chance of success in securing them. Far from being a way to ensure the development of the Art Gallery, it seems likely this plan will see the Art Gallery redevelopment fall by the wayside.


3.       3. Major regeneration projects don’t ‘just work’.  Even Charles Renfro (of the company that designed the Granite Web says "Everybody thinks that they can put a Bilbao up, y’know, a copy. I don't see how these cities could think that just having an elevated train line makes for a success — the kind of success we've seen with the High Line." 


Recent failures to create this coveted tourist-draw include Oscar Niemeyer’s cultural center in Spain, and Rafael Viñoly’s critically pummeled “Golden Banana” in Colchester


The “Bilbao effect” comes from investing in wide scale improvements.  What those aiming to spend double of Dundee’s V&A investment don’t seem to understand is that Dundee isn’t viewed as ‘culturally vibrant’ because it’s getting the V&A.  It’s getting the V&A because it’s viewed as culturally vibrant, on the back of a decade of grassroots investment.



4.       4. Capital projects tend to go way overbudget.  Chicago’s Millennium Park, (part of a far wider plan to EXPAND the size of the downtown city) was budgeted at $150m, and finally cost over $475m, opening four years later than planned.  Santiago’s City of Culture has already cost FOUR TIMES the estimated cost, and is only half built.  If this goes even 50% overbudget, it becomes unaffordable, leading to city services needing to be cut to pay for it.


5.       5. Displacement.The business case assumes that due to the ‘high quality, culturally dynamic,

cosmopolitan City Centre", businesses will choose to locate in the city, Bridge of Don and Dyce.  The same business case rightfully points out that the buoyant energy industry has seen businesses locate in Westhill, and points out that the Westhill Business Park is scheduled to double in size.  It asks no questions as to why businesses have already shown their preference for Westhill than Dyce.  Cost of rates, cost of rent, infrastructure?  Nor does it express any concern over the fact that both Westhill and Dyce are 7 miles from Union Terrace.   There is mention of ‘displacement’, but this specific and very real risk is completely ignored.


 6.       Small thinking.  Chicago’s Millennium Park was part of a deliberate wider strategy to  EXPAND downtown Chicago, not concentrate it into a small geographical space.  A £92m loan over 25 years could be invested far more widely than in one small space in the city centre.  Aberdeen has a wonderful asset in our golden beach, around ONE MILE from Union Terrace.  The short distance from beach to the city centre is elaborate due to poor infrastructure, transport links, and an unappealing pedestrian journey. 

The TIF loan could be invested partly in rejuvenating the gardens (for which further funding could be sought from businesses, community groups that have already expressed an interest), as well as in improving Union St, and creating an amphitheatre at the beach, with pedestrian route, transportation and a new park area connecting Union St to the beach.  Given the simpler parameters, even the concrete web could find a place between Union St and the beack, for a lower cost than in Union Terrace Gardens.

Focussing on only Union Terrace Gardens is woefully small thinking.  We need to invest over a wider scale.


7.       7. City of culture bid:  Derry’s success in the City of Culture bid seems to have been boosted by capital investment of over £100m before the bid was launched.  Unlike Aberdeen, however, this seems to have been invested in both new and renovation projects.  Over a dozen separate projects.  Far from securing our City of Culture bid, this project is more likely to damage it.  A single project is unlikely to generate grassroots groups excitement.  It creates a far greater risk, should the project (as mentioned) go overbudget or be delayed.  Finally, it’s a highly divisive project, not something we’re ever likely to see the whole city uniting behind.


8.       8. Divisive project:  Just as this project has been pushed on when consultation results didn’t go the way backers hoped, opposition will continue even if this project is taken to the next stage.  It will face opposition at every turn, which will only add to the likelihood of becoming unaffordable through increased cost, or delay. Having a highly divisive project as the main ‘attraction’ to a city will damage the city of culture bid.  Simply the divisive nature of the project should be enough of a risk to vote to cancel it now.


9.       9. Handing over public land to Private ownership:  Nationally, there is a growing movement resisting and campaigning against the ‘privatisation’ of public spaces.  Combined with media backed stories of over-zealous security staff, of people being barred from ‘public’ places by ‘management’, there is a risk that a high profile project such as this could become the poster boy for the movement.  Should this happen, Aberdeen’s reputation will be damaged even further, with the very real risk of ‘renewables’ and socially responsible companies choosing deliberately NOT to locate in the city.


10.   10. Design: Design and aesthetics are rather subjective, however to many, this design  is already dated.  Concrete underpasses and walkways have been tried before and ultimately end up looking tired quickly.  Although the word features in the press releases, the design is certainly not ‘iconic’.  Even those who back the project have confessed that the design is ‘not to everyone’s taste’.  I’d applaud a bold design, if it worked, but this one doesn’t.  Engineers have mentioned that they can’t see how some of it could even be produced.  Considering the loan repayment lasts 25 years, we need something that will last at least that long.


Ten reasons, approaching merely ten of the flaws in this ‘business case’ for this project.

I urge councillors to vote to stop this project before any further time or money is wasted on it, so that we can address the wider issues we need to solve to turn Aberdeen into a City of Culture, and an economic powerhouse for the next fifty years.


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