Podcast: Howard Lake from UK Fundraising

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UK Fundraising

What is UK Fundraising?

  • Set up 1994 as a reaction to the fact that there was no-one else around allowing the free-sharing of information for those in the charity sector
  • Created as a way of allowing fundraisers to share their knowledge and get information from others
  • Now one of the main resources for those working in the third sector
  • Includes latest news and tips around charities and fundraising
Howard Lake

Who is Howard Lake?

  • Founder of UK Fundraising
  • Worked as a fundraiser for the likes of Oxfam, Afghan Aid and Amnesty International UK before creating the site
  • As well as being responsible for the website, now runs events which give people practical fundraising advice
  • An expert in helping fundraisers maximise their impact with the tools available

What can I learn?

  • The challenges of raising funds in the modern day
  • How individuals are having a growing impact on the ways charities raise money
  • How the traditional methods of fundraising are just as relevant as ever
  • Ways in which you can capitalise on viral trends


For those who don’t know, could you introduce yourself and what you do?

My name is Howard Lake and I run UK Fundraising which is a website for fundraisers that I have run for the past 20 years. My background is fundraising and that’s all I’ve done for the past 26 years. I started off as a student fundraiser as a volunteer and raised funds for Oxfam, so learned fundraising the hard way and then worked for Oxfam in a paid staff role at local level, and then became a sole fundraiser for Afghan Aid for 3 years, which worked inside Afghanistan. Then I spent 5 years working as a fundraiser for Amnesty International UK, so I’ve got quite a broad experience of most types of fundraising.

In the early 90s, I got access to the internet when I did some research for a Masters in Information Science and was just astonished by what was already available for fundraisers there. So, I did some research and built a website which went live 20 years ago… called UK Fundraising, which is a website I would have loved to have found as a sole fundraiser. I knew there were lots of experienced fundraisers out there sharing information – but how could you find them, how could you find that information? So that was the drive behind the website.It’s updated every day, there are thousands of pages and it’s available for free, I don’t charge for access but I have made money out of it, I sell advertising on the site and do other sort of deals, so it’s my business now.

I was just wondering what inspired you to get into charities and fundraising in the first place?

It was, I think, the aftermath of Live Aid back in 1985. I watched that, I was interested but I don’t think I got particularly involved, but it dawned on me at university after that that the issues that charities were facing and that people in Africa were facing were gonna be obviously long term and so support organisations like Oxfam, Save The Children were going to need ongoing funding. So it wasn’t going to be a huge big concert, it was going to be the dull everyday stuff of generating income – but that excited me. So we set up a student fundraising group, came up with some good ideas to generate some good money… So I can trace it back to 1985 and Live Aid and sort of the results of that.

You’ve obviously got a fairly large amount of experience in the fundraising industry, could you tell us a little bit about UK Fundraising. 20 years you’ve had this going – how has it evolved over time?

It did start 20 years ago as a single page, one web page, and that was hard enough to do in those days. It was way before webdesign tools became available, so I had to teach myself how to write HTML web coding. Nowadays of course it is done on a content management system and it has been through several iterations. The great thing is it can be updated any time, anywhere – so I still work from home, I don’t have a huge office with huge numbers of staff. I do have about 8 or 9 people who do work with me on the site, but they’re all freelancers doing other stuff as well.

Fundraising CampSo the site has moved from being – well, originally it will have been mainly text based as well, they were the days when adding a single graphic to a web page was a no-no because it slowed down access. Nowadays obviously there’s video and all kinds of embedded content. In many ways it’s stayed the same – the look and feel has changed, but the aim has stayed the same, to help fundraisers fundraise, get them the information that comes from different types of providers (charities, training providers, consultancies, companies that are completely outside the fundraising sector) and present it in a useable format [such as] What are the lessons that can be learned so that fundraisers can go and make money more effectively?

Right from the beginning it has not just been a shop window for me. I’ve realised that […] the majority of fundraising lays in other people so it was always an open house approach. If someone has got something that other fundraisers can learn from or use then they can contribute it. Either I can write it up or I can get them to write – so this is the days before blogs and it was just an open house approach, anything practical goes on the site.

