News & Insight
31st May 2019
4 Top Insider Tips to Grow your Unrestricted Income
Tamsin Haigh, Head of Insight at Philanthropy Company, shares top tips on how you can grow unrestricted income at your organisation.
As government funding for charities continues on its trajectory, many organisations are left wondering how to fill the gap. Wary of focusing all their energy on funders who might come with their own plans, criteria and restrictions, many come to us to talk about ways to grow unrestricted income. Understandably, they want to retain control over their programmes and are worried about having their work tweaked and preened to fit the mould of their funders.
Unrestricted income isn’t just important…
It would be a failure of the sector if charities were left ‘chasing the money’, delivering a hodgepodge of restricted projects to meet the whims of funders. The charity sector holds the rest of society to account – it stands up for those who cannot stand up for themselves and it questions those who don’t like to be questioned. To do this, it needs to retain its integrity, it needs freedom to innovate and it needs to be in charge of its own future. Unrestricted income isn’t just important; it is integral to the sector.
We all know unrestricted income can be difficult to grow, particularly if you’re starting from zero.
So how should you approach it?
Tip #1: Start now
Growing your pool of unrestricted donors takes time and it can be an easy thing to put-off. There are always quicker wins out there – but waiting until you have the time to think about it properly just prolongs the acquisition and early growth period, and means it will be even longer until you see any returns.
Growing and caring for your pool of unrestricted donors lays the groundwork for your future financial security. Try not to wait until you’re in real need before you make time for it. Schedule some regular time in now and get started to ensure that their relationship with you is super strong.
Tip #2: Know what you do, why you do it and how it works
When a donor gives a restricted gift, they know what they’re getting. They know that their funding is going to pay for a set of activities that will deliver a certain set of outcomes. It may not even matter much what the rest of your organisation is doing – as long as you deliver the outcomes you said you would.
When a donor gives an unrestricted gift, the situation is very different. They are endorsing your organisation ‘as a whole’, not just one project within it. They will have many questions – some they will voice to you and some they will be asking themselves as they make the decision whether or not to support your organisation.
Every donor giving an unrestricted gift to your organisation needs to believe in your work and your organisation and your leadership. They need to be able to trust you and this means finding the answers to their questions in as much, or as little, detail as they would like. You need to be clear about what you do, why you do it and how you know it works – and this information needs to be clearly presented online, in your materials and in your narrative.
When we really believe in our work, it can be difficult to see it as an outsider might. Try playing devil’s advocate with your own case for support – ask yourself the difficult questions: ‘Why this? Why now? Why me?’. These will be the questions that your unrestricted donors will be thinking – whether they tell you or not. They are also questions that an objective outsider like a member of your advisory board or our consultancy team can help with.
Tip #3: Create an experience*
A restricted donor gets to experience the enjoyment of knowing exactly what they made possible.
An unrestricted donor does not so they need something else.
It is important to create a real experience for your unrestricted donors, so that their giving brings them joy, regardless of what you spend their money on. This is where you need to think creatively, what can you draw on within your organisation to create value for your donors?
Can you provide video reporting to provide insight into your work on the ground? Can you invite them along to your annual panel discussion about your work? Can you offer them interesting hands-on opportunities to take part wherever they are in the world? Can they get tickets to your shows or tours of your site? Can they join webinars to ask your experts questions? Will they have a chance to meet other people who have supported you and feel part of the ‘club’?
Be clear about the experience you are offering. Tell your prospective donors, in as much detail as you can, what a great group they will be joining and create something that they will want to talk about afterwards with their friends and family.
*Remember to think about the tax implications of any benefits you decide to offer.
Tip #4: Keep learning and keep going
It will take time to get your offer right and it will take time for people to catch on and sign-up.
Be patient, keep asking questions, keep improving, and most importantly keep going.
How can Philanthropy Company help?
If you’re thinking about how you can grow unrestricted income for your charity, Philanthropy Company can help you think through and answer the critically important initial questions, and then, if you decide to go forward, guide you through the next steps to successfully launch your campaign.