How to fail – my top 5 mistakes (plus an infographic of some things I did right)

After six years and quite a few job titles, the time has come for me to move on from the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign to an exciting new role as Director of Fundraising and Marketing for Dignity in Dying. In my last few weeks of an epic three month notice period I took stock of what I have learnt.

What I learnt, was how to fail.

My top 5 #Fails

1. I late adopted

Sometimes the “next big thing” is the last thing we want to hear about. When you are a one and a half man digital team (half of me, one web manager) you don’t want another profile to manage. For this reason, I was very late to the Twitter party – what opportunity did I miss when my head was buried in Facebook?

I think I made up for it later, and a combination of getting colleagues posting their own content on Twitter coupled with a bit of content curation (like Storify)  is paying dividends now. But it all should have happened a year sooner I think.

LEARNING: You’ve got to be in it to win, fail fast

2. I made my mind up

I’m stubborn. Once I have decided something is a waste of time, it is a waste of time.

I would tell people not to waste time messing around with Google+. “Meh to Google+” I would say, *tumbleweed*. But the goal posts are always moving, especially in digital places, and a closed mind will fast go down the path of making big mistakes. Is it time for a rethink?

Fortunately I often caveat my Google+ advice by saying,  “if three people ask you why you are not on there then, perhaps, you should consider it”. So I might just wriggle my way out of that one. But I am still questioning my thinking on it. I am a fan of Google products and have heard the Google+ described by a very smart man (smarter than me, as I have forgotten his name but it was in a Google+ hangout at BarcampNFP) as “a platform unlike any other”. Also I recently read that Google+ is Google. Deal

LEARNING: Beware a closed mind

3. Nothing is optimised for mobile

Not one stinking page on the sites I looked after. It’s all pinch in, pinch out, thumb around and pinch again. I know how important it is, but I have failed to make it happen. I’ve included it in my handover, but that is lame. Utter fail.

LEARNING: Try harder, it’s always possible/worth it

4. I spend more time capturing data than analysing it

So much bloody data! Email data, web analytics, Facebook insights, social media monitoring, direct mail response rates, dashboards, heatmaps, reports, income forecasts…will it never end!

But what did I do with it all? Did I notice what the data was showing me and recommend the right way forward?

Well, some of the time I made good changes and some of the time I spent ages crunching numbers, slaving over a hot spread sheet only to realise I don’t know what the bloody hell is actually going on. But I can make a nice graph.

LEARNING: Always be clear about the difference between reporting and analysis?

5. I work too hard (no really)

I wanted to prove how vital adoption of digital tools and tactics to an organisation like MDC was and is. To a certain extent, I think I may have, but in doing so I have made my remit and workload too large. After an intensive three day handover with my replacement, it dawned on me how much stuff beyond what is the core of my job I do.

I’m always sticking my nose into other people’s problems to – I like to fix things. I like to show people how to do stuff – I’m part trainer/part coach and I love that. But it does mean to get all the core work done, you have to read draft copy on the way in to work, arrive a bit early, leave a bit late, skip a proper lunch break and tweet from the train on the way home. I’m a victim of the ease of mobile working. (Got your violin out yet?)

In all seriousness, no matter how good someone is at their job and developing their role, the more they do that the harder they are to replace and the bigger the risk of them leaving is to your organisation. I know one (or perhaps two) small organisations that might very well close shop or shrink dramatically if one key member of staff left. That’s a genuine concern for the our sector I think.

LEARNING: Stay focussed, delegate something

Final thought (and the promised infographic)

A recent study has shown that if you want to learn from failure, the path to learning is to forgive yourself after you make a mistake. Sometimes that is easier than others, but I can always take solace that I did do some things right. To mark some of those things I did do right (I think) at the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, I have created the infographic below.

It is by no means a masterpiece. I cobbled it together using Hubspot’s  Marketer’s Simple Guide to Creating Infographics in PowerPoint. But what it does do is mark the end of a huge part of my life and the start of an exciting new chapter in my career.

