International inspiration: some learnings from IFC 2017

Perhaps I'm being disloyal but having spoken at and attended a number of somewhat lacklustre UK fundraising conferences, I don't think that I'd prepared myself to be quite so impressed by International Fundraising Congress (IFC) in Amsterdam last month. 

Now in its 36th year, the conference brings together almost 1,000 delegates from 60 countries for presentations, workshops and masterclasses, providing learning, networking and sharing opportunities for the charity sector. From the big names like UNICEF, Red Cross and Save the Children, to local medical, research, children and animal organisations. It was an eye-opening experience to be amongst so many peers and colleagues from the sector, all striving to raise more for their work.

When in post as Chair of the UK's Special Events Forum, I remember having numerous discussions about the fact that Events Managers see themselves as fundraising professionals. With responsibility for raising six- and seven-figure amounts from our events, it's only natural that this is the case. For a number of smaller organisations, their flagship event counts for significant proportion of fundraising income. UK Top 5 charity Cancer Research UK cites that events contributed 10% of its £650m income in 2016/17. And aside from our own financial success, events teams work closely with our Major Donor, Corporate, Trusts and Foundations, Community and Individual Giving teams to provide them with a plaform to raise both funds and awareness.

I was therefore surprised to be in such a minority at IFC 2017 and to discover so few Events professionals in attendance. Those who I talked to about events had seen varying levels of success in their activity and I found myself wishing that I could work with them to help elevate their events and enable them to generate some serious income from their programmes. I would love to have an opportunity to lead on event content at IFC in the future.

My takeaways from the week included the following: 

  1. The market is changing  - Although globally there is quite a stark difference in progress in fundraising, for many, there is a clear shift from the more traditional fundraising methods and the impact of GDPR will be felt over the coming years  
  2. And yet, the need remains significant - As the gap between rich and poor widens in many contexts, fundraising targets are increasing, the number of charities is rising and the need for high impact fundraising campaigns continues to grow. Now, more than ever, fundraisers are playing a critical role in transforming lives.
  3. Formal professional development can be rewarding - More of a reminder than a learning! It's usually a low priority on our ever-growing task lists, but coming together with others across the sector and participating in interactive workshops with genuinely useful tools to take home was really valuable 
  4. The social aspect of a conference shouldn't be overlooked - Providing more meaningful relationship building than the official networking opportunities, the drinks receptions, pub quiz and 70s gala night (yes, really) gave us the chance to get to know other delegates in a very different way! 
  5. We have an opportunity to use our privilege - Keynote speakers Jeremy Heimans of Purpose and Bisi Alimi both talked about the importance of recognising and leveraging the position we are in to do some good in the world 

And we're not alone. Being amongst peers from across the world served as a welcome reminder that others are facing the same pushback from their Boards, the same politics within their organisations, the same budget cuts... As a freelancer it can be a lonely existence at times, but experiences like last week provide the recharge that we often crave. 

 

Fundraising Definitions

Fundraising organisations will often consist of some or all of the following departments, representing different income-generation streams.

Major Donors/Philanthropy - This team raises funds through High Net Worth Individuals, working with them to identify a funding project or gap to meet their philanthropic interests.

Corporate Partnerships - As the name suggests, this stream can be from longstanding/ongoing relationships with businesses or one-off Charity of the Year (COTY) partnerships, often part of an organisation's CSR policy.

Individual Giving or Direct Marketing - Chuggers, mailshots and TV adverts are all methods used by direct marketing teams. With the aim of raising nominal amounts from large numbers of people, they will use data segmentation to produce targeted campaigns and mailings.

Trusts and Foundations - From family trust funds to corporate foundations, there are pots of money available to charities and projects who meet the criteria. T&F teams will often work to produce detailed proposals in order to secure this funding.

It works for me: setting up as a freelancer

Over the summer I had a few weeks out of the office which included a short break in Spain, returning to a spot that I’d visited almost exactly three years ago. It is, therefore, almost exactly three years ago that I decided to set up Coveted Events.

