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.