"Plagiarism, we all know, is the most sincere form of flattery. Why trouble to think of your own big idea, if you can steal — or, perhaps better, borrow — someone else's? Of course you should always properly acknowledge the original; and seek in adapting it to improve, and certainly not debase, its original concept."
That's how global fundraising consultant Ken Burnett explains the idea behind the Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration. This month, we'd like to introduce SOFII to those of our readers who don't know about it and share some of the fundraising efforts that have made it into the site's Best of the Best Showcase.
The Best of the Best Showcase "celebrates those campaigns that have really made a difference and have changed the way we do what we do," says Nathalie Robinson, director of development at SOFII. "The list is not exhaustive — our content is constantly growing, and we are always looking for new additions. We would welcome any suggestions or feedback."
Robinson says that although the most successful fundraising campaigns vary widely in their missions, they all:
1. Prove there's a need. "Whether by telling a story or using statistics, all of the campaigns in SOFII's Best of the Best Showcase have brought their various causes to life and proved to their donors that they require support."
2. Ask appropriately. "Getting the ask right is crucial. By knowing your donors and understanding their motivations, you can tailor your fundraising communication to suit them."
3. Show donors how they can make a difference. "One of the most important questions that a donor will ask is, 'Will my gift make a difference?' If you can clearly show your proposed solution to the problem and what you will be spending their donation on, then the donor is more likely to give."
Following are just a few of the timeless and inspirational campaigns in the SOFII Best of the Best Showcase. (All commentary provided by the SOFII website.)
— Margaret Battistelli
"The most successful fundraising appeal ever." A mighty claim indeed but one that SOFII feels is most deserved. By pioneering fundraising methods such as house-to-house collections, penny-a-week appeals and the popularisation of charity shops, the Duke of Gloucester's Red Cross and St. John Appeal Fund raised the equivalent of £5.5 billion. As well as raising this extraordinary amount, they also paved the way for many of the fundraising techniques that are relied upon today.
Target audience: Planned gift
Origin: U.K. September 1939
Background: The Duke of Gloucester's Red Cross and St. John Appeal Fund was launched in September 1939 to raise funds for those affected by the Second World War. By 1946 the appeal had raised £54,324,408, which is the equivalent of £5,490,000,000 today, making it the largest charitable fund ever raised in the U.K. The proceeds of the fund went to the Red Cross and St. John War Organisation.
Special characteristics: The fund committee decided to run appeals targeted to particular sections of the community.
The penny-a-week fund was [intended] to collect 1 [cent] a week from workers, which was deducted from their wages. The fund raised £17,663,225 (£1.79 billion today) — all in pennies. Its success was credited to the idea of collecting a small amount of money from a large number of people. The amount did not make a significant difference to the donor's weekly budget, but the pennies added up to raise more than one third of the entire Duke of Gloucester's appeal. This was the precursor to payroll giving as we know it today. Each year, £106 million is donated through payroll giving in the U.K. currently, a mere 35 percent of what the penny-a-week fund collected annually during the war years.
House-to-house collections were arranged in 23 London boroughs. The collections required a new Act of Parliament, the House-to-House Collections Act of March 1940. The act required that collectors had to be "fit and proper persons," wore identification badges, carried a certificate of authority and had to place all the money in a sealed collecting tin.
[Among other supportive initiatives] 200 permanent and 150 temporary charity shops were opened to benefit the fund. The stocks were made up entirely of donated items. The phenomenon of a chain of charity shops between 1939 and 1945 pointed the way for the subsequent massive growth in charity shops over the following years. It is estimated that there are now more than 7,500 charity shops in the U.K.
Christie's held auctions of gifts in kind in aid of the appeal. Other initiatives included the Red Cross and St. John book campaign and the stamp appeal. Numerous events were held in aid of the appeal including films, exhibitions, galas and concerts.
All sections of society were involved in the appeal, and large support was provided by schools, churches and children. Dentists did their bit by donating proceeds from the sale of the metal from used toothpaste tubes to the fund.
The appeal closed on June 30, 1945, having raised an unprecedented £54,324,408 (£5.5 billion).
The American Red Cross also ran an appeal and raised an astonishing $784 million (£194,057,406 then or £19.6 billion today) from the American public. Needless to say, other Red Cross Societies undertook similar appeals during the war.
