Louise Clarke is Director of Business Development at Rose Road, a charity in Hampshire working with children and adults with complex and multiple disabilities and health needs. Previous roles include working in publishing and selling timeshare properties (of which more below).
Take the bull by the horns. We didn’t wait for GDPR (the EU’s General Data Protection Regulations, which becomes law in May 2018). Our database had built up over many years and we had no real quantifiable understanding of what was there. We thought: why wait? Now that we’ve cleansed our database and everybody on it has explicitly opted-in to hear from us, it gives us something to build from.
We’re raising the same amount, despite losing 85% of our database. Cleansing our database took it from 5000 down to 750. Yet we’re raising the same amount from individual giving. People who’ve re-opted into the charity have become more aware of us, I suppose. And we’re more focused, so we are getting more out of the people that we’ve got. It’s about making every contact count. And being able to say, when you’re with somebody, it’s not just about making a transaction, it’s about building for the future. We could be more bullish, because individual giving makes up only 15% of what we raise – I know that for some large charities, this can be a much more significant income stream, and therefore much riskier.
Selling timeshare taught me that transparency pays. I used to do what they call the Button Up. After a sale was made in principle, I would then go through the financing of the deal, and would talk about what they bought, and what their legal responsibilities were. There was a cooling-off period (by law), which gave them 14 days to change their mind. And some of my colleagues would mumble it at the end of the Button Up, or not mention it at all. I used to say it upfront. I would say, “Well, you have just made a decision on the night – that must make you really uncomfortable. So what I want to do is show you that you’ve got 14 days in which to change your mind. This is the form that you have to fill in to do that.” That made the conversation far more relaxed, and 90% of those sales would ultimately go through. And I think it’s a similar kind of thing around GDPR and increasing transparency. I think it brings some real transparency to consent.
The new regulations are an opportunity. Actually, it’s not a bad thing to be regulated. It’s not a bad thing to do what’s right, to be open and honest and transparent with people about what you’re going to do with the data. There are some things that are really positive about what this is bringing.
There’s a lot of mis-placed anger in the sector. There’s a lot of anger about the fundraising preference service, the regulator and about GDPR, but you know, we created this situation. And there is a little bit of ‘holier than thou’ “We’re charities, we couldn’t possibly do something wrong”. That kind of prevailing attitude really doesn’t help. In my experience, charities can run very much like a public sector-type organisation, and it’s not always lean. That is why there are these initiatives like Cass Business School running a charities programme and NCVO offering training in business practices like lean processing.
I was never meant to be a fundraiser. Last year I became Director of Business Development and I was there to respond to tenders continue to manage our family services and our business operations. Then our fundraising director left, and I was put in charge of fundraising. I was terrified but then thought: ‘I’ve done a couple of courses, I’ve worked in timeshare, how hard can it be! Some parallels can be drawn between timeshare and fundraising – in terms of discipline, creating a sense of urgency and making every opportunity count.
The biggest challenge is keeping good fundraisers. There is more pressure on our fundraisers as they are propping up statutory services where income is not covering costs, either due to cuts or long-term contracts which have not kept up with inflation or living wage legislation. This limits the projects that can be fundraised for and targets are driven by need rather than capacity or capability. We’ve struggled to hold on to people: people who are new to fundraising might stay with you a year and then go and work for a bigger charity. The staff that have left have gone to further their career either for more money or for greater responsibility – smaller charities don’t always have a career path and salaries are often lower.
Cause & Effect is a series from Hope, in which leading figures who have been involved in building and promoting good causes tell us what they’ve learned from their experiences. Interview by Michael Isaacs.