Five inspiring ideas from the NCVO Sustainable Funding Conference 2012

Olof Williamson was a Senior Consultant at NCVO, looking at the latest thinking on funding, finance and public services. Olof has left NCVO and his posts have been retained for here for reference.

The conference on 28th November was packed with in-depth discussions about how we can all fund our work in 2013 and beyond. It’s a difficult time to have responsibility for funding, but certain ideas stood out for me as encouraging and creative, enough to give you a boost into next year.

Before I start, thanks to the conference sponsors CAN Impact and Unity Trust, and the continued support of BIG Lottery Fund for NCVO’s funding and finance work.

Now, here’s my rundown: read, discuss, comment away via @NCVOfunding.

#1 Voluntary organisations have the power to shape the marketplace

We often feel that we are at the receiving end of the market, passive in the face of anonymous or even sinister global economic trends. But voluntary organisations can shape the consumer marketplace, and are doing so right now.

Jonathan Stearn of Consumer Focus spoke eloquently of how charities are not just standing up for the little guy (or girl), but partnering with companies to provide access to essential services and products. He showed how we can find where people are not well-served by the market, and work to improve the way it works.

NCVO’s very own Veronique Jochum drew on our recent research into this topic, sharing findings about the different ways socially-driven organisations enter the market. Veronique referenced organisations as diverse as The Vegan Society and the National Trust, Action on Hearing Loss to Credit Unions.

#2 Fundraising strength comes through numbers…

You can’t fundraise on your own, but how do you actually reach out to supporters?

Rachel Kirby-Rider’s description of engaging volunteers at Samaritans really got my attention. For Rachel, the volunteers were essential to everything the organisation does, and potentially huge advocates for fundraising campaigns. But the volunteers could also block appeals or partnerships that they didn’t like, meaning consultation and involvement were essential to Samaritans’ fundraising and overall strategy.

Have a listen to the clip we recorded of Rachel describing Samaritans’ fundraising challenges.

#3 …and sometimes you’ve just got to throw in the kitchen sink

The Crowdfunding Challenge participants also worked very hard to bring in a range of supporters, even though all nine were from smaller organisations. They went to great lengths to engage their staff, volunteers, trustees, communities, and the wider public with their crowdfunding.

And the results speak for themselves as the nine organisations raised over £20k between them in a completely new way. I was amazed at the number of different ways the Crowdfunders used to make the ask!

The Crowdfunding Challenge was sponsored by CAN Impact and run together with BuzzBnk

#4 Beautiful design theories can be applied to messy social challenges

Design Council’s Ré Dubhthaigh enthused about how the designer’s way of thinking can be applied to solving social problems and improving services. Ré emphasised that design goes beyond the visual, and can get to the core of social problems.  Katherine William-Powlett also joined us and spoke about how design innovation approaches are being applied right now in voluntary organisations, applying her learning from a collaborative project.

What was really inspiring was to see how the audience engaged with this topic. Many organisations are involved in design every day, but haven’t yet applied the tools of the professional designer to their work.

Check out Katherine’s blogs on Innovation for the voluntary sector.

#5 Social investment has huge potential, but think like a tortoise not a hare

Several speakers focused on the huge potential of social investment, including Dharmendra Kanani and Dawn Austwick, and while Dharmendra looked at some of the huge innovation going on in that sector, Dawn emphasised that any investment has to be right for the organisations receiving it.

This linked nicely with the workshop from Ed Siegel of Big Issue Invest and Michael Lilly of My Time CIC. Michael advocated the gradual approach to social investment, “you’ve got to be like a tortoise, building up your track record and assets over time.”

Our sponsors Unity Trust Bank drew on their experience of supporting hundreds of organisations with loan finance, with Andrew Jesson giving an account of how to manage the risks involved. Andrew’s pre-conference blogs were on Preparing your plan for potential investors and Writing the plan.

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