Hugh Radojev reports last week's Fundraising First Thing where Mike Thiedke, director of public engagement at Plan International UK and Adeela Warley, chief executive of CharityComms, discussed the changing roles of both internal and external communications.
Over the last 12 to 18 months, the phenomena of (predominantly) large charities merging once disparate fundraising and communications teams – and indeed often other directorates such as marketing, service delivery, campaigning to name a few – into one large directorates has become more common.
While it might be drawing a slightly long bow to suggest that many of these mergers were a result of the media storm of 2015, many charities which fundraise on a large scale are now increasingly aware of the need to communicate in a unified way with supporters.
For one thing, unifying directorates which directly communicate with supporters – be that through fundraising asks, or through awareness campaigns – should, in theory at least, make it more straight forward to monitor supporter’s individual preferences. A unified communications and fundraising directorate can also help ensure that all communications are, to use a marketing phrase, ‘on brand’.
Merging directorates under a single umbrella brings its own set of challenges though, both internally and externally. With that in mind, here’s a few things we learned from both Mike Thiedke and Adeela Warley.
Merging directorates is not about ‘overriding individual expertise’ but about maximising potential
The key message from Mike Thiedke for the morning was that managing a single directorate populated by professional fundraisers, communications experts and marketers is not about “overriding expertise” but about “increasing the income, profile and influence” of the organisation.
For Thiedke, who has been in charge of a combined directorate at Plan International UK since it merged in 2013, it is important to let people get on with their jobs as much as possible, without letting the almost infinite possibility for bureaucracy, red-tape and, of course, meetings get in the way.
Being responsible for over 90 staff, which generated 46 per cent of Plan’s total income in 2016 and accounted for nearly half of the organisation’s total expenditure, Thiedke said that integrated teams “often feel the need to talk to each other all of the time. To sit in on each other’s meetings and constantly feel that you need to inform each other of what you’re doing all of the time”. Thiedke said that this is simply not true.
At the same time however, Thiedke said that in order for a combined directorate to succeed, individual fundraisers, marketers and comms people would need to set aside their “professional egos” and buy-in completely with the overarching theme and goals of the organisation as a whole.
Each unit within the Engagement directorate at Plan International UK “lead their own areas of work and are in charge of their budgets, Key Performance Indicators, BAU activity and execution,” he said but long-term plans are “massive and inclusive, budgeting is coordinated” and there are, inevitably, “more management coordination meetings”.
The end result of all this though can be truly transformational, as Thiedke pointed out. Plan’s ‘Because I’m a Girl’ campaign was able to force constitutional change in Malawi outlawing child marriage.
When the campaign moved on to Uganda, the overlap in supporters between the two was 75 per cent, with a further 25 per cent of cold supporters signing up. “That,” said Thiedke, with characteristic understatement, “is the sought of thing you want to communicate with your supporters”.
‘Old school fundraising is dead, the future is holistic engagement!’
The vast majority of fundraisers have heard a statement similar to this at some point over the last few years. The traditional tools of the fundraiser: the direct mailing and the collection bucket, have less and less of a place in an ever more digitalised age.
However the point that Adeela Warley was making went beyond simply the tools of the fundraising trade, so to speak, but about the entire way fundraisers think about campaigns moving forward. At the end of the day, said Warley, an organisation’s fundraising department must be interconnected to its communications team, in the same way that its branding ought to be linked to its campaigning or marketing functions.
Drawing on her experience of working at Friends of the Earth, where she was head of communications and supporter experience, Warley said that ultimately “supporters are not fans of your organisation’s fundraising department or your communications team. They’re supporters of your whole organisation. Without the whole, they wouldn’t donate money or read your campaign material”.
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Warley also said that, at Friends of the Earth, each of the heads of the individual units within the organisation presented quarterly reviews from other departments to the charity’s board. For example Warley, head of communications at the charity, would present to the board about the charity’s fundraising, and the charity’s head of fundraising would present on its communications and so on.
This technique, she said, gave all the different heads of department across the charity an intimate understanding of the way other areas of the organisation worked.
For Warley, this was why the BeeCause Campaign the organisation ran in 2013 proved to be so successful, not just in terms of the £560,000 it raised but also that it was able to affect a new law to protect bees.