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4th – 6th July 2016

The challenges of being at a start up... and how we're meeting them head on

: Georgia Bridgwood

Working at a very new charity like MQ: Transforming Mental Health can throw up a host of hurdles for fundraisers. Georgia Bridgwood tells us how she’s navigating them.

The first hurdle may be that a new charity may not have any brand recognition, compared to similar organisations operating with a similar focus. 

Donors are, rightly, discerning when deciding which charities to support. Add to that the fact that trust in the sector is at an all time low, and it means that some members of the public just aren't ready to invest in MQ yet. 

It's tough as a new kid on the block because we haven't been around long enough to prove that we're a stable investment. People don't recognise our name or logo yet, so our marketing can be easy to skim over in a 'noisy' environment.

So, how are we combating that? 

Right now we are trying to let ‘MQ’ take a back seat. Instead, we are focusing on building a movement around our belief that research is the best way to give people with mental illness the quality of life they deserve. 

People don’t give to a charity brand so much as they try to solve a social problem that matters to them. The focus in the early stages of our development is on selling the idea of research as necessary and transformative first, and on selling ‘MQ’ second.

Secondly, there is no track record of achievements. 

MQ opened its doors in 2013 but scientific research takes years or even decades to yield changes ‘in the clinic’. But that's what the public want from research - a breakthrough, that affects real people. 

How are we combating that? 

It’s simple really – while we can’t yet say what our research has achieved, we can most certainly get supporters excited about the questions we’re looking to answer, and the potential benefits we can find for people living with mental illness. 

In fact, we’re finding that messages which show a clear ‘direction of travel’ but that aren’t already a done deal are incredibly attractive to donors – it really is their gift that makes the discoveries possible.

Delegates in a session

New starters lack an evidence base 

Starting from absolute zero means there are two key questions that we can't answer. Frustratingly, they're the two questions that all of us ask first when we're planning new activity. 

i. What does your typical supporter look like?

ii. What messages resonate best with them? 

If you know who you're talking to, and what motivates them about your cause, you can focus on the details and the tactics that take good fundraising to great fundraising. 

How are we combatting that? 

Well, while a lot of traditional charity techniques are under scrutiny at the moment, we’ve tried not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are tried-and-tested approaches that can provide a great springboard for a new proposition like ours. We, for example, used a classic survey format as a mechanism to engage with people. 

The other way we’re tackling the lack of evidence is by testing at every opportunity. Yes, as a sector we talk about testing all the blimmin’ time but for us it’s very exciting because we’re not refining the shade of blue on a box on the envelope – or deciding whether to include a pen and a drinks coaster. We’re taking on the big hairy questions - like whether we should use a negative or a positive tone of voice. 

Most of all in everything we do, we are striving to trust our instincts and expertise by trying things out, and providing as many opportunities as possible give our supporters their say.

Georgia Bridgwood, Head of Marketing and Supporter Development, MQ: Transforming Mental Health

Georgia will be sharing how social media can quadruple your supporter base in just four weeks at Fundraising Convention 2016

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