Fundraising doesn’t have to be deadly serious. In this lighthearted blog two talented NAFS alumni — one now a programme leader — share their list of lessons from the show their company is currently delivering at the Coliseum in London. It’s loverly… If you like musicals ‘My Fair Lady’ is playing at the London Coliseum until 27th August, book your tickets here My Fair Lady | English National Opera | London Coliseum (eno.org)
Over to the talented Marina Jones and Dominic Haddock.
Ten silly fundraising lessons from ‘My Fair Lady’
1. ‘words, words I’m so sick of words, if you’re in love show me”
Eliza highlighting the importance of the fundraising maxim ‘show don’t tell’ – you need to demonstrate the impact of what you want the funds do – rather than endless copy! Show donors what you want them to feel – keep it emotional and engaging – not just empty words. And also the importance of showing our donors love and thanks for their support.
2. ‘How kind of you to let me come’
Fundraising success doesn’t come overnight it is the result of lots of practice and hard work. Eliza spends hours and days learning her craft (repeating the pronunciations, speaking poetry with marbles in her mouth, ‘the rain in Spain..’) learning from experts, practising and rehearsing.
3. ‘On the street where you live’
The importance of researching your donor and knowing who they are. We want to get to know our supporters and what matters to them and can sometimes use the metric of the value of their house to ascertain their capacity (but WARNING don’t go as far as Freddie and start stalking your donors and hanging outside their house with bunches of flowers – this is not GDPR compliant!)
4. ‘Move your blooming ass’
Two lessons here – (1) practice and fail fast. Eliza goes to Ascot to practice her elocution and social skills. This test doesn’t go quite to plan with her use of slang (‘done him in’ brushed over as ‘the new small talk’) and shouting at the horse to win – showing again the need to practice fundraising, but test and fail and then continue learning (so you can go to the Embassy Ball and be taken for royalty)
And (2) it is important to keep passionate about what you care about! That is what makes Eliza shout out ‘Come on Dover, move your blooming ass’. Don’t loose the passion for what you do and for raising money for the cause!
5. ‘I could have danced all night’
The joy when you get the gift!
6. And maybe sometimes, working with some senior volunteers can be a like this …?
“patience hasn’t got a chance, she will beg you for advice, your reply will be concise, and she will listen very nicely, and then go out and do exactly what she wants” (from Henry Higgins singing ‘I’m an Ordinary Man’)
7. ‘You did it! You did it! You said that you would do it and indeed you did … You should get a medal, or be even made a knight’
In fundraising it is really important to celebrate yours and your team’s successes
8. ‘Just you wait Henry Higgins just you wait’
Patience is often needed and funding does not always come. Colleagues and teammates need to understanding the funding cycles and the time it takes to build relationships
9. The Audrey/Marni issue
Infamously in the 1964 film, Audrey Hepburn plays Eliza Doolittle but the songs are sung by Marni Nixon (who also sings King and I and West Side Story). Sometimes fundraisers are like Marni – creating the scripts behind the scenes and the magic whilst the credit goes elsewhere and people remember the show, the music and the art but not who did all the work – but remember we have the best tunes and are remembered for how we made people feel.
10. ‘With a little bit of luck’
Sometimes despite the planning, hard work – sometimes global pandemics, storms (a caterpillar on the lettuce on the donor’s sandwich) and other things beyond our control happen and then we all need a little bit of luck!
[These are deliberately fun and slightly trivial examples – it would be equally possible to draw other parallels in the musical/play/original poem about issues of class, gender, misogyny and power imbalances that you can be seen the third sector]
And some fundraising history that can be seen …
When Eliza’s father, Alfred P Doolittle, is thrown out of the pub (multiple times) the landlord says ‘I’m not running a charity bazaar’.
Charity bazaars were a nineteenth century fundraising innovation that became widespread in Victorian times. They aimed to put the fun in fundraising and raise funds for charities through the sale of homemade items (eg. handkerchiefs and pen wipers). As well as selling things there were refreshments and entertainments like puppet shows, clothes washing tournaments for men or whistling contests for women. They were largely run and organised by women and show the power of female organised fundraising and philanthropy in Victorian times.
Once Alfred has ‘sold’ Eliza to Professor Higgins, he talks about why he needs the money:
“I’m one of the undeserving poor: that’s what I am. Think of what that means to a man. It means that he’s up against middle class morality all the time. If there’s anything going, and I put in for a bit of it, it’s always the same story: “You’re undeserving; so you can’t have it.” But my needs is as great as the most deserving widow’s that ever got money out of six different charities in one week for the death of the same husband. I don’t need less than a deserving man: I need more. I don’t eat less hearty than him; and I drink a lot more.”
This reflects the introduction 1834 a new Poor Law was introduced which stopped relief being given to able bodied members of the parish – so Doolittle as an abled bodied drunk falls into the ‘undeserving’ category and is unable to receive help. The Poor Law was replaced by the welfare state to provide assistance to all, but the distinction between those who deserve support (hardworking families, those suffering through not fault of their own) vs those who don’t persists especially in red top/Daily Mail style journalism.
The implication that you could get funds from ‘six different charities in one week for the death of the same husband’ shows that a common suspicion still held today about fundraised income getting to the right recipients.
During Victorian times organised charities flourished to deal with the rapid onset and associated social problems caused by industrialisation and especially in London there were lots of local parish and other charities working to support and alleviate poverty.
Marina Jones with Dominic Haddock
Dominic is Head of Philanthropy at English National Opera & the London Coliseum, a Trustee of StreetGames and of Talawa Theatre and Governor of Rushmore Primary School in Hackney. He was previously Head of Development at English Touring Opera, Development Director at Spitalfields Music and Executive Producer of OperaUpClose.
Dominic attended NAFS in 2015.
Marina is one of the School Leaders, and for a ‘proper’ job is Deputy Development Director at English National Opera. She has a wealth of expertise in trusts and foundations, legacies, strategy, supporter engagement and campaigns. She completed an MA with Distinction in Philanthropic Studies with a dissertation on legacy giving. She is the co-author of Helping Supporters Choose the breakthrough book on use of decision science in arts and cultural fundraising.
She attended NAFS in 2002.