On January 28th 2013, 25 delegates from across the UK made their way to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History to discuss using communications to support fundraising activity. Leading the discussion were Susie Billings and Sarah Casey from the Ashmolean Museum Development Team.
Having previously worked as Development Officer at the Said Business School, Susie is now the Ashmolean’s Donor Engagement Manager; she focuses on communications for appeals and events, and stewardship of major gifts. Sarah joined the Ashmolean Development Team for their reopening in 2009 and now focuses on the museum’s development database, donation boxes and social media.
The discussion began with delegates sharing what they hoped to get out of the day: the majority agreed that a key priority was developing a strategy for their fundraising focussed communications.
Susie and Sarah shared how the Ashmolean developed their communications strategy, which they use to ensure they are always “asking, thanking and involving” their supporters.
An effective communications strategy involves:
Planning: knowing your resources
Audience: knowing your supporters
Asking: having a clear message
Stewardship: thanking you supporters and ongoing stewardship of the relationship.
Key to planning at the Ashmolean is integrating with the Museum’s overall communication plan. The Development Team work against a master calendar, which lists all the events, exhibition, literature, etc. already being produced by the Museum. The Development Team time their appeals in a way that won’t overwhelm supporters with communications from the Museum, and they integrate fundraising messages into events and literature already being produced, making the most of all the Museum’s resources.
Knowing your audience is crucial so maintaining accurate and up to date records of your contacts on a database is vital.
Existing supporters are really important as they are more likely to support you again in future. It is important to know not only who they are, but also how they know about you, what they are interest in, what they are likely to respond to, and to what extent they would be interesting in supporting you. Supporters should be asked to give for the right thing at the right level.
People you know can also introduce you to people they know, helping you form new relationships and garner new support. When approaching a new supporter you should: do your research; try and get a personal introduction; make your offer relevant and interesting to them; and plan your approach.
When formulating your ask it is important to have a clear message and priorities. This should be tailored depending on what you want the outcome to be, how engaged the particular audience and what you think they will respond to best.
You should choose the most appropriate media for delivering your message, whether it is a specific proposal, brochure, event, email, mailing, advert, e-news, letter, leaflet, signage, online communication, social media, media coverage, etc. The ask should always come from the right person, which might be the Head of the organisation, a member of the curatorial team or the development office.
The group was keen on exploring the role that social media can play in fundraising communication as a current hot topic. At the Ashmolean social media activity sits with the Development Team, but it is not a tool that has been successful in raising money directly. Social media appeals work well when money needs to be raised quickly for highly publicised causes such as disaster relief, but there are few circumstances where there is such an immediate need around a museum. The Ashmolean had some success with social media during their 2012 campaign to acquire Manet's portrait of Mademoiselle Claus, but this was because it was a time sensitive appeal which had a very specific deadline. Nevertheless the group agreed that social media can be a useful tool for raising awareness of the Museum, its strengths and its needs, and for sharing fundraising communications.
Another clear message of the day was the importance of saying thank you. At the Ashmolean all supporters get a letter from the Museum thanking for their donation. In addition, each year the Museum also holds at least one dedicated thank you event for supporters who have given above a certain level to the Museum or who have given to the appeal that year or the previous year. It’s important not to hide another ask within a thank you: you’re trying to make supporters feel positive, not misled.
A good communications strategy includes ongoing stewardship plans, engaging with supporters as both individuals and groups. These can include invitations to exhibition openings and other special events, free entrance to exhibition, gala dinners, etc. There should be something for supporters at all levels , with opportunities for unique or behind the scenes experiences where possible.
Top Tips for Fundraising Communications
Throughout the day delegates were asked to share their top ideas and tips for fundraising communications.
- Have an strategy that is integrated with your organisation’s overall communications strategy
- Tie fundraising messages into existing events and literature produced by your organisation
- Know your audience by keeping your contacts database up to date
- Each ask should have a clear message with a clear desired outcome
- Match message to medium and make sure the ask comes from the right person
- If there is some urgency, make sure this is explicit in your ask
- Suggest specific amounts and explain what a donation at that level will support or achieve
- Thank supporters at all levels
- Don’t hide another ask within a thank you
- Stewardship events or tours should offer unique or behind the scenes experiences if possible.