The Fundraisers Book Club

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Purplegrass Consulting is delighted to announce the launch of the Fundraisers Book Club. We will be announcing details of the first book in the next few weeks along with a date for our first event.

Sign up to our mailing list or keep an eye on our Facebook page for more details.

The Fundraisers Book Club was the brainchild of Gaby Murphy (Purplegrass)  Colin Skehan (Merchants’ Quay) and Simon Scriver (ChangeFundraising). We are all members of Rogare, the Fundraising Think Tank based at the University of Plymouth’s Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy and we were looking for a way to share some of the critical thinking on fundraising that this group is producing.

We wanted to make sure that Irish fundraisers had a chance to share in that debate and so we came up with the idea of the Fundraisers Book Club.

The idea is to provide an informal networking and continuous learning club for fundraisers of all levels. The plan is to meet every 2 months and at each meeting we will review a publication, a piece of research or a book on a fundraising related topic.

It will be run like a book club, in that everyone will have the opportunity to input into the discussion, regardless of experience, level of seniority or discipline.

Discussions will focus on the practical application of fundraising theory or research and how we use evidence and best practice to inform how we fundraise.

Who can attend?

It is open to all fundraisers and communications professionals working in the sector or interested in getting into the sector. The only entry criteria is an open mind and a willingness to learn.

What is the aim of the Book Club?

Continuous learning,  self-improvement,  networking with colleagues, fun and lively discussion.

Will I be expected to prepare for the sessions?

Like any book club we will let people know in advance what the text is that we will be discussing so that people have a few months to read it.

Is there a charge?

The Club will be run on a cost neutral basis – most events will be free of charge and some may incur a small charge to cover venue hire costs, where needed.


A Virus that Kills Cancer is Waiting to Come in from the Cold

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Oncolytic virus


In the summer of 2012, Thomas Fredengren, Head of Fundraising and Alumni Relations at Uppsala University, got a message in his inbox from one of the University’s researchers:

Hi Thomas

An English journalist is writing an article about my research that will be published in the Telegraph and he would also like to have a fact box about donations, is there something special we should think about?

Best wishes


So Thomas sent him some information and next to the article appeared a little box that said

To donate money to Professor Magnus Essand’s research on viral treatments for neuroendocrine cancer, send contributions to Uppsala University, The Oncolytic Virus Fund, Box 256, SE-751 05 Uppsala, Sweden or visit  Contributions will be acknowledged in the scientific publications and in association with the clinical trial. A donation of £1 million will ensure the virus is named in your honour.

At the time Uppsala University had no online donation function and a Paypal account was hastily set up, on the off-chance that any donations might come in.

The article published in the Telegraph magazine by Alexander Masters was entitled “A virus that kills cancer is waiting to come in from the cold” and was a masterpiece of journalism.  The article went online on August 31st 2012 and in just days, it became one of the top 3 most shared articles on social media.


Oncolytic virus screen shot


Over the first few days after the article’s publication around 70,000 SEK (€7000) was paid into the PayPal account and the university received numerous offers to crowdfund for the research.

Within a week, several bogus crowdfunding sites were set up and the University realised it had to act quickly to regain control over the situation and meet the need that had been created by the huge  swell of public interest in Professor Essand’s research.

The University got in touch with its Friends of Uppsala University in the US who agreed to help via their 501c(3) and although no similar organisation was in existence in the UK, The Anglo Swedish Society agreed to help and acted as a channel for donations from UK donors.

Video messages were filmed of Professor Magnus Essand and put up on the university website as well as thank you videos, which were sent to every single donor (regardless of the size of their gift).



Throughout Autumn 2012, around 2 million SEK (€200,000) was raised in many small donations from over 2000 individuals.

In spring 2013, the University made contact with a potential major donor to the campaign and by June 15th 2013 (just eight and a half months after the Telegraph article was published) the University was able to announce that a donation of 14 million SEK (€1.4 million) had been made by Vince Hamilton which secured sufficient funding to commence the clinical trial.

In the summer of 2013 the crowdfunding continued, led by an initiative from one family in the US, resulting in a further US$200,000 to the campaign.

In July 2015, the Lancet reported that the campaign had raised US$3,113,000 (£2,000,000) and in March 2016 the Financial Times called the campaign “one of the most successful crowdfunding medical sites to date.”

Thomas Fredengren  shared his learnings from the whirlwind campaign. It was clear there was huge public interest in the research and that this could be harnessed, in the absence of any interest in the research from the pharmaceutical companies.  He also noted that there was great personal chemistry between Vince Hamilton (their major donor) and Professor Essand and his team, which drove the project on and gave it momentum.

