I imagine that all of us, as fundraisers, have had a moment in our career when we have bemoaned the fact that our cause ‘just isn’t as popular as the others’. I know I have. It might only last a moment but the challenges get the better of you and it seems like every other organisation is succeeding when all you are getting is knock backs.

Well, last nights Institute of Fundraising MDSIG event tackled this issue of ‘Fundraising for less popular causes’ head on. The panel was made up of Paul Flitcroft from SANE, Lucy Graham from Terrence Higgins Trust and Alison Body from the Centre of Philanthropy at the University of Kent. They didn’t patronise the audience by being blindly optimistic about every cause. Instead, they recognised that their are barriers to fundraising for some causes, such as a negative public perception of your beneficiaries. However, their key insight was not to focus on the barriers you can’t control, but instead focus your efforts on what you do have the power to change.

Here are what I think are their top five insights, simple stuff but often things that as fundraisers we overlook or forget;

1 – “Attitude is everything” Paul felt fundraisers should lead from the front, don’t let the idea that your cause is unpopular permeate the organisation, instead create a positive attitude which will breed success.

2 – “Make the most of being the under dog” if you feel your cause is less well funded, then highlight this to your donors, Lucy says she makes her donors feel extra special for going against the tide and seeing the value in what they do.

3 – “Donors need a framework, they can’t usually digest a whole organisation”Alison’s research showed that rather than try and communicate everything you do, less popular causes succeeded when they communicated about specific areas of their work, to create a niche that appeals to donors.

4. “Do high value, not high volume” Lucy said its important to understand that your less popular cause probably won’t do well in high volume mailings to the public so instead focus on specific groups of people who will relate to your cause and cultivate them for higher value gifts.

5. “Create a community of people who can be your cheerleaders” whether they be your beneficiaries, volunteers, staff or supporters, engage with them as much as possible and encourage them to champion your cause – everyone on the panel agreed – the more cheerleaders you can find the more you can turn your cause from a less popular one to a popular one.

But the most important thing I will remember from the event is that un-popularity is certainly in the eye of the beholder, because every fundraiser at the event began the evening thinking they had the hardest job going and finished the evening buoyed up by having found a cause they thought was even tougher – they can’t all have been right?

This blog was originally published by Laura Perkins on LinkedIn’s Pulse on 11 June 2015

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