What I learned at the 2023 FIA Conference

F&P’s Content Creator, Fiona Atkinson, shares what intrigued and inspired her at the 46th FIA Conference.

Sitting in the MCEC auditorium, wearing my lanyard made by Sisterworks from recycled conference banners and welcomed by Wurundjeri Elder, Perry Wandin and Conference Program Committee Chair, Nuz Hameed, I was ready and waiting for the next 2.5 days of learning. And, alongside me, were a record 1500 delegates, sponsors and speakers just as ready to drink in the knowledge, share their wisdom and mingle with peers.

Of course, I am just one person and I made it to just a fraction of the event’s many masterclasses, plenaries and sessions, but even that was enough to leave me with a head full of ideas. I’ll share just a few of them here.

Next-Gen genius

In the period leading into 2022, World Vision faced a reality: their mainstay child sponsorship model, whilst still holding a highly valuable place in their fundraising and operations, did not reflect the increasingly volatile crisis-mode experienced in many of the countries in which they worked.

Poverty is changing. The development model – through which child sponsorship operates – works well in countries with a stable base. But two thirds of the world’s most vulnerable children will soon live in fragile and unstable countries. They will endure the effects of climate change, war and crippling destitution.

The charity is therefore trying to provide agile programming in those countries – emergency response that can eventually move to long-term sustainable programs. And it is this approach that led them to consider a new offering for regular givers. An offering that was showcased in a session titled World Vision International’s global case study of activating Millennial donors to give, presented by World Vision Australia’s Elisha Smallcombe and, from the campaign’s agency partner ntegrity, Richenda Vermeulen.  

First off, Elisha and her colleagues wanted to engage Millennials, now the largest cohort in the Australian workforce. They understood that Millennials want:

  • A giving experience that fits into their lives.
  • To feel and see the direct impact of their contributions.
  • Innovation, impact and inclusivity.
  • To give on their own terms.
  • A seamless digital experience.
  • To feel part of a community.

From there, they built a digital-first offering called Childhood Rescue that tapped into how young people consume information online. It’s important to note that this campaign had to be global and fit-for-use for World Vision teams around the world – that in itself brought a level of complexity!

The existing Child Sponsorship regular giving program versus the new Childhood Rescue regular giving program.

Here are the key components involved in the development of the Childhood Rescue program.

The creative approach:

  1. Cutting through and grabbing attention in 3 seconds – disrupting viewer’s online experience. Videos with twists that pack a punch, the use of motion to enliven static images, staggered type treatment to break text and many assets across multiple touch-points.
  2. Driving relevance – using strategic timing (eg, linking Ukraine to World Food Day) and native tools that engage with young people (eg, surveys and the ability to learn more on Instagram).
  3. A balance of need and hope, knowing that pushing only need-based asks leads people to tune out.

Assets from the Childhood Rescue program.

The use of Instagram surveys for engagement.

The modern fundraising funnel:

This funnel must be strategically coordinated; the stages cannot exist independently. Note that Stage 4 is retention activity but still very much part of acquisition!

The campaign is still in roll-out phase, and so fundraising results are not yet available. However, the objective of creating a global campaign has seen 79% of World Vision offices increasing their social media engagement and awareness through the campaign and 100% of these offices have indicated the campaign saved time, resources and budget.

To read more about Childhood Rescue, click here.

Digital Directives

The cookie monster

“Who stole the cookies?” asked HomeMade Digital’s Meredith Dwyer and Alex Struthers in their session Who stole the cookies? Strategies to re-engineer your Facebook, Google Ads and take your digital fundraising to the next step. Let’s start with their short, plotted history of the great cookie robbery.

Over the last decade, cookies underpinned digital advertising success. They enabled re-targeting which increased conversion rates.

Then, in April 2021, Apple iOS14 (the fourteenth release of the Apple mobile operating system) started asking people to opt-in to tracking (see screenshot below as an example). As more people bought a new iPhone or upgraded their operating system, more people opted out of ads, (and if you can’t track someone, you can’t re-target them), with US users choosing to opt out of tracking 96% of the time in the wake of iOS 14.5 and an average 10% opt-in rate in Australia.

An example of how iOS 14 started asking consumers to opt-in to tracking activity from 2021.

