Like many not-for-profits, Charlies Foundation has faced challenges over the past few years, and yet the team have implemented strategies that have seen the organisation go from strength to strength.

Being a niche foundation focusing on the advancement of medical research at Sir Charles Gairdner and Osborne Park hospitals in Perth, purposeful strategy has been key to the growth and success of Charlies Foundation.

Gemma Blessman, from Clarety Community, sat down with Charlies Foundation CEO,Vicki Rasmussen, to discuss how their goals have been reached, how Clarety’s platform has played a role and what Vicki sees in the future for Charlies Foundation.

Vicki shares the fundraising challenges many not-for-profits have faced since 2020. “Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. Giving has been looking dire, we were coming out of the Covid bubble”. But the Charlies’ experience is quite the opposite of what you might expect.

Incredibly over the past 18 months, Charlies Foundation has seen a 1269% growth in their regular giving, with a retention rate of 70.6%. And the team has more than doubled in size in the past 4 years.

Here are Vicki’s top five strategies that form the foundation of Charlies’ recent success and will help secure their future growth.

1. Clearly understand your mission

Starting with the basics, Vicki shares how setting the vision and mission was key to decisions and determining the direction of the organisation.

Charlies Foundation supports a broad range of medical research, and it was not always easy pinpoint a specific need or problem that could be communicated to potential donors along with a sense of urgency and necessity. Clarifying the vision and mission has helped Vicki and her team define the statement for support and determine the right language and tone of voice to speak to supporters about ‘transforming patient journeys’.

Getting these basics right has been the key strategy on which all else could be built.

2. Teamwork really does make the dream work

Getting the right mix of people in a team is unfortunately not the breeze we all wish it was, and Vicki shares her approach to recruitment that has built a well-oiled team. The Charlies Foundation team has more than doubled in the past four years which has opened new possibilities to reach previously unattainable milestones.

“There is so much stigma about not having a good team, you’ve almost got to prove that you’ve got this bright shiny perfect team, and the reality is, more often than not we don’t, and it can really halt everything,” says Vicki.

This is a normal struggle and sometimes the role, direction, or even the values of your organisation simply aren’t suited to a team member and there is no shame in that.

Vicki says that bringing the vision and mission into recruitment allows her to hire based on shared values, creating a team that wants to be there, gets on board with the vision and works well together.

“I’ve worked hard to make sure that everybody in my team is either on the bus or off the bus. Everybody needs to be able to answer that call and put a card payment through,” says Vicki.

We’ve all heard the saying “too many cooks spoil the broth” and so it is critical for teams to understand their roles and play to their strengths. At Charlies, this ensures cohesiveness in decision making and progress.

3. Getting back to basics

Charlies Foundation is focused on donor stewardship basics that value the donor and build relationships. The organisation sends donor birthday cards signed by members of the Charlies team, new regular givers receive a phone call to thank them for their support, and Vicki signs and sends thank you slips with each donation over a set amount. These practices have seen the continued retention of 70.6%, which is 30-40% above the industry standard.

A recent change was to replace the annual report with a ‘Thank You ‘report. “It’s again about what the donors want to see; it’s not long scientific jargon or papers, it’s telling them about our trials, reminding them about the stories, showing them how much they’ve helped us raise, how many steps we’ve walked, how many grants we’ve funded,” explains Vicki.

Another area Charlies Foundation has taken back to basics is understanding and using its data. What are the attrition and retention rates? Where are donors from? What is the smartest way to segment our data? This knowledge and its implementation have enabled Charlies to move into the digital fundraising space with success.

4. Use technology wisely

Charlies embarked on a data transformation project which ultimately identified Clarety Community as their platform for supporter engagement, CRM and donor journeys.

Prior to the transformation, Vicki says Charlies Foundation was stifled; unable to segment or automate communications to the necessary level. In deciding on the right direction, Vicki and her team worked with a consultant to unpack what they needed to know and define the questions that would help them understand what they didn’t know. This process would ultimately help them pinpoint the right CRM for their requirements.

Speaking of the Clarety platform, Vicki says: “The Clarety CRM is bringing a new approach with EDMs, automations, journeys and smart segmentation. This has enabled Charlies Foundation to look at different aspects of the marketplace, and we are now in a place where we can capture so much more first-party data from our donors and be able to segment and report on those metrics in the one platform, enabling us to have really meaningful conversations with our donors.”

5. Walk in your donors’ shoes

Understanding donor journeys has been transformational for Charlies. It all started with defining the mission and vision of the organisation and developing a deep knowledge of what their donors actually wanted.

Charlies could then define good donor stewardship, establishing their tone of voice, determining the types of messages they should send and tailoring stories to suit specific donor segments. Using technology from Clarety Community, these segments could be reached, tracked and communicated with both dynamically and through automated processes, ensuring each donor receives a purpose-built journey.

Vicki will be expanding on these 5 foundational strategies and how to implement them at F&P’s Fundraising Forum, held in Sydney on 29-31 August