European conference tour – what I learnt

Over the past two weeks, our CEO Jason Potts and I have been lucky enough to speak at three fundraising conferences in Europe and to attend sessions run by other fundraisers. While the locations (Austria, Slovakia and Holland) and themes of the conferences were different, I wanted to share some recurring trends.

i. There is no easy solution

A few times over the course of the conferences, I heard people say “I was hoping to come here and find the solution.” I pondered this for a while, before coming to the conclusion that there is no easy solution. How can there be one thing which every non-profit could implement which would work for them all? If fundraising was easy, would it still be the huge sector it is today, with thousands of people across the world working to raise funds for non-profits? Wouldn’t that easy solution have been rolled out and most of us have been made redundant? This takes me on to my second observation:

ii. People have a fear of interaction

The thought of sitting listening to someone talk to me for 1.5hrs or more fills me with dread. I would much rather be part of an interactive session where I can use my brain, work with my peers and learn by doing. It was therefore interesting to see that the majority of ‘workshops’ I attended were not in fact sessions where people were asked to ‘work’, but presentations from experts with a few moments of interaction during Q&As. This makes sense if what people are really looking for is an easy solution, and they want to come and listen to someone tell them how to do their job, but so much is then missed in terms of peer-to-peer interaction and learning.

iii. We’re still a very insular sector

At two of the conferences, there were no speakers from outside the sector. At the third, non-sector speakers made up perhaps 10% of the speaking roster. What is the sector’s fear of learning from other sectors, from being inspired by what’s possible when you have budget to spend and resources at your fingertips? No, we might not be able to then directly replicate what those in other sectors are doing, but we could at least be inspired by them.

iv. What goes around, comes around

In the same way that fashion comes around again and again, we shouldn’t be naive to think that old techniques can be pushed aside every time the next big thing comes along. However, we’re still seeing too much of those old methods at these conferences and not providing enough space for what’s new. Sessions entitled ‘What’s new, what’s working and what’s not’ don’t really seem to highlight the emerging trends. If we’re to catch up with the for profit sector, we need to think about leapfrogging what’s happening yesterday, today and tomorrow and look at what’s going to be happening next year.


I realise this post may be a little negative – this is not to say that I didn’t learn some amazing things and get to network with incredible fundraisers who are working tirelessly to do good, but I do think we need to start rethinking some of the ways that we engage at these conferences if we’re really going to accelerate our sector and look to learn all we can from what is happening in the wider world.

48 hours to build the most awesome digital campaign the world has ever seen

Following the success of our innovative and highly-rated hothouse session in Amsterdam last year, we are returning to the IFC in October with a masterclass running along the same lines.

Put simply, we are giving ourselves – and the delegates – 48 hours to build the most awesome digital campaign the world has ever seen.

We’ll start off by sharing the creative principles and successful studies from causes that have engaged support and raised real money online. We’ll then hand over to the delegates to work in groups to create campaigns around a brief they help to create.

As well as the speakers’ expertise, delegates will have access to virtual support from THINK’s specialist digital designers, online influencer researchers and social media marketing experts – all working remotely to build the awesome digital campaigns.

Working as a group to tight timescales, delegates will also be exposed to some of the theory and practices of agile working that will give an insight into the culture required to be a successful digital team.

Finally, the groups will feed back on their work to see if we really have produced the most awesome digital campaign the world has ever seen.

From this masterclass delegates will learn:

  • How to creatively build a digital campaign from scratch
  • How to work as a team in a very short time to agile working methodologies – so gaining insights into successful digital culture and working practices
  • How to plan a multi-faceted digitally-led campaign

If this all sounds good to you, then join us at IFC 2018!

Organisational health: are you getting your five a day?

Does anyone else struggle as much as I do to be healthy? To ensure you get those five a day in? To reduce sugar and fat intake, to drink enough water, do enough exercise, get enough sleep…and the list goes on. It can be hard to be healthy, right? We are constantly told that if we don’t do these things, our bodies could fail us, we could be faced with future issues, and worst case, lead us to an early demise.

The same applies to organisations.

Organisations need to be healthy, and if they aren’t, they can fail. Fail their customers, their employees and themselves. Organisations won’t struggle to succeed because their ideas are rubbish or they don’t have enough talented people, they’ll struggle because they aren’t healthy. They aren’t looking after themselves or their customers.