Uppsala University got excellent media exposure and as a result of the campaign internal relationships were developed and a new focus on fundraising was institutionalised.

Crowdfunding however  requires a huge amount of back office resource, as each and every gift has to be documented and taken good care of.  There were inherent risks in how the university brand was used by external fundraisers and the university is now much more prepared to take advantage of bottom- up fundraising campaigns as and when they present themselves.

And Magnus Essand kept his promise to journalist Alexander Masters and threw him the biggest party in Uppsala to celebrate the start of the clinical trials.  And if this story is ever made into a movie, my money would be on Matt Damon to play Magnus Essand.


For more on this campaign go to



Fundraising in a Cold Climate

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Scandinavia might not be the first place you think of when you think of cutting edge fundraising campaigns, but fundraising and philanthropy has gained huge momentum in the Nordic countries in recent years, as I learnt on a recent trip to Stockholm to meet some of my Swedish associates in the Mira Partnership.

Much like elsewhere in Europe, major gift fundraising has been pioneered by the university sector and the first modern capital campaign was conducted in the 1990s by Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, following a change in Swedish education policy which freed up universities to set up their own independent foundations.  Chalmers raised 340 million SEK (€35.7 million)  from its first modern fundraising campaign which was targeted at alumni and broke new records in Sweden at the time.

Sweden is certainly no stranger to philanthropy. In 1912 its citizens raised 12 million Kronor (approx  650 SEK/€6.6 million in today’s equivalent) through a public fundraising campaign to purchase a new warship for the country.  Today Sweden has the 4th highest number of billionaires per capita, including Markus Persson (the founder of Minecraft), Ingvar Kamprad (the Ikea founder), Stefan Persson (H&M clothing retailer) and the Rausing family (founders of Tetrapak) to name just a few.


The Karolinska Institutet – €100 Million Breakthroughs for Life Campaign

During my trip, I met Harriet Wahlberg, a former President of the Karolinska Institutet (one of the world’s leading medical universities). As President, Harriet led one of the most successful fundraising campaigns in recent years in Scandinavia – a 1 billion SEK (€100 million) fundraising campaign called Breakthroughs for Life.  But unlike many university campaigns of this size, the campaign was not for capital development but to raise funds for ground-breaking medical research.


Karolinska Institutet


Harriet shared her reflections on the campaign and on why she felt it had been such a success.

  • The preparation period was crucial and Harriet met with all 22 department heads before the campaign was launched and insisted that she would not go ahead unless she had the support of every one of them.
  • The campaign was viewed as a strategic priority for the University and critically important from a brand building point of view, as well as for the fundraising itself.
  • Harriet, as President of the University, was a member of the Campaign committee which met twice a month. She personally spent about 9-10 hours a week on the campaign and 90% of that time she focused on the domestic fundraising market.
  • Much of her work was spent ”friendraising” which she cited as a key element of the campaign before any fundraising could begin.
  • Ultimately the Karolinska Institutet raised 76% of the campaign total from private individuals, including family foundations, 14% from companies and 10% from grant giving foundations.


Harriet Wahlberg has written a short book about the Breakthroughs for Life campaign and her experience is fascinating, above all for the openness of Harriet’s approach and her far-sightedness in understanding just how critical her personal involvement was to the success of the campaign.

”We listened to experts on fundraising, ” she said, ” because we realised we were amateurs at this.  We learnt from them and then adapted what we had learnt to our own needs”.


Breakthroughs for Life


The Karolinska Institutet worked with Brakeley Nordic Fundraising Consultants on the campaign. Purplegrass Consulting and Brakeley Nordic are members of the Mira Partnership, an international association of fundraising consultants.

Texting on the Loo and Other Stories from the 2016 IFC

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The theme of this year’s International Fundraising Congress was “Asking the Right Questions” and here are a few of our own questions and the best bits from what we learnt at this year’s event.


  1. Mobile Fundraising – how many people admit to reading their phones on the loo?

In the UK, 74% people admit to this according to recent research presented by Paul de Gregorio from Communications Agency, Open. Who’d have thought!

Paul talked about how mobile brings together content, communication and payment into one  snack-able chunk.  And as we look at our phones on average 150 times a day, there are ample opportunities for charities to get across their bite-size pieces of content.


  1. What is the most popular content on social media channels?

According to Cancer Research UK, video is the most viewed content on social media channels and Kathryn Toner from CRUK recommended putting subtitles on all video content as many people view it on public transport with the sound off.

Still on the subject of video, but in a different context, CRUK has also been testing responsive screens in their shop windows and 1 in 6 people engaged with the interactive screen.