When one considers that £4.3 billion was pledged internationally for the 2004 south Asian tsunami, it is clear that no U.K. fundraising appeal has ever been as successful as The Duke of Gloucester's Red Cross and St. John appeal. The appeal allowed the British public to come together to help directly those affected by the Second World War. The public's generosity is all the more remarkable as the money was raised at a time when the country was tightening its belt, and "make do and mend" and rationing were the norm.
Merits: The Duke of Gloucester's Red Cross and St. John Appeal Fund is the largest charitable fund in the history of British fundraising, raising the equivalent of £5.5 billion. The appeal led to many fundraising innovations including legislation to allow house-to-house collections and the popularisation of charity shops, and allowed the public to express its solidarity with people whose lives had been torn apart by war.
This exhibit works on many levels, which is why SOFII feels it's a worthy member of the Best of the Best Showcase.
At first glance the reply form looks innocuous enough, but really it's a brilliant illustration of how, in times of need, donors will respond warmly to help a favoured cause when it is clearly in trouble. But first, you have to ask them properly.
Target audience: Individuals, major gift, single gift
Origin: U.K. Date unknown
Summary/objectives: To raise money for anticipated court costs.
Background: Midway through the 1990s, the firm British Nuclear Fuels, which back then ran several nuclear power and processing facilities for the U.K. government, took legal action against the campaigning organisation Greenpeace, which had been doing everything it could to frustrate the opening of a new nuclear waste reprocessing facility at Thorp, Sellafield, in the north of England. Though massively supported by public opinion, Greenpeace's lawyers advised the campaigners that the case was unlikely to go anything other than BNFL's way.
So Greenpeace turned to its supporters and appealed for funds to meet the costs of a court case it believed it was doomed to lose. The anticipated sum that it thought it would have to fork out to cover legal costs was £250,000. The organization's donors responded generously, giving substantially more than Greenpeace expected it would be obliged by the court to pay.
This mailing was also remarkable for the fact that, when creating the appeal for funds, a bright spark in the creative department of Greenpeace's agency suggested that alongside the usual direct-mail prompt boxes for £10, £20, £50 and whatever, for this special appeal Greenpeace should include a prompt box for £250,000.
It seemed a zany idea, but a characteristically cheeky approach from Greenpeace. And it worked, because one donor did give £200,000! We're still not quite sure why he didn't give the full quarter of a million.
Greenpeace did lose the case on a point of law, but the judge felt that it had the moral high ground so he awarded costs to the other side of just one penny. Having raised a lot of money that wasn't needed for the purpose, GP did the only honourable thing and offered donors their money back. Only six took up the offer. The guy who gave 200 big ones wasn't among them. He and all the other generous supporters said to Greenpeace something like, "Keep it, we trust you to put it to good use."
So, it can still pay if things don't quite go according to plan.
Special characteristics: Possibly the first time that any major fundraiser has actually asked for such a huge sum via a tick box in an emergency appeal mailing — even if it was tongue-in-cheek.
Influence/impact: More than anything, this exhibit is all about the real meaning of "brand." The audacity of the tick box was entirely on brand for Greenpeace. So, as well as working, it didn't alienate those who couldn't give that much. And the money-back offer did more to build brand trust than almost anything else Greenpeace might have done. So all in all, it was about an organisation wearing its values on its sleeve — and profiting hugely.
Results: As well as generating lots of lovely fan mail, Greenpeace received an additional £16,000 in donations from people who were inspired by the organisation's honesty in offering the cash back.
Merits: A smart example of creative cheek, this really shows the truth in the old adage, "if you don't ask, you don't get."
This is one of a handful of fundraising communications that really broke the mould. It's famous because it was the first-ever pen pack, but it is much more than that. It's a moving, intelligent and beautifully put together case to support one of the world's great causes. The beauty of it is that everything is relevant and sincere. Nothing is gratuitous. This is the standard to which all direct-mail writers and designers should aspire.
Target audience: Individuals, regular gift
Origin: U.K. Date unknown
Summary/objectives: Donor acquisition
Background: Amnesty needed a powerful and effective means of recruiting new donors to its great cause. This was it. Creator of the pack Karin Weatherup remembers a letter from the time which said, "This pack has saved Amnesty's bacon." It was probably no exaggeration.
Special characteristics: For the first time, a real free plastic pen was enclosed with a fundraising mailing in the U.K.
