Crisis comms out/not out. Now what?


How many weeks are we into this crisis now? I don’t know, but it feels like forever. I’ve cut my own hair twice. It’s the only source of time keeping I have now. That and the clapping.

Absolutely everything has changed, from where (and if) we work, how we work, how we operate as families, communities, and as a society. It’s a lot to digest.

But as I have said in previous blogs, and to anyone that follows me on social, I’ve been amazed at what we have achieved. How we have pulled together, leaned in, supported each other, and still managed to get work done, some of it brilliant. Our sector has shone.

Humanity is alive and well

Key insight coming back from those that got emergency appeals out in time show that response across the board has been strong. Despite people’s individual worries, collectively we are giving. We care. We are doing what we can to help the causes that we already support, as well as new ones. In fact, many people are drastically rethinking which orgs they give to, because of their relevance to the crisis. That in itself is a massive shift in donors’ mindsets, and one we must all remember.

The ‘Colonel Tom Effect’ threw this into sharp relief. There was a vacuum for our collective humanity. We were trapped indoors against a backdrop of fear and confusion. We wanted (and needed) to do something. To connect. So we channelled that humanity into a story that was getting slight media traction, and because of that, it got a lot more media traction. Boom. Controversially, this shows more about us than it does Colonel Tom. People power is astonishing.

The future may be more about moments than journeys

It also highlights that the future, and importantly the power of individual giving going forward may be more about moments than it is about journeys. Our role as fundraisers may be more about how we harness those moments, and maximise them. But that’s a discussion for another time.

What this crisis has shown, is that relevance is everything. It’s driving communications, fundraising, brand, and importantly, purpose. I for one am very happy about that development.

Exhaustion. Overcompensating. Panic. Guilt. Let’s give ourselves a break

Despite this upsurge in relevance and innovation, people are really feeling the pressure. This constant emergency mode is not sustainable long term. Crisis, crisis, crisis. Red alert every moment of the day. Back to back Zoom meetings. Overcompensating because you are working from home. Guilt if you haven’t been furloughed. Guilt if you have been furloughed. It’s exhausting.

Let’s all knock it down a gear, yeah?

What we must do now is focus on the medium term, but also knock it down a gear, for our wellbeing, and to focus our productivity.

We need to pivot our storytelling for the next 6 months, and constantly showcase our relevance. Work out what we need to enable us to tell that story in that expanded timeframe, and what we need to drop/restructure to make sure this is our number one priority.

Strategically focus on relevance and real time reporting for the next 6 months

A few thoughts on how you can do that, from many, many discussions over the last couple of weeks:

  • I said recently in a presentation for the awesome Fundraising Everywhere that you don’t need a strategy during this crisis. Actually, you do, but it’s a simple, agile strategy created to help agile delivery. I don’t believe in ‘The New Normal’, but I do believe that looser strategies, to enable constantly agile working is the only way forward
  • Our campaigning colleagues have this nailed. Treat the crisis as a campaign. An unfolding, long term story with peaks and troughs, with you at the centre of it, reporting from the field
  • You can’t map out your comms for 6 months, but you can nail the expectation that this will be at least a 6-month story and create the internal manpower, capacity and resources to help tell that story. Push it to the top of your priority list.
  • Most of the work we are doing now at Audience is what we call ‘Phase 2’ of the crisis. The longer-term story arc. Breaking this down into phases really helps when faced with an uncertain future
  • Tell your/the story from different angles, as close to real time as possible and constantly keeping your audiences up to date. Balance reportage with 2-way engagement. Its not easy, but it’s what people want and need. That’s why you need to focus on resourcing it, above everything else
  • Remember that perfection is the enemy of consistent messaging. Get rid of those sign off processes and get busy. People want to hear from you. Today.
  • To do this you need to clear the decks, commit to this agile strategy, and deliver. Your strategy will change weekly (maybe daily) but if it’s built with agility in mind, it will adapt and flex. Embrace this.
  • But as I said, knock the pace down a bit. Think of your wellbeing as well as what you can actually achieve in the time you are working. Be kind to yourself, your teams, and your boss

Embrace the uncertainty, strategically

Recently a CEO asked me to look at their 40-page organisational strategy and condense it down to a couple of pages to help give focus to the Senior Leadership Team during this period. I managed to get it to fit on the back of a business card.  Frame this against the backdrop of committing to telling a longer-term story throughout the ongoing uncertainty of the crisis. Hopefully it makes sense:

  1. Meet daily
  2. Strip out everything non-essential
  3. What have we learned from yesterday?
  4. What will we achieve today?
  5. What do we hope to achieve this week?
  6. Take a full hour for lunch

You may think that this is not having a strategy, but it’s actually having a crystal clear one. Its agile and will lead to agile delivery. Apply that sort of strategic simplicity to your comms for the next 6 months, knock it down a gear and breathe.

We’re here if you need us.

Wayne Murray

Strategy Director

Audience Fundraising and Communications



Reasons to be cheerful…

I’ve spent some time this Easter weekend away from my screen, spending quality time with family and trying to stay centred. It’s given me some perspective, and some time to properly reflect on the last month.

My overriding feeling right now is how proud I am of the sector. Yes, we are struggling. Yes, the government needs to do more. Yes, we’ve had to furlough staff. Yes, there are enormous challenges going forward, but the overarching feeling for me is one of pride.

I’m also aware how up and down we all are emotionally, myself included. How our feelings are changing hour by hour. How days seem extraordinarily long on one hand, and on the other how there isn’t enough time to get everything done. Focusing on the positives has (all of a sudden) become really important to me, so I thought I’d write down the things that have inspired me, just in case this blog catches you during one of those low hours. Full disclosure, this blog was written during one of my up hours, to be reread by me during one of my low ones.

