The F&P team share some of their top tips and takeaways from this year’s FIA conference – from sending the right email at the right time, to leaning into your weird.

After going virtual in 2021, the Fundraising Institute Australia (FIA) Conference was back in-person last week, and record numbers gathered in Sydney to meet their peers and immerse themselves in the latest fundraising knowledge, innovation and best practice.

The F&P team were fortunate to attend some of the fantastic sessions in the jam-packed program and these are a handful of the top tips that inspired them.

Yellow Brick Road – the why and how of Direct Mail 

Presenters: Liesha Hanekroot, Laura Carolan-Scott and Felicia Setyabudi – Medecins Sans Frontieres Australia

Why Direct Mail (DM) is great 

The team at Medecins Sans Frontieres Australia (MSF) have found that DM donors are ‘stickier’ – they tend to be more loyal than donors who give through other channels and they give more (four to six times more that donors acquired through face-to-face).

DM is a highly valuable feeder program into MSF’s high-value programs – it has been the most successful means of engaging mid-level donors who are the largest cohort of supporters to become major donors and bequestors.

IVE Group data shows that the second gift rate is higher from DM than any other channel. In 2020, their figures showed a second gift rate of 20% from DM donors, compared to 10% from phone and 5% from online.

What you need to do 


The key elements of DM acquisition are data + collateral + timing. 

Data sources include:

  • List brokers
  • Publications (eg. a pet magazine if you’re an animal welfare charity)
  • Associations

List suppressions should always be run against the ADMA do not mail list and a deceased person’s registry.

Design and DM tactics: 

First up, MSF start working on their campaigns four months out – meticulous planning of every step ensures their DM packs go out on that all-important lodgement date.

With respect to segmentation, the team have been testing Recency, Frequency Value against Propensity Scoring – and they have found that a combination of the two works for them.

Onto design and copy…

Critically, donors should understand the WHY of your DM piece within seconds – this means you need to provide a simple, clear proposition. 

When thinking about layout, you should design letters that work for both skim readers (ie. if they read only the first paragraph and the ask, they’ll understand what you need from them) and deep divers (who will benefit from repeat asks, bolded and underlined segments and personalisation). MSF approach this with:

  • An eye-grabbing and compelling quote in the Johnson Box
  • Two variable paragraphs per letter (personalised to donor and/or segment)
  • Italics for quotes
  • Never finishing the page with the end of a sentence – because a half-finished sentence encourages the reader to turn the page

Small Yet Mighty – how one small charity in Southern Tasmania is punching above its weight – the Hobart City Mission story

Presenter: Michelle Folder – Hobart City Mission

In 2011, Hobart City Mission delivered a tax appeal that raised $40,000 and fed into an overall fundraising result of $180,000 (excluding bequests). In 2021, that annual fundraising result had grown to $1.9 million. How did Michelle and her team do it?

Well, they disbanded labour-intensive, low-ROI events for starters! Michelle did a detailed analysis of the long-guarded annual art exhibition and, by the time she factored in staff costs, she convinced the board that the event was costing, rather than making, the organisation money. She also discovered the power of an effective communications strategy when a gala fundraiser event raised a paltry $500 (!) compared to the results of a targeted DM, social media and traditional media campaign that actually raised the $400,000 needed to open a new overnight shelter.

Michelle also experienced the truth in the old adage “If you want money, ask for advice. If you want advice, ask for money.” Early on in her tenure, she approached a friend to ask for their opinion on a program business case – what resulted, from that very same friend, was an offer to pay the interest on a $300,000 bank loan, taken out by the Mission, over five years.

Engaging fundraising agency support was another change-maker for the Hobart City Mission team. They worked with Donor Republic to create a fundraising strategy for their Small Steps program. An integral part of this strategy was a cultural shift towards fundraising within the organisation. Michelle and her team undertook an organisation-wide ‘roadshow’, going to every team meeting to talk about the role of fundraising and, specifically, about the Small Steps campaign. They also moved into an office space with program staff, which has really helped to grow collaboration and story-gathering.

How I accidentally started a charity in my garage

Presenters: Carly Fradgley – Baby Give Back, with questions from Kirsty Graham – flat earth direct

Children’s material aid charity, Baby Give Back, have been on an astonishing growth trajectory when it comes to both their service delivery and fundraising. Starting in now-CEO Carly Fradgley’s garage, and moving into a warehouse in 2018, the organisation has gone from an income of $86,166 in Year 1 (2018) to $1,045,425 at the end of FY21.

