11 take-aways from the Fundraising Summer School

Damian O'Broin and his Ask Direct team have done it again. For the 3rd year in a row they’ve managed to produce a high quality, content-rich, inspiring conference on the historic grounds of Trinity College in Dublin. The Fundraising Summer School was simply terrific. And we got value for money. A two-day diverse and insightful program with an awesome line-up of speakers. Check the pictures here. You should have been there...

Our Dutch delegation was 20 fundraisers strong this year. We had lots of fun, but most importantly we became better fundraisers. I’ve collected some of the biggest learnings from our group.

Being in a room with motivated fundraisers from all over the world and sharing our learnings and experiences with each other was very inspiring. This year we were all challenged to question everything, to think differently and to be a rebel with a cause. Donor centricity was again a big topic and I especially liked the quote from Mark Phillips: “She’s not one of your donors, you’re one of her charities.” How do you make sure you become her favorite charity? Some of the answers were: engage with your donors, make them feel like a valued partner, focus on the impact they’ve made and don’t forget to include them in more difficult situations as well.
— Lone van der Wal, SOS Children's Villages Netherlands
In our fundraising campaigns we always have a clear call to action, but we can do more. To voice a greater goal to which donors can contribute. To show exactly what difference they can make as a donor. Because in the end that’s what fundraising is about. People want to make a difference in their lives. They want to be useful. In reality charities provide donors the possibility to give meaning to their lives. And it’s up to us fundraisers to give them this feeling.
— Tom Zwollo, War Child Netherlands
The Fundraising Summer School was a good trinity of inspirational sessions, beautiful people and a historic university. What I take away are some inspiring quotes about donor-centric fundraising, to ponder. And to apply! Like: The magic word is YOU’ or ‘For too long in fundraising we have taken the absence of ‘no’ to mean ‘yes’. So I love GPDR, the law now requires us to really focus on our donors’ and ‘Everything on the internet is accelerated direct marketing, so being good at social has never been more important!’
— Arjan Woertink, Verre Naasten
I have learned during the summer school – especially in the session with Jeff Brooks - that a lot of fundraising materials are very well designed. Good design is important, but often it gets the upper hand. Ad agencies are likely to win awards with the design of it, but it loses the donor out of sight. They are often too abstract or vague and don’t appeal to the needs and emotions of the donor. Good fundraising materials are simple and keeps the donor in mind, always.
— Tamara van der Mijn, Wakker Dier
Too often fundraising is about short term growth; about reaching annual targets, selling a proposition, obtaining unearmarked money or covering deficits. While it should be about passion and hope. Passion for your cause, for your donors and above all, for fundraising itself. And hope that in the end your cause, your donors and you made a real difference.
— Bas Klaassen, Care Netherlands
My biggest learning is that great fundraising is like a great friendship: In a great friendship you can be yourself and show your real identity. You have to be open and vulnerable. You can show your power, but you can also ask for help. You give without asking, or wanting something back. You know what you’ve got, but will also be surprised. When it is a great relationship it is unconditionally and for a very long time. It’s that first connection and first step which can lead to so much more.
— Maartje Terwindt, NSGK (Dutch foundation for disabled children)
The Fundraising Summer School 2018 had a wide variety of topics and informative speakers. As a fundraiser in the arts I was able to get new insights and fundraising techniques from other fundraising branches. An excellent organised event with great networking possibilities. As a fundraiser you have the power to change the world! Let’s get it on!
— Emma Swaan, Frans Hals Museum
The things that motivate fundraisers may not motivate the people who support good causes. We need to listen to our donors ask questions, find out who they are, why they would support and why they trust us and are motivated.
— Michell Hogendorp, Plan Netherlands
After two days of inspiring and heart warming best practices and anecdotes, my key take away is to (try to) be better every day. By testing, by innovating, by using data, by learning, by questioning everything. Basically by being a smart and passionate fundraiser with great marketing skills (YES, Ian MacQuillin, they do exist! 😉). But it really all fell in place when I was wandering the streets of Dublin on Saturday. I noticed the many beggars (basically the most simple form of fundraising) on the streets, but all in a traditional way sitting on the side of the pavement with a sign and a cup. Still heartbreaking though. But then I came across Darren and Paul. Homeless and begging, but changing the game entirely. They claimed quite a piece of the shopping street with their chalkings. It was a poem:

”The only time you should look down on someone
Is when you are helping them back up
There is only one earth only one life
The way some people treat me it ain’t very nice
But I will hold my head high and try not to cry
As I cannot be homeless and shy
So if you help out any way at all
I will live my life the best I can”

With this innovative and passionate appeal Darren and Paul just demonstrated the essence of these last two days: changing the game by doing better. It was honest, urgent, modest, powerful and above all human. Like we should do as fundraisers. I will change my game. Thanks to Darren and Paul. For people like Darren and Paul...
— Ferry Bol, UNICEF Netherlands
Two inspiring days in an intimate setting have told me once again: as fundraisers we should get out of our offices more often. Listen to our donors; what change do they want to make in this world and how can we be a catalyst to make this change happen. Listen to our beneficiaries: everyone of them has a unique story to be told. And act: go out there and take an example to the guys on the streets like Darren and Paul (see above) who colour this world with sparks of hope. Treat all people with dignity, be authentic, creative and be the change you want to see in this world.
— Joost Veldman, Freelance Marketing & Fundraising Specialist

As for my own take-away? Looking back at the #ADFSS18 tweets there is too much to mention. I was on the edge of my seat a couple of times, especially with the extra session from Mark Phillips about the effect of the misconduct scandals earlier this year on the public perception on charities. But also Stephen George's session on Leadership Driven Fundraising was really good. And then there was Derek Humphries sharing his fundraising wisdom. And let's not forget Damian O'Broin's opening plenary, and Shanon Doolittle's closing plenary! Simply too much to mention. But fantastic to see that almost every session expressed the clear advise to focus on giving feedback to donors on the impact of their donations.  

The best advise I got is to keep learning. Read books, read blogs, visit conferences like the Fundraising Summer School.

So I'll be there next time. And you should be too.