10 things the charity sector should be proud of right now:

  • Adaptability. Remote working! How the heck did that happen so quickly, and so smoothly? If we can completely flip our entire working methodology in a few shorts days, imagine what else we can do if we put our minds to it.
  • Pulling together, not apart. Distance. Remote working. Less staff. Confusion. No off the shelf solutions. All of this a perfect recipe for paralysis, for retreat, for doing less. What I have seen is the exact opposite. Charities, teams and individuals are pulling together in ways I have never seen before. I for one feel more connected to colleagues, causes and conversations than ever. Far away. So close. At the same time. It’s infectious.
  • Ramping up/adopting digital. For some, it was the first big leap for digital. For many it was the first time that digital really took centre stage for comms and fundraising. (Because it had to…) On the whole it has been an enormous success, and has forged a new path for all going forward. Digital transformation is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity.
  • Generosity with time and knowledge. Like many, when things started to get a bit heightened and bewildering, first thing I did was pick up the phone. Not just to clients, colleagues and friends, but to anyone who needed help and advice. Many, many others did the same. As well as focusing on their own cause, and their own internal issues, people reached out and connected, cross-sector. People have been so free and generous with time, knowledge and support, forging new relationships that will continue long after this crisis.
  • Small acts of individual humanity. I’ve been inspired by the community I work for, but also my geographical community. Even the road I live in has astonished me with its humanity. The street ringing to the sound of clapping every Thursday. The trips to the shops for those in lock-down. The hand drawn messages of encouragement and support in windows. Certainly where I live there has been a real demonstration of not only what community is, but also what charity means.
  • Humans. Not hierarchy. I was on a call the other day that was overrunning, the person I was speaking to said. “Oh, I’ve got to go. I just need to call my boss and check in on his wellbeing, he’s juggling a lot at the moment.” Historically, hierarchy was the glue that held charities together. Now it’s humanity.
  • Innovation. I never really believed in ‘Necessity is the mother of invention.” I do now. Look at the way events have pivoted to work online. Look at the way we have adapted the channels we can use to get comms out. Look at the way we have wrestled with technology to connect to our jobs, and to those we love. I’d never heard of an online pub quiz until 2 weeks ago. Now I’m addicted, and so is my Nan.
  • New roles. Common goals. Humans are extraordinary, adaptable and surprising. On Monday you are an in-house face-to-face fundraiser. On Wednesday you are helping run your organisations social media channels. Redeployment has shown us who we really are, which is way beyond the confines of our individual job descriptions. We care. We are part of something bigger. We want our charities to do well. We will do whatever it takes. We pull together. We lean in.
  • Leadership. I’ve spent a good part of my career over the last *coughs* few years pushing against a lot of the outdated fundamentals of the sector. Challenging, talking about bravery, trying new things and focussing on what genuine leadership is. I have seen more leadership in the sector in the last month, than I have in the last decade. Charity leaders doing incredible things, in completely turbulent times. We have some amazing leadership in our sector. Crisis has shone a spotlight on where it is, what it looks like, and how effective it is.
  • Kindness. What the crisis has shown most is that in a crisis, kindness rises to the top. We’ve all seen this. It’s always been there, it’s just been enormously magnified. My hope is that this kindness, empathy and shared humanity continues. That there is a residue of compassion that permeates into the future. That the bar for humanity has been raised, for all of us. Forever.

I watched Jojo Rabbit over the weekend too.  It’s beautiful. There was a quote in the end credits by Rainer Maria Rilke that really resonated for me in these times:

“Let everything happen to you

Beauty and terror

Just keep going

No feeling is final.”


Hope helpful. Here on Zoom in the spare room if you’d like to add to the list.

Wayne Murray

Strategy Director


COVID-19. A simple 10-step plan, because humans are amazing.

Hello awesome humans.

Just a quickie, we know how busy you are.

We have been speaking to over one hundred charities, who are worried and confused as events have unfolded over the last few weeks. We have lots of advice, help and support to offer, but one of the most useful things we thought we could do is provide a really simple road map to keep things on track. Sent with love and humanity from Audience.

  1. Keep talking. Now more than ever speak to colleagues, other organisations and external agencies. We all have a role to play. Communication and shared humanity are the most important things we have at the moment. The money will come later.
  2. Bed in. With new remote working set up, make sure your kit works. Right from the off try to establish a routine, a new routine that balances work and life. This situation will continue for a while. This may be the new normal. Get used to remote working. Make it work for you, your life and your family.
  3. Reforecast. Have a really clear understanding of the financials in the current climate. What is the impact of dropping Retail, Community, Events etc? Have clarity on numbers . Worst case scenarios are helpful if looked at with a clear head. The known is easier to deal with than the unknown.
  4. Redeploy. Staff, assets, volunteers. Think laterally. People have skills you never knew they had. They are also loyal and committed. Focus on the key issues of short term versus medium and long term which are…
  5. Short term. Really push Email, and Social. Be relevant. Focus on the effects of the virus to your beneficiaries, your org, your future. Be clear, timely and above all quick. There is a knack to this. Shout if you need help.
  6. Medium term. Warm mail. Inserts. Press. Telephone. Also use redeployed capacity and manpower to think of foundational work. Propositions. Insight. Research. Think about structure of teams, new working methods, feedback loops, content gathering and sign offs
  7. Longer term. Organisational transformation. Culture of Innovation. Product Development. Cross organisational working. Cross sector working. What is the role of Retail and Community in light of what’s happened? Remember that things will never be the same again. This is time to embrace change. Don’t hibernate, innovate.
  8. Trust and support each other. This is new to everyone, from volunteers to CEO’s. Connect and stay connected in a deeper way. take care of each other. Sod hierarchy, focus on humanity. When this is all over, think of how much more robust your team will be
  9. Remember that philanthropy will bounce back. Humans are amazing. We are going through a very tough time, together. Just look at the empathy, community spirit and love being shown by people around the country right now. Focus on that when you feel low. There are immediate opportunities to raise money, but there will be an enormous groundswell of support in the near future. Be ready for it.
  10. Please refer back to point 1. Call/Zoom someone today that you have been meaning to but for some reason haven’t.  Do that again tomorrow.

Love to each and every one of you.

Wayne Murray

Strategy Director


What do 200 charity professionals think the biggest issue going forward is?

Like many, I’ve spent a long time since the general election licking my wounds and scratching my head. I think that period of reflection has been good for me, and my wellbeing. At Audience we’ve also being using a similar tactic to think about the state of the sector, and how we can actually transform and move forward (rather than just talking about how we absolutely, definitely, totally have to, which I have been doing, and will again in future blogs).

What has been really helpful for me is to listen, not talk. To receive rather than constantly transmit. To connect with different people, to try and look at things from different angles.

For me and the team at Audience, this has meant doing some very interesting things. Personally, I’ve taken on a trusteeship again. I’ve committed to giving a day’s free strategic consultancy every month to charities who wouldn’t otherwise commission it. I’ve reconnected with people that inspire me, and I’ve started to use social to ask questions.

Ask scary questions and you get scary answers

Recently, I asked the great and the good what they thought the biggest issue for the sector was going forward, it got a surprising amount of traction. I wasn’t undertaking any detailed, or rigorous research. I just wanted to get a bit of a litmus test for what was on people’s minds; what their fears and frustrations were. Over 200 people responded. Here’s a few top line thoughts before we get into the responses:

  1. 50% of responses came through direct messages rather than openly commenting on Twitter or LinkedIn. Many of which said that they wanted their thoughts to remain confidential. On the whole, these were from more senior charity leaders. People were hugely frustrated but didn’t want their views publicly known.
  2. A sizeable majority of overall responses came from mid-level charity employees. Many different issues, but all mainly around how it’s the senior level above that’s stopping/blocking/hindering shit happening.
  3. There is a huge amount of similarity of issues in the UK, Ireland and the USA. We’re all in this together it would seem. Broad generalisation there, and sample sizes for Ireland and USA are small.

Let’s open Pandora’s box

So, what are the top issues? I’ve grouped them into broad categories for your delectation. By the way, if you are here expecting me to give a solution to these issues, you are reading the wrong blog. I’m just thinking it would be useful, and helpful to hear what 200 people think. In no particular order…

  • Arrogance of the strength of the brand – People feel that there is an expectation within their orgs that the charity deserves support just because of its name, its existence and more scarily, just because it’s a charity that ‘does good stuff’.
  • Lack of talent – At all levels. Executives, Managers, Leaders, Boards. Agencies too.
  • Lack of ambition – See bullet point above.
  • Lack of diversity – Again, see bullet point above.
  • Financial illiteracy – A lot of this was geared around a lack of/wrong measures and irrelevant/outdated/unhelpful KPI’s. Lots of focus on how trustees need to step up their finance swagger too.
  • Complacency and stagnation – Lots of comments around people burying their head in the sand, thinking “this will all blow over soon” and a yearning for “the way things used to be”.
  • Lack of agility – Huge amounts of passion here around how inefficient structures are, speed of decision making, inability to get stuff to market. Importantly, many people don’t feel they have the autonomy to make decisions, especially new ones.
  • Lack of collaboration – Linked to the first point about arrogance, but also a frustration around navel-gazing, that people are looking inward or backward for the answers, following the crowd or basically just being big old lemmings. Also, that other charities are seen as competitors, building walls around yourselves and little on transformational ideas around large scale collaboration at a macro level.
  • Short-termism – Lack of strategy, vision, year-end financial targets hindering long-term transformation, and too much focus and capacity on the hamster wheel of activity and tactics bringing in diminishing returns.
  • Lack of relevance – Not in terms of what the charities actually do, more around why people should actually care, engage and support. A lack of understanding around values, changing demographics and how to redefine the role of charities and people’s connection to them going forward.
  • Lack of leadership – This one speaks for itself, but mainly geared around how leaders prioritise being operationally astute over being visionary, innovative and entrepreneurial.
  • Overly risk averse – Frustrations around the perfect storm of having to take risks at a time of plateauing or decreasing income, and what a difficult/impossible sell that is internally.
  • Lack of belief – In what charities are capable of. Issues around how they are not focusing on the big issues. Not standing up to the real bogeymen. Not having the real battles.
  • Lack of digital literacy – Across both fundraising and communications. Digital still being seen as a channel. Senior leaders not embracing, understanding, championing or financing a digital future.
  • Poor staff retention – Unrealistic fundraising targets, little support, frustrations that skills not being used properly. Many senior leaders actively pursuing an interim career as a way of avoiding the depressing and distracting quagmire of internal politics. Many people leaving the sector for good are precisely the people we need to stay. Many people we’d like to attract into the sector wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.
  • Focus on growth over impact – Interesting discussions around how on one hand fundraising is ignored, and on the other how income is the defining organisational, macho KPI. Not enough focus on impact as the defining criteria for a charity’s existence.

Phewf! Do you need to stop for a cuppa? Go for it. See you in a bit.

Top 3 issues

So, what were the top 3 issues? The ones that came up the most. Crash helmets on…


A lot to take in there. Three short bullet points but what they sum up is huge. A lack of understanding of how charities engage/communicate with the world, how they operate going forward and how they work in partnership with other charities and wider society. So, lots to do then.

My takeout from all this

Firstly, I couldn’t disagree with a single comment made by anyone involved. And importantly no-one involved actually disagreed with anyone else either.

I keep looking for an organisation, whether it be a charity, or an agency that is getting it right in terms of real transformation, and I can’t find one. But what I am seeing is people that are getting it right, within their own roles.

As with these 200 respondents, these people are scattered all over the sector. They aren’t all working for one charity, or one agency (imagine if they were!) They are across the sector, across the globe, and sometimes where you least expect them.

What we need are new, looser ways of connecting these people, of mobilising change with the people who are best equipped to do it. But every single one of these people is working hard as it is on their own particular organisational goals, which at the end of the day is what they are paid to do.

If we keep waiting for a single charity, or a single agency to nail the way forward so that we can then all follow and roll it out across the sector, we are going to be waiting a very long time.

My overriding thought from this exercise is, if these 200 people were the entirety of the sector, we’d be on a less shaky and more progressive trajectory than we are now.

So, how do we connect the real changemakers in the sector, the ones that are scattered across charities, agencies, consultancies and institutions?

How do we create an environment where people have the ability to balance the needs of the cause, or agency they work for, with the collective need to focus on transforming the sector as a whole?

And more importantly, how do we give them the coverage, the time, the agency and the collective tools they need to change the sector for the better?

