National Fundraising Convention: a review

31 July 2017

Past and future collide at the UK’s largest convention for fundraisers

July sees the annual national Fundraising Convention organised by the Institute of Fundraising. This year, thousands of people who work in fundraising, senior leaders and thinkers, and the businesses who support them came from all over the UK to the Barbican centre in London. Leading experts from around the world were on hand to talk about the latest techniques and trends but while looking to the future, the conference took place in a context that made it hard not to think about the past.

I know what you did last, last, summer

Both talk at the conference and events outside showed that the summer of 2015 still looms large over fundraising. The collapse of Kid’s Company, but especially the death of Olive Cooke continues to spur soul-searching in the sector, not to mention action from the Fundraising Regulator.

The launch of the Fundraising Preference service was heavily trailed in the media during convention and there was still some confusion about what it meant for fundraisers, not helped by a seemingly badly briefed Michael Grade making false statements about its functionality on the Today programme and to the Daily Telegraph.

Happily, Fundraising Regulator staff were on hand to clarify, speaking at events and manning their own stand in the exhibition area. The service is intended to give individuals a ‘reset-button’ which allows them to stop all and any communications from certain charities and charities of all sizes should take the time to familiarise themselves with it here [].

The convention also saw the launch of an initiative from within the fundraising sector which promotes reform. The Commission on the Donor Experience has gathered a huge archive of best practice from many different charities and developed a set of principles which if followed would make an Olive Cooke type event impossible. These materials are free to access and give insights into fundraising that are relevant to everyone in charities, get them here [].

Back to the future

Looking forward, fundraisers packed out several events on their next regulatory challenge, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). A challenge for all areas of any charity or business, the wide-ranging regulation comes into force next year. While the discussion was too detailed and complex to repeat here, the message from every panel was clear – if you have not thought about and planned how to operate under GDPR, do so immediately. More information can be found via the Information Commissioner here [] and the Fundraising regulator here []

Of course, the future is not all about regulation. New research and new technology are opening more and more channels for fundraisers. Craig Lynton, known to many in the sector as the Fundraising Detective gave a compelling presentation on the power of virtual reality technology as a fundraising tool. While some who have not tried it are sceptical, the technology has come a long way and Lynton argued it is a worthwhile investment for many fundraising teams. This is because the technology allows for extremely powerful immersive experiences for potential donors, creating what Lynton described as a “multiplier effect” on the impact of traditional video content. He cited the example of UNICEF’s ‘Clouds Over Sidra’ VR fundraising campaign which placed people, via VR, into the heart of one of their refugee camps and raised $3.9bn, 70% more than was expected. 

Insights into the potential of tech were also shared by Amanda Horton-Mastin, International Campaign Development Director at Comic Relief. She outlined their position that while it would always be important to their fundraising, television and other mainstream media were suffering declining viewership’s and relayed some of the lessons Comic Relief learnt as they went digital to try and reach new, younger, audiences.

They ran a campaign on YouTube called #redout, where prominent channels shut down and displayed the campaigns message for a day, before retuning with content explaining why they had done so and what the issues were. They also live streamed a twelve-hour charity gaming marathon with comedian Dara O’Brien on the website Twitch. Horton-Mastin explained that both campaigns were successful in terms of reaching a lot of people, especially those in their teens and early twenties, they had been disappointing in terms of funds raised. She believes this is in part due to the demographic not being one which is known for giving but also feels they could have made better use of incentives, such as shout-outs by the participants to individual donors, to promote donation.

Overall, the conference found fundraising looking forward, excited by the future and the prospect of raising more for their causes. The shadows of the past are still present and there are regulatory challenges to be faced but with the optimism characteristic to the profession, fundraisers are ready to do so.

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Thomas Collinge

Thomas Collinge is a political and social affairs journalist, and public affairs assistant, at Slack Communications.

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