What do you need the money for?

It’s a straight forward question for any fundraiser, but you’d be surprised at how difficult it can be to answer.

As a donor, I usually phone up charities to give them my money. I like to speak to a human being and have the chance to ask questions if I want to. I always ask the people on the end of the phone what the money I’m giving will go towards. I’m not expecting a precise answer but you’d be surprised how often people don’t have any answer at all.

This matters because when you can define things for people, and show them how the money they are giving will help, everything is so much better.

trusseltrustTake the Trussell Trust for example. Here at Burnett Works we have recently started working with them and we’ve been looking into all of the amazing stuff they do. The Trust runs and supports foodbanks up and down the country. It also runs a huge data collection programme that can really drive how policy makers view poverty and social problems.

And that is all brilliant, but it’s not why people give their money.

People give because they are appalled that families should be going without food, right here in their town, city or village, in the 21st century. They want to do something to help.

And they give because they want to give more than just a sticking plaster to a person’s problems. They know that the Trust is about more than just emergency food. It’s about helping people with debt, or a stalled benefit payment, or a terrible landlord.

And they give because the Trust is the first friend many people have seen in an absolute age. They’ve probably been lost in a maze of other services where information can often be cold and clinical, and where finding the right way out of a problem can feel very difficult. That’s until they arrive at a Trussell Trust foodbank and are greeted with a cup of tea, a biscuit and – most importantly of all – a friendly person who is there to listen.

We know this stuff because we went out and asked. We asked people who run the Trussell Trust. We met the people who run the foodbanks. We spoke with the donors themselves. And we saw it for ourselves because we went to volunteer at the foodbanks. I went to volunteer with my own family during the school holidays and the experience and stories have stuck.

I heard a story about a baby who’d worn the same nappy for two weeks because her family didn’t have the money to buy more. I learned about how the foodbank gave her parents new nappies, and the cream needed to soothe their baby’s inflamed skin. And I saw how they and families just like them got all the help they needed in one place. How they came in, desperate for help and food, and left with a plan.

At the start of all of this, I’d been through documents and reports about the Trust. I’d read up on the training it provided, the data it collected and that side of the work. Important, yes, absolutely. But the day my family spent with them was a world away from all of that. By speaking to people, and by volunteering, we’d hurdled all the technical stuff about how the Trust operates – the number of locations, the cost per head – and landed in amongst the reasons why people love it. We’d found something people would want to hear when they ask that direct question: ‘What do you need the money for?’.

That simple act of ‘listening and learning’ underpins everything here at Burnett Works but it’s something that you and your organisation can do too. Don’t have a set idea of what you’re wanting to hear – just listen. And do your best to forget about ‘impact’ and ‘reach’ and all of the terms you’ll find in your strategy documents and annual reports. Instead listen out for the little, personal things. The human stuff.

Because when you find that stuff and build your approach around it, you’ll connect – or reconnect – with people. You’ll be understanding why they care about you. Try it for yourself. I promise you’ll see the difference. And then it’s worth talking about impact.