Imagine a senior leader job description that said “50% of your time will be spent on achieving organisational goals. 50% of your time will be spent on a cross-sector project to transform civil society as a whole”.

It’d be a start, wouldn’t it?

Wayne Murray

Strategy Director


Fundraising problems are organisational problems: It’s big and it needs a new approach

So, it’s been an encouraging year. Charities are now on the whole in agreeance that the old fundraising model is broken, and a new approach is needed. That took longer than it needed to, didn’t it?

Things are looking up

I’ve said before that 2016 was about individuals within charities realising that there was a problem (on the whole not Directors of Fundraising, mind) 2017 was about charities themselves understanding there was a problem, and 2018 was about the sector as a whole agreeing collectively that things desperately needed to change. 2019 needed to be about actually fixing things, but let’s park that for a moment.

There has been loads of encouraging signs that this is the trajectory we are on. It’s been the overarching theme for most of the conferences. Fundraising leaders are publicly speaking about it and acknowledging that a new, unknown, but exciting model is needed. Trustees are even getting involved. Blimey. We still can’t predict, or project how this will all pan out, but we know it’s the only game in town. All good so far.

So, what’s the problem now?

The problem that we all have now, is that by unpicking the old model, and all the moving parts attached, is that it is a much, much bigger issue that we first imagined. I’ll give an example…

My agency received a brief recently, not dissimilar to the many briefs we receive currently, along the lines of:

“Our fundraising is in decline. We need to ditch the old model. Make a drastic step change. We need to engage in a different way. We need to be agile. We need to embrace product development and innovation. We need a culture where change is the only constant, we need to grow and we need to embrace the future, whatever it holds.”

Brilliant. What an opportunity.

Our response, after a 360-degree review of what was going on was this:

  • Your organisational strategy is vague
  • You have no fundraising strategy
  • You have no fundraising vision
  • You have no idea who your current or potential audiences are
  • Your website doesn’t work
  • Your CRM is not fit for task
  • You don’t have the internal structure you need to deliver for the future
  • You don’t have the internal skills you need to deliver for the future
  • You don’t have the internal culture needed to deliver for the future

And only after that did we start talking about more business as usual jazz, like…

  • You don’t have an overarching proposition
  • You don’t have a channel strategy
  • You don’t have a clear handle on budgeting
  • You don’t have a test and learn strategy

This was obviously not the response the Head of Individual Giving commissioning the work wanted to hear. This is completely out of their remit, and their bosses’ remit. But it’s the truth. It’s what needs to be addressed to genuinely transform. Another new proposition isn’t going to cut it. Almost all fundraising problems are in fact, at their core organisational problems.

The solutions we need are beyond the fundraising and comms team

Fixing the issues we have requires a completely new approach, and its not just down to fundraising teams within charities, and fundraising agencies to sort out. Its about every aspect of how charities run.

Look at the above bullet points. Every one of them is a major, cross organisational piece of work. CRM? Internal structures?  Culture? This isn’t the remit of little old me and my agency, or a charity head of department that just needs to increase net income from last year.

This needs a bigger, broader group of people.

Internally, within charities, this needs to be an SLT and board led, cross organisational project. It requires equal input from HR, from Service Delivery, Finance, I.T and every other directorate.

Externally, this requires agency skillsets coming together in a way they never have before. Outside the comfy confines of what fundraising and comms agencies have historically done. It needs broader skillsets. It needs partnerships that may not have ever happened before. It needs recruitment agencies, business transformation specialists, digital, tech, product developers. I could go on forever.

Where’s the Special Interest Group to drive this?

Also, as a sector, we don’t necessarily have the governing bodies to support this either. We have groups for Fundraisers, for Campaigning, for HR, for Insight, for Strategy, for PR. For all aspects of charity governance. But they aren’t joined up enough, they are not working cross sector, including the right stakeholders, and addressing the massive problem we have. Which is transforming charities, at an organisational level, to deliver financially going forward. Where is the Special Interest Group for Charity Transformation?

We have to move forward. Radically.

So, what the hell do we do now? When we know charities aren’t addressing the issue properly? When we know that agency support for this issue is fragmented, siloed and not offering or including the full skillsets required? When we know that governing bodies aren’t geared up and unified enough to help support us to do it at a sector level?

Time to pick a side.

My take on it is quite positive. We are still at the ‘forming’ stage of addressing this issue. What we can do at the moment is to take a stand and declare which side of the fence we are on. State that as a charity, or an agency, or a governing body, that our main focus in on transforming charities for the future. That we are in agreeance that we can’t do this alone, and need to do this collaboratively, and in a much more radical, and more far reaching and holistic way than we’ve ever addressed an issue before.

After that, we can work the rest out. Who does what. Where the cross over is. What other skills we need to pull in. But we need to genuinely stand shoulder to shoulder and tackle this head on. We don’t need charities saying that they want radical change when they really don’t. Equally we don’t need agencies saying that they are about transformation, when really it’s just shiny bait and business as usual. We need to actually sort this shit out.

We need to mobilise ourselves around a shared problem

We talk a lot about mobilising people to support charities. About sharing a vision, taking people on a journey and giving them a clear role to play. We need to use this model as a way of mobilising ourselves. Thank God we now know there is a problem. That’s a good start, and a unifying one.

Now we need to realise that we don’t have the answer, but we know who the full range of players are in the sector to turn it around. It’s like the Rebel Alliance. We’re not yet sure how we are going to win, but we know what we stand for and we know what we are fighting against. Importantly we know how big our challenge is, and we know who our allies are.

At Audience we’ve changing our approach to partnerships. Rather than just working with people we respect and who we get along with, we are strategically building alliances with charities, agencies and people who want to transform charities for the future.

Which side of the fence are you on? Stand up and be counted. Let’s actually see who our tribe is. 2020 must be the year that we get together, work out the solution, and then worry about divvying up who does what.

So, let’s get to it, and make blogs like this a thing of the past.

Wayne Murray

Strategy Director


The building blocks of successful product/proposition development

Successful products don’t just fall out of the sky, and if they are created in a bubble or (heaven help us) in a boardroom, that is exactly where they will stay.