Obviously now there other sites that do something similar like Third Sector, Charity Digital News – how do you think that they’ve impacted digital fundraising?

I think that’s great. The more expert advice available, the more people covering how charities are using various fundraising approaches, the better. It’s a fabulous time – fundraisers now have a wide variety of sources of expertise and individuals blogging on their own blog about how they fundraise, through to resources like SOFII set up to provide a showcase of fundraising inspiration and innovation. It’s a whole growing history of fundraising campaigns that have worked and some that haven’t. So fundraisers now have a huge variety of information available to them and no, it’s not all available on my site anymore by a long way and that’s a great thing. You can pick and choose the relevant content from a whole plethora of resources online.

Any organisation that is embarking on a new communications channel or series of channels is quite right to think conservatively and want to be able to test them and want to be able to prove them. That’s a good approach.

You’ve had quite a lot of experience digital fundraising, so much so that you run the Practical Digital Fundraising course, coming up on the 23rd of January. Can you tell us what people can expect to learn on this course and what they can gain from your expertise?

Yes – I’ve actually been running fundraising courses since 1996. I update it every time because there are always new things to learn. My approach has always been practical. No fundraiser has enough time, money or expertise to do everything they want, so my courses always focus on ‘what can you do?’, ‘what should you do?’ and ‘which tools and processes are going to get you further forward faster and are either free or low cost?’.

So, in the beginning section we now focus on 10 ways of making the very most of your charity’s website and e-mail communications. If all you can do, irrespective of using social media, is make the very most of your website and e-mail then that’s a very good achievement, so we focus on that and give tips on that. Then we move on to one approach which I think is important to whatever digital channels you are using and that is the power of images – how to create your own, how to give them impact, how to measure them and all the different free tools available for you to create impactful, visual content.

Then there’s other ideas – how to inspire other people to do your fundraising for you. Again, going back to the idea that no fundraiser has enough time to do everything she or he wants, then the thing to do is to inspire supporters and people new to your organisation to fundraise for you and with tools – social media tools – and cameras and everything we’re wandering around with now in our pockets, then that can be done very very straightforward, so we give some tips on that. So it’s a practical fundraising day, usually a little bit of making and we usually bring some scissors and paper and some Lego mini-figs so that we can start creating our own fundraising images on the day that they can use if they want to.

From the people who’ve turned up to your course since you started, what impact has it had to the people who have turned up? Have you seen any major changes in the strategies that they take?

I should be able to quantify that and can’t, which is not a great thing. But yes, I am still in touch with a lot of fundraisers that I first met […] 18 years ago on some of these courses and I get to hear what they did as a result. I think the course is quite intensive, there’s a lot there – people say ‘it took me a year or two to get round to everything that was suggested’, but I’ve definitely had positive feedback from people who have gone on to raise funds. Whether that’s by their website, whether that’s by them improving their landing pages, whether it’s doing segmented e-mail campaigns or even trying out crowdfunding sites. So no, I don’t have an overall figure, but people seem to have picked up some useful tips and then gone on to implement them themselves.

As you’ve noticed over the past 20 years running your site and being heavily involved in digital fundraising, it has pretty much taken over the traditional method of the tin-shakers and that kind of stuff – what do you think the biggest challenges there are now with digital fundraising, and how can people overcome these?

I don’t think that digital fundraising has overtaken the other ones. It probably gets a lot more coverage because it is technology, it is moving and it changes all the time. So in that sense, it probably grabs the lion’s share of attention. But in actual income coming in, mail – paper based direct mail still rules. Even in 20 years of digital fundraising, that hasn’t taken over from existing, established and trusted methods.

Fundraising as a professionWhat has changed – I think it is just people’s awareness of charities and their willingness to get involved. Fine, I accept that donations are not going up, and in fact the average household donation is still gradually going down which is not a good thing. But people have certainly spotted the ease and the pleasure of getting involved with charity campaigns over mobile and via taking selfies and so on.

So yes, there has definitely been a sea-change over the last few years. It hasn’t happened overnight, but digital fundraising is now quite well understood by the public.

