Greenpeace IceClimb, one week on

This time last week I sat riveted in front of the live-stream of Greenpeace’s IceClimb. Much has been written about what a fantastic campaign it was. And it certainly was.

Greenpeace celebrates six climbers scaling The Shard

Greenpeace celebrates six climbers scaling The Shard

The Shard is the tallest building in Western Europe and had never been climbed, guaranteeing coverage. It was also designed and named after a shard of ice and sits right in the middle of Shell’s London offices – so perfect for Greenpeace’s core message of the need to protect the Arctic from Shell.

It captured the news around the world and it captivated individuals like me. At its peak, 13,000 people were viewing the live stream; over 65,000 signed to show their support; an estimated 3 million people engaged with it through social media.

And I was one of them. I watched the live-stream for hours, on my laptop and even on my phone as I walked the kids to school. I signed the list to show my support, I tweeted about it and I told people that I spoke to.

I got no work done!

It was, I believe, Greenpeace’s best campaign in many years. In fact, maybe the best campaign anyone has done in many years!

But… now what?

To be honest, I haven’t given it much thought since then. I’ve been working in London, preparing for a big workshop yesterday, I’ve been running the kids to tennis, cricket, cubs, scouts, guides etc, I’ve been out with friends and much more. A typical week, and the IceClimb hasn’t been my highest priority. It was a moment in time that, for me, has been overtaken by many more moments.

But that’s the point isn’t it? The challenge Greenpeace, and others, have is to keep me and everyone else engaged – with the issue and with the organisation. To turn that moment when I am completely connected to Greenpeace into long term support and long term value.

And on that score, Greenpeace has failed miserably.

  • Greenpeace has my postal address, but I haven’t received anything through the post.
  • They have my mobile number but I haven’t had a text since last Friday morning (by which time I’d already been watching it for nearly two hours). And no phone call at all.
  • They have my email address from when I signed up last Friday (and opted in to communications) but I haven’t had an email (apart from the one confirming my sign-up).
  • They know that I’ve tweeted about them, but nothing there either.

Last week I was really warm – I’d have said yes to anything they asked. Today… well I’m a bit warmer than I was before the IceClimb, but not much. Life has moved on.

Campaigning and fundraising

Many of you will know that I am passionate about how charities integrate their fundraising and their campaigning and that I’ve written about this, spoken about it and worked with many organisations to achieve it. So I am frustrated that Greenpeace, who really should be the best of the best at this, can get it so wrong and miss this amazing opportunity.

A simple supporter journey that updated me on the six climbers since their arrest, on Shell’s attitudes since the campaign or on the other work that Greenpeace is doing to protect the Arctic would have maintained my interest and my enthusiasm.

And a simple ask for money to support more of their work in the Arctic (Greenpeace has great fundraising asks related to the IceClimb – from becoming a ‘Life Supporter’ to save the Arctic to helping buy a Survival Pod to stop the drilling) could not have failed.

Greenpeace ask for donations to protect the Arctic from Shell...

Greenpeace ask for donations to protect the Arctic from Shell…

Greenpeace ask for donations for a survival pod to stop drilling in the Arctic

… or to fund a Survival Pod

Instead nothing. Even the website hasn’t been updated with the latest news having been posted before the IceClimb and not even a mention of it on Greenpeace’s ‘Save the Arctic’ pages.

What a waste. Yes I’ll continue to support Greenpeace, and I’ll feel a bit better about it after last week than before. But I’m sorry guys, you missed a real chance last week.

PS Come back next week and I’ll blog about two organisations that I think have done this really well in recent years.

Newsletters – was I wrong?


A couple of weeks ago I blogged about how poor I think charity newsletters are and how I’d like to see the end of them. A lot of people have told me they agree with me (whilst still producing their next newsletters!) which is always nice. But I am most grateful to one person who was keen to disagree, which is great.

I received a tweet from Denisa Casement, Head of Fundraising at Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI). In this tweet she shared her results which are, frankly, brilliant. One newsletter had raised €92,000 from just 8,500 donors. That’s nearly €11 for every person mailed!

Intrigued, I asked to see a copy of this newsletter which arrived very promptly in my post.