I recently put together some notes for a friend’s blog and thought I’d share these too. The following five things were my “must haves” before I decided to move away from permanent employment and into freelance consultancy:

  1. Varied experience - Don't rely on one piece of work to carry you! I knew that I wanted to reach a senior level in events before I moved into consultancy - I wanted to be taken seriously and for my career history to speak for itself. Before I took the plunge, I deliberately sought to work or volunteer with small and large organisations, to deliver large-scale and more intimate events, and to work on team-led and independent projects, in order to demonstrate how diverse I could be. 
  2. Clear expertise – I knew that I wanted to focus on helping charitable organisations maximise the amount of money they raised through events. I’ve diversified a little since then but largely I continue to work with clients who need my support in this area. Having a niche has helped me pitch for work and to feel confident that I can add value. 
  3. A strong network of contacts within your field - I continue to be surprised at, and grateful for, the amount of work that I have become aware of through former bosses and through the wonders of social media. Remember to keep in touch, make the most of LinkedIn to stay aware of where your contacts move to and it doesn't hurt to maintain regular coffees of glasses of wine with those who could make introductions in the future. I will always remember a former colleague whose personal PR skills were second to none - she definitely inspired me to work on my profile and focus on building working relationships with those who were influential. 
  4. A next step – Now this is entirely up to you but for me, as a planner, I needed to know what the next few weeks looked like. I made the move out of a permanent role knowing that I had a holiday lined up, followed by a piece of work that would see me through for a couple of months and help me pay the bills. For me, this helped me sell the decision to my family and partner, and took away some of the initial fear. For others, I know that part of the attraction is the unknown and I also know how helpful it can be to have space to think and breathe and regroup, before jumping into something new. 
  5. Confidence and motivation – So finally, yes it's cheesy but I've found it to be true and I suppose this is a two for one really! If you have reached the stage where you believe that you can do it, then put yourself out there and go for it. From this point forward, you will be your biggest advocate, particularly when you're having to prove yourself all over again to new people and clients, and your biggest motivator, particularly when you find yourself working seven days a week. 

But remember, it doesn't have to be forever. Use your freelancing time to build up your portfolio, to work with a variety of organisations and to experience life without the infrastructure of a larger company. Permanent employment will still be there if you change your mind! 

I have often said the same about having a baby and stand by the same principle that there is never going to be a perfect time and you could put it off forever if you started listing reasons to wait. Three years in and I’m still learning and still have big ambitions for the business. 

I’m always happy to share my experiences and talk through what I’ve enjoyed/struggled with so if you want to hear more, get in touch.

Spring round-up: raising millions and launching campaigns

Traditionally, January is a quiet month in the world of events - the desk tidying, paper sorting, thumb twiddling month. Some of my best holidays have combatted the Winter blues. For some reason, 2017 started differently and over the last two months, the team has delivered nine events in as many weeks. 

We started with two drinks receptions, one to promote the work of our client and the other with Eddie Redmayne launching a fundraising campaign to the film, television and games industries. At the end of January, we enjoyed working with new suppliers Free Love Group and the wonderfully creative Mark Valentine to bring the work of the Education Partnerships Group to life in London. 

Ahead of the British Academy Film Awards at the Royal Albert Hall, the following week we ran the third annual Film Gala for BAFTA, with patrons Colin Firth and Emily Blunt. This year we took the event income from £250K to £400K through a brand-new VIP experience. February also saw us running two international education conferences (in Africa and Switzerland) and a whole staff away day for 150 delegates, working with etc venues.  

March has brought a Q&A with the fabulous stars of Netflix's The Crown, as part of the ongoing Academy Circle series. And to finish, over 60 pieces of student artwork went on display earlier this week at Saatchi Gallery raising money to fund enrichment programmes at Ark Schools. 

Autumn round-up: remembering a legend and celebrating new talent

October was always going to be a busy month and would have been more so had it not been for the postponement of one of our major events in November. Instead I've been working with BAFTA on two projects of very different scales.

Lord Attenborough, or Dickie as he was affectionately known, sadly died in summer 2014 and two years on I was honoured to work with his son, Michael Attenborough CBE, to deliver a celebration gala in his memory. During his lifetime and amongst numerous accolades, awards and positions, Lord Attenborough was President of both Chelsea FC and BAFTA. The two organisations worked in partnership to host the event at Stamford Bridge, bringing together the worlds of film and football.

With special guest appearances and messages from the likes of Great British names such as John Terry, Frank Lampard, Dame Penelope Wilton and Lawrence Dallaglio (a combination I never thought I would see in one room!), the evening also featured a Q&A with actors Samantha Bond (Downton Abbey, James Bond), Sanjeev Bhaskar (Goodness Gracious Me, Meet the Kumars) and Jim Carter (Downton Abbey).

