I well remember many years ago being given a tour of the offices of The Daily Express. To a young tyro in the publishing business (me, back then) the whole thing was mind-blowing. But I was lastingly struck by an enormous banner that someone had strung across the newsroom there. In huge letters about three feet high it proclaimed the single word,
Below this, in smaller type, it simply said,
Get it in your headlines, get it in your pictures.
I’ve never forgotten that. It still guides my approach to everything I publish.
My old production director also had priceless advice for me. He said, or rather, shouted, NEVER ASSUME! If the law had allowed he would have had those two words tattooed on my forehead. Instead he had to content himself with sticking them on a sign that he hung above my desk.
It worked. I'll never forget it. I learned. When in doubt, check it out.
So for many years I’ve advocated that fundraisers should stick up on their walls in large letters a short repertoire of pithy and powerful definitions. Like the definition of sincerity (see below). And the five assumptions of fundraising and the 11 pillars of fundraising wisdom. These last two of course can be found on and downloaded from SOFII. Go there now, please, and stick them on your walls.
Essential foundations or summarised words of wisdom such as these are worth displaying prominently on your fundraising office wall. Can you think of any more useful decoration? Appropriate quotes, perhaps? Or a short verse of stirring poetry? Surely, anything moving and motivational is better than dull, blank walls and a corporate look?
But what do we find in most fundraising offices?
The other way
I’ve visited more than a few in my time and know that in the so-called inspirational not-for-profit sector, the corporate look is mostly just what you find. Recently with my friend Alan Clayton I was invited to the headquarters of a well-known international NGO, an iconic, inspirational organisation with perhaps one of the most stirring, visual and uplifting stories in the whole world to tell, a story of the triumph of voluntary action over the worst of human abuse and oppression. On arrival we were shown into what looked like the security holding area for an international bank. The solitary decoration on this INGO’s white walls was a small framed poem that any visitor would have to peer directly at, to read. As inspirational poems go it was overlong and unimpressive but there were a few lines that, if highlighted, could have been suitably moving, even striking. As we were collected by the international head of fundraising I remarked that, perhaps, it might be an idea if just two lines from this poem could be pulled out – the powerful lines – and displayed prominently across the walls in big letters, proudly for all to see.
It seems that hadn’t been thought of. Fair enough, I suppose.
We then moved into the room where we were to meet with an international team of senior managers. It was a corporate boardroom, windowless, anonymous, sterile. It could have been the meeting-room of any corporate entity, anywhere. There wasn’t even a logo on the wall. No pictures either. No story of any kind. I felt deflated. An opportunity for inspiration had been lost. Why were we there?
They have a great logo too, these people, one that tells their story graphically, symbolically, powerfully. I suggested they proudly display a large illuminated example of it prominently in that dismal, otherwise anodyne space. They seemed surprised. They hadn’t thought of that either. After all, they seemed to be thinking, who might come into that room to be impressed by such a demonstration? Corporate donors, international staff, key supporters, major suppliers...? The supposition seemed to be, well, they already know what we do, don’t they?
However to be fair, the people from this organisation did say, when we’d pointed the omission out to them, that they would do something about it. I haven’t heard yet whether they have, or not.
So here instead of criticising them I want to pay tribute to my old friends at ActionAid UK and in particular to their recently-realised campaign to brighten their walls. And in doing so to offer huge thanks and appreciation to their imminently departing director of fundraising, Richard Turner, co-architect of this inspiration and much else besides. If you would learn how you could use your previously dumb walls to inspire, motivate, inform, delight and enlighten all the important people who, day out and day in, are surrounded by your walls and their messages, go and steal an idea or two from brilliant ActionAid.
The point is we mostly make little use of our walls, yet they encircle us every day, blank, dull, empty and overlooked. And everyone who’s ever been close to us sees them too, day in, day out. And stands before them, often for quite a while. ActionAid even names its meeting rooms after inspirational donors. Think about it – the ‘Avis and Will’ room! How will those two feel, when they visit?
Advertising on these canvases is free. So whatever will inspire you and your team is worth putting on your walls. Choose your quotes carefully, of course, but however cheesy they may seem to others, if something inspires you and your team it deserves a place. And those who read your inspirations will think about them too. Pop songs even can be a source of words worth pondering. But do, please, choose your inspiration with care. The lyrics of The Chicken Song (see below) or Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, will probably not be a source of wisdom or passionate motivation for many.
But then, you never know... Better than just blank, I’d say.