 At Audience, we’ve been carving quite an exciting furrow recently in both the UK and Ireland. We’ve been focussing on building new products with charities, and in a lot of instances, training internal teams up to be able to develop products and propositions in-house longer term.

There has been a bit of a switch to working in partnership with charities not just to create ‘a thing’ but to change mindsets, to upskill, provide frameworks and help teams develop new ways of thinking. The natural bi product of this is the innovative products and propositions. Then we help them get those products to market, where the real work begins. Exciting.

There seems to be a real drive for product development in the sector at the moment, and quite right too. It’s been interesting looking back on the briefs we have received, and it’s really made us think about what an approach to product/proposition development should (and importantly) shouldn’t be:

What a new product/proposition isn’t:

  • The saviour of your fundraising. Many charities think, “Fundraising income is going down, traditional channels aren’t working, we need someone externally to come up with a shiny new thing, because our old shiny thing isn’t working.” Guess what, you’ll need another shiny new thing very soon too. Never stops, does it?
  • A channel. “Everyone is doing experiential stuff, so we want to do it too.” “We need something digital like all the stuff in the fundraising press.” Maybe you do, but interesting the blank looks we get when we ask the simple question, “Why?”
  • A strapline or even worse, a sub-logo. “You know, we want that NSPCC ‘Full Stop’ thing, or Save the Children ‘No Child Born to Die’. Can you do one of them for us?” There is a lot of foundational stuff that you need to do before you get to that stage. See previous blog Have you made a cake, or just a cherry? if you are getting pressure from your board to do just that.
  • A case for support. You need one of these, but it’s not a product or proposition. Your case for support is your condensed story, the reason you exist, how you are going to achieve your vision and mission, and how people can help be part of that.
  • Cheap. “Can we commission you for a morning to come up with a new product/proposition?” We can brainstorm ideas, get buy in and direction of travel, talk about agile frameworks, what’s working well in the sector etc, but I doubt we’ll crack it in a morning. Sorry.

But it’s not all bad. From really interrogating these briefs, and getting to the crux of what the real issue is, (which is kind of what we do at Audience) we’ve come up with some pretty good pointers on what product/proposition development is:

What a new product/proposition is: 

  • A way to connect your strategic objectives with key audiences in a cohesive and exciting way. Whenever we are asked to work on a new product, I always ask for the organisational strategy. After all, the role of a new product should be to help deliver those objectives, no? Frightening how many times I’ve heard, “I’m not sure we have one of those documents.”
  • A commitment to a new way of working. One that doesn’t focus on doing the same thing over and over again to diminishing returns. The journey is more important than the destination in many cases. Embracing product development as an essential is also an internal commitment to take full or part ownership of it too, long-term.
  • A way to unify internal comms silos under a single, focussed banner. Siloed working has got the sector into a real pickle, and product development has the ability to really break this cycle. Fundraising and comms. Fundraising, campaigning and comms. Fundraising, campaigning, advocacy and comms. How about service delivery too? Now we’re talking…
  • An opportunity for internal staff to think externally, commercially and in an entrepreneurial way. This is perhaps the most important facet of product development. If this is something that an agency does to a team, rather than with a team, your product will have an extremely short shelf life, because you didn’t help build it. You know that old adage about how a brand new car loses value as soon as you drive it off the forecourt? Same goes for new product development. Make sure that your internal team think like engineers, rather than sales people.

So what do we need to do?

To survive, charities need a adopt a fresh approach to connect with current and future audiences. One that isn’t based on just looking back, but one that also faces on looking forward, and taking a calculated leap into a void. Products and propositions are key to this, but more importantly is having an internal culture that drives innovation and constant product development.

It’s great that charities are thinking about new products. But before you even launch your first product, you should already be thinking about the next one. That’s the step-change that the sector needs to make.

It’s not about stepping off the treadmill for a few days and creating a new thing. It’s about understanding that new things are going to be constantly required, and you need an infrastructure, and culture to be able to continually develop, adapt and innovate.

Product development is not just about products. It’s about bravery, leadership, and culture.

In a nutshell, I’d go as far as to say that successful product development is more about people than it is about products. Get the structure right, and the products will come.

 This doesn’t mean just hiring an ‘Innovation Manager/Special Projects Manager’. Doing that doesn’t solve the problem, it highlights that you haven’t addressed it properly in the first place. It also may mean that you are trying to paper over the cracks.

Build teams that have product development at their heart, and importantly in their job descriptions. Give them the tools, capacity and support to enable them to own it. Don’t add it onto the workloads of already overloaded staff or silo it off to an innovation team.

You’ll need external help to do that, and you’ll still need the expertise of agency professionals to hone creative execution, but let’s start turning the problem on its head.

Let’s stop writing briefs that say, “we need a shiny new thing” and start writing briefs that say, “we need to upskill, develop and support our teams to build lots of shiny new things”.

Wayne Murray

Strategy Director


A roadmap to somewhere? Or a hamster wheel to nowhere?

“We’re on the road to nowhere/somewhere.”

It all seems to be about roadmaps at the moment doesn’t it? Roadmaps for how to develop a new proposition, digital transformation, how to transform your culture. Everything needs a road map, and quite right too.

A road to somewhere is a shed load better than a hamster wheel to nowhere.

We’ve been banging our drum quite a lot at Audience in 2018, especially around how fundraising needs to change, how burying your head in the sand or tinkering around the edges of a very big fundraising and comms problem is not the answer. Charities need to do something bold, change their thinking and create new ways of engaging and inspiring. People seem to get it, and some are even doing it, but for many senior execs, the challenge seems too big, too daunting, and they don’t know where to start. Fair point.

So, using the parlance of our time, we thought we’d lay it all out as a roadmap. Breaking down a huge transformation project into slightly smaller, but still quite sizeable chunks, to set you on the road. A bit like how I approached GCSE physics revision, but hopefully with a much better result.

You can check at what stage your charity is at, what’s next, and what else you have to do. I’m not saying it’s simple, but it seems to be reassuring a lot of directors that we are speaking to at the moment.