CRUK shop

  1. How do we ask well?

Amanda Palmer’s inspiring plenary session focused on the art of asking. She spoke about how vital context is when we are asking someone for something, but the comment that struck me the most was a quote from Henry David Thoreau’s book, Walden:

“Good asking fundamentally leaves space for no”.

  1. How do we measure what counts, not just count what we can measure?

Joe Jenkins talked about his experience of Impact Reporting at the Children’s Society.  According to Joe, for impact reporting to be in any way meaningful,  it must be driven by the whole organisation, not just by the fundraising team.  When dealing with the complex issues of childhood neglect, poverty and abuse, contribution is more important than attribution and finding a way to measure impact rather than just outcomes remains a challenge. He felt that where learning and continuous improvement were behind impact reporting, it could achieve far more.


  1. Can Working Class Heroes deliver more for us than Dorothy Donor?

Bluefrog’s donor research paper makes interesting reading. Working class heroes, Humble and Holy and Noblesse Oblige are 3 distinct categories of mid level donors their research came up with as a way of demonstrating why people chose to make more significant gifts to particular charities.   One tip, when trying to identify your next mid level donors or charity champions was to look for people who’ve given more than you’ve asked them for or who’ve called up to let you know about their change of address.


  1. What can Corporate Fundraisers learn from taxi drivers?

Always make sure you’ve booked the return fare. Rob Woods’ advice on managing the corporate meeting stressed the importance of agreeing the next steps before you leave the room.   Make sure you have agreed the next meeting, check what phone number to use when getting back to them and agree the next steps in the decision making process.

The start of the conversation is equally key. Whoever owns the frame, owns the conversation so make sure you set the frame for the conversation, before your contact can do so.  Relate to the person’s world first (eg our TV and DM campaigns have not been performing as well as they used to  – it’s probably been the same for you – so we are now looking at new types of partnership) and head off any misconceptions of company/charity partnerships before they can frame the conversation.

Rob based much of his approach on The Psychology of Influence by Robert Cialdini, still one of the leading experts on sales.  It’s worth checking out, as is his new book Pre-suasion (bound to turn up on the Fundraisers Book Club list – see below).


  1. How can you increase your legacy pledges by 15%?

Make sure that solicitors are asking potential legators in the  correct way. Research presented by Remember a Charity showed that if people are asked the question “is there a cause that you feel passionately about that you would like to remember in your will, after friends and family are taken care of?” there was a 15% increase in people signing up to leave a legacy, showing the vital role that solicitors can play in correctly positioning a legacy gift.

Stephen George from Remember a Charity stressed the importance of putting the legator at the centre of all communications. He showed a great Legacy TV advert from Unicef Italy which was filmed as if the donor or the legator were there in the film. It’s worth taking a look (even if your Italian is a little rusty).


  1. How can we raise more from our community fundraisers and peer to peer networks?

Many of us have people who are local champions for our charities, who do cake sales, who shake buckets, who run races. How can we encourage them to raise more? Jillian Stewart from Peerworks in the Netherlands had some great tips.  Film your fundraisers and put up clips on your website to inspire others – simple and cheap to do just on a mobile phone.  Encourage people to self-sponsor and donate to themselves first before asking others – whether with a sponsorship form or an online giving page.  Recognise those who are really active on social media for you and send them personalised video messages.  And include small, inexpensive incentives for fundraisers to aim that bit higher with their fundraising. She quoted a great example from Pieta House and the Darkness into Light Walk, which gave a flashing badge to all those people who raised over a certain threshold.


  1. What do I need to start a Crowdfunding initiative?

A number of sessions I attended touched on crowd-funding and most had a similar experience to share. The clue is in the name – it’s very hard to crowdfund without a crowd.  The pre-campaign is key and where the crowdfunding can be as personal as possible, success rates are higher. For example the Dutch Heart Society (DHS) ran a campaign but the ask came from the researcher and it was not branded as the DHS. All communication came personally from the researcher himself and DHF said they would match every donation.  They also secured a major donor to sponsor the pre-campaign and acknowledged that the lead-in time needed to be a lot longer than they had bargained for.  They had great feedback from donors who loved the rewards for each giving level – books, guided tours – and a personal update report from the researcher every 3 months.


10. And finally, not a question but a quote from Usha Menon, that I felt summed up the 2016 IFC for me. In a changing world, where new business models are coming in almost daily and revolutionising entire sectors (think AirBNB, Uber and Upwork), charities need to constantly challenge themselves.  We need to ask whether we are adding value or just maintaining the status quo.

“If charities do not add sufficient value, they will be cut out as the middle men.”  Usha Menon


The Resource Alliance have shared many of the slides from IFC 2016 on their website and it’s worth taking a look.