In this blog, I gather tips from across the charity sector on how to make a compelling case for more investment.
Everyone who works for a charity has been in a situation where they could do with more budget. You see the potential of something new. A new way of working, a new programme, a new fundraising stream or marketing opportunity, maybe a new member of your team.
But your existing budget cannot cover it. So you need to convince someone – maybe your boss, finance, the CEO, or the charity’s trustees – that more investment is needed.
What do you need to do to put forward a good case? What can you do to increase your chances of success?
I put out this question to Twitter and in the Third Sector PR & Comms Network group on Facebook. I’ve gathered some of the collective wisdom from across the charity sector. Whether you’re the CEO approaching the Board of Trustees, or an officer about to ask your line manager, here are some of the best tips for making the case for increased investment.
How to ask for increased investment
Start with why
Go back to basics. What are your charity’s goals? And the goals of your team/your role within this? How will the proposed investment help to achieve these goals?
“I think the crucial thing is demonstrating return on investment. Why is it needed? Why it is needed now? And what will the organisation gain? Alternatively you can explain ‘without this, we can’t do that’, but I have found the former approach to be more persuasive.”Gemma Pettman, PR & Communications
What’s working (and what’s not)?
If you’re looking for more investment to improve what you’re doing, you may also want to think about what’s not working right now. Look at what you’re currently investing in, and examine honestly whether it’s really helping. Perhaps there are opportunities to save you time and the charity some money?
“I immediately stopped spending on advertising in a previous role. Saved £10k – about the same as my salary. Exceeded all targets. Argued that investing in ‘human resource’ (hate that term) was more efficient than throwing money at the wall with advertising. Got me another [part-time] comms person in the team.”Laura Malarkey
Understand the decision maker
Whoever it is you need to convince, get to know them. Understand what’s important to them and their role. If your proposed investment helps them achieve their aims and addresses their problems, then it may be more likely to get approved.
“It really depends on who you ask and understanding their motivations. Someone with a financial mindset will respond to demonstrating a return on investment. Whereas managers in other roles or different backgrounds may prefer a focus on how it meets strategic objectives, how it will benefit a certain group, or even how it will benefit brand perception.”Jenny Brodie
Bring your evidence
What impact will your proposed investment have? What evidence do you have for that? This could include the results of a small pilot trial or evidence from how it’s worked in the past in this charity. It could also be based on results achieved by other charities.
Put forward one suggestion
Bringing several different potential options to the table can complicate matters, and slow down the decision making process. Ideally, bring one proposal to the table, one decision to make, with a ‘yes/no’ response.
Present information clearly
The decision-maker may not have as much technical or ‘insider knowledge’ as you. While you’ve been researching and mulling the options over for a while, this may be the first time they’ve ever had to consider what you’re proposing. Whatever it is you’re asking for money for, present it in a way that the decision-maker will understand.
Risks, benefits, and alternatives
You’re asking for an investment, and clearly, you want to see positive results. However, there may be unintended consequences too. Presenting the risks as well as the benefits of your proposed investment demonstrates that you’ve thoroughly considered the options. You could even include some alternatives while putting forward one clear recommendation.
A good acronym (borrowed from medicine) is to use your BRAIN:
- B – benefits: how would this help? In the short-/medium-/long-term?
- R – risks: what are the risks? Again, short- or long-term, temporary or permanent
- A – alternatives: what other options are there? How do they compare to what you propose?
- I – instinct: what does your gut tell you is the right thing to do? Why are you leaning towards this particular option?
- N – nothing: what would happen if you did nothing? What if you waited for another six months, year, three years?
Is there any unused budget elsewhere that could contribute towards your proposed investment? It’s crucial to speak to the budget-holder / finance director to check before you start spending money earmarked for something else.
‘Cheapest’ doesn’t mean ‘best’
There’s a lot of pressure on charities – and therefore staff who work for them – to keep costs and ‘overheads’ down. Of course, you should spend your budget carefully. But putting forward the cheapest option only because it’s cheap might cause your more headaches in the long run. Value for money, or return on investment, is what matters most.
Further reading and thoughts
Could we be doing things differently? Nicola Upton, CEO of Age UK Sutton, suggests that a different way of thinking about budget could benefit charities. Bringing together colleagues at all levels of seniority (from CEOs and trustees to junior colleagues) to create “a culture of shared responsibility for making these decisions” will help everyone to understand the risks and benefits involved. As well as the constraints.
“How do you get your board to invest in fundraising?” (Adam Heuman, Fundraising Bright Spots podcast with Rob Woods).
This episode of Rob Woods’ podcast was recommended by Ben Swart. Adam Heuman shares some great insight into how he’s successfully asked for more investment in three separate charities of different sizes. Well worth a listen, or a read of the transcript via the link above.
“Overcoming barriers to digital innovation in the charity sector” (Olly Willans for CharityComms).
Digital projects are sometimes about testing, learning, pivoting, and a lot of uncertainty. Olly Willans suggests that for digital projects like this, perhaps break it down into smaller, more affordable chunks. A similar approach could be applied to a lot of other projects. Break it down into small test runs or pilots. Then save up the bigger investment for when you have more data, evidence, or even a clearer idea of what The Thing will look like in the end.
“How to make the case for comms with trustees” (CharityComms Best Practice Guide).
Although this is specific written with speaking to trustees about comms, there’s plenty of good advice in this best practice guide about how to make the case for investments to senior decision-makers.
Thanks to everyone who contributed ideas and thoughts in response to my questions, and for letting me use them in this blog.