KNOWLEDGE: Exercise your critical thinking skills at the IoF convention this year

If you spend a day at the Institute of Fundraising’s national convention at the Barbican from July 2-4, you’re almost certainly guaranteed to come away with some top practical tips that you can implement in your fundraising on your very next day back in the office.

But what about the new ideas that will have you thinking weeks after convention is over, those evidence- and theory-based ideas that really engage your critical thinking faculties so you have to work out for yourself how to apply them rather than just take away a ready-made checklist.

Most conference sessions focus on developing fundraisers’ practical skills. But there are fewer sessions that dig a bit deeper with the aim of illuminating trends and challenges, particularly in areas that are not working well. These are the issues that will help fundraisers create a better profession, not just do their jobs better.

So, just as we did with the Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference in New Orleans in April, at multi-national team from Rogare’s International Advisory Panel, along with four British fundraisers nominated by the IoF, has trawled all the sessions from the IoF 2018 conference to pick out a critical thinking stream. This will be for those delegates whose professional knowledge is probably already quite well developed, and might prefer to spend their time at conference in a deeper dive into sector-wide issues and challenges.

So in this blog, we present the 16 sessions we decided should be part of this critical fundraising stream.

Keywords covered in these sessions are:

Monday 2 July

Mid-value giving – a global view

Mark Phillips, Kimberley Blease

Room: Frobisher Auditorium 2


As a group, mid-value donors are of increasing importance to fundraisers. Not only are they valuable, they are likely to become particularly engaged to the causes they support. But with increasing numbers of charities now targeting them, how has their attitude to giving changed and which of their needs does the successful fundraiser have to answer to build a successful relationship? Illustrated with research and examples from the UK, Ireland, Canada, USA and Australia, this session looks at what is currently working, and makes suggestions where mid-value fundraising will move over the next five years.

Key words: donor behaviour, donor attitudes, mid-value giving.

Future of corporate partnerships

Nik Miller, Rachel Kirby-Rider, Kate Jordan, Rachel Hopcroft

Room: Frobisher 4-6


Corporate partnerships are on the rise across the charity sector and they are growing in their scale, scope and complexity. This interactive session will explore the latest trends, innovations, risks and opportunities associated with corporate partnerships, starting with the key findings from the latest research by More Partnership, which explores a range of critical trends in this area. These findings will fuel a short panel debate with leading experts from across the sector, before being opened to audience input and questions.

Key words: corporate, CSR

How are charities working with internal audiences to increase legacy giving?

Claire Routley, Christine Reidy, Kate Jordan

Room: Garden Room


This session reports on a sector-wide research project to investigate how charities are working with internal audiences to promote legacy giving to a wider audience.

Key words: legacies.

Ethics jeopardy

Ligia Peña

Room: Garden Room


Based on the TV game show ‘Jeopardy’ – as the game goes, the answer is provided and the contestants come up with the question in the form of “What is ….”. Fundraisers are all good and honest people but ethics is a sneaky grey area that can trip up the best and brightest professionals. This session provides the chance to brush up on the fundamentals of ethical best practices and professional standards while at the same time, having a “ridiculously good time”.

Key words: ethics.

Relationship fundraising 3.0

Adrian Sargeant, Jen Shang, Kathryn Carpenter

Room: Barbican Hall


Many organisations claim to be practising relationship fundraising, but in reality there is little agreement about what that actually means and what would constitute a relationship approach. This session takes apart the notion of relationship fundraising and looks at the social psychology of how human beings form relationships. It looks at what learning there is for how fundraisers might better build donor relationships, and reports the results of the most recent testing of a relational approach at the Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy.

Key words: relationship fundraising, social psychology, philanthropic psychology, donor experience, donorcentred fundraising.

Charity of the year – should we bother?

Hannorah Lee, Bea Theakston, Ben Swart, Sarah Eite

Room: Frobisher 1-3


The detailed bid process, the live pitch, the need to create new projects and galvanise your entire networks behind the staff vote (within the strict rules). Charity of the Year awards are worth millions but almost always go to the usual suspects. In this panel debate, the question will be asked: Charity of the Year – is it worth it? 

Key words: corporate

Women in fundraising debate

Yvette Gyles, Paul Marvell, Lucy Edwards, Kath Abrahams, Ruby Bayley-Pratt

Room: Cinema 1


This panel discussion will look at women in fundraising, with a focus on equality and creating safety for all fundraisers. The panel will look at what female fundraisers can do to take care of themselves, support their colleagues, ensure a zero tolerance of unacceptable behaviour in organisations, and how the sector can promote equality for all people working in fundraising.

Keywords: diversity, inclusion

Tuesday 3 July

BAME fundraisers in the UK – what’s race got to do with it?

Fezzan Ahmed

Room: Frobisher Auditorium


This session will cover the findings from research initiated last year, with the support of the IoF and the Black Fundraisers UK Special Interest Group. It will describe an initial typology of BAME fundraisers in the UK: a snapshot of their personal and professional characteristics, their perceived challenges and opportunities to their professionalism, and the implications this has on practice and the sector. This is crucial to harnessing the full extent of philanthropy in the UK, with the question: why are there so few BAME fundraisers?

