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Business lessons from the charitable sector

The charitable sector immediately feels the impact of an economic slowdown. When people lose their jobs, charitable donations tend not to appear on their monthly budget. Yet both small local organisations and large international household names still manage to raise donations. Here are the lessons they could teach the commercial sector.

1.The case for support Every charity can tell you, in two sentences or less, why you should donate to them. This is their "case for support" – their elevator sales pitch if you like. They clearly tell their potential donors (customers) what they do, how they do it and why you should help them to do what they do. The more clear and concise the message, the easier it is for people to decide if they want to support the cause: the NSPCC’s strap line “Cruelty to children must stop. Full Stop” is a perfect example of an emotive and self explanatory case for support.

2.Tell the stories Charities are brilliant at writing case studies about their successes. Whether it be a child accessing education in the Third World or an abandoned puppy finding a new home, these case studies tell potential donors (clients) how their donation will be spent before they’ve even got out their credit card.

3.Media savvy Charities are usually really good at generating great media coverage. This is because they are good with journalists. They get to know their local and, if applicable, national newspaper staff. They respond quickly to requests for interviews or information. They provide timely and interesting press releases. They always have a story to tell (see point 2) and nearly always have things to talk about (see point 10).

4.Marketing milestones Whether a first anniversary, a significant donation, or even a "youngest donor", charities across the country are constantly celebrating milestones. The media and donor awareness these celebrations create usually ends up creating more donations.

5.Saying "Thank you" How often do commercial organisations thank their customers for paying their invoice or making a purchase Most charities are superb at saying "thank you". Their thank you letters leave you feeling valued and you remember that feeling the next time you are approached for a donation. 6.Accessing the "Little Black Book"Charity fundraisers are exceptionally good at finding out who knows who. Anyone joining a charity as a trustee is usually asked immediately “Who do you know?” Known as referrals in the business world, charity fundraisers are never afraid to ask people who they know and then to give them a call to introduce themselves.

7.Research Fundraisers often know a lot about their potential donors (customers) before they even approach them for a donation. They know, for instance, that women are more likely to give small regular donations whereas men are more likely to make larger one off donations. They do their research on their donors and then act on that research.

8.Varied income streams Very few charities have only one way to give. Visit the major charities’ websites and you will find at least 12 ways you can donate to the charity, each one suited to a different kind of donor. From running a sponsored marathon in a gorilla outfit, buying a brick for the roof restoration, leaving a legacy or making a straight donation by cheque, most charities make it "easy" to donate and thereby create a variety of income streams into the charity meaning they do not become dependent on only one source of income.

9.Link selling Charities with a variety of ways in which donors can support them are very effective in the art of link selling. Someone who buys a raffle ticket at a summer fete might be given a leaflet about the charities lottery. A donor making a donation in response to a mailshot may receive an email about leaving a legacy to the charity. Charities rarely miss an opportunity to tell you of other ways you can donate (buy).

10.Events Charities use events to engage with their donors as well as raise much needed funds. The sector is incredibly creative – their events range from fun runs and parachute jumps to sponsored silences and quiz nights. Look in any newspaper to find out what charities are up to or how much they have raised at their last event. Many of their events are sponsored or supported by businesses who in turn receive excellent publicity. 11.Networking Most fundraisers are brilliant at working the room at networking events. They will usually be seen swapping cards with everyone present, making interesting and clear one minute speeches and will often be the first people to drop you an email after the event. Business people can learn a lot by watching the networking skills of charity fundraisers.

12.Long-term relationships Charity leaders understand the importance of long-term relationships and very rarely go for one-hit-wonder donations. By keeping in regular touch with their donors charities keep their brand and message alive. An ideal client (donor) is one who makes a donation when they are in their early twenties and continues to support the charity throughout their lifetime, finishing up by leaving a legacy and/or asking for donations to be made to the charity in lieu of flowers at their funeral.

13.Community engagement Being invited to speak at Rotary/Women’s Institute/Inner Wheel/Masonic events may not sound like an ideal way to raise your profile but members of these groups are either potential clients or know potential clients for your business. If you have something interesting to talk about, if you are an engaging and confident speaker and if you are not trying to "direct sell" then contacting local community groups to offer yourself as a guest speaker may be a good investment of your time.

14.Team work Most charities are happy to work with other charities. They are comfortable working together in order to raise funds and rarely let egos get in the way of fundraising. Unlike commercial organisations charities will share the proceeds of a deal – say a charity ball – rather than not have any part in the deal at all.

15.Social networking Charities like Cancer Research have harnessed social networking outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to the point where they have over 447,000 Facebook followers – an ideal platform from which to send a message or indeed make a request for support. This is a straightforward, and free, way to stay in touch with donors (clients).

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