Thanks to all the people at MDC, who made this infographic possible 🙂


I’m leaving my job DO NOT BUY ME A DRINK

I’m still going for leaving drinks, but if you are inclined to buy me a drink, please don’t. Instead spend the pound or two (or being in London let’s face it, four or five) on making a donation to the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign via my Just Giving page or by SMS using the details below.

Any gift you make will help a great cause support people living with muscle-wasting conditions. People like Abby, Martyn and Daniel.

Thank you.

Fundraisers beware – people are fickle!

There was much amazement on Channel 4’s Paralympics/comedy show The Last Leg when a knitted Adam Hills doll on EBay was mentioned and bids rocketed up to over £34,000, with Great Ormond Street Hospital set to benefit. But people were not as generous come the end of the auction, bid after bid was retracted and the actual result was £12,100.

The Adam Hills doll

Bids peaked at over £34,000 but over half were retracted


Still a result for GOSH I think but it just goes to show, people are fickle and even the most concrete looking fundraising pledge can fall short.


Google’s “multi screening” research

Some interesting Data from Google studying consumer behaviour over the four main media devices – smart phone, tablet, PC/laptop and TV.

What stood out for me was smart phones are the most common starting point for online activity, presumably because they are always about our person and ready to use in seconds.

What are you reading this on right now, and did you start on one device and use search to pick it up again later?


Pork marketing – does this QR code experience bring home the bacon?

I was cooking some sausages the other day and I spotted a QR code on the packet, but I’m not sure the experience lived up to my expectations. So the question is, when using a QR code, what tactics bring home the bacon?


This quirky QR code on my sausages caught my eye, so I scanned it

This important thing about a QR code I think, is that it appears interesting and enticing enough in the first place to scan. Much like direct mail hitting the doormat, it needs to make an immediate impact and grab your interest. I think there are a few things from the pork marketing that worked.

Why I scanned this code

To entice me to scan your QR code, you would need some of the following.

1. Location, location, location

This code stood out. I don’t see so many QR codes on food and, when I do, it tends to be on the back of the packaging surrounded by other copy and images. This was on the front on its own, so it stood out and got my attention.

2. Design

Essentially QR codes are meaningless nonsense to the human eye. They don’t have a face or any kind of meaning on their own, so how they are positioned and what surrounds them makes a big impact. This code was nicely designed, the pig was saying several things to me – rare bread, farming, sauges, bacon, nom-nom-nom!

3. Call to action

So I noticed your sticker and like the design of your pig. Now what? A nice simple call to action – “scan me” –  sealed the deal and got me to fire up the app on my smart phone and see where I ended up.

You’re only half way there

So far so good but getting me onto your website is only half the battle – what are you going to do with me now I’m on your website? As it turns out, not so much:

Landing page

This is the page I landed on once I scanned the code

That’s right – not a sausage!

Although it is optimised for mobile (albeit only in portrait), I think this page is a let down because it doesn’t have that much to do with the product I purchased. Now I know that is more work – a different code for each product type – but Waitrose is a premium brand and I was expecting a premium digital experience. I didn’t get that.

Also, the mechanics of the page are geared only to mobiles. So if share this page with a desktop user they will be hampered. As I write this post I’m struggling to navigate to the sausage content I’m after because I can’t switch to a desktop version. (Grrr!)

Here’s what I could have won

I wanted sausage content beause I’d scanned a code on a packet of sausages. They had sausage content! Including a picture of some lovely bangers and an “interesting fact”,

“The world’s longest sausage weighed 15.5 tonne and was 35 miles long.”

Although, they are not quite right as the world’s longest sausage was 36.75 miles long.


They are good at getting my attention but Waitrose let themselves down with their landing page – It lacked relevance to what I scanned, wasn’t very well optimised, didn’t utilise call to actions (not even social sharing) and they hadn’t checked their facts. For me, a premium product with a value range digital experience.

What do you think?

Have you seen a QR code that brings home the bacon?

You don’t need a microsite, you need a message!

