When fundraisers get together and start dreaming of which organisations they'd like their charities to emulate, it's not long before football clubs are mentioned.
The passion, the adoration, the following, the commitment, the income!
Wouldn't it be great?
It might well be, but considering the current type of relationships charities have with their supporters, 'would it be possible?' seems a more appropriate question.
Football clubs generate passion because of the transparent nature of their core activity - playing football.
Every week, the teams perform in public. Afterwards, on the radio, on TV, in the newspapers, on blogs, in pubs and workplaces their performances are scrutinised and criticised by their supporters.
Owners, managers and players are all blamed for failure or praised for success. Those that aren't up to the job or are seen to lack commitment are subject to abuse and vilification. Some even receive death threats.
Supporters feel they have a role in their team's success. A study by the Social Issues Research Centre in 2008 found that almost 90% of match attendees felt their presence has a direct effect on how the game is played. They really do feel they are a twelfth man.
And fans are important for the bank balance too. With the cost of travel, food, shirts, TV subscriptions and tickets taken into account it's not hard for a supporter's financial outlay to be measured in the thousands of pounds.
But this time and money isn't invested for nothing. Fans expect a return. Normally in the form of silverware.
There's a great example of this on the Online Gooner, an Arsenal fansite. Arsenal is a pretty expensive club to support and they are looking for more ways to generate income from their fans - even though they haven't won a trophy since 2005. For a one off payment of £40, season ticket holders can have their name put on their seat. It's managed to annoy some supporters. One of whom posted his response to the club after receiving a letter inviting him to purchase a name plate. It's worth sharing...
Forgive me for not taking the opportunity to spend £40 and have my seat adorned with my own personalised plaque.
I have, you see, already spent a considerable amount of money on renewing my season ticket, and my son’s. And we’ve bought the new kit too.
I do however have a bespoke message for you:
For the love of God, please, please, please spend some of the f***ing money I’ve already invested in this club this season, on a new goalkeeper, an experienced centre half and a combative, holding midfield player. What is going on over there? How hard can it be?
We don’t want plaques.
We don’t want “exclusive opportunities.”
WE WANT PLAYERS, MUCH BETTER PLAYERS.
IT’S INSULTING FRANKLY TO BE APPROACHED TO SPEND EVEN MORE MONEY WHEN THE CLUB ISN’T DOING ANYTHING WITH WHAT IT ALREADY HAS.'
I can't imagine that many charities receive similar demands for improved results and increased spending. Few donors would know much about how money is being used and even less would know about the size of the organisation's financial reserve.
Which gives us a few clues as to what practices that a charity might adopt start if it is to generate a similar level of commitment:
1. Have an enemy
Football is about conflict. A team working together to beat the other side. If you are fighting poverty, cruelty, a disease, or to protect or save something use it to motivate your supporters.
2. Let your supporters know your results
You don't have a stadium or ninty minutes of prime-time TV, but you do have email addresses and real ones too. Use them to do more than ask for money - show your donor how you are using their money to achieve the goals they want to see.
3. Give them a badge to wear
A football supporter is defined by their team. How do you allow your supporter to demonstrate who they are and what they believe?
4. Play your heroes
It's a team game, but most supporters will identify with a core of stars - the heroes of the team. These are the players who win matches. The players that they can depended on. You'll have heroes amongst your beneficiaries and staff. Get them to share their stories so your supporters have real people that they can root for too.
5. Make it emotional
Some supporters might like to dig through the statistics of a game, but it's the emotion generated by what happens on the pitch that adds value to those dry numbers. Stories that move people emotionally will always beat statistics.
6. Have some chants
Supporters like to sing songs that they know. You'd do well to remember that some messages need to be repeated over and over again if you are going to raise serious sums of money. Try these for starters:
- We can only do this with your help.
- The more you give the closer our goal becomes
- Nothing will feel better than seeing us reach that goal knowing that you are responsible for our success.
7. Know what losing feels like
Losing isn't pleasant in football or for charities. The thought of closure is a powerful motivator. If projects are under threat, let donors know.
8. It's a season - not one game
Don't chop and change your approach or your team. Your supporters give to you for a reason. Remember that. You don't need to keep changing appeal topics or featured work because you are bored with them. Your donors might only come into contact with you just once a month. They want to know how things they have given to in the past are progressing.
9. Build a secure defence
Remember that people like to see a good argument in favour of your goals. You need to counter criticism and present the reasons why you are doing what you do.
10. Applaud your supporters
At the end of a game, a truly great team will applaud their supporters as they leave the pitch. Some players will throw their shirts into the crowd. Others will sign autographs and pose for photgraphs. They know that without their supporters they are nothing.
11. Astound and surprise
There are goals and there are great goals. It's the great goals that people remember - those that are different. Our brains are excited by amazing things. Don't bore your donors by going through the motions. Search for the stories and people that really inspire and share them with your donors.
And if you need a little more direction, take a look at a few of these belters...