Should charities think more like businesses?

TimeBank’s Leaders Together project matches small charities, social enterprises and community groups in London with free business mentoring to help them build their capacity.  And what many of these organisations want to learn about is fundraising.   

Unfortunately, I am not writing my first blog to give you the secret formula. I don’t know it and TimeBank doesn’t either.  Every small commission, big foundation site or training blog will have millions of tips to give you: what to write, what not to say, always to call and enquire and never rush your bid writing.

But at a recent Leaders Together workshop on fundraising we wondered if all this advice focusses a little too much on the charitable perspective.

‘Good fundraising is good branding’ – that’s a very scary statement that puts a lot of charities off. There are other words that the charity sector doesn’t like to use: ‘sales’, ‘marketing’ and the general idea of having to think like a BUSINESS to get ahead. But it is essential for small charities to realise they have costs like rent, electricity and employees … no organisation can run at a loss and every charity needs to earn enough to cover those overheads and continue its good work.

The first step towards this realisation is that good businesses get ahead. The good ones are structured, have lots of ideas and know how to market themselves well. This applies to big charities as well as small ones.

Fundraising is multifaceted - whether you write bids, appeal to major donors, rattle the collecting tins or approach local businesses it’s all the same. You need to know your facts as only good communication skills will bring you one step closer to the cheque you need to pay your bills.

At the workshop, some of the fundraising problems raised by organisations included: ‘Where should I look for bids?’, ‘Why wasn’t my bid successful?’ and ‘How do I know what my funder wants to read?’

Here are the top tips we came up with:

  1. Take it back to the basics. Firstly, you need to evaluate which fundraising method works best for you
  2. Fundraising is about relationship building
  3. There are five essential components to writing a good introduction: you have to say what you do, who you help and how you do it. You need to provide evidence that the problem exists in society and provide tangible results of the impact of your work
  4. Know your numbers: the more facts you have about your field, project and community, the more credible you will sound
  5. Your supporters are probably right in front of your nose, already giving you donations or volunteering for you

Due to popular demand and great feedback, there will be a Part 2 of this fundraising workshop later this month for everyone who is involved in the Leaders Together project, so we’ll bring you more top tips. And if you think your organisation would benefit from free professional support, or you are interested in joining the project as a mentor, do take a look here