At first glance, the newsletter is nothing special. It’s not glossy, is only 4 or 6 pages long and doesn’t have masses of striking images.

What it does have, in bucket-loads is authenticity. The design is simple, and in keeping with the idea that this is a local charity who just get on with the life-changing work every day. And it has stories – of project workers, of clients and of volunteers. I was particularly touched by Davey Page, a Project Worker, sharing his experiences in one newsletter and then saddened to learn that he had passed away in the next.

But what strikes me more than anything is the way it says thank you. Over and over again. Every article talks about something real and tangible that MQI has done from building a new building to opening a new kitchen or opening a new Centre. And they thank me for my donations, because this is what they have been spent on.

I could talk here about how having clear objectives and obviously writing for a very specific audience pays off, but I don’t think that is the reason they work.

What comes across is the passion that Denisa obvious feels towards the work of the charity and, especially, towards her donors. It is this passion that drives the newsletters and, I suspect, drives all communications. She also told me that they have increased their donor file by 50% in the last three years, so it’s not just the newsletters that work!

So do I think I was wrong about the newsletter? To be honest, I’m not fully convinced. MQI has proved that they can be done well, but I still believe that more often than not they aren’t. In most of the donor research I’ve conducted, donors aren’t very excited by them and neither, in my experience, are many fundraisers.

I like what MQI have done and I’m impressed by what they achieve. I hope it lasts and that they continue to build the stories, the passion and the thanks into the newsletters and that no-one gets bored of them.

But I also have this nagging question at the back of my mind that wonders if creating a one-off piece of magic once in a while might pay back more. Am I wrong?

Please vote – ideally for me!

If you’re a member of the Institute of Fundraising you’ll have had an email through asking you to vote for Trustees. And if you’ve gone into it, you’ll have seen that I am standing for election.

Why am I doing this? The reason is simple.

I believe that we owe it to our causes to fundraise cost-effectively. And we owe it to our donors to fundraise well – to inspire them about their giving. I know that the two things go together.

The Institute has a vital role in building the skills of fundraisers across all sectors, and for laying down the standards by which we should all work. It impacts on the way we all fundraise.

I’d like to use my role on the board to play a part in supporting the sector, helping fundraisers become better at their jobs and creating standards that mean donors have a better experience.

Please vote in the election. It is important. And if you like the sound of what I’d like to bring to the table, please vote for me.

Oh yes, for those of you who aren’t a member of the Institute, you should be! Click here now.

Is it time to ditch the newsletter?


Think about it. When was the last time you received a charity newsletter that really excited you? One that you couldn’t wait to open; one that you read from cover to cover; or one that you showed to someone else?

No, I can’t remember that far back either.

Now I want you to be really honest. Does your charity’s newsletter make you want to open it and to read it? Will it really inspire a donor and make them feel great? Does it send shivers down the back of your neck? Or does it simply bring you out in a cold sweat?

You’re not alone!

Let’s face it, newsletters are boring. But they shouldn’t be. We have the most powerful stories, incredible images, we can tell people about lives we’re saving, cruelty we’re stopping and the support we’re giving.

Newsletters that I've never got round to opening

Why do we get it so wrong? Here are the main reasons that I see.

No clear objectives: The point of a newsletter is to inspire your donors. It might have a fundraising target against it, or it may be intended to increase future income – either way, it’s about money. Too often charities want to ‘educate’ the donor or to introduce them to all the other bits of work that the charity thinks is really important, but that the donor won’t.

No targeting: Too many newsletters are corporate mouthpieces, designed for everyone from the Chairman’s wife, to a minister in Westminster, to an employee at one of your corporate partners, to a service user. If you’re lucky your donors might make the list, but they’ll be somewhere towards the bottom.

Produced by your Publications Team: Probably the biggest culprit of all, your newsletter is produced by the Publications Team. You know, the same people who don’t like your appeals because “they’re full of emotional clap-trap and oversimplify what is actually a rather complex problem – wouldn’t it be great if we could educate them”.

They aren’t edited: I know, they will all have an Editor, but a vital part of an Editor’s job is to say no to people who want their bit of the organisation to be included “because it’s really important”. This is the same problem many websites suffer from.