Starting 19 January 2022, Facebook began removing “Detailed Targeting options that relate to topics people may perceive as sensitive, such as options referencing causes, organizations, or public figures that relate to health, race or ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, or sexual orientation”. This had major implications on targeting audiences who had, for example, an interest in cancer.

Fast-forward to mid-2022, and there were new figures on tracking: it was estimated that almost 75% of people had opted out of Facebook tracking. And only 10% of people buying a new iPhone were opting in.

In 2024, Google will phase out all cookies, which means android users will also be lost (and Chrome accounts for 70% of the browser market, so the impact is huge). So, cookies as a fundamental building block of digital advertising, will be gone.

What does this mean for fundraising you ask? Many things, but one of the most significant flow-on effects will be an increased Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) of donors and greater complexity in the ability to track conversions.

What to do? There are several actions you must take advise Meredith and Alex, starting… well, yesterday:

  • Develop and understand your first-party data strategy.
  • Update your privacy policy and ensure your fundraising activity adheres to it.
  • Audit your database – are you capturing the actionable insights (that you are able to capture) that can be used for fundraising?
  • Work collaboratively with your IT team on all of the above.
  • With respect to Google, learn about the Google Privacy Sandbox, move to GA4 (ASAP and absolutely before 1 July 2023. And run GA3 alongside GA4 for a while so you can compare) and investigate GTM Server-side tagging.
  • With respect to Facebook: consider Conversions API (CAPI) as a way to measure report and optimise. And never forget how vital creative is – Facebook doesn’t just score you on creative and content, it will also rank you on how many people look at your content so make sure it’s engaging.

The many considerations of AI

Next up, Artificial Intelligence (AI), discussed in Using AI in fundraising – the good, the challenges and the opportunities with Dan Wilson from The Data Collective, Billy-Jay Porter from St Vincent de Paul QLD, Dave Lyndon from Dataro and Paula Gething from Anglicare VIC.

The group led with their conclusion which was that, when it comes to fundraising, AI should not replace people, but help them.

AI and Machine Learning (ML) can certainly make our work more efficient and fruitful. ML can filter out spam email, automatically check for fraudulent credit card transactions and update donor details (to name just a few of its many benefits). AI has of course made great waves in the realm of donor prediction.

It can help you answer questions such as “are my donors likely to churn in the next few months?” or “are they likely to make a major gift in the next three months?”.

In response, AI will provide a score that helps you make decisions about how you target donors. The upside is huge, but at times AI can be too simplistic in that it cannot predict the value of donor behaviours. For example, AI predictions may lead us to focus on those most likely to respond but these may not be the people who make large gifts. Or the score may not pick up first-time donors because they don’t meet a certain threshold – and so they get missed.

So we need to ask harder questions, such as “will the long-term value of this donor increase by sending them this communication?”. But Dave doesn’t believe AI can currently answer these complex questions because it’s not privy to what we’re doing outside the machine – such as choosing to include/exclude lift pieces in appeal mailings, or choosing to not sending asks between Tax and Xmas. AI doesn’t have the complete picture and cannot respond accordingly.

Then there’s the help AI can provide with ‘speaking’ to your supporters – especially as your number of constituents grows and your ability to contact everyone individually declines. ChatBots, for example, can be effective at answering event registration questions, an initiative that has been used in STEPtember.

And what about ChatGPT? Dan asked it to write a letter about housing affordability in QLD. This it did passably well. Then he asked it to write a variable paragraph… that was not a success. Essentially, it can be a good starter for anyone experiencing writer’s block, but your writing still needs human input. We should also be mindful that letters written by AI have greater risk of being caught in spam filters.

Also remember that ChatGPT’s knowledge stops at 2021. So, if it’s writing communications for you, it will not be accessing current statistics and information. There are also environmental and ethical considerations. It takes 550 tons of carbon to train ChatGPT and there have been some serious humanitarian concerns about the people used to train the bot.

The ethical considerations surrounding AI don’t stop with ChatGPT. Getty Images is currently filing a trillion-dollar lawsuit against Stability AI for using the stock photo company’s images (seemingly without permission) to train their AI model.

Currently, legislation is not keeping up with the speed of innovation in AI and ML; Australia has eight guiding principles for AI, but otherwise it’s completely self-governed.

And what about some nonprofit case studies?

For Anglicare VIC, AI has validated its longstanding models of human interaction and decision making for running appeals. Paula’s team put all data for the current Autumn appeal through ML, revealing a solid ask strategy that only got four records wrong. AI is supporting their decision-making and helping to increase confidence and accuracy.

