Pitching fundraising ideas at an interview can be a daunting task. Graham Drew presents invaluable tips and advice to help you secure that dream job.
Whilst I’d love to write a blog about how to put a presentation together generally, no matter what the topic is, that’s a subject that’s been done to death and one where my opinion would simply be adding to the increasingly large (and conflicting!) pile of opinion! But fundraising, now I’ve seen more presentations on that topic than I could count.. and I’ve also seen the smiles at job offers and the tears at ‘pipped to the post’ that follow those that succeed and those that fail.
The specifics that lead to success or failure are as myriad as the topics that presentations can be on, so I will focus on those presentations where you are being asked to deliver on a fundraising idea e.g. “who do you think would be a good corporate partner”, “what would make a good idea for a special event”, “what would be a good fundraising product for engaging with major donors” and on the basic four point approach adopted by those candidates who succeed.
This point should stand for every single step of the interview, it’s such a simple element and yet time after time I see the best candidate fail to get the job because they didn’t take the time to read the annual report, or get to grips with the organisations programme portfolio. Ah, in my recruitment pain I digress…. Make sure that you prepare, take a look at their current income streams, their current donors, their current fundraising products, the programmes they have in place and the high profile patrons that support them. This will stop you presenting on the type of event that they scrapped last year because it hadn’t connected with their traditional donors, or from pitching on a potential corporate partner that they already have.
Every presentation needs to make the panel feel that you’ve taken the time to get to know them, really get to know them, and to present something that would only work for their organisation. You can’t possibly do this if you haven’t taken time to prepare, it’s not enough to assume and an interview panel can see a generic presentation from a mile away. But, if you do your prep it will shine through every element of your presentation and they’ll be blown away.
2. Lead with a summary and an overview
This wouldn’t be a bad recommendation for all presentations, no matter what the topic. Providing a summary and an overview will give the rest of your presentation context, it will stop the panel spending their time trying to figure out where you’re going with it all and allow them to absorb your ideas and to really take your insights on board.
Giving an overview of how your presentation is going to unfold is a great way of foreshadowing the revelation of your ideas and keeping everyone engaged; we’ve all been at that dinner party where someone is telling a long anecdote that you can’t grasp the point of and you find yourself admiring the artwork instead of listening, contrast that with the person who sets the scene and hints at what’s to come… you’re gripped. Explain the task that you’ve been set;
give an idea of what approach you’ve taken with the task
Summarise how you’re going to talk through your ideas
Summarise how you’re going to wrap it all up
For example – “I was set the task of identifying a suitable charity partner for Charity X in the light of project Y. I started by analysing exactly what we were trying to achieve and the synergies the partnership would need to achieve. I’ve shortlisted three of the most suitable partnerships and will talk you through my rationale on each, as well as their advantages & disadvantages. I will then summarise the partnerships that I would personally go for and why?
Before you start going through your specific ideas, I would give an overview of how you interpreted the task and the things that you took into consideration when coming up with you ideas. Again, this will give context and rationale to your thoughts. This could be identifying the ideal demographics, maximum expenditure budget and potential sponsors / corporate supporters – in the case of a new event, or it could be the demographics that the charity’s brand appeals to, the types of organisation this might fit with and / or the overall resources that the charity has to invest into individual partnerships – in the case of a new corporate partner.
3. The Ideas
I would always advise that you go for three different ideas when suggesting a new fundraising idea or product. Three is a small enough number to remain concise and interesting, but large enough that you can demonstrate a range of ideas and thinking.
Exactly what ideas you go for will depend on the specifics of the topic in hand, but broadly speaking I would suggest going for two relatively mainstream but very different ideas and then go for one that is a little bit left field in order to demonstrate that you can think creatively and ‘outside of the box’ (make sure that you highlight that you know the idea is a little left field and that there are potential weaknesses, just to make sure they don’t think that you’ve gone off the deep end
Bring your ideas to life
If you’re just talking through the theory of your ideas, it will seem dry and you’re going to quickly lose the panels interest. You want to add colour to your ideas, give them real world context and make them seem more interesting.
There are a few ways you can do this, but one of the easiest is to come up with something that has a nice marketing ring to it, a name that the panel could actually imagine themselves using. If it’s going to be a project teaming up with a children’s clothing company to raise money to save Koala’s from forest fires, don’t label the slide “Koala Bear Clothing Range,” call it “Koala Bear Wear.” If it’s devising a mark of approval for a water conservation charity that can be placed onto food lines to show that they have been produced with a view to water sustainability, who wants to hear about the “Water Sustainability Trademark” when they could be hearing about the “Water Transformer Mark.
The use of case studies can also be extremely powerful when bringing your ideas to life. If you can find one for a similar, existing project then it can be really useful to run through this and demonstrate how it would work relating to your idea. If you’re just so damn creative that no case study exists for what you’ve created, then create a case study; run the panel through a hypothetical supporter journey relating to your idea and show them why people would engage with your idea, how it would make them feel, why it would work as a concept.
Where you can, try to quantify things
I want you to read the following two statements;
“This event is being aimed at young people as they engage most with this sport.”
“This event will be aimed at young people with a BC demographic who are between 18 – 21 as they make up 65% of the charities regular donor base, as well as 85% of this sports regular participant base.”
Which of those statements would make you sit up and pay attention as a panel member, which one would make you start to take the presented idea a little more seriously?
This also stands true of trying to sum up the income potential of an idea. In a lot of cases it’s possible to use past experiences to make assumptions about what the likely income and expenditure would be, just be sure to lay out your assumptions to ensure that the panel knows how you came to those figures.
Be honest about the strength of your ideas
You need to make sure that the panel knows you understand the risk and opportunity in each of your ideas, that you have a clear view of the landscape you’re discussing. If you pitch a fundraising product that you know is really good, but it could potentially be a flop if, for example, they don’t have a printer who would be able to provide materials at a discounted price, then make sure you mention this. This is such a simple point, but it can make all the difference as to whether the panel thinks you really understand your subject area.
4. Come to a conclusion
So you’ve done your preparation, you’ve summarised your thoughts, you’ve laid out your plans, now you need to bring this maelstrom of creative brimstone to heel. Summarise everything that you’ve discussed, the journey you went on while putting the presentation together and what your final conclusion is. If you’ve been asked to pick a specific fundraising idea, then pick one of your three and discuss why you think this one is superior to the other two ideas. If you’ve been asked to consider a new fundraising direction for the charity and all three of your ideas are part and parcel of this, then discuss what your general thinking was and why this approach is best.
In reality, the conclusions that are come to by way of a reasoned, researched and well put together presentation will always be powerful. Just make sure that you leave them with something to think about.