Not topical: the clue is in the name – newsletter. How can it be news if the lead time means it’s got to be produced three months before it goes out? I’m getting newsletters from international aid charities that don’t even mention Syria!

Badly researched: A survey included in a the middle of a newsletter that asks people if they read it isn’t research. If it’s included in a newsletter the people who read it are the only people who’ll respond! And don’t ask people if they read it, they’ll say yes – ask them what they remember.

You’re bored: Another biggy – I’ve seen it so many times. The charity redesigns its newsletter (based on the same research I mentioned above, of course). Everyone is excited about the first issue, there are lots of great stories to select from, it’s fresh and packs a punch. Issue two comes along, and the excitement has worn off. You get some decent stories, and manage to fill the rest. Phew! By issue three it’s a chore. “Oh no, I’ve got to get a newsletter out in September, where will I find a decent story, everyone’s too busy to help me.” If you’re bored and think it’s a chore, what do you think the effect on your donors will be?

You can solve some of this by addressing the above points:

  • Set a clear objective to inspire and excite donors.
  • Write for your donors
  • Let your fundraisers create it – you know, those people that know your donors best, know what interests them and know how to write for them.
  • Edit it. Ruthlessly! As much as you would an appeal letter
  • Cut down the lead times so that you can be topical. Talk about things that are going on today and give real feedback on recent appeals.

But I have a more radical suggestion. Ditch the newsletter.

Look again at the list about – it’s no accident that I started with setting a clear objective. If the objective is to ‘inspire and excite donors’ then think again.

A few years ago I worked with the NSPCC and their Stewardship team. Their budgets looked a little different to most. Oh yes, they had points in the year when they scheduled in to feed back to donors, but the budget line didn’t say ‘newsletter’ it said ‘magic’. At these points of the year, we and they sat down and came up with an idea to use that point in the calendar to send something unique to donors to really inspire them.

They had already created their ‘Little Book of Change’ (which you can see here on SOFII). After that they created a photo album with stories of the children they’d helped. Another time they sent a simple letter from a ChildLine counsellor talking about a call they had taken and the difference they had made all because, she knew, of donations from ‘people like you’.

Some of these were quick and easy, others took a lot of time to put together. All of them were personal, emotive and geared towards exceeding the donors’ expectations. And they all touched the donors in a way that a newsletter never could.

St Dunstan’s (now Blind Veterans UK) did a similar thing by always theming their news around an anniversary. I remember creating a magazine that celebrated the 60th anniversary of D-Day that received more positive comments and more donations than any newsletter I’ve ever been involved with because it was interesting and relevant for their donors and talked about what the donors were interested in rather than what the charity wanted to say.

So please, ditch the dry, corporate mouthpiece that you’re bored of already, and use the time and money to create magic for your donors. Don’t they deserve it?

PS If you have any examples of a great newsletter, I’d love to hear what makes it different.

PPS I’m not holding my breath.

The Answers

I promised you the answers to by Christmas Challenge. It’s time to put you all out of your misery. Thanks to everyone who entered – I hope you enjoyed it.

The big news is that no-one got 10 out of 10. Did I make it too difficult – apologies if so. But well done for persevering, those who tried.

And for all of you, here are the answers…

Roger Lawson Consulting Christmas Card

Can you work out my 10 favourite Christmas songs?

Fairytale of New York: The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl
Simply the best Christmas song ever!

The Christmas Song: Nat King Cole
The Christmas classic

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday: Wizzard
Don’t we all? Well maybe not quite every day.

Last Christmas: Wham!
As many of you know I was a massive Wham! fan, and still am. My Wham! Rap, after a few beers, is the stuff of legend.

Did you know, this is the best-selling single never to make it to no. 1? It was no. 2 for five weeks and was kept off the top spot by Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ (which doesn’t make my top 10 because I’m still upset about this!

Merry Xmas Everybody: Slade
As I child I wasn’t allowed to get up before 6:00 am on Christmas Day. I used to put this on the record player (if you’re too young to know what one of them is then find an old person to ask) at full volume bang on 6:00 to wake everyone up. Now I have kids of my own who get equally excited about Christmas I can see how my parents must have hated me.

