Fundraising agencies: views from the outside and the inside!

Fundraising agencies

Kath Blaize-Smith is an Account Director at ChangeStar fundraising agency. She has an interesting insight into the work of fundraising agencies, as she was on the ‘client-side’ as Senior Marketing Manager at Macmillan Cancer Support and now works ‘agency-side’ for us!

In this Q and A, she shares her insight:

I have 10 years’ experience working for charities and not-for-profit organisations and during that time I’ve worked with a variety of different agencies. From large, global marketing agencies (you know, the ones with the fancy sofas and elaborate snacks) to smaller specialised fundraising agencies. So, it’s been really eye-opening and exciting to make the move agency-side and join the charity direct marketing team at ChangeStar earlier this year.

Q: What do charities look for when choosing a fundraising agency?

At my charity, I looked for:

  • Proven expertise and experience: I’ve sat in some very ‘flashy’ pitches with fancy marketing jargon and gimmicks but actual direct marketing skills turned out to be lacking!
  • Clear processes and ways of working: that are reliable but also flexible as needed.
  • Collaborative: good at sharing their rationale, ideas etc but also willing to listen and respond to client’s needs and experience.
  • Nice people to work with who share your enthusiasm and interest in the cause. Giving feedback on creative work can be challenging, deadlines can be stressful and it’s all so much easier if you’re working with nice people.

Q: Do fundraising agencies have an A-Team and a B-Team?

Sometimes, there’s the old ‘get your best agency team to pitch and then allocate a much more junior one to the job’ approach!

One thing that sets ChangeStar apart from other fundraising agencies is that everyone here is senior, from account management to copywriters and designers. We’re a small but very experienced team so every client and every bit of work gets the A-team. We’re all experts in fundraising and social change. At the heart of everything we do is a deep understanding of what gets people to respond.

Q: Is there much difference in the processes that different fundraising agencies use?

Yes, definitely. Agencies organise their projects in different ways, and there are always maildates looming!

It’s not a particularly sexy selling point, but my goodness ChangeStar has good processes. These have been developed over many years in business, long before I joined. We really know how to get a project delivered on brief, on time and on budget. We’ve had good feedback on these processes working well for clients’ needs and inhouse processes.

ChangeStar approaches projects a little differently to most fundraising agencies – putting in a lot of work upfront where it always counts most (for example working concepts up so clients can actually see what they’re getting right from the start) and responding quickly to any changes and challenges along the way. There’s no red tape or nasty surprises here. I feel proud to be part of the team that charities really rely on.

Q: Do fundraising agencies often employ people who’ve been client-side at charities before?

Not always, and I think it’s a strength that ChangeStar has team members who have. We know what it’s like to work in charities and other organisations. We’ve been there and we get the issues and challenges you often face.

And we treat your colleagues and supporters with the upmost care. You know, like actual people.

Q: To what extent have agencies you’ve worked with been interested in your campaign results?

For the most part I’ve been lucky to work with agencies that have an interest in seeing how the project they have worked on has performed. And as a client I knew how valuable it was when an agency is passionate about the cause and driven to help the charity achieve success. It always results in stronger creative and means that everyone’s working to the same end goals.

Q: What were your first impressions of ChangeStar team members?

They’re a very unpretentious bunch and very easy-going. Richard Docwra heads up the ChangeStar team and he has worked ‘in-house’ at charities too, including Oxfam.

The ChangeStar team’s empathy, compassion and a genuine commitment to social justice are central to our work. It’s what makes our direct marketing achieve brilliant results.

Q: Did you work with ChangeStar before you became one of the team?

No I hadn’t worked with ChangeStar before, but I know a good agency when I see one.