CONVENTION PREVIEW: Convention reaches beyond fundraising

Communications skills are essential to a fundraiser's job. Dominic Wood discovers how this year's National Fundraisers' Convention aims to tackle the issue

Fundraisers these days need to be good at a lot more than just asking for money. PR skills, from getting media attention, building word of mouth, managing the reputation of your organisation and your cause, to the subtleties of brand and image, are now an integral part of the fundraiser's armoury.

"They should know about building the PR machine and working within the organisation,

says Joe Saxton, head of research organisation nfpSynergy.

Saxton is putting together a series of seminars around the theme of communications for the National Fundraisers' Convention 2002. The subject is new to the convention, and its organiser, the Institute of Fundraising, hopes it will not only be of interest to fundraisers but also broaden the range of people who would traditionally attend. Saxton says: "I've had countless fundraisers requesting that the convention should cater for their colleagues. These new seminars will do that and hopefully persuade them to come."

The communications sessions will include two extended seminars on Monday and two specific sections: public relations and media, and awareness building and branding. Saxton's seminar, The right impression: Image and brand as a source of competitive advantage, will attempt to show organisations that image is one of their most precious assets. He will inform delegates that every part of an organisation has to adapt to the modern age and be aware of how the external world receives them. "It's not just the fundraisers that should be image-conscious,

says Saxton, "all other departments should be involved too."

Another Saxton-led seminar is What do journalists really think of charities?

The session will unveil the findings of nfpSynergy's research with around 70 journalists, and focuses on the media's attitude to charities. According to Saxton, many organisations in the sector often fail to do common sense things such as take journalists' deadlines into account.

"The media receives hundreds of communications from organisations asking them to run a story so it's imperative to avoid some of the things that really wind up journalists such as inaccurate figures, and the assumption that worthiness alone is the key to getting noticed,

he says.

The latter perception, held by many charities, will be discussed in the seminar Playing the media game. Adrian Gillan, founder of Gillan Media, promises to change the way that charity employees view the media. "I'll be playing devil's advocate to shake up people's preconceptions and habits when they play the media game,

he says.

It all comes down to what someone wants to read, listen to and watch, says Gillan: "You've just got to grab people's attention. It's no good being pious about your cause because there's only six or seven basic stories ever told: sex, human failure, human intrigue, first, last, biggest and smallest. Charities have to use a Trojan Horse to get inside one of those."

The convention will also evaluate the role advertising plays in the fundraising process. In his seminar, Charity advertising - Cutting the crap, Martin Field, director at Field-works Fundraising, offers a dissenting voice.

"Advertising isn't appropriate for all charities because consumer society isn't a particularly good fit for them since the way in which ads sell charities is not the way they sell tomato soup,

says Field.

He will urge delegates to think about how the model works, because, he says, "they often wade into the medium without considering its pitfalls, seeming to have an attitude that 'everybody else is doing it so why shouldn't we?'"

Field hopes delegates will raise their own questions as "discriminating consumers

and decide whether they are doing their best for their charities by using advertising.

He will call for charities to take a more critical stance on advertising.

"Charities often spend a lot of money without getting anything in return other than raising their profile, rather than raising funds,

says Field.

"As they used to say, an ounce of editorial is worth a pound of advertising."

Other seminar themes at the convention include current affairs, where key individuals who influence or make policy focus on the issues affecting the fundraising environment. This will include updates from The Giving Campaign, the launch of the new Legacy Promotion Campaign and debates on Social Enterprise and Investment in Fundraising.

There will also be seminars on community and volunteers, corporate partners, management and personal development.

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