So here goes, an 8-step roadmap for how to transform your fundraising for the future:

  1. There’s a problem. Firstly, you need to understand that there is a problem with your fundraising, and why.
  2. It’s everybody’s problem. If you already realise that there is a problem, you need to make sure that everyone else in your org does too (and why)
  3. Big problems need big solutions. If you all understand that there’s a problem, then collectively you need to understand that the solution is a drastic change, not tinkering. If the answer was one that you had up your sleeve all the time, you’d have solved the problem by now.
  4. Bold new vision. If you all understand that a drastic change is needed, develop a bold fundraising vision of where your org needs to be in the future.
  5. Roadmap from here to there. If you understand your future vision, plot out a roadmap of how to get from where you are now to where you need to get to.
  6. Have you got the skills to pay the bills? If you’ve plotted out your roadmap, make sure you’ve got the structure, skillset and processes in place to deliver it.
  7. Commit, but keep your eyes open. If you’ve plotted out your roadmap of where you need to get to, and what you need to help you get there, realise that you’ll need to adapt it as you go. Also realise this roadmap only goes forward, it’s one-way traffic
  8. Get on with it. Then get on and do it. Fix what can be fixed, build the new stuff you need, evolve your fundraising and keeping pushing forward

For those of you who don’t like a roadmap. I’ve condensed all points into a paragraph that you can quote/scream verbatim in big important meetings. Paint it on the board room walls if you need to.

“There’s a problem and we all need to understand it. It’s big and the solution is something we’ve never done before. We need to build a new future and make sure we’ve got the skills, kit and leadership to be able to get there. Then we need to commit to this new future and push forwards, adapting and learning as we go.”

So, where are we as a sector, and are we getting traction?

  • Just an observation from me, but many charities in 2017 were at stage 2, but 2018 seemed to be all about stage 3. Encouraging, but really slow don’t you think?
  • The biggest bottle-neck in the sector seems to be at stage 3. Organisations realise that ‘something big’ needs to happen, but are waiting for a solution from other charities/agencies, when the answer lies within your own charity, and is also probably very different to that of your so-called competitors
  • Most of the work we’re doing at Audience at the moment is stages 4 and 5. Its exciting stuff, and every project is unique
  • Stage 6 doesn’t appear to be on many people’s radar, but without it, stage 7 and 8 aren’t going to happen. You’ll slip back into old ways of working, because that’s what the old structure was built for.
  • Stage 8 isn’t just the reserve of big charities, quite the contrary in fact. Those at stage 8 are there because of a clear strategy, bravery and exceptional leadership
  • This journey is unique for every charity, but the roadmap is applicable to all
  • Timescales for each stage vary wildly. Audience worked with one charity that got from stage 1-8 in 4 months. Another charity we work with took 18 months to get to stage 2. The difference between the 2? Size? No. Budget? No. Internal capacity. No. Leadership. Yes.
  • A sobering thought, but remember, stage 8 isn’t the end game, it’s actually the start. That should focus your mind a bit on the job in hand and the speed we need to be working at. You’ll learn as you go, fail spectacularly in some places, but learn quickly. You’ll also need to surround yourself with the right people externally. Different parts of the roadmap need different skillsets. You can’t do it all on your own.

Audiences Mystic-Meg style predictions

  • 2017 was all about individuals within organisations understanding there was a problem, and needing to convince the rest of their organisations.
  • 2018 was about organisations collectively understanding there was a problem, and realising that the solution is a very different future to anything they had imagined before.
  • 2019 needs be about developing those big, unique futures, plotting a course for how to get there and hunkering down and getting on with it.

What stage of the roadmap are you on? If in doubt, get in touch and we’ll let you know.

Wayne Murray
Strategy Director




The fundraising team need to spend more to raise less.

If you are a fundraising director, and the below hasn’t been on a trustee meeting agenda already. It needs to be:

Trustee meeting agenda point 1.

  • The fundraising team need to spend more to raise less. (For discussion, led by the Fundraising and Communications Director)

It may just sound like a provocative headline for a blog, but this is precisely the Trustee/SMT discussion that many charities still need to have but haven’t.
It’s understandable why this discussion is being is being put off/delayed, I certainly put it off in charity side roles. It sounds like failure. It sounds like you’re not very good at your job. But it’s not your fault, and the sooner Trustees and SMT have this talk, agree and put a plan together for the medium term, the sooner you can start building the foundations for the long term. Avoiding it, masking it, diluting it, delaying it, will only stop you from getting on with the task in hand. So embrace it. Make it the mantra for your team. Own it.

“The fundraising team need to spend more to raise less.”

I’ve been a trustee myself, for 2 brilliant charities, and what I’ve wanted more than anything in both those roles is for SMT to tell it straight, and for us all to work together to be the best we can be. So let’s have a think about the possible responses from trustees after putting the above as an agenda point and see how it could pan out.

 “Why do we need to do this? What’s happened?

  • The marketplace has shifted
  • Collectively, we were far too focussed on short term metrics like CPA and 1-year ROI
  • When we saw that things were starting to do awry, we dug our heels in and tried to just make the existing programme work harder. Cut cost, increase frequency of asks, that sort of thing
  • We took a lot of our activity inhouse to save agency costs. Looking back, our output became a bit sloppy, repetitive and short-sighted
  • We took our donors for granted, and when acquisition got harder, asked existing donors for more donations, at a higher value, more frequently
  • We had all of our eggs in one basket when it came to acquisition, and didn’t have a Plan B
  • Instead of looking forward, when things got harder we looked back.
  • Our short-term focus on delivery overshadowed our need to innovate
  • We didn’t look outside our sector enough
  • We couldn’t justify any fundraising communications that didn’t have an ask. We didn’t focus on engagement enough
  • We were really late to market with digital
  • When things were going well(ish) we didn’t feel the need to invest in research and insight, and then when things went downhill, we collectively felt we couldn’t justify the investment
  • Individual Giving in particular is really complicated, and there isn’t enough fundraising experience on the board. All board discussions were about year one net income and ROI. Or randomly, long winded conversations about what famous people live in their village. (Controversial one this)

“How long do we need to do this for? What’s the plan in the short/medium term?”