Like many of us, Carly isn’t a career fundraiser – in fact, she was still working as a lawyer in the early days of Baby Give Back when she was running the organisation on a voluntary basis. Fortunately, she has been able to transition to the role of the nonprofit’s CEO full-time (and get paid!) and has built fundraising and operations teams along the way. Here are some of the top fundraising learnings she’s picked up on her journey:

  • Stick to your lane – it’s so easy to get distracted, but the people or cause you are supporting should always be at the forefront of all your decisions
  • When the majority of your costs are operational (and when you’re in the business of rehoming donations of pre-loved nursery equipment, toys and children’s clothing, then a lot of your expenses will be staff, warehouse and equipment costs), turn the focus to impact – tell the story of what donations will do, not the costs they will fund
  • “Fundraising is counterintuitive – if it makes me uncomfortable, it’s probably going to work,” says Carly of tried and tested fundraising comms that rely on tugging the heartstrings and repeating the ask
  • Know that you don’t know it all – bring in staff and volunteers who can fill knowledge gaps across fundraising and other important areas of your organisation

Strengths-based fundraising

Presenters: Rebecca Oates – Baptist World Aid; Sani Dowa – Cure Brain Cancer Foundation | Founder of Every African Woman; Lisa Allan – The Smith Family; Sean Triner – Moceanic. Facilitated by Mary Anne Plummer – Exuberance

With the use of ‘poverty-porn’ being publicly scrutinised and charities feeling pressure to tell stories of strength and resilience versus need and suffering, how do we help our staff, boards, service recipients and donors transition to this new vision for fundraising messaging?

What is strengths-based fundraising?

Lisa – “It’s about working to empower beneficiaries and give them agency. We have a role in educating, not just letting donors continue on with beliefs about beneficiaries that may not be true.”

Sani – “It’s messaging that is respectful of the group you’re supporting. It’s messaging that doesn’t stereotype them and that is presenting them in a holistic way [ie. people are so much more than just their need]. As an African woman, I haven’t always been portrayed in a true light. Beneficiaries have a right to be involved in how they are portrayed.”

Rebecca – “It doesn’t mean not telling hard stories. It’s about casting a vision of hope and selling the story of the solution. It’s also about examining fundraising that works, but asking why it works and why we do it this way.”

Sani – “Strengths-based fundraising can be a dial that you can turn up or down according to your fundraising activity. Eg. in disasters, you can dial it down [most people will be aware of the occurrence and impact of a disaster, and so there is limited requirement for you to ‘educate’ supporters on the cause]. But in longer-term [scenarios], people want to know that they’re making a difference [and so you must ‘turn up’ the dial, clearly articulating how donations effect long-term change beyond meeting immediate need].”

Sean “Read The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer!”

Remember, if you are committed to strengths-based fundraising, you may have to be willing to take a hit on income as you change your approach and bring your donors along on a new (and more ethical) journey.

Syd Herron Oration

Presenters: Lucas Patchett & Laura Stokes – OrangeSky Australia

How do you harness the magic?
  • Innovate around your impact – Orange Sky have demonstrated innovation in their services that support people experiencing hardship (services have expanded from washing machines and dryers to showers), vehicles (which have grown from one, to a full fleet that cater to a variety of needs, terrains and emergency scenarios) and locations (the organisation now delivers services in 24 locations, including remote Indigenous communities, and New Zealand). Along the way, their innovation has become more ambitious and groundbreaking look no further than their world-first solar-powered washers and dryers.
  • Innovate around brand and revenue – in practice this has meant the Orange Sky team surrounding themselves with aligned supporters who are willing to come on the journey with them; supporters who are willing to get behind new ideas without knowing if they will work. And how have they done this?
  • They have tailored their messaging to meet different motivations and needs. For supporters excited by clever solutions, they have told the story of technological innovation and operational growth. For supporters more connected by emotion, they have told the story of the conversations and connections generated by their much-loved orange vans.

Creating mid-value from nothing. How Plan International Australia reimagined existing resources to build a mid-value program in 12 months

Presenters: Tom Duggan, Beth Cross & Madeleine Richards – Plan International Australia

For Tom and his team, the need to diversify around Plan International’s tried and true Child Sponsorship program became clear in the lead up to the pandemic. What was untapped they asked themselves a team with an impressive track record in regular giving and a major donor database where almost no stone had been left unturned. The answer was mid-value donors.

How the Plan team grew their mid-value program

As is often the case, it started with a survey, aimed at getting to know identified mid-value donors better. What they discovered was that their mid-value donors were predominantly over-60, with a strong interest in girls’ education.

At this point, they brought in the expertise of Moceanic with their three-step Growth Giver system a fundraising initiative that builds pools of matching funds. For Plan, this translated to an invite for mid-level donors to leverage their giving by donating to a matched donor fund with a gift of $1,000 or more.

