Exploring Fundraising Strategies With Clare Sweeney.
Clare delves into the changing landscape of fundraising, highlighting the impact of online will-writing services on charities.
- Clare Sweeney
- 26 mins
Tom: Welcome to the Make Things Better podcast. Today, I'm joined by Claire Sweeney, founder at Keepace. Welcome to the show, Claire. How are you doing today?
Clare: I'm doing okay, Tom. Thank you very much for inviting me.
Tom: Yeah, thanks for coming on. And we're in this new studio, which seems a bit out of my depth in terms of the quality of everything, but I'm really enjoying being here. So do you want to start off by telling us a little bit about yourself and kind of how you ended up creating Keepace?
Clare: Okay. So I was thinking about this and Keepace originally was a sort of a freelance marketing agency for startups and companies. It was stuff that I did in and around my kids when they were little, freelance and remote before it was even a thing. And then things changed for me completely in 2012. One of our friend's son got a life-limiting diagnosis, and our friend was determined to set up a charity to raise some money so they could fund a course of research to try and find a series of treatments for his son.
And for the first year, it was all hands to the pump. I volunteered my time thinking that fundraising was similar to marketing and PR. It kind of is and it's not, but I volunteered for a year and helped set up a charity. Then Jack's Mum took over the reins and she's since won an OBE actually for the charity. It's called Joining Jack and it's searching for a cure or a set of treatments for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. If ever you see anybody go like that at rugby, that's the JJ Salute, which is part of the charity.
Anyway, after working with that team for a year, volunteering, I went back into the workplace and got a job in advertising again. But I just didn't have that sense of fulfillment really, of doing something that made a difference and really made something that was great. So I walked out of that job and got a job in charity. It was a small wildlife trust, halved my wage overnight and also went from working at a really slick agency that had all the technology and was just brilliant at understanding everything to an organization that had secondhand computers and just zero budget for anything. And I was shocked. I was shocked at the inequity of the technology that was available to charities as opposed to big marketing agencies.
And since then, I've kind of worked in different roles in different charities. And the whole point of Keepace really is to facilitate an exchange of knowledge and just share what I've learned. And I switched to a consultancy model specifically for charities, but we still have commercial clients as well. So I've still got a foot in both worlds. And really, if I can do a small bit to share what's available in terms of best practice to charities, then I'm happy doing that.
Tom: Yeah, amazing. So it's kind of about transferring some of the things that you've learned and experienced in the private world of marketing and advertising and moving that into the charity third sector as well, right?
Clare: Yeah, definitely. And learning as well what different organizations do. That's a brilliant thing that a consultant can do. So you can work with an air ambulance, for instance, and they'll have certain things that they do just absolutely brilliantly. And then you transfer their key campaigns or their messages. And if you work with a local hospice or if you work with a different kind of organisation, you can take the very best of what... So hospices, for instance, they're brilliant at Christmas campaigns, and they're brilliant at In Memory, because that's sort of the space that they operate in. But some of those annual campaigns can also be transferred to other charities. All I do is I go and work with organizations, learn stuff, and then share it.
Tom: Yeah, amazing. And how has it been since you started?
Clare: It's been busy. I mean, what I kind of specialise in, I do all kinds of fundraising, but what we've become most well known for is legacy fundraising, which is promoting gifts in wills. And actually, during the pandemic, that was the only type of fundraising that was positively impacted. Events just went, individual giving was uncertain, didn't know how to communicate with their supporters. But Gifts in Wills all of a sudden had a chance for charities to consider.
Tom: I think I saw it went up something like 60% or so.
Clare: Just hugely, well in terms of, I mean I've chatted to will writers as well and actually this year has been a super bumper year because people are promoting writing a will, then more people are writing a will and the stats are astonishing. So last year alone, only 6% of people that died last year left a charitable gift in their will.
However, in England and Wales that brought in £3.7 billion for the charity sector. If you include Scottish figures because the law is a bit different in Scotland, it's estimated that it was £4.4 billion was generated. That's almost a third of charity income for the sector from Gifts in Wills. So if you just get a few more people to include or to think about it as a channel of giving, then it really is worthwhile.