  • We honestly don’t know how long we will need to do this for. It might just be like this forever. This might just be how it is from now on
  • But what we can tell you is that we are going to strip out every aspect of the current fundraising plan that isn’t working
  • We are still going to be generating as much income as we can, but at the same time we need to invest for the future
  • We are also going to need to spend on some foundational stuff to give us the best possible chance for fundraising/engaging in a very different landscape
  • We are going to understand what our DNA is, and why people should support
  • We are going to understand what our competitors are doing, and even who our real competitors actually are. They may not even be charities
  • We are going to understand our current donors better
  • We are going to focus on engagement and inspiring people. Not every communication will lead to an ask
  • We are going to design new metrics and KPI’s for monitoring success, ones that aren’t so short term focussed. Ones that focus more on engagement and satisfaction, and how many touch points people have with our work
  • We will commit to the fact that there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach to fundraising, and that we need to find our own way
  • We will commit to innovation. It’s the only way we’ll survive
  • We will provide a range of ways in which people can engage and get involved, we’ll not just crow bar people into our cash and regular giving programmes. We’ll try to enable supporters to help in other ways, so its all a bit more of a 2-way relationship. People want to do, as well as donate after all
  • We are going to spend money on embedding digital. Sort out our website, digital health checks, payment processes etc. We’re going to commit to digital for the long term and use the data and insight we generate to inform our decisions going forward
  • Importantly, we are going to look at our skillset and departmental structures. Innovation isn’t just about new channels and new approaches. Its about making sure we have the right talent, and the structure to make the step change we need
  • We will test, and we will learn. We’re not going to copy other charities, as we may have before. We are going to understand who we are, who our potential donors are, what they want and how and if we can build relationships with them

“What does the future look like?”

  • We don’t know for sure. But the foundational work that we do know will give us the best possible chance of survival
  • The one thing we know for sure is that we will continually need to adapt, so we need to build a fundraising team and a strategy that embraces that
  • We are going to build a team that has strategy and innovation in everyone’s job description. We’re not just going to talk about it. We’re going to do it
  • We are going to find our niche and we are going to own it. We are not going to follow others, we are going to lead based on our own learnings, our own insight and our own experiences
  • Collectively, we are going to commit to a different future. If we are relevant, engaging, tell powerful stories and want to work in partnership with people who are interested in our work, and offer them a range of ways to get involved, we will succeed.

There is no denying that these are tough conversations, but you can’t not have them. For how many more years can you try to make the current model work before it breaks completely? 2? 3 at a push? You can’t be expected to spin gold from straw forever.

The sooner you get everyone on board, and pointing in the same direction, the sooner you can fix fundraising for your charity, and it all starts with…

“The fundraising team need to spend more to raise less.”

Wayne Murray

Development Director

Audience Fundraising and Communications

Do you have a fundraising strategy? Have you made a cake, or just a cherry?

Interesting times at the moment, and a very choice time to be working back agency side.

Previous blogs have highlighted the shifting fundraising landscape. Guess what? It’s still shifting, and it’s been very interesting speaking to a range of fundraising directors about how they are strategically looking at fundraising in the medium term. Broad brush strokes, but there seems to be 3 approaches right now:

  • CARRY ON REGARDLESS! We know that the old model isn’t working anymore, but we’ll keep plugging away at it. It’s what we’ve always done! We’ll do the same old, same old, but we’ll be tighter on cost control. Maybe take some stuff inhouse as those agencies are really expensive these days, aren’t they? Get rid of the innovation budget while we’re at it, we can’t afford luxuries like that at the moment, and rarely spend it anyway. Gross income will continue to go down but we’ll offset this loss with savings across the board. We’ll have a look again next year. It’ll probably all blow over by then.

I wonder if these charities have modelled out how the next 5 years look on this trajectory

  • STOP ACQUISITION AND PRAY FOR A BIG LEGACY! Goodness knows what’s going on with fundraising at the moment, particularly IG? Fingers crossed a big legacy lands soon to hide all this like it did last year, and the year before. Best thing is to halt all acquisition, it’s our biggest expenditure after all. Save the money and wait for the big charities to decide what the NEXT BIG THING is, and then we’ll just do that. And guess what? Because most acquisition doesn’t bring in a positive year 1 ROI, our year end net income will look better than ever. Trustees will love us.

Pretty short-term view in our opinion, how will your trustees feel in 5 years when you have no donors and your legacy income is in decline? What’s the plan then?

  •  OPTIMISE AND BUILD FOR THE FUTURE. There is a lot that isn’t working, but we’ve got a fairly good idea of what the future looks like. So we need to build the foundations now to help us get to where we need to be, it’s also going to cost a bob or two, but we REALLY need to do it. We’ll drop a load of activity that isn’t working for us, but for the activities that still work or have potential to if we do them properly, we’ll optimise them as much as we can. We also acknowledge and everyone has bought into the fact that in the short term we will probably have to spend more to raise less. We’ve had those difficult conversations at board level and we have a plan going forward, kind of.

Yep. This one. Whether you are a large or small charity. This is the clearest way forward you are going to get at the moment.

So, let’s say you fall into the third camp. This is where many of the charities that come to see us are. Next step is to create an overarching fundraising and communications proposition. Pulling everything together and giving clear vision and direction to your fundraising and comms going forward, balancing existing channels that are still working for you and testing new channels to build on for the future. Fantastic!

This is the time when great things can happen. Becoming more than the sum of your parts etc. You can get all the foundational stuff in place to inform the proposition. Sector analysis, competitor analysis, audience research, proposition development, channel mix, media balance, test and learn strategy. All the fun stuff. Some charities have none of this, some have most, the majority are in between.

We help fill in the few or many gaps so we can have a clear picture of where we are going and ultimately what that proposition is going to be, and how it will deliver your fundraising strategy.

But this is also where we usually find the biggest hole. Many charities just don’t have a fundraising strategy.

I’m not talking about a budget. Proudly putting together lots of neatly interlinked excel sheets that show performance over 3 years is all well and good and necessary, but its only part of it, and if it isn’t built on the base of a solid strategy, it’s just numbers. Too many fundraising directors think that the budget IS the strategy.