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town: Bruce Springsteen
There are lots of versions of this, but it’s Bruce Springsteen’s live version that got it into the top 10.

Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy: David Bowie and Bing Crosby
Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum, need I say more?

All I Want For Christmas Is You: Mariah Carey
OK, I know it’s Mariah Carey, but it’s a great pop song

Frosty the Snowman: The Ronettes
Another classic

And finally, the one that no-one got… I Believe in Father Christmas: Greg Lake
Actually, this is less a celebration of Christmas and was actually written as a protest against the commercialisation of Christmas. Brilliant!

I’m sorry if the last one was too difficult. The clue was in the words “said” and “there’d”. If you Google “said Christmas lyrics” or “there’d Christmas lyrics” then this song comes top of the search findings. And at least I didn’t put In Dulci Jubilo by Mike Oldfield in the list.

Thank you again to everyone who entered. I hope you enjoyed having a go. The best news of all is that a cheque for £200 is on its way to SOFII. And congratulations to Salma Mohammed at Refugee Action who was the first out of the hat for those that got 9 out of 10 and so a cheque for £50 is heading towards Refugee Action.

So merry Christmas everyone, and here’s to a happy and successful 2013!

Thank you, and merry Christmas

I feel privileged and grateful to know that there are people like you who read my words in this blog. I hope you find my thoughts useful and / or entertaining.

Like good fundraising copy, I must never forget that I’m writing for you, not for me. That’s my promise for 2013.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I am very grateful for everyone who has allowed me to be involved in their fundraising in any way and for everyone who follows my thoughts here or on Twitter in 2012. I had no idea what I was letting myself in for when I started working on my own, but I’m enjoying it a lot – thanks to you.

I hope you all have a fantastic Christmas and New Year. And it’s not too late for me to receive your free entry to my Christmas competition, to raise money for SOFII and, maybe, win a donation for your charity. Just tell me the 10 Christmas songs with lyrics in this word-cloud.

Roger Lawson Consulting Christmas Card

Can you work out my 10 favourite Christmas songs?

More details can be found here.

There’ll be one last post from me this year – the answers!

Happy Christmas to you all.


Surely we’re not evil?

A couple of days ago I wrote about the how the offer we make to the donor is more important than the ask we make for ourselves.

Millions of donors feel good about themselves because they have saved lives, stopped animals being cruelly mistreated, helped find a cure for cancer and so much more. Donors have a passion to make a difference, and we help them do it.

The world would be a worse place without us – not only for the causes we fundraise for but also for the donors we serve.

People who don’t speak to donors (and I bet there are lots of them in your charity) don’t often get this – so it’s our job to remind them. Bring donors into the charity, invite colleagues to donor events, make sure everyone listens when you have research presented back to you. Let everyone hear the passion that donors have.

That’s why fundraising is not a ‘necessary evil’ as someone described it to me the other day! We bring value to our donors that no-one else can. We bring joy into their lives too.

That’s not evil – that’s something that I am immensely proud of.

Actually, it’s not an ask


My first job in fundraising involved opening letters and banking cheques from people donating to help send aid to Bosnia in 1992. What I learnt then, from reading the letters from these generous donors, has stayed with me ever since.

What we offer to a donor is immeasurably valuable to them. Often far more valuable than the face value of the cheque they were writing.

It’s why I think it’s misleading to use the word ‘ask’. The best ‘asks’ we make are actually great ‘offers’.

Of course, actually asking for their support is arguably the most important part of the fundraising process – just ask any successful Major Donor fundraiser.

But what’s most important in this is what we can offer to the donor and what they get out of it. Again, ask that successful Major Donor fundraiser.

At our best we make unique offers that no-one else can compete with. For £10 I can make a blind man see. Is there any other way of spending £10 that will make me feel that good?

Help the Aged - £10 can make a blind man see

For €25 I could buy a webcam on the new Rainbow Warrior. Who said giving to charity can’t be cool?

Greenpeace webcam

For £15 a year I can ‘own’ my own word – that no one else owns. I can even wear a unique T-shirt with my word on it.

ICAN Adopt a Word

Or I can ‘sponsor a day’ at the Royal Marsden Hospital. Not just any day – a day that is really important to me.

