Celebrating the craft of fundraising

On Bluefrog Creative by Aline Reed, 31 January 2013

I’ve got to tell you: this is not the first time that this has happened to me. I was happily thinking I had a decent and interesting idea for a blog post…until I read Ken Burnett’s latest thoughts. Once again, he’s got there ahead of me and said what I was planning to say – except first and better. If he weren’t such an inspirational and thoroughly generous chap, he’d almost certainly be my nemesis…

Ken’s latest post (which I urge you to read here) is about the craft of fundraising. He shares the example of sushi chefs who spend two years perfecting the basic task of cooking rice. Do we as fundraisers demand the same rigour? Do we offer a framework where a fundraiser is expected to learn, then master their craft? Ken believes not.

As an industry, we seem to have an unquenchable appetite for innovation, bravery and eye-catching ideas. At times, it appears that ‘new’ equates to ‘good’, even if the ideas on show are distinctly mediocre. We’ll celebrate an unproven and questionnable campaign, at the expense of fundraising that works.

If you don’t believe me, I’ll happily give my place over to you at the next Fundraising awards and you can judge for yourself. There’s little reward or celebration of well-crafted fundraising that delivers great results.

I refuse to believe that kind of success isn’t interesting. Doing a job well – getting the details right – is surely at the heart of what every fundraiser wants to deliver.

That’s why I’d decided to give over my first post of the year to Marie Curie Cancer Care.

It’s there that I see the most impressive set of results, month after month, year after year. And I want to share some examples of the work and the thinking behind it. It’s also an opportunity to hear about the work of a fundraising team who aren’t speaking at conferences or writing about their success – they’re just getting on with it.

I won’t promise you ‘innovation’ or even anything necessarily ‘new’. But I can promise to show what you can achieve by retaining a single-minded focus on the essential ingredients for success.

But before the creative examples, the headline news which I’ve taken from a heartening email I received from Alex Hyde-Smith, Individual Giving Manager at Marie Curie Cancer Care.

  • 2011 Christmas DM appeal: beat all previous mailing to become the most successful DM campaign ever.
  • 2012 Great Daffodil appeal: beats Christmas to become the most successful DM campaign ever.
  • 2012 Autumn appeal: most successful Autumn appeal ever, beating even the daffodil bulb packs of 2004/4.
  • 2012 Cold recruitment: reformatted £3 pack doubles response and stands a little short of 10% response at week 5.

In these turbulent times financially, Alex quite rightly notes that these are results ‘many in the industry would die for’. He also suggests that the consistent increase in income is not an accident or the happy chance of luck. So what can it be ascribed to?

Well, I’d certainly say there’s an element of craft – of getting fundraising basics right. Of applying good thinking rigorously to all areas of activity: list buying, media buying, data, proposition, offer, creative, relationship with the donor, engagement with the cause.

And here’s how that plays out in the DM appeals:

Christmas 2011: Marie Curie Cancer Care has one of the most successful Christmas packs I’ve seen. It evolves from year to year and includes a set of gift labels that their donors clearly love. The core message refers to Marie Curie Nurses who will put their own Christmas celebrations to one side and go out to care for terminally ill people in their homes.


TAKE AWAY POINT: Marie Curie Cancer Care has a purpose that is simply summed up.

Great Daffodil Appeal 2012: March sees people throughout the country fundraising for Marie Curie Cancer Care and, crucially, wearing a daffodil to remember loved ones who have died of cancer. Year on year, the power of the daffodil grows as it helps to bring people together to raise funds. The DM appeal is co-ordinated with other activities, so that donors play their part in Great Daffodil Appeal.



TAKE AWAY POINT: Marie Curie Cancer Care has a defining symbol that brings people together.

TAKE AWAY POINT: Any piece of creative work with promising results is incrementally improved and tested in other channels.

Community nursing 2012: This is traditionally a more challenging time to raise money, following hard on the heels of GDA, but this year, a breakthrough. This regionalised campaign comes from a Marie Curie Nurse who asks the donor to support nurses in his or her area.

Comm nursing

TAKE AWAY POINT: Many donors have seen the work of a Marie Curie Nurse first hand. They value the work of nurses in their local area. 

Autumn 2012: This piece includes a calendar which becomes a presence year-round in the donor’s home. It showcases the work of nurses and includes inspirational quotations.


TAKE AWAY POINT: All fundraising campaigns are donor-focused and show supporters that they are a valued member of the Marie Curie family.

Summing up…

From an agency point of view, it’s incredibly satisfying to be able to focus on maximising response. Alex at Marie Curie Cancer Care makes this possible because his priorities include ‘removing organisational ego’ from fundraising. This means we can focus on the donor and their needs.

To sum it up simply, it means the donor is our hero. Every time. And that shows in the results.

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