We spoke to Mark Phillips about his journey, the biggest opportunity facing fundraisers today, and what inspires him.
For Fundraising Forum this year, we’re lucky to have Mark Phillips join us from London to deliver a Masterclass on ‘How to create and sustain a highly successful mid-value donor program’ and two conference session on Gifts-in-wills acquisition and donor retention. Before his sessions, we sat down – virtually – to chat about Mark’s journey, what inspires him and what he’s excited about for the future.
His interest in social anthropology led him to fundraising
“I was very interested in social anthropology back in the 80s. I became a little bit more politically aware, I suppose, and [my interest] moved into development studies, which is looking at how the world develops. My interest was very much around how individuals were responding, how people created systems to justify behaviour,” says Mark.
Mark studied development studies, which typically leads to a career on the frontline working in the aid space, which wasn’t the path for Mark. A friend suggested he try out fundraising.
He undertook a Master’s in Marketing to join the fundraising and the frontline together, before joining ActionAid UK – his first taste of fundraising. After a few years he went on to work at YMCA England for eight years, where he developed all the initial thinking around the mid-value program.
“I realised I wasn’t cut out for senior management. I left YMCA to set up Bluefrog Fundraising, the agency that I would want to employ. There were a number of digital agencies around at that point, but I was young then and wanted to do more creative approaches – how silly I was!” says Mark.
He wanted to call his agency Little Green Frog
When setting up his business in the late 90s, he was inspired by the organisation Friends of the Earth who had used a green tree frog as their mascot.
Unlike his girlfriend at the time who was planning on naming her business after herself, Mark believed he needed something that “people would remember and be able to visualise. Something that is attractive to them.”
When it came time to christen the business with a name, Little Green Frog was his first choice. He didn’t want people to think his agency was a big conglomerate or organisation that was intent on making money and Little Green Frog fit the bill.
But, alas, when it came time to register the name, it was already taken!
So he headed to the nearest vivarium.
“I was on the phone to my accountant who was online double-checking names. I rang him up to ask, ‘Can you check to see what else they’ve got there?’ and he said, ‘Well, what other frogs do you like?’ and there was a blue frog there!”
He’s inspired by history
Tying into his love of anthropology, Mark is inspired by history. And any time he comes across an old book on fundraising, he jumps at the chance to read it. Mark believes that no idea is new. He uses face-to-face giving as an example:
“You can look at things like face-to-face fundraising, which people often attribute to Greenpeace in Austria in the 90s. It actually goes back to 1880 in America and the YMCA,” says Mark.
“It was called the ‘Lightening Canvas’ and they would send teams of people out into the street to sign up regular givers – and that was over 140 years ago! There is nothing new!”
That’s why his number one tip is for fundraisers to look to the past for ideas
“If you look through books and see ideas, you can think ‘how can we reapply this to the modern day?’,” says Mark.
He wants other fundraisers to take a leaf out of his book and consult history when we’re worried about coming up with the next big thing or the new idea to raise lots of money.
“There are so many great ideas out there you should focus on learning from others rather than try to make up your own because you normally are reinventing the wheel,” says Mark.
Fundraisers often lose sight of what’s important: creating a connection between the donor and the organisation and instead focus on the need to innovate and come up with new ways of fundraising.
Learn. Look to our history. Look to what has gone before necessarily thinking I want to do something new.
He harks back to previous presentations he has given using the idea of reverse innovation: instead of asking “What would you do if you had all the money in the world?” ask, “What would you do if you had no money?” This forces people to focus on relationships between people and what they can do as individuals.
He’s excited, but also worried that fundraisers will return to normal
While COVID-19 has been particularly challenging for the nonprofit sector, we shouldn’t just hold our breath and wish for things to return to normal. The pandemic has created a unique opportunity for fundraisers, changing donor perception, donor needs and wants, and creating a prime opportunity to get closer to donors.
“What excites me is that the pandemic has given us a sense of connection, which has given donors an opportunity to value charities more, and from that we can generate far greater resources and create far greater change,” says Mark.
“I’m excited about this opportunity, but I’m worried it will be squandered. Because donors came to look at charity as an amorphous lump, if a few charity experiences are bad, they start to project that onto other organisations.”
If you want to hear more from Mark, don’t miss his Masterclass and sessions at Fundraising Forum this year.
Who is Mark Phillips?
Mark is the Founding Owner and Managing Director of Bluefrog Fundraising. He started out as a fundraiser 30 years ago and set up his first fundraising agency over 20 years ago.
One of the most influential fundraisers in the UK and around the world, Mark works alongside a host of charities conducting research, and developing and planning their fundraising strategies, products and creative.
Mark’s clients include some of Britain’s best-known charities such as UNHCR, WWF, The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, Marie Curie and a number of universities.
He is in demand as a conference speaker and has presented at numerous events including the International Fundraising Congress (IFC – Amsterdam), the Fundraising Convention (London), AFP conferences across North America and the Donor Love conference in Las Vegas.
Fundraising Forum will be coming to you virtually in 2021. Join us online from 31 August – 2 September. Find out more and register.
Mark will present the masterclass: How to create and sustain a highly successful mid-value donor program.
Mark will also present two conference sessions: