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Building an engaging fundraising culture is the key to unlocking success

Guest Blogger | 20 September 2023 | Blogs

Stephanie Shanks at Sight Scotland
Stephanie Shanks

Scotland’s newly-crowned Fundraiser of the Year for 2023, Stephanie Shanks from Sight Scotland, says collaboration and building a positive fundraising culture is the key to unlocking success.

Stephanie, who joined Sight Scotland just over 15 months ago, has made a huge impact with the charity in just over a year. In this time Sight Scotland has recorded its highest fundraising (excluding legacies) income in five years and has seen a 36.7% increase in trust income. The charity’s corporate income has almost doubled as well.

Tackling vision loss together

For more than two centuries, Sight Scotland has been supporting people in Scotland who are impacted by vision impairment. Sight loss causes isolation and significantly alters lives. People with sight loss are at a higher risk of poor education, unemployment, mental health problems, loneliness, and financial challenges for the rest of their lives.

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Sight Scotland wants to make vision loss in Scotland the priority it needs to be. The charity’s services include the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh, Community Services, Forward Vision and residential services for both adults and children, and Kidscene an after-school and holiday club. Sight Scotland also support children in mainstream education through its specialist teams of Qualified Teachers of Children and Young People with Visual Impairment (QTVI), Habilitation Specialists and Learning Support Staff.

Working closely with her colleagues across the organisation, and particularly within the services in which she is fundraising for, one of Stephanie’s first tasks was to create a priorities list of everything that the charity required. Remarkably, everything it was seeking funding for on that list was secured, including an Innowalk, a machine which helps people with limited or no ability to move independently, which cost £40,000.

Collaboration and building relationships

Stephanie says that developing relationships, improving communications, and empowering a team spirit throughout the organisation are the key reasons for her success. She says you cannot pretend to have a positive fundraising culture; it needs to be worked on, developed, and be constantly evolving.

Stephanie Shanks with her Fundraiser of the Year in Scotland Award
Stephanie Shanks with her Fundraiser of the Year Award

“I was obviously delighted to be named Scotland’s Fundraiser of the Year. This is fantastic recognition for me, the whole fundraising team, plus all the people I work with daily across the services at Sight Scotland. I know it sounds a bit clichéd, but we genuinely care about what we are doing and can see first-hand the huge difference our fundraising efforts are making. You need to be invested and enjoy what you are doing.”

“Collaboration is crucial, I could see from a very early stage that the only way I could be a success in this position was to work hand in hand with services that I was trying to fundraise for. I had to try and encourage all stakeholders to engage and speak to the fundraising team, so they could share ideas and ultimately tell us what they need. I kept saying if you don’t ask you don’t get. I wanted everyone, whether
that was head office, services, volunteers, or families, working together so we could develop our fundraising strategy and maximise impact.

“Yes, fundraising is about raising money, but it is also about building relationships, inspiring trust, and creating impact. I tried to get to know everyone and build relationships, I wanted people to know they could call me up or drop me an email anytime to discuss ideas, or funding problems or gaps in provision. It was vital I got to know the day-to-day activities that take place across the organisation so I could form an overall picture of what was needed.

“So I regularly visited the Royal Blind School and saw first hand what they were doing, I went into Forward Vision and experienced what it was like helping our residents, and I formed a group with our community services team so they could tell me what they needed. I always think people can see through a bluff from a mile off, so I made it my priority to know everything that was going on throughout the organisation, so I knew exactly what I was talking about when it came to having fundraising conversations.”

Shared vision

“Effective communication plays a pivotal role in fundraising; it should not feel forced but rather a collaborative effort. Engaging in regular conversations helps to normalise fundraising and makes everyone feel part of it. When fundraising becomes embedded in everyday work it should naturally become easier.

“Aligning all parts of an organisation should be the ultimate goal for a fundraiser. This should also help boost morale and increase motivation and creativity. I always tell the teams I work with; I couldn’t do this without you; you are the experts; you know what you need and why you need it; you are the inspiration behind all our fundraising efforts. Coordination, cooperation, and trust is what our success is built
on. Fundraising must work hand in hand with the organisation’s purpose.

“It is also vital to build relationships and open communications with donors, whether that is trusts, corporates or individuals. You need to be able to share the charity’s purpose and let people know the transformational difference their funding is making.”

Legacy

“At Sight Scotland we have recently launched our new Legacy campaign, where we are asking people to leave a gift in their will so we can fund the ground-breaking research that will lead to improved diagnoses, better treatments, and care for people with sight loss. We believe it may even be possible to cure certain conditions.

“Our tagline is ‘Your will power can transform the lives of future generations.’ The fundraising culture we have built will again play an important role in this campaign. You need to know your audience; you need to know what you are trying to achieve, and you need to know your supporters. It is important to have the backing of the whole organisation for the Legacy campaign to be a success.”

Digital

“As we continue down the path of digital fundraising, it is important that what has worked previously in fundraising is not forgotten. Yes, how we do it has developed and changed, and people now want to donate differently and through different mediums. The growth of digital also allows us to constantly test and learn. A positive fundraising culture is still crucial as we move into the digital age, and the importance of relationships and collaboration remain key.”

About Stephanie Shanks

Stephanie Shanks working at a desk at Sight Scotland.

Stephanie has worked as Fundraising Manager at Sight Scotland for just over 15 months and was previously with RNID both as Fundraising Manager and previously as Senior Fundraising Executive. Stephanie was named 2023 Fundraiser of the Year in Scotland with the award recognising a fundraiser who has shown excellence and best practice, through their efforts, vision, and strategy. The winning fundraiser was selected due to their skills working across the organisation and with all kinds of
stakeholders, and engaging everyone in a fundraising culture. Their work is beneficiary-led and sustainable.

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