After dinner entertainment saw us bringing Jersey Boys across from the West End, with an after-party at Chelsea's music venue and club, Under The Bridge (where both Olly Murs and Mel C had played earlier in the week). Aside from the delicious food and top-class entertainment, most special of all were the beautiful montages of Dickie's work and the loving tributes from his family and friends. All of the money raised on the evening was in support of the Richard Attenborough Charitable Trust. 

Just five days later, BAFTA celebrated the fourth Breakthrough Brits in partnership with Burberry. The initiative saw 18 new stars taking part in a programme under the guidance of mentors who are leaders in their field. Taking place in the stunning surroundings of Burberry's flagship UK store on Regent's Street, over 350 guests joined us for champagne and canapés and the awards announcement, which was hosted by Radio One's Greg James.

Citation readers for the event included Joe Dempsie (Game of Thrones), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl, An Education), Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous) and Joanne Frogatt (Downton Abbey, Street Cat Named Bob). The ceremony is delivered by BAFTA's brilliant Production and Learning and New Talent teams.

The evening was also an opportunity for BAFTA to showcase its work to those who have the potential to support with significant financial gifts and enable us to continue to support emerging talent. Burberry generously hosted an intimate dinner after the main event at the in-store cafe, Thomas's, with beautiful floral arrangements provided by Rebel Rebel. 

And the last event of the month? Being there as my best friend married her man - congratulations Beth and Rob! 

The basics

Dress code: smart and elegant

What we ate: lobster and chips, beef Wellington and millionaire's shortbread

What we drank: Nyetimber

Busman's holiday: organising a first birthday and naming ceremony

In between all of the adventures of my work projects, my daughter celebrated her first birthday and I combined this with a naming ceremony. Hosting your own party requires a tricky balance between the pressure and expectation from others versus having the motivation to organise yet another event.

Hosted at a local pub in Herne Hill which offered two spaces - space for food and space for the ceremony itself - the afternoon was intended as an informal way of celebrating our bundle of joy and all of the people who have kept us sane over the last year. Let's face it, at the tender age of one, they barely remember who you are, let alone the party you've thrown them...

The day consisted of a champagne and canapé reception, short theatre-style ceremony, followed by a finger buffet (and children's food) with cabaret seating. The Prince Regent provided all of the hot food but kindly allowed us to bring in additional salads and desserts.

My wonderful father is a retired vicar and has been wheeled out for numerous family occasions, most recently my sister's wedding and this was a new one for him. He admitted that he had dreamt that his conducting of the ceremony was so well received And I wouldn't be surprised if that's the case! I'd never even been to a naming ceremony before so resorted to googling the format and structure, which I've detailed below for anyone interested in doing the same.

Ceremony structure (thanks to the British Humanist Association)

  1. Welcome
  2. Reading
  3. Information about the child now
  4. Parental promises to the child
  5. Talking about the importance of wider family
  6. Poem
  7. Appointment of godparents and godparents’ declaration
  8. Reasons for the choice of name
  9. The naming itself
  10. Short concluding words

The beauty of this format was that it allowed us to personalise it to our needs, involving all of our favourite people in some way, whilst being able to keep it short and sweet given that there were children there.

We often shy away from organising our own events, giving the excuse of time of money or not wanting to make a fuss. But based on this experience and despite the late night baking and the inevitable sweary rants whilst we were setting up, I'd encourage you to brave it! I was incredibly grateful to all of our family and friends for making the effort to join us, overwhelmed by the number of presents we received and so thrilled to share the day with our nearest and dearest. That said, I'm already planning to have tea and cake at my mum's house next year...

The basics

Dress code: whatever you want

What we ate: mini burgers, mini sausage and mash, M&S salads, macarons, and millionaires shortbread

What we drank: pink fizz, Tiger beers and Blackcurrant squash

Photography: (c) Fria Brennan www.friabrennan.com

August round-up: a breakfast debate, menu tastings and planning for the Autumn season

I've been acknowledging recently that August isn't what it used to be. Once upon a time, August used to be about having an office tidy, clearing out my drawers and taking a two-week holiday. This year seems to be quite the opposite and it feels like it's been non-stop.