Royal Marsden Sponsor a Day WALL


I’ve worked with charities, hospitals and universities this year helping them to create their fundraising asks (and yes, I’m guilty of having used that word!). No matter who you are, we need to start from the point of what can we offer to the donor?

Remember, no-one else can offer the joy of giving and the experience of changing someone’s life like we can.

Connecting donors with the beneficiary

Sofii launched its 23 all time favourite campaigns a couple of weeks ago. I am proud to have worked directly on two of them, but it’s the Baby Boxes for Bosnia campaign that I will always be most proud of having helped create.

In the mid 1990’s, Bosnia was a war zone. Mothers with young babies were desperate for basic essentials to help keep their young babies fed, healthy and safe. Nappies, wipes, soap, disinfectant and feeding bowls. And a cold winter was approaching.

Feed the Children was a small charity that was providing aid to these mothers and young babies. A Feed the Children fundraiser and their agency Account Director donned flak jackets (literally) and visited the programme and came back with a brilliant idea.

For a donation of £30, a donor could provide a box with all the essential items a mother in Bosnia so desperately needed.

That the boxes were real (and packed by volunteers in the warehouse in Reading underneath the offices where we fundraised) helped with the tangibility of the ask.

But for me, the real power was in the emotional connection that we were able to offer the donor to the beneficiary. Donors felt that they were almost putting the boxes into the hands of the Bosnian mothers themselves.

This was made even stronger by asking the donor to put a message of support into ‘their’ box. Some of the messages we received were incredibly emotive and included stories, photos and drawings as well as many messages which were simply from one mother to another. Many times we received messages back from the mothers who had received them which we passed on to the donor if we could. We also published these in our newsletters so that other donors could see them and share in the connection. This was fantastic proof that the aid was getting through.

Rarely do I see a fundraising ask that creates the same level of connection between the donor and the beneficiary as this did. If you’re honest, do yours?

PS please do read the full case study at Sofii where you can also see the larger images!

The fundraiser’s dream – a great ask

I had the pleasure of speaking with Ruth Ruderham at the IOF convention last year. At the time she was at Christian Aid (she has since moved to British Waterways) and she spoke about the Nets campaign that they were successfully running.

£3 will save a child's life

It struck me at the time that the real strength of the campaign was in the ask. For those of you that haven’t seen it, Christian Aid is focussing in on one area of work, stopping the spread of malaria and therefore saving children’s lives. The answer, as so often is the case, is simple – a mosquito net that costs just £3.

What a fantastic ask – I can save a child’s life, I can see exactly where my money is going and I can feel great immediately.

With this ask, they have used lots of different channels. If we fast forward 6 months, you will find me sitting on a train looking at a Nets ad on a panel. It stands the test of time.

£3 buys a hero a drink

Train posters are a great discipline. To tell the story well, the ask needs to be simple, tangible and immediate.

The Christian Aid ad has all of this. There is a really clear need, a real threat, a solution that I can play. And, most importantly, I can see what I am going to achieve.

Alongside it is another that I think has a fantastic ask – buy a hero a drink. Again it’s a £3 text ask. Again it’s simple, tangible and immediate. Again, how could I not do it?

Again, I can see exactly what my donation is going to achieve and I can see the impact that I will have. I feel great!

£3 does something to do with water

Unfortunately, not all the ads I’m looking at are the same. (South West Trains has recently turned my  07:38 to Waterloo into a showcase for these ads recently). I am looking at ads from UNICEF where the ask isn’t clear. To be honest, it looks like they have started from the perspective of how ‘can we make an ad for Roger’s train?’ rather than start with a great ask.

Yes, UNICEF is a fantastic organisation and yes we know they do great work. But I’m left wondering what my money is needed for, what it will achieve and what I will have done if I give. I hope that the goodwill that UNICEF undoubtedly has in bucket-loads means this will be cost-effective, but I fear not.

Recently the Agitator asked us to share our dreams. Mine is simple – that all fundraising will be based around a great ask. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? So why do so many of us make it look difficult.

Over the next few weeks, I will blog about what I think the best asks in fundraising are. In the mean time, I’d love to hear what you think are the best.