Full house! Dan’s ingenious technique to get dramatically more meetings with supporters

After studying the fundraising habits of extremely successful relationship fundraisers for 17 years, I’ve discovered that focussing on building positive relationships, rather than chasing donations / partnerships, is the smart way to direct your energy. Not only does it make fundraising more fun, it also helps you raise more money anyway.

And most relationship fundraisers I know broadly agree with this concept. It’s just that in practice, dealing with the many challenges of fundraising (admin, technical, legislative,..etc) I have found that acting in accordance with this strategy is often very difficult.

So on fundraising courses I often explore with groups the wisdom of what I call the BMW Strategy. What the sales teams of many car companies do is to not focus on selling cars as their primary objective. According to one former sales director of BMW, what they instead do is focus on booking test drives. They measure it, they put their energy into it, ahead of the selling of cars. And when you think about, there are numerous advantages to deciding your job is about booking test drives rather than selling cars. Most of these advantages boil down to the truth that the Test-Drive Focus makes your job EASIER and MORE FUN.

Few fundraisers disagree with this logic. And then I invite them to consider Community, Corporate and Major Donor fundraising in exactly the same way…

If your primary focus is on trying to get partnerships / donations, you will have a much harder time than if you focus on ‘booking test drives’ (ie a cup of coffee or project visit with a potential supporter). Though you may already have put some effort into achieving this, your charity probably distracts you from it by repeatedly sending round a finance spreadsheet – which is basically saying ‘How Many Cars Have You Sold?’

So unless we take control of our focus, our job will feel HARDER and LESS FUN than it needs to. When I shared the test-drive analogy with a group of community fundraising managers from British Heart Foundation recently, one of them, Dan McNally went away and came up with a brilliant plan to point his team’s energy in an empowering direction…

Dan’s creation was Cuppa and Conversation Bingo.

In August this year, the community fundraisers at British Heart Foundation were given a 25-square bingo card, and encouraged to use it as a prompt to get out and have more conversations with supporters. The squares included things like ‘meet over a cuppa outside’; ‘have a cuppa with a business person’; ‘go for a cuppa with someone from a networking event’. Loosely, the game throughout August was to get as many squares ticked off as possible.

What happened?

Here are just a few of the results from the initiative:

  • There was a clear lift in morale as everyone got out more!
  • Everyone had lots more chats with supporters. They had an average of 12 conversations each in August, (which was at least 10 more than some of them might have had in a normal month.)
  • By the end of August alone there were 4 new Charity of the Year partnerships agreed, including one with a rugby club worth at least £22,000. All of these were brand new partnerships.
  • Many individual positive boosts in income and income potential, for instance a new Volunteer Fundraising Group; and a new volunteer who plans to promote the charity to the 14 different guides groups in her area.
  • It helped everyone get perspective on what great jobs they have, so although they don’t use the bingo card anymore, the energy and results have continued to flow as people have continued with the Cuppa and Conversation mindset.

Of course, some initiatives that take risks can fail to make much difference, so I was keen to find out from Dan what particular things they had done to maximise the chances it would be more than a gimmick.

There are several smart things that they did help make it work. I explore four of them in my next blog, but perhaps the most essential one was keeping it light-hearted. It was positioned as just a tool which will hopefully help you enjoy your job in August.

Cuppa and Conversation Bingo – THREE Problems Solved

  1. It focussed on ‘Test Drives’ as the primary goal. By calling it Cuppa and Conversation, it focussed everyone’s attention on relationships and on the joy of chatting rather than any fundraising transaction. There were no targets attached, and yet, just like those BMW salesmen, by encouraging people to get out and connect more, the financial results flowed anyway.
  2. Getting out more is good for your ENERGY. Most community fundraisers are sociable people. And yet in many charities these ‘people’ people are home based, and so their energy can be low because they work on their own a lot. For this team, being prompted to meet more people was energising. When you’re energised, most fundraising problems feel easier to solve.
  3. It prompted different thinking. With 25 squares on the bingo card, though many of the squares are things that fundraisers would know they could always do, the bingo card nevertheless prompts extra actions or slightly different thinking. For instance, everyone in the team crossed off the square ‘have a cuppa with an existing supporter’ (but without the game, how many would have been too busy to do this?). All would have known that ‘take along a Nation of Lifesavers Kit’ was a useful tactic, but if it’s a bit cumbersome, you could see how you might have got out of the habit of taking it along.

What could you do?

Inspired by something about Dan’s idea? Bingo might not be the answer for your charity, but what ideas do you have to make it easier to set up more informal chats with your supporters?