We need to upskill the sector

Yesterday was the last day of Fundraising Convention and before I delve in to what I learned, I just want to say a big ‘thank you’ and ‘well done’ to everyone involved – from IoF staff to the Convention Board, Chairs, Speakers and all the amazing volunteers!

For me, the recurring theme of the day was the need to upskill – whether that’s personal development or building  and developing your colleagues’ skills.

Digital leadership

My first session of the day was on digital leadership and it was great to see three female speakers: Clare Moriarty,  Permanent Secretary at Defra, Claire Horton, CEO at Battersea and Lara Burns, Chief Digital and Technology Officer at Age UK.

Clare talked about how digital is about people and connections and connecting them to services. She talked about all the digital changes happening at Defra because ‘that’s the world we live in now’ where people expect to be able to renew a licence online.

Claire talked us through how important it is that everyone at Battersea understands the role that digital plays and how technology can improve efficiency, help them reach more people and better serve their beneficiaries.

She shared their virtuous circle of insight, innovation, implementation and impact and talked us through each stage.


The virtuous circle

Insight is about the value of context – both inward and outward. It’s about how you bring people together and how everyone works towards the same goal. Everyone really needs to understand the strategy, challenges and landscape.

To innovate, you need to be an organisational change agent who sees talent in people and pushes them to be brave, agile and adaptive. But innovation mustn’t be for Innovation’s sake. It must have a real purpose.

The implementation stage is about connecting ‘digital natives’ with ‘digital immigrants’ to get buy-in, understanding and trust. And digital must always be linked back to strategy goals.

To create impact, you must be rigorous in what you’re measuring and use that insight to feed that back into your strategy.

Claire then ended with 5 Golden Digital Rules:

  1. Go where your audience is
  2. Invest in digital skills (incl people)
  3. Aim for quality
  4. Plan ahead
  5. Track performance

Last to speak was Lara who talked us through how digital innovation kick-started service delivery and fundraising at Age UK.

At Age UK, digital is not a bolt-on. It’s fundamental to how they are changing service delivery and enabling conversations with older people. Together with CAST, they developed an app called Steps, which helps them create action plans with older people. The success of the app, as a proof of concept, has led to 3 funders now funding digital transformation.

But a step-change in service delivery has not been without its challenges, one of which was the gaps in infrastructure that were exposed.

Step change in service delivery

The Steps story opened up lots of questions, such as how to secure funding for digital innovation at different stages and can we collaborate on funding tech solutions across the sector?

It was a fascinating session.

Click to read my Twitter thread of the session:

How to develop a personal brand

For my second session of the day, I went along to hear Joe Jenkins, Director of Supporter Impact and Income at The Children’s Society and Liz Tait, Director of Fundraising at Battersea, talk about building a personal brand.

Joe started with saying that your personal brand is what people think about you, not what you think about yourself.

Liz shared some top tips:

  • Daily interactions – be kind, it’s a small sector!
  • Spread the kindness
  • Start close to home – what opportunities are there at your own charity?
  • Volunteer – put yourself forward to volunteer for an IoF regional group, for example
  • Talk at events
  • Get writing – start a blog or write for others
  • Embrace networking
  • Recognise others – don’t always speak about yourself. It’s good to publicly recognise the achievements of others
  • Keep learning
  • Seek feedback

Joe then shared some Do’s and Don’ts:


  • Get social, particularly on Twitter and Fundraising Chat
  • Be yourself – whatever the channel
  • Be consistent
  • Be brave
  • Make choices (say yes to lots, but not everything is right & worth your time)
  • Do fewer things better
  • Plan ahead
  • Value & recognise personal brand & then prioritise it
  • Be brilliant (at your day job)!


  • Be anti-social (don’t be negative and critical of others)
  • Fake it – you’ll soon be found out
  • Stay in your box
  • Over-stretch yourself
  • Don’t stop having fun!

Click to read my Twitter thread of the session:

10 ways to become more digital for under a tenner

Next up was Mandy Johnson, CEO of Small Charities Coalition (of which I’m a trustee), to share how small charities can make the most of digital through free (or almost free) tools.

  1. Powtoon for a free animated video
  2. The camera on your smartphone for images or video
  3. YouTube to host your videos for free (it’s also a search engine)
  4. Amazon wishlist – create one for supporters to buy you office supplies and equipment
  5. Take contactless payments on the go for only £15
  6. QR Code and NFC stickers for just £2
  7. Closed Facebook groups to get closer to supporters and make them feel special
  8. Anchor to create free podcasts
  9. Mindset – research, test and iterate with your service users so that you create the services that they actually need. Are your donors, beneficiaries and service users at the heart of what you create?

As you can see… I seem to have missed one!