Billy-Jay’s team used predictive modelling in St Vincent de Paul QLD’s most recent acquisition pack. Predictions about response rate, average gift and income proved to be accurate. AI is providing them insight into what is possible.

Let’s round out the AI discussion with some words of wisdom. From Dave: “You can go a long way with the data you already have. As long as you have a CRM, you can get going [with propensity modelling].” From Dan: “We would love charities to always record what amounts they ask for in appeals so the ML can refer to that data point. Also, date stamp the hell out of everything! We need to know when donors did something – it will help us understand what donors were doing before they said yes.”

SMS Success

In my last year of university a friend showed me how to send a text message. “That’ll never catch on,” I said, “Why would people want to spend time typing messages on their phone?” I still laugh about that with my friend. Little did I know what was coming and just how prolific SMS messaging would become over the next two decades.

SMS is an incredibly helpful tool for fundraising and the innovation in its use shows no sign of slowing down. In the session Three key ways SMS can improve retention, add to your appeal and boost an emergency campaign from RunGopher’s Adrian Smith, Hope Media’s Abby McPharlin and The Smith Family’s Samantha Jovceski, we explored conversational SMS.

What does conversational SMS mean? Well, it’s not one-way, which involves an organisation sending a text with no expectation/means of response. And it’s an advancement on traditional two-way SMS, in which systems only respond to specific words. According to this article, conversational SMS is “about making the customer engagement process more efficient and effective using automated AI-chatbots to guide the conversation over SMS with a chatbot, an agent or both. With conversational SMS, businesses can engage more efficiently with fewer agent resources required. Let automated chatbots handle the low-value conversations and transfer to live agents only when needed.” We asked ChatGPT about it too! This was the response:

Before we jump into the benefits of this latest kind of text messaging, let’s look at some impressive stats for SMS as a whole. It has 99% open rate, 43% engagement rate and a read time within three minutes or less. “There is no greater engagement tool than SMS,” says Adrian.

Let’s look at case studies from two nonprofits that use the RunGopher conversational SMS platform.

The Smith Family have been using RunGopher since 2017 and conversational SMS is the key component of their regular giving (RG) Rejections Campaign (addressing regular gifts that fail due to factors such as expired credit cards). Here are the key stats:

  • It is one of Smith Family’s largest campaigns.
  • Every month, the organisation sends out c.1700 conversational SMS about RG fails.
  • The donor can click on a link and update their details. Note that trust in this method is high (as opposed to giving details over the phone).
  • In July to Dec 2022, 10,000 SMS were sent and 4000 people updated their details so that their regular gift could resume – that’s an incredible response!
  • The campaign recoups $60,000 in income per month.

Hope Media is a nonprofit Christian radio station who include conversational SMS in their Hope & Prayer Campaign:

  • The prayer campaign runs every April on radio, eDM and social media.
  • Last year, it included an SMS that asked, “Is there something you would like us to pray for?” (note, this is my recollection of the wording shared in the session, the actual wording may have been slightly different!).
  • The SMS was sent to 3259 supporters. 892 responded with a prayer request and the Hope Media team prayed with them via SMS.
  • As well as creating an engagement opportunity, it also helped the team understand what their donors were going through. After SMS conversations, some supporters were sent links to organisations such as Lifeline and three months post campaign, they received a phone call to see how they were doing (the lesson here is that you need to be prepared for what comes back in a conversational SMS).
  • 600 people signed up to receive a daily prayer during the month of April.
  • Since the campaign, 531 of the people who sent a prayer request have donated.

The organisation also used conversational SMS to add a boost to their 2022 Tax appeal. On the final day, they sent a message to 3531 donors who had given the previous June but had not donated to the current appeal. It garnered 139 direct responses (“thank you so much for the reminder”/“I can’t give this year” etc) and 729 gifts generating more than $280,000 in donations.

Finally, the charity used a highly engaging GIF SMS to communicate with a group of supporters who had erroneously been excluded from appeal communications for a whole year. The organisation knew they needed to reestablish positive contact before they could present an ask to this group and so they were sent a series GIF SMS with moving images that depicted the donor’s impact. In the subsequent November appeal, 300 of these people donated.