Key words: diversity, inclusion.

Donor focused leadership – how to create a donor-friendly, action-taking culture

Rob Woods

Room: Barbican Hall


The world we operate in is completely different to the 20th Century – and relentless technological advances mean the environment will keep changing. This session argues that unless fundraisers create cultures where people truly focus on the donor and are encouraged to use their initiative, they will fail to inspire loyal, generous support. The Commission on the Donor Experience sought out excellent leaders to find out how they’ve created teams that are donor-focused and empowered, finding that the best modern leaders act less like chess masters and more like gardeners. Using numerous examples, this session explores the three keys to leading in this way.

Key words: leadership, organisational culture

Just do the right thing! But is it so easy to tell right from wrong in fundraising?

Ian MacQuillin

Room: Barbican Hall


It’s often said that fundraisers ‘just need to do the right thing’. But how do you decide what ‘the right thing’ in fundraising really is? And for whom should you do that ‘right’ thing. This session presents a new ethical decision-making framework and invites delegates to work through a series of actual ethical dilemmas in fundraising.

Key words: ethics

How to get your whole organisation behind delivering great experiences

Roger Lawson, Richard Spencer

Room: Cinema 1


A great donor experience is so much more than a supporter care programme, a newsletter, or a supporter journey. It’s about the entirety of every interaction a supporter has with your organisation. And, crucially, it’s about how this makes your supporters feel about you. This session presents findings of research from the commercial and charity sectors about what makes a great experience, with examples of how charities are putting these learnings into practice to inspire their supporters; and shares the results of a major new research project that measured the donor experience across many UK charities.

Key words: donor experience, organisational culture

Wednesday 4 July

Event participants and transformational experiences

Adrian Sargeant, Katie Mitchell

Room: Frobisher 4-6


What causes participants to push themselves to the limit at an event? As we move from an experience economy to a transformation economy, will we have richer experiences if we give our event participants an opportunity to transform?

Key words: events, donor behaviour, social psychology, relationship fundraising

Getting uncomfortable with innovation

Joe Morrison, Claire Whitney, Tracey Pritchard

Room: Frobisher 1-3


In the last 10 years there has been a huge focus on innovation in fundraising strategies, with the creation of innovation functions and specialist consultancies. Yet truly distinctive propositions creating lasting strategic impact remain a rarity. This session examines the reasons for this stagnation, and the challenge of enabling ‘uncomfortable’ ideas with game-changing potential to flourish.

Key words: innovation

Mystery shopping – what a supporter journey really looks like

John Grain, Michael Dent

Room: Frobisher 1-3


In April 2017 John Grain Associates launched the Secret Giver scheme, tracking and evaluating the typical donor relationship with more than 40 charities using specially selected mystery shoppers. This session presents: (1) comprehensive evidence-based overview of benchmarking – analysis and interpretation of charity communications by type, frequency, channel, accuracy and quality; (2) key insights into different approaches to supporter journeys, relationship fundraising, supporter care, and compliance; (3) leading charity case study into how to apply benchmarking and insights for practical improvements to fundraising programmes.

Key words: mystery shopping, donor experience, relationship fundraising, service quality

When is it right to say no? The ethics and practice of accepting or refusing donations

Daniel Fluskey, Laura Boult, Ian MacQuillin

Room: Barbican Hall


The decisions that fundraisers and charities need to make about whether to refuse or return a donation can be a contentious and difficult one. Following the Presidents Club scandal earlier this year, lots of organisations have been asking themselves the question of what they would have done if they’d had a donation: What would your supporters think? Would you lose corporate support? What’s in the best overall interests of the organisation? There are so many things to consider that thinking them through in advance can help to determine your position. Getting the process right is really important too – putting together a donation acceptance policy and knowing who and how you would make the decision. 

Key words: ethics

Donor acknowledgement – learning to say a better thank you

Jen Shang, Karthryn Carpenter

Room: Cinema 1


The thank-you letter has the highest recall of any donor communication, higher than the campaign that preceded it. So why is it that so many organisations do a lousy job of thanking their supporters? This session unveils the Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy’s most recent study. Should we be thanking our donors for their gift, for the difference they’ve made, for the kind of person they are, or for the kind of person they would like to be? How do these approaches make people feel – and is there an optimal point at which to thank to get the experience into long-term memory?

Key words: Relationship fundraising, social psychology, donor experience, philanthropic psychology

How we did this

The members of the critical fundraising team (see below) assessed the sessions (we had 11 team members poring over the programme for each day) against three criteria:

  • Was the session mainly practical and instructional or focused on encouraging new thinking and challenging existing ideas?
  • Did it tackle a subject in a novel way?
  • Were any ideas presented supported by evidence and, if relevant, theory?

Any sessions that was recommend by more than 50 per cent of the team went it the stream.

Find all of the tracks and sessions at the IoF National Convention at the Barbican in London from 2-4 July 2018 here.

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