Last month saw the first of hopefully many Funding Network events in St Albans, where four people pitched ‘Dragon’s Den style’ on behalf of their good causes to a room of 90-odd potential donors.
I was proud to lead the team of volunteers organising the evening, which raised nearly £12,000 in half an hour of pledging, to four local organisations: The OLLIE Foundation, Mind in Mid Herts, Transition St Albans and Young People’s Puppet Theatre You can read the story of the event in tweets here. And you can read about The Funding Network here.
But here are five lessons I learned from setting it up in St Albans:
1. Get your core team in place
We didn’t even start planning an event until we had the eight-strong steering group in place. In fact, it was the other way round. Two people from our first corporate supporter, Grant Thornton, an accountancy firm, set up a meeting with a few of us to talk about what we could do as a group for local charities. So the steering group and the corporate partnership came first. I needed to know we had a group of people with common aims, and a group of people I could trust.
2. Use your supporters to bring in peers
A key reason we pulled in our next local corporate supporter, law firm DebenhamsOttaway, was that I was lucky enough to be able to bring a representative from Grant Thornton to the introductory meeting. He was able to say why they supported the initiative, which really helped. He was talking to his peers in the local business sector, and as a result I was less of a ‘salesman’. This was proper collaboration in the literal sense: working together.
3. Focus on the supply side
So we had a concept for the event, a venue, and a date. But the evening was going to stand or fall on the good causes represented. They would provide the interest, the passion, and the content of the evening, and hopefully they would engender excitement and generosity in the attendees. So we needed to have a strong field of charities and social enterprises competing for the opportunity to pitch. But an event like this had never happened before in St Albans. So we had to work hard to get a strong field. We used local media (newspaper, two websites providing St Albans information and listings, radio) as well as the Local CVS, and mined our network.
4. Don’t just rely on friends like you
The first two people I managed to recruit for the charity selection panel were a little bit like me: Forty-something, male, and working in the charity sector. I realised that I needed to get a broader, more diverse view, and so found five women who didn’t necessarily fit my professional mould. Two entrepreneurs, a psychologist, and two women who worked at big firms in the City. They all had two things in common: they lived in or near St Albans, and they were excited by the concept of the event.
5. Prove your case and growth will follow
There’s so much more that we could have done. We could have approached many more companies for their support of the first event. We could have gone for a bigger venue and upped our publicity to get more attendees accordingly. But I’m glad we didn’t. The idea for this first event was obviously to help some small local causes raise much needed funds. But more than that it was to show that it could be done. To get people talking about it. And to give us something to point at to bring new supporters on board next time, when we’ll hopefully be bigger and better, and raise even more money for local causes.
See you at the next Funding Network event in May/June 2017!