Is it time to diversify your income?

Kids Company’s Camila Batmanghelidjh has had more than her fair share of headlines recently and there are commentators far better placed than I to consider the whys and wherefores of her time at the helm of arguably one of the country’s best-known children’s charities.

However, something she said in a recent interview will have struck a chord with many fundraisers and charity CEOs, and prompted me to write this post. “We are doing the most serious work [funded] by cupcake sales and cocktail parties,” Batmanghelidjh told the Guardian, “and I don’t think that is right or sustainable.”

Right or sustainable, it’s real life for countless charities across the country. It’s said that millions of people in the UK are one paycheck away from homelessness – you can bet your life there are plenty of charities who are a few large gifts away from financial crisis. For most, I genuinely don’t believe this is a sign that they’re reckless with their money, or lack the necessary skills to manage their organisations effectively. Yes, for some, complacency had undoubtedly set in and the financial crash came as a huge shock, but for most it’s a sign of the times and the struggle to raise money has become a kind of new normal.

I have worked with some charity leaders who have faced this ‘new normal’ head on and who are making progress towards diversifying their income. If you too rely on cupcake sales and cocktail parties, perhaps some of what we have learned will help you:

Know what you’re dealing with

The NCVO has some brilliant resources to help you become more sustainable but a brilliant starting point is their Income Spectrum document. This incorporates a template you can use to consider all of your funding streams and establish how risky they are. Use this as the guide – you could probably expand the Gifts section to cover things like events, online shopping, lottery (if that’s appropriate to your organisation).

Consider what’s missing

And don’t forget those activities you have previously tried but which didn’t work. Rarely do ideas fail completely; revive what worked and re-shape what didn’t. Get everyone involved in generating new idea and share the responsibility for delivering them. Fundraising isn’t the sole responsibility of the fundraiser. Each take a new idea, explore it and cost it, and share your findings at the next meeting.

Don’t spread yourself too thinly

If you currently rely on two or three sources of funding, don’t aim to increase this to ten sources overnight. Be realistic about what you can accomplish with your current staffing levels, skills mix and budget. It’s better to fully develop one or two funding streams and put your efforts into maximising them so they’re really working for you, before moving on to the next ones.

What can you sell?

We’re not suggesting you flog the crown jewels, but perhaps you have a room you can hire out for meetings, or maybe you have the sorts of skills within your team that others desire and would be willing to pay for. Again, do your research and properly cost your offer, so you don’t saddle yourself with a burden which isn’t paying its way.

Upskill your staff

Where fundraising is concerned, to invest in your skills is to invest in your financial future. If money is a hurdle and you can’t afford to pay for training courses straight away, plunder the internet for helpful blogs and forums. The blogs from JustGiving are hugely helpful and there’s a cracking Facebook group specifically for people working in the charity sector, all of whom seem happy to answer questions and share ideas. It can feel counterintuitive to spend money when you need to be bringing more in but there are some brilliant training courses that will pay dividends. Once you have identified the skills mix you need, check out the Directory for Social Change and Institute of Fundraising for starters.

Do get in touch if you’re seeking advice on fundraising. We’re always happy to have an informal chat about how we can support you.


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