Also, especially as everything is in flux at the moment, if you’re just replicating old results (or even worse, an arbitrary percentage increase in income on previous years figures, AAARRRGGGGHHH) you are probably going to get a few nasty surprises in 3 years’ time. You’ll also wonder why your staff turnover in fundraising is so high, especially just before the end of the financial year.

So, what do I mean by fundraising strategy?

A fundraising strategy is a road map of how you are going to deliver the money to achieve your organisational strategy. (You’ve got an organisational strategy, right? Good.) It outlines what’s going on in the sector, an honest critique of current and historic fundraising, where you aim to get to and how. It also offers contingencies and balances reactive and proactive work. It’s the fundraising departments collective vison, and a detailed plan of how to deliver it.

It’s what focusses and drives your fundraising team. It helps you decide what you will and won’t do. Is this in the strategy? Will it help achieve our organisational strategy? If not, then you don’t do it.

It more often than not needs external input too, to challenge your thinking and give a different, broader perspective. Time and money, very well spent.

It’s not a document that’s written by the fundraising director that tells the story behind the excel budget figures and is forgotten about come the start of the financial year. After trustees have been convinced your sums add up and that you can be trusted with a pot of money. Remember all that stuff about ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast?’ It’s true. Strategy has to be owned by everyone and ensuring key stakeholders are involved and championing the approach.

It’s a living and breathing commitment that the whole team are working towards, that they have all input into and is driven by someone with real vision. Someone who will fight tooth and nail to keep things on track, clear bottlenecks, remove obstacles and let the team have a fighting chance of delivering success. It also needs to be reviewed regularly as things continue to change externally, not just measured against quarterly. It’s not static. The world turns.

The swanky, award winning, joined up 2-year, multi-channel fundraising and communications proposition that you then develop is the cherry on the top. Without the strategy supporting it, you’ve just made a tasty little cherry.

Make a cake, not a cherry.

Wayne Murray

Development Director


Fundraising in 5 years, and what you need to do NOW.

So, the dust is starting to settle in the fundraising world. We’re acutely aware of what isn’t working any more, and also what we shouldn’t be doing. There’s no direct and clear path to the future, but we’ve got a pretty good idea of what the future is going to look like. Multi-channel, engagement first, digitally mature, engaging with wider demographics, getting beyond cash and regular giving, trustees that champion fundraising. It all sounds brilliant. I’m in.
But how do we get there?

Nearly every meeting I’m having at the moment has the same question from a Fundraising Director:

“I can see where we need to get to, but how do we get there whilst still balancing the books in the meantime?”.

Good question, and the answer is probably terrifying. So we thought we’d lay down some pointers as to what you need to do now, to get to where you need to be

  1. You are probably going to raise less money in the short term. Approach this head on and don’t shy away from it. The old IG model is broken. Trying to do what you did before isn’t going to work anymore. Have frank conversations with your FD, your CEO and your board. This isn’t admitting failure, its accepting reality. It’s not your fault, and IG has probably been propping up other income streams for years anyway.
  2. Take a machete to your current IG programme. Be brutal. Break the cycle. Optimise the hell out of things that are working and hack back activity that isn’t working. You’ll need that investment money, as well as the capacity it frees up.
  3. Do you have a fundraising strategy? I’m still amazed by how many charities don’t. I don’t mean a budget, I mean an actual strategy. A vision for how you get from where you are, to where you need to be. When did you last undertake a marketplace review? What about competitor reviews? When did you last commission an external person to review your fundraising activity?
  4. Digital isn’t cheap. To do digital properly, you need to make sure that all the foundational work is in place for it to work and for it to scale. Audit your website, is it fit for task? Accessibility? Content? SEO? Analytics? Do you have the internal skills to do it properly? How easy is it to donate? Can you track who has and where they came from? Get the foundational stuff in place ASAP, and then test digital properly. Don’t let the cost of the foundational work stop you from undertaking digital work completely either, you’re already late to market. Do you think those insert response rates are going to back up in 5 years’ time?
  5. Digital is long term. You need to commit. You need to work out how digital will work for you, and you will probably need some external help. Test and learn but be persistent. It’s important. Whoever you are.
  6. Focus on campaigns, not appeals. This will help you become multi-channel quicker. Develop your overarching proposition. Pick a 3-6 month period and work out how you are going to tell that story in the best possible way across all those channels. Think in advance about what you are going to do when people do engage. Guess what, not every person will donate on first engagement. Why should they? What are the next steps?
  7. Tell peoples stories properly. Or even better, let them tell their stories themselves. There is no such thing as too much investment in content and storytelling. At the end of the day, it’s all you have. Think multi-channel. Think video. Think real time. Think short form versus editorial. Think differently, and whatever you do don’t think it’s a written interview transcript and a few quotes.
  8. Find your niche and own it. The next 5 years will see a lot of charities merging, and potentially a lot more folding. If you can’t find a clear USP in the work that you do, why would anyone support you?
  9. The corporate world is not just somewhere for you to take inspiration from. They are now your direct competitors. Think about that next time you buy something online, especially in terms of UX. This is not just an aspiration, this is now the base level for engagement, and what everyone expects.
  10. Your charity is not on a pedestal any more. None are. People don’t care about your heritage, your brand or how worthy charities are. People don’t necessarily feel that they need to support a charity at all. What people may care about is the work you do, the impact that has, and how they can be part of that. Move your brand to the side and connect people to the work. Stop getting in the way of the story. Three is a crowd.

So, to get to the long-term fundraising utopia, you need to balance short term optimisation with medium term foundational work and testing. Your fundraising income is probably going to take a short-term dip. Unfortunately, this will be at exactly the same time that you need to invest time and money into getting your house in order to enable you to fundraise effectively in the future. Fundraisers love a formula, right? How about:

Short term optimisation + (Medium term investment in foundational work + testing) = Long term sustainability

It’s a tough thing to square with Finance Directors, CEO’s and the board, but what’s the alternative? I don’t think there is one. Then again haven’t fundraisers always prided themselves on being strong negotiators and being able to sell the big picture? Now’s your chance.

Wayne Murray

Development Director

Audience Fundraising and Communications