People often ask me about building a fundraising microsite and I’m happy to help them. But, the thing is, I think they are asking the wrong question. Maybe they should ask, “what tools do I need to fundraise online?”

The microsite delusion – if you build it, they will come

Is there a cause you are passionate about and you want to raise funds for them? Great. Here’s a tip for you – you don’t need a website, you need a message.

A message and an audience. So where is the biggest audience, like, ever? Facebook.

“Alough the website was useful, the most effective tool was Facebook”

Phil Szomszor, Fundrasier for St Michael’s Hospice

Hell yeah it was.

Now I know Phil also said his website was “useful” but this is a guy who works in Technology PR, so he probably had skills and resources that most people don’t. And, even then, the most effective tool was still Facebook.

So don’t go about building a website unless you are slinging them up left, right and centre faster than a boy scout can pitch a tent. Otherwise it is simply too much effort for what you will get out of it – not enough bang for your buck, a mediocre return on investment, a sub optimal cost income ratio. Getting the picture?

Fear not, Facebook is an awesome tool

Facebook works great for fundraising – spreading your message, hosting events, sharing photos, video, links to press coverage. It does pretty much everything a website can do. Not Convinced? Then ponder these facts:

  • A spontaneous Facebook campaign resulted in the NSPCC gaining 50,000 new supporters and around £100,000 in donations in just 48 hours. The number of visitors to the children’s charity’s website also shot-up up by 500%.

NSPCC tweet

  • 27% of Just Giving donations are from Facebook and that was in 2011, it’s probably gone up.
  • Facebook completely outstrips other soical networks for the number of donations it provides

(Many thanks to Just Giving for those stats, you can find our more in their fundraising infographic.)

That’s right – you don’t need a fundraising microsite

You need a message. A story. Something people can identify with. I can’t tell you what that should be, but you will know it when you see it.

I would advise though not to rush into the raising awareness and spreading the word about your fundraising until you have worked out what your story is. It is very important. People learn through stories and if you want them to listen to you and take action, you need the right message. The right story.

Once you have a message, then you can think about the most effective tools to spread the word and what might work for you. I would only consider three in the 1st instance and in this order

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Blogs

And I probably wouldn’t bother with the blog to start off with.

Once I was happy that I was spreading my message, telling my story effectively, I might consider adding in some other elements to build upon that. Perhaps a little content curation but only if I thought what I was doing was working. By “working” I mean spreading my message, getting people to help out, getting some press coverage, getting people sponsoring or sending in ££. Things I could count, measure or spend.

If you are Facebooking and Tweeting away and you still don’t think you are getting the results you want, you might need to make sure your message is working for you. Do people “get” your story?


All of these things, Facebook and wot not, are just tools. It is your story that is doing the fundraising because your story is the most powerful way to get your fundraising message across, social media is just a way to share the story.

So, what’s your story?

Is face to face fundraising a joke?

I like a laugh and, like Stewart Lee, believe that “Great comedy can act as both a social barometer, and a social pressure valve.” So when I hear one of Britain’s top comics talking about fundraising, I’m interested. Along with Shaun Lock, who made some interesting points (and funny jokes, obviously) about digital slacktivism, Kevin Bridge’s set on Channel 4’s Comedy Gala for Great Ormond Street Hospital touched on face to face fundraising. Although he did not the use of the phrase “chugging” (“charity mugging”) he did highlight the negative conations that word represents.

For Kevin Bridges, face to face fundraising is linked to guilt and pressure. When you see a man with a clipboard in the street, it’s time “to plan your excuses” but sometimes,

“You don’t think fast enough and the charity guy is right in your face and he’s caught you off guard,

‘Excuse me sir would you like to help sick children?’

‘No, sorry. I’m just..ermm…no. Nope. Fuck ‘em mate fuck ‘em.”

And there we have it, it is absurd to not want help sick kids, but when someone stops you in the street to get your bank details to help that cause, you feel trapped, caught out, cajoled and are preparing excuses. Is that what fundraising is about?

No, this is not what good fundraising is about. But, worryingly, people seem to think it is.