So, SMS, an incredibly powerful tool. But before you run off and channel all your energy into texting, remember that it is an integral part of a broader donor journey – trust must be built over time across a series of touch-points and SMS is just one of them.

When imitation is not always the sincerest form of flattery

In fundraising, we have access to a great deal of testing and case studies that guide us in our work, and it doesn’t make sense to constantly dream up ideas when we (and others) already have success with existing initiatives.

But it’s one thing to get inspiration and proof of concept and another to outright copy someone else’s work, said Parachute Digital’s Shanelle Newton-Clapham and Victoria Alvarez in their session Same same but different – we’ve got to talk about copycatting.

So, what areas of fundraising are copycatted? The most common programs are peer-to-peer (P2P), matched giving campaigns, lead-gen initiatives and appeals.

The trick to reimagining other people’s fundraising that inspires you is to take it and make it your own. It’s about creative thinking and challenging yourself, not just copying.

Here are Shanelle and Victoria’s tips on making your fundraising your own:

  1. Invest time into concept and content
  • Give yourself enough time – at least 6 months for a great campaign. The more you rush it, the less opportunity you’ll have to invest in strategy, creative, testing and implementation.
  • Think really hard about your campaign’s concept, name, copy (the writing kind!) and visuals. Give yourself time to develop these – because you need time for greatness!
  • Align to your brand.
  • Develop audience personas. If it’s an appeal, it will be your existing database. If it’s P2P or lead-gen, it will it be lookalikes to your current audience. Think carefully about who you are trying to engage. Whilst there will be similarities in donor profiles between nonprofits, there will also be uniqueness in every organisation’s audience.
  • Leverage what’s topical – be opportunistic about media moments and what’s happening in the world right now.
  • Tell a story – a story that is authentic to your organisation and supporters.

A great example is Mullets for Mental Health, which started from a community fundraiser’s idea and fundraising efforts during lockdown. The campaign poked fun at the home haircuts happening at the time, related to the growing awareness of mental health and had ample opportunity to make use of authentic video content (this is an example of a charity asking a community member for permission to use their content).

  1. Build testing into your plan. Because…
  • It helps you stand out.
  • It allows you to optimise your activity – ramping up what’s working and shelving what isn’t.
  • It gives your audience a voice (via data insights).
  • It forces you to try new things.
  • It establishes an MVP mindset – the minimum you need to get a great campaign into market – this is an especially pertinent consideration when you have a small budget.
  • It makes you question everything – and that’s a good thing when you’re spending donor money and you want success!
  • Things you can test: the story, imagery (including still or moving), offer (pledge, quiz, value exchange etc.), channel, donation page layout, dollar handles and so much more…

The Breast Cancer Foundation NZ case study of lead-gen success is an inspiring example of a campaign (and results) shaped by thorough early testing of three concepts, one which unexpectedly delivered the best results and was chosen for the full campaign roll-out.

  1. Be creative!
  • Different people will respond to different creative, so lean on those audience personas again.
  • Collaborate with your opposites – ask for the input and opinions of people who think differently to you.
  • Get the name and concept right – make it stand out and be absolutely clear about what you are telling/asking people; no one should be confused about what the campaign and call to action is.
  • Again, give yourself enough time!
  • Align to your brand – how can your campaign tick several boxes for your organisation? Can it raise brand awareness, create awareness of the wider issue, generate leads and help you create a suite of assets?
  • Don’t be afraid to change course – and this is where testing comes in. Parachute Digital helped The Lost Dogs Home adapt from a ‘Pet Fitness Challenge’ inclusive of dogs and­ cats (that secured 244 participants) to ‘March Walkies’ that focused on dog walking (over 900 participants). It turns out that, while The Lost Dogs Home provide services for both dogs and cats, people do not associate walking and fitness with cat ownership.

Lessons on leadership

Leading is more than managing

“Leaders are not necessarily people in management”

“Leaders are made and not born”

“Leadership is doing the right thing and management is doing things right”

These are the worlds Doug Taylor, CEO of The Smith Family from his session Harnessing the unlimited potential of fundraising leadership to make change.

To be a great leader, Doug told us that we must be forward-looking and always interpreting what future challenges will mean for our organisations.