Historically though, charities have been a little bit reluctant to go for legacies just simply because it's felt uncomfortable. Also, if you've got a choice of running an event and getting money in straight away or promoting something that might take between two and twenty years to actually come in because the average from writing a last will and then somebody dying and then a charity getting it, it is on average about six or seven years. But the figures are just enormous.
Tom: Do you think there's some kind of reluctance there to promote and advertise legacy fundraising because there is a bit of a taboo around death still and like it's an uncomfortable subject to talk about?
Clare: Yeah, and actually that is changing. I think it is certainly within the charity sector because people know now how valuable it is. But I spend a lot of time doing training sessions within organisations to get everybody on board because the fundraisers know that it's a really helpful thing to be able to promote because of the income that does come in.
But then getting clinical teams or retail teams or the broader organization and trustees, getting them to understand that actually when it comes to talking about legacies, it's not negative. Of course, it is about death. But actually it's about possibility and hope and it's about doing something after you're no longer alive that can be greater than the sum of your parts. It's the most positive and wonderful form of fundraising, I think. And also you're not rattling buckets and asking for something nice. So it's really accessible.
Tom: Yeah, literally leaving a legacy. Yeah, that is amazing. That's really interesting. I would never really thought about this so much before and like the figures are so high, you know, billions. So do you think one of the reasons why there may not be so much talk about this might be because there is that kind of time lag as well. So like six or seven years, as you say, if that's the average, and then if the charities have to kind of maybe prove what they're doing to other organisations or what not, and they don’t have the figures right away because it’s going to take some time, is there something there as well?
Clare: Oh, definitely. And that was always the thing that I was coming up against a number of years ago. The tide is definitely changing. And also because you can write wills online now, the online will providers, the good ones, will actually let you know as a charity, so long as there's permissions in place, when somebody's made a pledge, so you can find out more about your potential pipeline. And that's a really exciting development.
Tom: Which ones do you think are good, by the way?
Clare: Oh, well, I really like, there's a number of decent will writers. It's not a regulated industry as yet. So I like the ones that have gone the extra mile and are part of the fundraising regulator. The biggies are Rewills, Farewill, Guardian Angel, and Make A Will Online. Those are the ones that I've worked quite closely with, and I can wholeheartedly recommend all of them. They have slightly different business models. But yes, those are the four that I'm most comfortable in saying are good.
Tom: What would you say are some of the main challenges that charities face when it comes to fundraising?
Clare: It's gosh, the main challenge is... I would say and refer back actually to a podcast that you did over a year ago with Will Francis, the marketeer?
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Claire: Yeah, yeah, so I actually watched that this morning.
Tom: Amazing. Thank you.
Clare: And yeah it's about being cautious about having capacity. You know, you might not have the capacity to do as much as you want and that in terms of resource, there's a massive shortage of fundraisers in the sector at the moment. Recruitment's really difficult. Communicating your cause correctly and full of impact. If you meet fundraisers, they are fantastic and brilliant and really good at articulating what it is they are campaigning for. But sometimes that doesn't always translate after it's been through the sort of sanitised lens of some of the comms, you know, sometimes anyway. So yes, capacity, caution, and getting the communication right.
Tom: Three Cs.
Clare: Three Cs.
Tom: I love that. That’s great. And do you want to share some examples of the work that you've done at Keepace with a few charities?
Clare: Oh, I'm really proud of something we've just done. We've got bussies which are literally driving around Kent at the moment with a will writing campaign for a hospice down there, which has been absolutely fantastic. Well, first of all, we reviewed all their fundraising processes and streamlined them and made sure everything was in order. Then we produced a complete new campaign set for them. Then we did some internal training before it launched into the wild. And now just a few weeks ago, there are literally bussies and shelters and all kinds of things with this fantastic campaign. And we used people that were connected with the hospice, rather than actors, not only to sort of minimise costs, but because they looked really familiar and people in the sort of the organisation were really proud to be part of it. So that's one that I really like.
Tom: Really gives it that kind of human touch, it's like even more authentic, that's actually them as well.
Clare: Yes. We do all sorts. We do reviews of teams to help with the recruitment crisis, to spot where people can be trained up or where different kinds of roles could be creatively created so that organisations can function really well. We've got some filming coming up in the next few weeks, which I'm looking forward to.
Tom: What kind of filming?
Clare: It's again another advert for, it's another hospice actually, one in the Northwest this time. So that's good. And just getting to know different teams. We've got some talks as well, we do quite a lot of talks at conferences and things, that kind of thing. Just again to share best practice.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. And we were talking earlier before we started recording about the event that you have a vision for in a way. Do you want to tell us a bit about that?
Clare: Yeah. So legacies is something that I've become quite well known for, but because I've always kept a foot in the commercial world as well, the whole social value metrics now, in order to win a government contract, which is billions and billions of pounds in revenue each year, you have to give 10% now of the profit of your activities to social value. Now social value was kind of defined a little bit in the Social Value Act back in 2012. There was new guidance published in 2021 and it's made it much more of a requirement now for businesses to give back and to give back meaningfully. It's all quite woolly at the moment in terms of what that looks like. And I'm really passionate about educating charities to understand how they can position themselves in front of businesses and have a sort of a meaningful relationship.
Tom: It benefits both, doesn't it?
Tom: That's really interesting because just a little bit of a plug for the old Hive IT, but yeah, I know that we work with the Department of Education on a really big project. And I think one of the reasons we're able to kind of continually do that work is because we score really highly on social value because we do loads of charity work as well.
We get to work with amazing charities, which is such a privilege for us as a company. We absolutely love doing that work, but alongside that, it also has this by-product that it’s beneficial in helping us sort of continue doing the work with the government as well because it scores high in social value so yeah it works like both ways with charities and businesses so it's a really interesting point.
Clare: And I just don't think that anybody should be apologetic about that either. What's frustrating me at the moment is that there are some organisations in order to win contracts in their procurement stages they're saying right we will employ somebody that's been long-term unemployed or we'll employ an ex-offender or we'll do so many volunteering hours but is that actually meaningful?
I've worked at organisations where you've had a bunch of bankers or corporates coming in taking the time away from the charity because somebody has to sort of manage their volunteering and they're just weeding a garden or painting a wall.
Tom: And I mean what does that actually do? There's no real significant impact like especially because some of these contracts will be worth like millions and so you know having your team just go off and do maybe like half a day of painting a wall it's not really like deserving of a million pound contract like that's not really the point of it right it's like how do you actually have a significant impact on people in some way or really make a difference to a charity?
Clare: And the charities think that by accepting volunteers in they might actually then lead on to a more meaningful relationship but it doesn't work like that because really the volunteering days have been managed by the HR department and they're ticking the box whereas the procurement teams and the social value leads within the company they're in a completely different department so what I'm really passionate about is getting charities to understand who they need to pitch to and how to do it and I think that then goes again back to communication and really understanding the language of a business and the same in reverse you know a business going and wanting thinking that it's doing something by going and painting those walls or weeding those gardens but understanding actually no that's not really what is beneficial at all but share your skills do some sort of business or IT.
There is so much digital poverty in the charity sector it would be so much more of an impact if you're a big IT company and you gave some IT resource as opposed to you know doing your weeding.
Tom: Yeah, yeah oh it's so interesting because we've actually had pretty much this exact conversation in so many meetings our company recently because like there's kind of like two sides to it because like on one side we're like oh we'd love to just go and like volunteer at a farm and like you know it's like team building like it gets you away from the screen and it's like we're always doing IT and stuff it's like that'd be so enjoyable then on the other side it's like well are we really using the best of our skills here if we've got a team of like 15 or 20 devs and they're really really good at technology and they can build like really high quality websites and whatnot it's like is the best use of their time really going off to like a farm and doing that and does the charity even want that I mean what does the charity actually need what do they really want I mean that's the main thing at the end of the day right its understanding their real needs.
Clare: Yeah to be honest though you know sometimes it's difficult when you're so pressed on trying to raise money and fund your mission to actually take a step back and have a full understanding of what it is that you could require and that's another thing that I really love as part of what we do at Keepace is to go in and with a fresh pair of eyes see an organisation look at its operation and see the opportunities.