So what does being healthy actually mean?

I would describe a healthy organisation as one with an environment that is:

  • …Free of internal politics
  • …Has a low turnover of talent
  • …Customer centric
  • …Clear on their purpose
  • …Not working in silos
  • …Has an aligned leadership team
  • …is transparent

So how do we, as organisations, ensure we are doing what we can to be as healthy as possible? So that we can serve our customers and strive for the purpose in which we established ourselves in the first place. Below I am going to outline what I believe the key ‘five a day’ are that all organisations should have that will help work towards achieving the aforementioned healthy environment.

1. Purpose

Without purpose, we are merely performing seemingly meaningless tasks to no aim. And without purpose, how do we find motivation? Without motivation, how do we do a good job? And if we don’t do a good job, how does an organisation succeed? And so on…

Most senior leaders would say their organisation does have purpose, or perhaps you would call it your vision, and I would agree that they probably do. The key, however, is to ensure that purpose is felt by every single individual working within that organisation, from the CEO to the finance director to interns. Not only do organisations need to ensure purpose is known and felt, they have the responsibility to guide their teams to know how to act on it. How do they know if their day-to-day work is in line with that purpose?

2. Strategy and priorities

(OK, so this is two things but I needed to squeeze them in!)

Creating a strong and tangible strategy, and outlining the organisational priorities are how you guide your teams in knowing where they should focus. It is how they’re able to know how they play a part in contributing towards the purpose of the organisation. Again most organisations would say they have a strategy, but how transparent is that strategy? And how aligned is it to your purpose?

Your strategy should derive from your purpose, and your priorities should then derive from your strategy. Those prioritise should feed into every team for them to disseminate into objectives that can be measured and tied right back up to the organisation’s purpose.

3. Measurement

So you’ve defined your purpose, strategy and priorities, but how do you know if you’re achieving/have achieved them? In my experience measurement can be overlooked. People talk about objectives and goals, but what are the hard measures to know if they have been achieved and more so, been successful.

4. Team Design

We know there are certain things teams need to be successful. A successful team doesn’t happen by chance, or we certainly shouldn’t leave it to chance to see whether they succeed or not. To help teams navigate through the 5 stages of team development (forming, storming, norming, performing, adjourning), we need to help them define tools to equip them in being the best they can be.

Like organisations, teams need to define their own micro-operating system. How do they get work done together? What do they expect of one another? What tools and routines are needed to make work ‘work’ for them? What’s their priority? How will they be measured? All these need defining and acknowledged at a team level for them to be armed in dealing with life as a team.

Setting aside time when new teams are setup to work create their operating system, and having regular time together to check into as the team develops is invaluable, and should be prioritised equal to getting work done.

5. Alignment

There is nothing more confusing than being told conflicting things in a given situation. Whether that be medical advice, car mechanic advice or what outfit looks best! I believe humans at their core crave simplicity and clarity and this transcends to the workplace too.

Leadership teams need to be aligned and consistent in their communication in the workplace. They also need to be aligned in their action. If leaders say one thing but do another, you can be sure that it’s the action that will be noticed more and replicated, especially if it’s at odds with what is being verbally communicated. Leaders need to practise what they preach.

Patrick Lencioni talks fantastically on organisational health as a whole in his book The Advantage, but specifically about the importance of a cohesive leadership team. Similarly to parenting advice, a cohesive, aligned ‘front’ leading the way ensures that there is clarity and consistency. As leaders, commit to backing one another up, even if you may disagree, disagree away from the front-line. Showing a lack of alignment at leadership level can cause employees to play leaders off one another – much like the split-up parent scenario – ‘but Mum said I could…’

Remove any cause for cracks to appear by sophisticating your leadership team decision making processes, and committing to living and breathing the decision made outside the boardroom, even if you were in opposition of the decision made.

So there’s a swift overview of my ‘five a day’ for keeping your organisation healthy. Hopefully they provide food for thought (no pun intended) and some ideas for where to focus if you feel your organisation could benefit from being a little healthier.

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If you feel your organisation could benefit from being a little healthier, whether that be in helping a team/s to define their own operating system to work better together, or to work with a leadership team to help build trust and cohesiveness, please contact us at contact@thinkds.org to discuss how we could support through building a tailored plan of workshops and coaching programmes.