How can we apply this? By facing these challenges head on:

  • Cyber-attacks, an experience The Smith Family endured in late 2022. “Trust is the currency that our organisations trade on,” said Doug, and this can be destroyed overnight with a cyber-attack. Having a crisis management and communications plan ready to go, and understanding how to inform and protect your supporters, is key to minimising the fall-out from these increasingly frequent events.
  • Overall giving and volunteering is declining, with a trend of larger gifts from fewer people and a fall in volunteers from 36% (of Australians over 15) in 2019 to 26% in 2022. We must adapt our offerings to donors and volunteers, diversifying the ways in which they can engage, interact and support.
  • Getting the public to value NFPs. The perception: nonprofits are small, mostly voluntary and a bit amateurish. The reality: we have some of the best leaders in the country and we are pioneering innovative solutions to address some of society’s most complex issues. “We are caught up in this ridiculous admin-cost discussion,” said Doug, who emphasised we must do a better job of putting the spotlight on impact (and spend less time discussing how our costs are apportioned), be advocates for the Paying what it takes initiative and talk transparently, responsibly and confidently about what it costs to do our work.
  • Ensuring our fundraising supports our social impact. Our fundraising messaging should raise money and communicate the change we’re trying to make. The Smith Family is focused on reducing negative stereotyping in their campaigns (and still growing fundraising). Testing is ongoing but the use of more positive images and language has met with success.

Mind the mindtraps

In his presentation Will The Future Charity Leader Please Stand Up, Owen Valentine Pringle of the UK agency Leader’s Quest, encouraged us not to lose sight of the bigger picture during a crisis. Reflecting that during the darkest days of COVID-19, the climate crisis was overshadowed by the pandemic, Owen did not suggest that was right or wrong, but reminded us how we can lose perspective about what’s ahead when we’re in a state of emergency.

Owen warned that crisis can distort the way we lead. “It is easy to believe that we are in a heavily polarised world. But actually, there is a large, moveable middle who can be swayed in one direction or the other and agree on more things than they disagree on,” he said.

Agreeability – or lack thereof – became a theme of Owen’s session as he shared Jennifer Garvey Berger’s five mindtraps and what they mean for fundraising leadership.

Mindtrap 1: Rightness

The need to be ‘right’ causes us to reverse engineer our ideas around what we think is right – in other words, it shuts down open-mindedness! “When we’re absolutely sure something is right, that’s where an alarm bell should be,” advised Owen.

Mindtrap 2: Simple stories

We struggle with ambiguity. We tell ourselves simple stories: “All corporates are greedy”, “Anyone questioning immigration is a racist”, “Campaigners in nonprofits don’t understand fundraising”.

This thinking is limited. So, beware the simple stories.

Mindtrap 3: Agreement

Being too agreeable can work against us if it means we fail to adapt and change. Progress is often made by those breaking the rules (or not continuing with the “let’s just keep doing it this way” mentality).

Owen warned that our need to ‘belong’ can also result in polarisation and, that to progress (in thinking and as a global community), we do need to invite dissenting views.

Mindtrap 4: Control

Two points here. Firstly, we are trying to exist within boxes of control – such as reporting lines and KPIs – whilst at the same time yearning for agility and innovation. Leaders should question that.

Secondly, avoid trying to control the uncontrollable. We can’t (always) control outcomes, but we can control the inputs and we can control how we respond to outcomes.

Mindtrap 5: Ego

Be open to the future possibility of your new self. And this means acknowledging that you may not always be right, not everything is as black and white as it seems, not everyone has to agree with you and you can’t control everything!

Owen’s recap:

  • The relative size and weight of an issue will change over time, influenced by determinants such as external societal factors.
  • We need to build in the ownership and agency of those who think differently from us.
  • Fixed ideas about ourselves and the world around us are no longer fit-for-purpose.

To read more from Owen, click here.


So yes, a very small snapshot of the many fascinating discussions and presentations that took place at this year’s FIA Conference. For a few more nuggets of conference gold, you can read about the 5 one-liners and 5 book recommendations I took away from the event.

And I hope to see you at an F&P conference very soon! 

F&P ArtsRaise 2023 will take place in Melbourne on 28 & 29 March 2023. If you work in Arts & Culture and you want inspiration to take your fundraising to the next level, this conference is for you. Learn more and register today! 

F&P Digi.Raise and EventRaise will take place in Melbourne on 23 & 24 May. This is THE place to be for all things peer-to-peer and digital fundraising. Find out more and sign up here! 


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