Creative agencies and walking the tightrope of fund-raising

Fund-raising is a priority for any charity and devoting time and resources to it is essential but it is also important to correctly identify potential donors. This issue came up this week as we met with a creative agency to talk about improving our presentation and to brand ourselves to stand out from the crowd. 

We talked with them the previous week so they got an idea of what we do and where we see our priorities lie, and we got an idea about what they could and couldn’t do for us. At this second meeting we needed to go into more detail about what ideas to explore and this is where the difficulties start to appear.

Asking people or organisations for donations is a difficult job and deciding who to attract is a combination of science and art. We were presented with some brief ideas for getting more of the business community involved and look for donations from pubs and restaurants. This may sound like a good idea and the obvious choice but it can be fraught with difficulty.

In simple (or even simplistic terms) there are competing interests between business and residents; and in particular there is a tension between those who rent and those who own property. There are of course common interests: small businesses who are also tenants have some common interest with residential tenants as both are being faced with the prospect with being priced out of Fitzrovia because of rising land values. Fitzrovia is actually seen by property investors as “undervalued” which means  there is the huge potential to make a lot of money from the neighbourhood.

We run a housing advice service and we respond to planning and licensing applications. We are concerned about conservation, affordable housing and public open space. Property developers are also concerned with these issues but they want to achieve different outcomes to ours. And there lies the tension. Improvement for one group is different for another group.

When Fitzrovia News (the community newspaper we produce) sold an advert on its back page several years ago for a property development we also ran a critical story about the same construction project because we wanted to give voice to the concerns of local residents. The people who paid for the advert telephoned to ask if it was true that we were running a critical news feature about the property development and that we should remember that we were being paid for this full page advert on our back page.

We held our ground and explained we are a community newspaper and represent the interests of people living in Fitzrovia. The newspaper is a project of a charity that aims to improve the lot of the poor and needy in the neighbourhood. This is something we try our best to achieve.

The advertisers on this occasion backed down but it’s not always this way. There are competing interests we need to explain to the people from the creative agency.

We told the creative people that many local businesses are very generous with donations, but there are potential conflicts of interest with “local giving”. This is not the case, or less of an issue, with charitable trusts who are now the main sources of income for charities. These “distant” trusts publish guidelines about what they fund and why they wish to support certain projects. They also state what they won’t support. There is a lot of clarity when applying to trusts for money, despite the lengthy forms and spreadsheets to fill in.

In general the trusts want to see a charity as addressing a specific need, and that they will spend the money wisely and have good record-keeping and accounting. The same goes for most people making donations either directly to ourselves in cash or through our online “donate now” system. Trusts generally give what is known as “restricted funding” while public donations can be a source of vital “unrestricted funding”.

Charities need to not only be competent but also project an image of competency. That’s where creative agencies can help. A creative agency could help us present what we do in the best possible way.

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