The team started gathering leads and interest in their 20/21 survey. They decided upon the program name Equality Leaders, moving away from a name based on giving, to something that reflected how donors might self-identify. The program offers two incentives: 

  • Matched giving (the Equality Leaders are the matchers)
  • An opportunity to be part of a special group

Acquisition was achieve through a phone campaign, which raised $38,730 from 35 donors (an average donation of $1,107).

Retention activity included a thank you pack and invites to special webinars.

The $38,000 from Equality Leaders was just the start of funds raised. These funds were then used as matched giving in the Christmas appeal, with impressive results:

Key learnings from year 1:

  • Timing – Contrary to any concerns, the April launch did NOT cannibalise the tax appeal. In fact, several mid-level donors became Equality Leaders and gave to the tax appeal
  • Don’t lowball – the standard $1000 ask was too low
  • Engagement – there was a long time between acquisition and Christmas and the team believe there should have had more stewardship during this time
  • COVID – the pandemic disrupted mailings – and so the team ran with instant thank you packs in Year 2 rather than going via the traditional fundraising team, to CEO for sign-off , to mail house route

Year 2 campaign: 

You’ll recall that in Year 1 phone acquisition generated fundraising income of $30,700. That grew to $68,500 in Year 2, largely due to tweaks in scripts and the donor care approach in the call centre (more on that below).

Overall results from the first two years:

  • $117,200 from Equality Leaders
  • $93,120 in resulting Christmas uplift from the matched giving component
  • $210,320 in total
  • 87 new mid value donors
  • Major donor leads: 1

Key takeaways: 

  • Mid value is a mix between mass market and relationship fundraising
  • Lean into your weird – for Plan International, this is that they (unusually) have a very large in-house call centre
  • Give the team space to work on new projects such as these (don’t just lump big new programs on top of already busy workloads)
  • See the picture across the organisation – make sure everyone understands why mid-value donors are important
  • Consistency in calling works – donors appreciate having an ongoing relationship with the fundraiser on the other end of the phone
  • Have a powerful proposition – Equality Leaders is win-win-win for Plan, their mid-value donors, and the lower-level donors who have their gifts matched
  • Develop the team and young fundraisers – train them properly and bring them on the journey

How to supercharge your email appeals

Presenters: Umesh Paramasivam – Foodbank NSW & ACT, and Lachlan Dale & Katie Farina – Donor Republic.

What makes a best-in-class email appeal? In this session, we got to find out.

Tactical & Technological considerations 

Put simply, the winning formula to a compelling email appeal is:

Problem > Solution > Ask

This might look like:

Afghanistan crisis > send food > please give $100 for a food package that will feed family of five for a month.

So how should this be laid out in an email?

The key principles of winning emails are :

  • Need
  • Ask
  • Donor should feel empowered
  • Clear, singular purpose
  • Clarity, scan-ability, readability

Start with the hook that will reel donors in, then build on problem and solution, then ask and ask again, then sign off, and finish with a PS that asks again.

Remember that people scan copy and most will read your appeal on mobile.

Who are leading the charge in this space? Campaigning community, GetUp, is up there with the best says Lachlan.

Other tactics:

  • Tap into breaking news
  • Tie these media moments to your wider issue
  • Minimal design works best – our assumption that compelling imagery will improve email performance is often incorrect – the only way to know what works best for you is to A/B test
  • Use both buttons and links in your email to drive people to a landing page – because some are drawn to buttons and some like links!

Subject lines:

  • Provide a hook
  • Be clear about content
  • Flag the content
  • Flag the solution
  • Send from a name – [person name], [organisation name] is best practice
Strategic considerations 

The need for Foodbank’s service has grown at an alarming rate as natural disasters, COVID-19 and the flow-on effects of the war in the Ukraine have plunged many Australians into food insecurity for the first time. So it follows that the charity needs to raise more money to meet this need.

Email is a key channel to securing funds and they use it in five main ways:

  • Appeal emails (four appeals a year with two or three waves per appeal)
  • Emergency communications
  • Thank you communications
  • Supporter onboarding
  • Engagement and retention

In 2018 they implemented their email campaign strategy and since then, they have experienced a 2700% increase in email revenue – it’s fair to say that having a plan pays off.

What has worked for Foodbank that will work for you: 

  • Authentic stories – eg. in one email the team included a screenshot of an email request for help (anonymised and shared with consent). Try to ensure that content is as close to its original state as possible.
  • Being responsive – sometimes this is more important than sending out the perfect email. Figure out who in the team is responsible for what, so that you are ready to get emails out quickly when an emergency happens.
  • Thanking donors – thank you messages (without asks) should be factored into the email journey in the planning phase; they shouldn’t be an afterthought. In contrast to the earlier point about minimal design, thank you communications are your opportunity to use more design elements.