Do you think that there are going to be so many problem that people might come up with, comparing them to the traditional fundraising methods? Obviously, once you put something online, it is there but there can be a few problems in getting it in front of people’s faces. Whereas the old traditional methods you can be directly in front of someone because you’re physically there.

You can. I agree, that’s the problem. Most charities are now using these tools – how do you stand out from the rest? That’s hard, but equally that’s the problem that we’ve always faced and digital at least levels the playing field a little more.

There are ways of pointing people in the right direction and getting your fundraising message across if you plan for it. Be ready for it now.

In the old days, pre-digital, it was charities that had a budget for a direct mail campaign, a radio campaign or even a TV campaign – those were the ones that tended to stand out, which tended to be the bigger ones. Nowadays, any creative charity can use these mostly free tools to try and stand out and get its message across to its target audience. So yes, in that sense I think it helps.

Over the last 2 years, the amount of smartphones and tablets has been on the rise. 2014 was the first year that they were the main way in which people viewed content online. How do you think that this has affected fundraising online, or charities visibility online?

I think the key significance is that it is not so much charities that are calling the shots. Charities can put out their messages and information and try to inspire people, but as you know the really big mobile events of [2014] have mostly been generated by […] individuals. There has been some success from charity campaigns, such as the Instant Mobile campaign at the Commonwealth games for Unicef. That raised several million pounds within the day, less than a day – all by mobile phones.

But no, it’s the public – they get this, they get the power of getting involved, taking photos, sharing their support. In many ways, the no make-up selfie and ice bucket challenge are kind of the modern day version of the charity wristband. It’s a way of showing your support and sharing that support to your friends and family who don’t necessarily know about the charity. So it’s kind of turning elements of fundraising on its head, which is a challenge and an opportunity. How can you keep people on message and encourage them to share the direct fundraising channel ([for example] How do you actually give? What’s the text to give number? What’s the right website? and so on). When people are getting carried away with the fun and exuberance of showing their support.

So yes, that’s a change. the public get it. So expect a lot more selfies and other related, creative probably image based campaigns because the public can do it – so they will.

You’ve kind of pre-empted our next question. We were going to ask about the Ice Bucket Challenge and the No Make-Up Selfie. Obviously they’ve been instigators in some quite big changes in how people donate over the last 12 months or so. Could you predict any future trends in what is going to happen with these kinds of campaigns?

I think more of them. Individuals trying to reproduce them, which is hard. The majority of them won’t get anywhere. That’s the case with charities trying it as well. The recent case of Cancer Research Uk trying a crowdfunding campaign – Cancer Research have done incredibly well with digital, they’re experienced and willing to test lots of things but their latest crowdfunding campaign just didn’t work. That’s – in the long run – a good thing, they will have learned some useful lessons. So yes, more of these.

If there’s a trend, it’s just visual. Something that is personal, that is fun, easily shareable and is really quite visual and I expect a lot of campaigns like that to work. There may be one or two charities that do manage to successfully launch them, but I suspect most of them will come out of individuals. Maybe companies, maybe corporates are going to get pretty good at that and sort of inspire a particular campaign.

But going back to mobile element, that significance for fundraisers is the ‘always on’ element, it’s the fact that one of these campaigns can just take off as the No Make-Up Selfie did at about 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock on a Friday evening. If you don’t have people watching how your charity’s name is being used, or the issues that you deal with, how they’re bubbling up the top of popularity on social networks then you may miss the chance – or alternatively, another charity will get in and grab and shepherd the campaign effectively.

Have you noticed with the No Make-Up Selfie and the Ice Bucket Challenge in particular – these things went viral – will charities be able to properly take advantage of these viral trends, or is it a case that they’re always going to miss 30%, 40%, 50% of the people who are involved but are unaware of the issues that have prompted the campaign?

Yes, I think that is one of the challenges – how do you steer a campaign that you didn’t create and that may have elements that don’t fit with the perceived fundraising wisdom or experience? The nomination idea what a great idea, but what happens when people don’t react or just take a photo of themselves and don’t make a donation? It’s a big challenge. Charities have to catch up and learn and work out or plan ahead how they would benefit. Even if they’re not or they’re never gonna be the subject of the next No Make-Up Selfie, lots of individuals that fundraise use the idea of the No Make-Up Selfie or the Ice Bucket Challenge and donated, did it for their own favourite charity.

So I think that this issue does apply to all charities, large and small. You won’t be the subject of the next no Make-Up Selfie, but some of your supporters will be inspired to use whatever image or idea to fundraise for you. In a way, be prepared for that and shepherd and direct goodwill and turn it into effective fundraising.

There are a few ideas – I’ve seen charities who have created things, tools to direct selfie based fundraising campaigns. Giving away a graphic that has an outline, like a photo frame that has the call to give text number at the bottom of the frame and maybe the logo or the web address. Some charities have made those up with cardboard cut-outs at some of their events. People come and have their photo taken at a fundraising event, and look through the frame – and hey presto, there at the bottom of the frame is the fundraising message.

There are ways of pointing people in the right direction and get your fundraising message across if you plan for it. Be ready for it now.

You heard about these campaigns that kind of take on a life of their own as you say – there’s some that I’ve seen that pop up on social media that have got absolutely nothing to do with the official charity, that some people have started. There was one that I saw which was a Happy Hat Selfie and it went nowhere, there was nothing – but it meant something to someone at that time. When it comes charities that instigate this, maybe they want a little bit more control – when you find some of the charities run by some people who maybe don’t get social media, don’t get digital fundraising very well, do you find a lot that are resistant to moving on to that kind of change or moving on to that kind of fundraising?

That can be the case – there are plenty of charities that have not leapt on to digital fundraising. Even going back to the early days of web and e-mail, and that will always be the case. I think a lot of leaders in the charity sector Fundraising Camp logoneed convincing that testing digital fundraising can work. Luckily there are plenty of case studies and examples of charities that are doing very well. But yes, if your board or chief [executive] isn’t keen on it, there is an element of education that needs to be done. If you can’t win that one, concentrate on the fundraising that does work.

There aren’t charities that I know of who have gone bust through not using Twitter, YouTube or Facebook. These are valuable channels and can enhance what a charity is doing. But if your main income is from fundraising events, direct mail or through telephone – fine, stick with that, but keep chipping away on why digital tools can help increase growth or add to what you’re doing.

Why do you think that some organisations are resistant to this change?

I think it is cost, I think it is awareness that – quite rightly – some of these tools are quite seductively straightforward but actually to manage them requires staff, time, skills and a tiny bit of technology. So yes, any organisation that is embarking on a new communications channel or series of channels is quite right to think conservatively and want to be able to test them and want to be able to prove them. That’s a good approach.

What have been the most common questions and problems that you have faced from charities that have wanted to do some online work? Do you have any quick tips that you can give us?

It does tend to be the same issues. Who’s raising money online? How? How can I do that? That pretty much sums up the most of the questions. Some of them get into some details on individual channels and on different approaches for different types of organisations, but that’s it. Most fundraisers want to see and want to know what other fundraisers are doing and how they can emulate that and do it even better.

Excellent – and tell us once again what you’ve got coming up for 2015?

About a year ago we embarked a whole range of new kind of one day fundraising conferences that are completely unstructured. They’re inspired by the unconference model – we don’t have any set speakers or any set topics, and the delegates themselves, the participants, decide what topics they want to talk about in the morning. It sounds quite scary and anarchaic, but it turns out to be a very very popular way – and useful way – of making good contacts and learning about fundraising from other fundraising. We’ve got plenty of fundraising camps coming up over the next year, together with quite a few training courses, and of course the inevitable redevelopment of the UK Fundraising website to offer more information in different ways that fundraisers will find useful.

And could you just remind anyone listening where they can find your website and where they can find out about your events?

The UK Fundraising website at www.fundraising.co.uk, and we list all of our events on the site – you can see them on the front page down the right.

But in actual income coming in, mail – paper based direct mail still rules. Even in 20 years of digital fundraising, that hasn’t taken over from existing, established and trusted methods.