I’m delighted to introduce my first co-written blog – with fellow charity sector blogger and Arsenal fan, Lizzi Hollis.
It’s in there all the time, looking for a way out.
These are the opening words of Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby’s account of his own obsession with Arsenal Football Club. I attended my first game in 1979, and, like Hornby, thoughts about my team are also in my head much of the time. So why is it that so few of the 100+ blogs I’ve written here are about the dynamite team who play in red and white?
Well, Lizzi and I are going to redress that now, with a bumper tribute to Arsène Wenger, whose last game as manager of Arsenal is this weekend.
We feel that he can teach charity fundraisers a thing or two, so even if you don’t like football, or (gasp) don’t like Arsenal, do read on….
Part 1: 1996-2004, by Richard Sved
On the face of it, when Arsène arrived at Highbury in 1996, he found a team in stasis, if not disarray. Arsenal had finished the previous season 19 points behind the champions and had scored barely more than a goal a game.
Don’t throw everything out
It would have been tempting as a new broom to rip it all up and start again, but Wenger left one unit entirely untouched, the famously parsimonious defence. And this was to prove the platform for the rebuilt midfield and attacking talent over the next few years.
There’s a lesson here for fundraisers of course. When we’re new in a job, I’ve found over the years that we’re all too quick to look at the overall picture, blame our predecessors, and think that we have to start again with everything. There will always be aspects that your charity does well, whether it’s building relationships with potential supporters, running a good community event, or simply explaining the importance of your cause. Take a step to consider what they are, and build around them.
Know your competitive advantage
Arsène revolutionised English football, famously transforming the beer and pizza lifestyle of the players and replacing it with yoga, broccoli and the like. He was also able to use his strong links to the French game to bring some relatively unknown talent to the club, including Patrick Vieira, Nicolas Anelka, Emmanuel Petit. For a good few years, before other clubs caught up, Arsenal were ahead of the curve, and success followed.
How can we as fundraisers learn from this? I think we’re too obsessed with mimicking what other charities do. We copy each other’s events, and set up similar structures. The best charities I’ve worked with, will of course benchmark against others, but they are constantly striving to understand their own competitive advantages, thinking about which income streams will grow in future years, and which ones should be ditched. In short, you need to think about the Boston Matrix when assessing and planning your fundraised income. What elements can you turn into stars, and then cash cows, supporting the growth of other areas in future years?
Be bold in your predictions, if you can back them up
Arsenal’s Invincibles famously went through the whole 2003/2004 unbeaten, a feat not achieved in the previous century, or since, and that team, who were undefeated for 49 games, is arguably Wenger’s greatest achievement. But Arsène was roundly mocked the preceding season when he predicted it could happen.
And there’s so much for fundraisers to learn here – his belief in the ability of the team, his engendering of a strong team spirit, the importance of real hard work – could all transfer to our work in the charity sector. But for me, the key lesson is around target setting. We should be bold in our aspirations, providing we can back them up with ability and hard work, and not be held back by whether it’s been done before.
Part 2: 2005-2018 by Lizzi Hollis
Lizzi was registered as a Junior Gunner the very day she was born, and has worked in the charity sector since 2010.
Be more than your role
In 2006, when the Arsenal home ground moved from Highbury to the Emirates, Wenger played an integral part in the project, from attending the ground breaking to designing the dressing rooms (the home dressing room is based on the principles of Feng Shui, the away dressing room is based on the principles of putting a massive table in the middle, so no one can see over it!). He was more than a manager. He was a stalwart of the club he made his home.
As fundraisers, it is vital we play a key role not just in our fundraising teams, but throughout our organisations. Make it your business to know what’s going on and where possible, shape the decisions that are made. Show that you are interested in the overall progression and success of your charity and actively seek out opportunities that enable you to participate more.
Change with the times
One of the biggest criticisms of Wenger’s time as Arsenal manager and one of the biggest learnings for us, is that he failed to adapt his style and philosophy as the football climate changed. He changed the landscape of British football and then got left behind. Chelsea and Manchester City were bought out by wealthy owners and bought players that have seen them dominate the Premier League for the last decade.
As fundraisers, we have to develop our approaches as the fundraising environment changes. We cannot risk becoming the fundraisers who do things because “that’s how it’s always been done”. Don’t be afraid to be innovative and competitive and to understand the opportunities and challenges when the goal posts are moving.
Leave a legacy behind you
You only had to watch the goodbye presentation to Arsène Wenger at his final home game to understand the impact this man has had on the club, the fans and the world of football. Before Wenger, Arsenal was a semi-competitive team who specialised in boring 1-0 wins. Wenger brought a style of football that made even the neutral want to switch on and watch; he won trophies, had an unbeaten season and he established an international fan base. Despite the criticism of recent years, Wenger leaves Arsenal with millions of people who have loved and been inspired by him.
Eventually we will all move on from our organisations, but we want to make sure that what we leave behind us is better than when we arrived. Whether that’s having written a new strategy to bring our fundraising approach up to date, a dedicated new corporate partner, or improved the number of challenge event participants. Giving 100% will ensure that we are remembered, even after we’re gone.
Overall, the qualities we as fundraisers can take from Arsène Wenger and bring to our work everyday are dedication, perseverance, humility and good humour.
On behalf of all of us who learned and continue to learn from you, “merci, Arsène!”