Click to read my Twitter thread of the session:

Diversity is an opportunity

The plenary was delivered by the amazing June Sarpong who spoke about the importance of diversity and how the charity sector could really lead and set the example of being a diverse and inclusive profession.

My favourite quote from June was, ‘You can’t be campaigning and fighting for equality when your own organisation doesn’t reflect society”.

Click to read my Twitter thread of the plenary:

I have to pay tribute to the IoF who really are working hard to increase diversity in the sector.

The big debate

Are charities where Blockbuster was 15 years ago? Is fundamental change needed in order for them to survive? Mandy Johnson, CEO of Small Charities Coalition and Yasmin Georgiou, Head of Digital Engagement at GOSH argued for the motion whilst Dr Adrian Salmon, Vice President of Grenzbach Glier & Associates and Lesley Pinder Head of Supporter Experience at British Red Cross argued against the motion. They were kept in check by David Hunt, Head of Digital at Breast Cancer Care.

The debate was quite intense so I’m not going to document it all, but read my Twitter thread to see the points raised – there were some really interesting ones.

And who won? Mandy and Yasmin! Although only marginally, it must be said.

Click to read my Twitter thread of the debate:

Digital Transformation in practice

The last session of the day (and of Convention) was all about digital transformation in practice. I was really keen to attend this as digital transformation is often spoken about in ‘big picture’ terms so I was interested to hear how charities are actually doing it.

It was a joint session of two charities: Tom Barker, Head of Digital at National Trust and Simon Honnor, Digital Marketing Manager and Katy Rouse, Digital Content Manager at NSPCC.

Tom spoke first about how National Trust is putting digital transformation into practice and offered 7 tips:

  1. It will only happen if you really want it to. He used a ‘quit smoking’ analogy – for anyone wanting to quit smoking there are apps, patches, services etc to help you yet it will not happen if you don’t really want to quit. You can have all the tools at your disposal but you have to really want to make the change.
  2. Have a single, clear objective – if you can’t explain it quickly to a senior manager or trustee, you’ll lose their attention and it won’t move forward.
  3. Chunk it up – it can be a big, scary, daunting task but it you break it up into smaller chunks, it’s more achievable.
  4. It’s a long haul, not a short fix – be honest with how long it will take so there are no unrealistic expectations.
  5. Have a big stick – aka, get senior management buy-in. Someone high up whose got your back.
  6. Invest in IT – and this means invest in relationships. Be friends with IT. Believe me, you’ll need them.
  7. Plan beyond delivery – need a new website? Build in a budget for beyond when the website is live. And not just to fix bugs but to test and iterate functionality.

Next up, Simon and Katy talked us through NSPPC’s email empowerment programme. They took three steps to upskill staff to allow them to create their own emails, thus freeing up time in the digital team to do more testing and optimizing.

  • Engage – get buy-in (from Senior managers and all staff who need to be involved) and co-create or it won’t work.
  • Educate – (or upskilling) they delivered face-to-face training as well as creating guides and putting together a quiz on the intranet. They also blog on the intranet and send out a monthly newsletter
  • Enhance – this is all about freeing up time to measure and test so that there is continual improvement.

So far the results have been promising – they’ve even increased open rates by 3%. But what’s next? They are putting together a web content training programme, they’ve identified digital business partners who will upskill their team members, they’ve got a deal with Econsultancy for fast track online training and the digital team has started a blog, which you can read here.

So that’s the end of Fundraising Convention for another year. See you in 2019?

Be brave

Yesterday was day two of the Institute of Fundraising’s Fundraising Convention – although day one for me as I was on holiday on Monday (why, yes! I do have a bit of a tan, thanks for noticing!). For me, the recurring theme in all the sessions I attended, and one I spoke at, was : to be brave.

Wear It Pink

My first session of the day was by Lottie Barnden, Senior Products Fundraising Manager, and Joe Freeman, Assistant Director of Digital Engagement at Breast Cancer Now who talked about how they achieved mass participation success using relationship fundraising and digital innovation for Wear It Pink 2017.

In the past, Wear It Pink had been treated as a standalone product but there was clearly disconnect with the charity brand so in 2017 they made the (brave) decision to incorporate the Breast Cancer Now brand into it more. They involved more staff in the event, segmented their audiences, used personalised comms, combined digital with post, text and telephone calls to reach people in the way that they wanted to be reached, and aligned the brand – which all resulted in an increase in remittance by 6% and a 7% increase in average gift from the previous year.

Here are their four key takeaways:

  1. Principles – define your principles before your campaign and strive for depth and authenticity
  2. Inspire – be smart with your marketing plans and flex them for different audiences. Know how critical digital channels are (but don’t ignore post – which brought in over £300k)
  3. Engage – build a relationship with your audience and know what you want to say to them
  4. Own it – it’s your day, it’s your moment – so own it!