Breakfast discussion
At the beginning of the month, we hosted a breakfast with the Special Events Forum focusing on the Death of the Gala Dinner. Taking place at Ark's offices in Holborn, the event saw 40 events managers from the charity sector arguing for and against the notion that "The traditional gala is dead". It's clear that organisations including Great Ormond Street Hospital, the gala dinner still generates significant funds and there continues to be a great demand for this style of event. But for others, their clients and guests have event fatigue and they feel challenged to devise new and original event concepts. Those referenced included The Elephant Family's unique format (hosting numerous simultaneous, intimate dinners across London on one night then bringing together all guests for a glitzy after party) and UNICEF's move to a standing party with VIP booths. It's clear that there's no easy answer - two hours simply wasn't enough for us to come up with a solution or to fully discuss the merits of the gala ball and how to tackle the challenges faced by less formal events. It's clear the gala ball isn't going anywhere fast but I'm intrigued to see how others develop their plans for something different...

Foodie heaven

The late nights, box lugging, hours of admin and random requests (more on this to come in my next post) are all balanced out by one of the highlights of this job - let's be honest - the food tastings! I've worked with The Recipe for a number of years and their food never disappoints. Known for their creative flair and their incredible street food, the team is on the preferred caterer list for most of the major London venues and are equally comfortable serving their food at more unusual spaces (such as a busy secondary school just a few months ago). I had the honour of joining John, Bella, Philly and the team for a beautiful lunch with the Special Events Forum committee over the summer and their more formal, three-course menu was as beautiful and as memorable as their grab foods. I'm looking forward to working with the team again soon.

Getting my ducks in a row

With 15 events to get cracking on over the coming months, it's vital for me to ensure that my project plans are rock solid and deadlines are firmly fixed in my diary. As well as getting my timelines up-to-date and event briefs complete, my team was able to take a day out to regroup and recharge and look at the dreaded bigger picture. When you're stuck in an event and the day-to-day grind, it's easy to get distracted from your wider vision, so it was really valuable to think about the mid- and long-term ideas and being in the sunshine on the gorgeous Blackheath certainly helped with our creativity! 

10 years in events means I'm pretty happy with my templates and tools but they continue to evolve. Over the next few weeks I hope to share some of these as downloads, starting with wedding tools to help loved up brides- and grooms-to-be get their heads around their plans. Watch this space...

The lobster samosa at The Recipe's summer lunch

The lobster samosa at The Recipe's summer lunch

Judgement day: Third Sector Awards

Having spoken at Third Sector magazine's Fundraising Week conference in April, it was a pleasure to be invited to be on the judging panel for the Third Sector Awards this summer, specifically for the Fundraising Event, Fundraising and Marketing Campaigns and Fundraising Team of the Year categories.

The third sector or not-for-profit sector as it is often referred to, is frequently under scrutiny and as I read through the applications for the shortlist, I was given a reminder of just some of the innovative, creative and truly groundbreaking work going on within the industry. And it is an industry - a viable one at that - full of hardworking, intelligent, career-driven professionals. Regardless of our motivations for working for and with non-profits, to assume as many do that charity workers are doing so because they couldn't succeed in a corporate environment is often far from the truth.

Reading about national campaigns that have transformed lives, behaviours and opinions, I'm bloody proud to be part of the sector! And believe that corporates could learn a great deal from some of their charity counterparts.

Of course, the results are yet to be revealed so I wish the very best of luck to all of the nominees...

RE

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Fully immersed: the rising popularity of experiential events

For years I've been reading Event Magazine's articles on experiential and immersive events delivered by corporate brands across the world. And last week, I read with excitement as Save the Children received national coverage for their Forced to Flee event.

Having worked on Ark's immersive event Ark by Night since 2014, I often speak to charities who are also keen to do something different. In recent years, I’ve seen a shift away from the often very costly traditional gala dinner and a move towards something that better reflects the work that they do. In order to truly bring their work to life, charities need more than a three-minute film or a compelling speech to get their mission across.

From my work as Chair of the Special Events Forum for the charity sector, I’ve become aware of a whole host of innovative and unusual events, breaking the mould of the traditional fundraising dinner and dance - from the DEC taking guests on a journey to demonstrate how they take action in emergency situations to the Royal Opera House hosting guests for behind-the-scenes experiences.

It’s long been a bugbear of mine that the charity sector is seen as a cardigan-wearing, risk averse and boring place to work – with 10 years in the sector, I can confidently say that this is far from the truth. And perhaps you'll be lucky enough to get an invitation to one of these events in the future so that you can see for yourself...