What do Foodbank and Donor Republic’s tactical, technical and strategic email considerations tell us? That you should engage your donors with the right email at the right time.

How fostering collaboration and innovation grew Black Dog Institute’s partnerships by 400% in one year

Presenter: Tasman Cassim – Black Dog Institute

It’s March 2020 and Black Dog Institute are making $300,000 a year from corporate partnerships. But by the end of that month this revenue “went off a cliff” (Tasman’s words) by 90%.

Faced with the mammoth COVID-19 challenges unfolding before them, the team went to their corporate partners and told them they wouldn’t ask for any money for six months – a compassionate move that received resoundingly positive and grateful feedback from all partners. They also asked corporate partners “How can we help you?”. What corporates told Black Dog they needed was content, such as mental health resources for their workforce.

Tasman brought in a journalist to interview all 135 of Black Dog’s researchers. Within 30 days she began to produce content, which went out in blogs, researcher videos, podcasts, and social media. Corporate partners loved it and wanted more.

By June 2020, income was down by 70-80% across the entire fundraising team. It called for putting aside any channel-specific targets to come together as a whole team to work on a game-changing initiative that had the power to bridge the income gap.

Corporates were telling Black Dog that social purpose was becoming increasingly important to both their staff and the customers. At the same time, exercise emerged as a common theme for mental health benefit.

What resulted from this evidence? One Foot Forward, a Black Dog challenge event brought together in four weeks during July 2020, with the event taking place in October that year. The results were impressive:

What was done, what worked and what was learnt: 

Engaging the board and executive team was really important. When corporate CEOs commented to Black Dog that their leaders didn’t appear to be participating in their own event, Tasman quickly got in their ear!

By September 2020, six months had passed since Tasman and his team made their no-ask promise to corporate partners. So Tasman went to them and asked them to join One Foot Forward. Almost every partner joined up, along with many new organisations who were engaged via social media. The event generated 100 new corporate leads for Black Dog.

All of a sudden, the Black Dog team felt drastically under-resourced as they struggled to keep up with enquires for the challenge. It was agreed that the entire fundraising team would stop all other work for eight weeks to focus on the campaign.

What worked:

  • The event was easy (walking) and accessible (could be completed anywhere)

What didn’t: 

  • The campaign was launched late in the annual corporate engagement calendar (the lack of forewarning about a pandemic had something to do with that!) and competed with the Cerebral Palsy Alliance’s STEPtember
  • There was no set workplace donor journey in place
  • Resourcing!
  • Not having a strong plan for communicating to donors what the huge sum of money raised would be used for. Given the short lead time and expectation-surpassing results, the team were significantly underprepared for this

Year 2 (October 2021): 

  • Again, the event was launched too late (July). To capture corporate support for campaigns, businesses need the details in February so they can factor their participation into budgets and calendars
  • Data and journeys were segmented by individuals and by companies – meaning there was a specific workplace journey in Year 2
  • The corporate partnerships goal was 100 workplace sign-ups – 970 signed up, raising $2.8 million of a total $11.3 million
  • A dedicated workplace team was established to answer enquiries (but there still were not enough resources!)
Tasman’s other corporate partnership tips:
  • Get your unique selling proposition (USP) right – be super clear about what you have to offer. Eg. Black Dog provides workplace education training to partners and they promote this loudly and proudly.
  • The corporate purse has moved – it’s not about upfront commercial fees anymore, it’s about engaging workplaces in fundraising.
  • LinkedIn has been pivotal for Black Dog partnerships (it has accounted for 20% of partnerships growth) and the organisation uses the platform to release two partnership posts a week. Never sell on LinkedIn (don’t ask) – instead, be a key person of influence and provide valuable content.
  • Think about resourcing for speaking opportunities (nonprofits get a lot of requests for these). Black Dog have engaged  five great ambassadors (with lived experience) from their established community speaking program who speak to corporates approximately once a week.
  • When considering internal buy-in to your corporate partnerships program, your job is to represent the partner, not the nonprofit.

(PS – if you need any more evidence that Tasman is a super passionate fundraiser, check out his Superhero Walk).

That was just a snapshot!

These top tips are by no means exhaustive. They are just a slither of over 90 hours of learning and sharing across masterclasses, panels, presentations and plenaries. If you were one of the lucky fundraisers who attended the FIA’s conference last week, we hope you came away feeling inspired, better equipped for your role, and well and truly networked out! We know we did!

To read about 2022’s FIA National Awards for Excellence in Fundraising winners, click here

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