The FIA Conference for 2021 wrapped up on Friday following five days of non-stop information, entertainment and inspiration. Andrea Riddell covers the five things she took away from this year’s conference.

FIA Conference 2021 LearningsMy brain is still recovering from the FIA Conference last week – not only from the onslaught of informative and inspiring sessions, but also by being surrounded (virtually) by passionate and dedicated fundraisers (the best kind of inspiration!).

This year, we all tuned in from our meeting rooms and lounge rooms for a range of well-curated presentations, workshops and networking opportunities that mirrored the face-to-face conference we all know and love. I’m sure many of you, like me, walked away with thousands of ideas, quotes and strategies to put into practice.

Here are my five takeaways from presentations and speakers that left me thinking and questioning some of the challenges and opportunities facing our sector.

Traditional models of fundraising won’t cut it anymore; we need to think outside the box.

Sometimes we need to think outside the box in order to find ways to solve social challenges. That’s what led Save the Children down the path of launching an impact investment fund. Many financial institutions, well-versed in the investment side of things, are adding an impact investment option to their repertoire, so why not the other way around? Organisations like Save the Children, for whom impact is core to their mission, can and should branch out into the investment world?

Save the Children set up their impact investment fund in 2020 with the aim to invest in tech-enabled enterprises aligned to the organisation’s mission and use their platform to help those businesses scale up. The fund has both a goal to create social change by improving the lives of underserved children and families and generate financial returns for their investors.

Save the Children’s Laura Scott, Head of Impact Investment, explained that in order to achieve their ambitious social goals, they needed to explore options outside of the traditional charity model. This realisation led to six years of experimentation and testing other business models including merges with smaller domestic organisations, setting up social enterprises and joint ventures.

Impact investing allows Save the Children to scale up funding, and move quickly and efficiently to address social issues, instead of fundraising for each project or program. And it gives investors the opportunity to tap into Save the Children’s expertise and explore investment options that deeply target social and environmental issues.

But this great idea obviously comes with a lot of groundwork. This includes:

  • Setting up a new company to act as a trustee.
  • A minimum investment of $6 million.
  • The need for strong due diligence processes to screen investors.
  • Legal support (for Save the Children, this came from an inhouse legal team) to set up the fund.
  • Working with the corporate and philanthropy team to bring on board investors.

While this model might not be replicable for all organisations, it’s a great example of how looking outside of the sector at other industries can help us innovate – no matter how small. Are there more entrepreneurial ways to deal with social problems? What other ways can we work together and generate funding to create change?

Stats are great, until they’re not.

For the Polished Man, their campaign was quickly gaining traction thanks to the support of some very famous ambassadors such as Chris Hemsworth and Zac Efron. But their hard work was almost jeopardised by a bad decision to continue to use statistics on child violence in their campaign collateral that the UN had since stopped using. They went to market with stats that weren’t backed by a credible source, and this use was publicly picked apart by someone in a viral video.

By trying to save money and time in recreating collateral and sourcing new statistics, they had almost undermined not only their campaign, but their entire cause. The team felt as if they had been purposefully deceiving people, and the trust they had built with their community was eroded.

Now ygap, the organisation behind the Polished Man, has a robust stat and fact checking process in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again. They review key statistics twice a year and have high standards in place on data and reporting.

What processes do you have in place in your organisation to ensure statistics are reviewed on a regular basis? How do you ensure the stats you use are accurate? How would you respond to a situation like the one the Polished Man faced?

Just because it works, doesn’t mean it’s right.

In Individual Giving is Dead. Long Live Individual Giving, Simon Scriver gave us a great reminder that just because something works, doesn’t mean it’s right. As a sector, we need to continually question our practices and strategies to ensure that our actions don’t undermine the change we’re trying to make in the world.

While images of beneficiaries and programs that tug at the heart strings are great – nay crucial – to drawing a reaction out of a donor and making them feel compelled to donate, how do we ensure that it isn’t gratuitous in an attempt to manipulate our donors’ emotions.

Are we leaving beneficiaries out of the conversations around how they are portrayed? Why is this the case?

While our donors need to be thanked and feel valued, by centring them are we further marginalising the people we are hoping to help? Are we putting people on pedestals just because they have money and power? Part of this question also involves looking at the people who hold the power?

Are we committed to making systemic change by just asking donors for money? Or should we be challenging the structures that allow wealth to be unevenly distributed? Some real soul-searching questions.

Fundraisers should embrace disobedience … civil disobedience that is.

In the second day opening plenary, Kon Karapanagiotidis from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) also made us question what’s right versus what’s easy. How many of us are fundraising to go out of business? How many of us have a plan or strategy to go out of business?
To do this, we need to work outside of our lanes. We need to authentically stand up for injustice, not only with the cause area we work in, but all injustices in our communities. And we need to work together to achieve this – we are not each other’s competitors.

Kon’s dedication to creating a movement and a sense of connection is key to ASRC’s fundraising success.

As Kon said “the quickest way to lose money is by solely asking for money.” Fundraisers need to focus on building a movement, connecting with donors not just around giving money, but standing up for what’s right. Especially during crises.

“Don’t do what’s right when the money is there, do what’s right and the money will follow” was a good reminder for fundraisers to be brave and take risks, always remembering the “promise we made to the people we serve”.

The sector has a publicity problem, but we can fix it through innovation and collaboration.

In the FIA workshop ‘How can we, as a sector, shift the public assessment of charity effectiveness from one of minimising costs to one of maximising impact’, hosted online by Kaz McGrath from Starling and Gavin Coopey from More Strategic, fundraisers came together to discuss how we can shift public perception of the sector.

We all know the importance of turning the conversation from one of “how much of my donation goes to the beneficiary?” to “What’s the impact of my donation?”, but how do we scale up this evolution?

First, we took a quick look at how we’re faring: While 74% of Australians believe that charities play a vital role in society, 61% say that there are too many charities in Australia. And even worse, public perception on whether charities respect people’s privacy is low.

Kaz and Gavin asked the group to re-image the question as “How do we become Australia’s MOST TRUSTED sector?” before taking the group through a series of breakout exercises and reflections on the sector’s current practices.

In a rapid-fire brainstorm of innovative solutions to building trust, what became apparent was the need to address this problem, by taking risks collectively, to encourage large-scale change. We need everyone on board to address this PR problem.

Want to know who won the FIA Awards for 2021? Read our coverage here.

Andrea Riddell is F&P’s Content Creator

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