Click to read my Twitter thread of their session:

How to spot emerging digital tools and trends (no matter your size)

My second session was on spotting emerging digital tools and trends, with David Pearce, Director of Fundraising and Marketing at Dignity in Dying.

This was an interactive session where delegates got to be brave and share their digital challenges. It was no surprise what most were – and David had already captured most in a slide. I always say that, no matter what size your charity is, the three challenges facing all charities is: time, money and resource.

David shared his reading list, which is how he keeps up with the latest digital and fundraising news. His top tips included:

  • Beware of the ‘shiny new thing’
  • If Facebook is looking to buy said ‘shiny new thing’ or trying to copy it – take note
  • If it’s mentioned in Parliament, listen up

Whenever you’re looking to use digital tools for fundraising, always remember to:

  • Go back to your organisational goals – can this digital tool help achieve them?
  • Test and learn but more importantly, learn from failure
  • Be agile
  • Have an innovation budget (or be creative in your digital budget)

Click to read my Twitter thread of the session here:

What fundraisers can learn from Tinder

My third session, which was packed both with people and top tips, was with Nikki Bell, Relationship Manager at British Heart Foundation and Victoria Ward, Head of Fundraising at British Youth Council to talk about donors and dating.

There was so much in this session, I recommend you read my Twitter thread below but the highlights for me were:

  • Stop chasing the people who don’t care about your cause and focus your attention on the ones who do
  • Use active listening when meeting with donors (don’t take notes!) and always use something personal in a follow-up (such as, I hope you managed to find those shoes you were looking for after our meeting)
  • When they’ve made a donation, break the dating ‘two day rule’ and say Thank You as soon as possible
  • Looking for potential new donors? Find them on Twitter using the Advanced Search function
  • Lastly, ‘self love is the very first romance’. You can’t be a great relationship fundraiser if you don’t look after yourself and love yourself first.

Click to read my Twitter thread of the session here: 

Find the pain and understand the culture

The plenary was by Fatima Bhutto, journalist, author and Young Global Leader for the World Economics Forum. Fatima urged us to ‘find where the pain is because that’s where there is the most need’ but not to just rush in to help but really take the time to ‘understand the culture’. Fatima also said that to make the biggest impact, go to the smallest communities because your work will really make a difference.

Sarah Goddard summed up Fatima’s talk beautifully:

Click to read my Twitter thread of the plenary session:

Be brave on social media

After the amazing plenary, it was time to hear from Melissa Thermidor, Social Media Manager at NHS Blood and Transplant and Rebecca Sterry, Senior Communications Manager at Autistica to learn how their organisations are being brave on social media.

Melissa said that the conversation is shifting on social and that Twitter is becoming more of an advocacy platform. My top takeways were:

“There’s no conversion without conversation.”

Create a community by responding to people’s user-generated content and serve it back to them.

Melissa described how they had tweeted a call out for more black blood donors and received lots of racist tweets in return. Instead of just reporting and blocking (and essentially just ignoring it publicly), they fought back. The result, is quite simply, EPIC (click to read the thread):

This was a really brave step on their part, and one that paid off. But there’s still more battles to fight (and win).

Rebecca spoke about how they undertook their own research to really understand their audience so that they could create personas for them. Autism is incredibly emotive so it was essential to understand what matters to different people.

They choose to be quick to respond to news and to be opinionated. They then empowered staff to use Twitter to help build the brand, amplify the charity’s messages and to add a personal touch when they got things wrong:

What I took away from this session is to stop being so vanilla! Stand up for what’s right and don’t be afraid to admit if you got something wrong.

Last night I spotted this on Twitter and it really nails home to ‘be brave on social media’:

Click to read my Twitter thread of the session here:

How to be an excellent young trustee

The last session of the day was one that I was speaking at. Along with Neal Green, Strategy and Insight Manager at the Charity Commission and Leon Ward, Deputy Chair of Brook Young People.

I’ve been a proud trustee of Small Charities Coalition for five years and Leon has been a trustee of (previously) Plan International UK and now Brook Young People for around eight years so we have lots of experience in being a young trustee. Along with Neal, we shared how we found our roles, tips for applying, the interview process, how you need to make sure you do your due diligence and tips for board meetings and more.

It was a really interactive session with loads of great questions and I hope we inspired the young people in the room to be brave, go forth and become trustees. Looks like we definitely inspired at least one!

If you’re interested in becoming a young trustee, read this excellent guide by Leon and CAF. I’ve also written a post on three reasons to become a trustee.

So that was the end of day two. Were you there? What were your highlights? Tweet me at @LondonKirsty!