I went into a brilliant cancer care charity over in Stockport the other week and they've got a venue space which could be hired out and I was walking around and just thinking right you could do that you could do that and it's just being able to go in and say look we can actually make this really work and have something fantastic and meaningful.
Tom: Wow like really utilising their resources and yeah having that fresh perspective completely.
Clare: Yeah and there are some organisations as well that don't have that dedicated fundraising expertise either because they haven't been able to recruit. Recruitment's really tough at the moment or it's bolted on to another part of the job and that's why it can be really helpful to have that external come in and sort of shake things up a bit and just point out things which are blindingly obvious if you've got that expertise but might not be as obvious if that's not been your sort of background.
Tom: Yeah yeah definitely and in addition to like that not necessarily being their background it's like I imagine like a lot of charities like they're kind of under-resourced or like they're just like trying to have a positive impact on their users like non-stop and like let's be honest it's kind of a hard world right now in like England especially and like UK you know yeah and I don't know it just must be hard to be honest with you there must be so many reasons why you know certain things that could be improved are unable to be improved essentially.
Clare: There's a lot of burnout and again a part of my job certainly when it comes to legacies, a gift in a will comes because somebody's had a connection.
Tom: Yeah, it's really meaningful work and you know it's making a massive like positive impact you know it's amazing and I kind of that's the other thing about like just charities in general like I think that's something that England and well I say England like UK, Ireland, wherever and I feel like as a nation we do this really well like overall like we are very charitable country in some ways.
Clare: We're a hugely charitable country and in fact there was a Japanese organisation came over to the UK this summer to actually find out what it is that that makes the British public so charitable because they want to take that that ethos and that compassion and that obligation almost to give back to Japan.
So any fundraising is in its infancy really over in Japan and only 3% of population have actually got wills and the whole attitude is that it shouldn't be the individual it's the government that should pay for all services but because of changing times and strains on resources the charity sector is growing over there, but they literally come over to the UK to see what we're doing.
In fact there's a conference in in Paris in November and that again they're seeing less and less donations in France and are trying to see why people are stopping donating but if you look on the Charity Commission in the UK even though it's cost-of-living crisis the year 2022 and 2023 there was four billion pounds extra raised by the charitable sector than there was the year before.
In total I think it's like over 80 billion pounds.
Tom: Yeah it's amazing
Clare: Yeah which is just fantastic but again I mean a lot of the fundraising appeals that we're part of we are seeing that people are being more selective people are really smart now when it comes to investing they really want to know why and what their impact is and I do think that because companies such as yourself are also giving you time but choosing where I think that unless the charity sector and the business sector communicate together there's lost opportunity
Tom: Yeah yeah definitely. And I suppose your job really is sort of maximising that potential.
Clare: Yeah just facilitating a cross-sector conversation which is what I keep talking about there's not enough I mean within businesses and within charities we're really good at siloing ourselves and just looking over the shoulder of what somebody else is doing and it's even harder now because people are remote working but understanding each other's strengths and weaknesses and challenges and seeing if we can help is something that, well I'm just passionate about promoting.
Tom: Yeah, absolutely. All right, we'll move on to the final question then of the podcast. What can people do to make things better? And you can interpret this however you like.
Clare: I definitely think it's all about that communication piece and all about understanding each other's language. I was with my daughter at a dental treatment the other day and the dentist was giving us some advice and she was going, yeah, yeah, yeah. The dentist just turned around and said, you're saying yes, but I'm hearing no. And it's understanding different people's perspectives, genuinely taking the time to get to understand where somebody is coming from and then finding that common ground. And you can't find that common ground and you can't push your own agenda unless you understand your audience. And that is something that charities are brilliant at doing, they're brilliant at storytelling.
So and I think, again, there shouldn't be inequity between corporations and charities. They've both got something to give to each other. So yeah, make the world better by communicating.
Tom: Yeah, I love that. All right. And where can people find you?
Tom: Yeah. Brilliant. All right. We'll have some links as well on the video and stuff. All right. Yeah. Thanks so much for coming on the podcast. I've really enjoyed chatting with you. Thank you to anyone watching or listening (Or reading). And I hope you have an amazing rest of your day.
Clare: Thank you.
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