Influence/impact: This was, as far as we know, the first-ever occasion when a free pen was included in an acquisition mailing, in the U.K. at least. So this was the pack that launched a fashion and a thousand (or more) rather inferior copies. But that doesn't do this innovative and hugely effective pack justice. It is also a beautifully crafted, brilliant and passionately written piece of communication — fundraising direct communication as it should be.
Results: So good that the pack was Amnesty U.K.'s banker for 10 years or more and was copied or adapted by many Amnesty International sections around the world.
Other relevant information: Relevance, evidently, is the key word here. To include a free pen or not quickly became a highly controversial question for fundraisers. From the donor's perspective, though, it was clearly never a good idea. It's patronising and gives an impression of wastefulness. Donors started to receive large numbers of these packs, each with a gratuitous free pen, which almost certainly caused lasting damage to the image of charities.
The logic behind these pens does seem rather dumb. A free gift may lead to a temporary blip in initial response, but is it in any way a good reason to support a cause? We don't think so. As fundraising is a long-term business, such a vacuous incentive is rather obviously not going to help charities find donors who will stick with the cause come what may.
But alongside an appropriate, intelligent and creative treatment such as Karin gave to this Amnesty pack, the inclusion of a pen was a masterstroke because it was so obviously and immediately relevant.
As far as we know, this was the first-ever direct-mail fundraising appeal in Ethiopia. Its story is a brilliant example not just of what can be achieved by some positive creative plagiarism, but also of how to explode the basic fallacy that is perhaps the most commonly held misconception among fundraisers everywhere — the one which has fundraisers saying, "That's a great idea for your country, but it'll never work here."
Target audience: Individuals
Origin: Ethiopia. July 1997
Summary/objectives: To find out if direct mail could be used to raise funds effectively in Ethiopia.
Background: Among the most unlikely of places on earth to find brilliant fundraising would surely be the beautiful but trouble-torn East African country of Ethiopia, home of many of the world's poorest people. But fundraising in Africa is developing fast, and a few years ago a young woman of Italian descent, Nadia Weber, working for the Ethiopian branch of the nonprofit Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief and its Plant a Tree programme, attended a training workshop run by fundraising management consultant Bernard Ross. It was a lucky meeting for both as it gave Nadia an idea for innovative fundraising and gave Bernard what is undoubtedly one of the fundraising world's best case histories.
That day Bernard's agenda came to a premature close. In the half-hour that was left he decided to introduce his diverse audience to some of the basic principles of direct-mail fundraising, more as general background than in the belief it would have practical application.
Nadia didn't say much, but she had that rare ability to learn quickly from others. She took careful note of the samples of direct-mail packages that Bernard showed. She thought if these can work in other countries, why not in Ethiopia, where the need is so great? And where despite the poverty there were some people who could help her cause (which is to fight the rampant deforestation currently ravaging Ethiopia's countryside).
Nadia took her notes and some sample packages back to her home in Addis Ababa where, with a little long-distance help from Bernard, she put together Ethiopia's first-ever direct-mail fundraising appeal. It was also an appeal package that any fundraising guru anywhere in the world would have been proud to have created.
Nadia prepared all the ingredients of a typical direct-mail appeal — letter, leaflet, reply form, reply envelope. All were competent, colourful and complete. So she had her letter, but who was there in Ethiopia to send it to?
There are no commercial list brokers in Ethiopia and few, if any, lists to rent. Then, showing how enterprising a fundraiser can be, Nadia took the Addis Ababa telephone directory (a slim volume) and mailed 500 addresses from it as a test. Her reasoning was that if you owned a telephone in Addis, you were a prospect.
She (and her trustees) awaited response. Time passed. Responses came in, but not as many as she'd hoped (see results, below).
Special characteristics: Brilliant letter-writing skills blended with an ability to copy standard fundraising procedures very faithfully and effectively.
Influence/impact: This mailing has been used as an example to inspire fundraisers around the world.
Results: In his half-hour lightening tour of direct-mail fundraising, Bernard Ross had neglected to tell Nadia what levels of response to expect. That first mailing brought in a response of 40 percent. But Nadia was devastated. What had happened to the other 60 percent? Why hadn't they responded?
Those of us who habitually struggle to achieve just 1 percent in acquisition mailings can only gape in awe.
Merits: To succeed in this competitive world, fundraisers need to be enterprising, imaginative, learned, skillful and courageous. In launching this mailing Weber showed all these attributes and more. She's set a fine example that all fundraisers should aspire to follow. FS