Monthly Archives: October 2013

Fundraising, early music, and dissonance

A while ago, I was at a workshop with Aline Reed and Mark Phillips from Bluefrog. We were doing that icebreaker thing, where you say what you do outside work, and I mentioned that I spend a lot of time singing 17th Century music, and that I found a lot of parallels between that, and what I do as a direct marketing fundraiser. Cue raised eyebrows!

Then recently I had a fascinating Twitter chat with Derek Humphries on the links between art and fundraising, and some of what I had been thinking came into focus. So here goes – I know Mark and Al have waited a long time for this one!

What I love about the 16th and 17th century composers – Morley, Tomkins, Byrd, Tallis, Purcell, and many more – is that they didn’t see themselves as Artists with a capital A. They were craftsmen – highly-skilled, journeymen musicians who aspired to the highest standards of their art without overstating their own importance as personalities. In a way, a really good description of fundraisers, too!

The other thing I love about them is, once you tune into it, the level of emotional intensity in their music. No one piece sums this up for me better than Henry Purcell’s amazing masterpiece, Hear My Prayer, O Lord. Go on, have a listen (after the ad):

That’s emotional, isn’t it? Did you feel the hair on the back of your neck start to go up after the first 20 seconds or so? That’s because of Purcell’s masterly use of dissonance (or as we musos call it, a really good scrunch).  A term we more often use nowadays in a cognitive sense, but it has its roots in music – it’s a note or series of notes that doesn’t belong in the harmony, put there deliberately. Hear My Prayer is totally built on dissonance – the musical phrases wind back on themselves tightly, like really strong rope.

Here’s another example – the famous Crucifixus by the Italian composer, Lotti:

It’s just what we’re aiming for when we write a fundraising letter for a really urgent cause. That strength of purpose and feeling, that unexpected jarring note to make our reader really sit up and take notice. Music magnifies that feeling about a hundred-fold, (and that’s probably why the choice of music can make or break a charity TV ad for me). And notice the use of the repetition in the Lotti. Different voices coming in all over the place with the same musical idea. Repetition is really encouraged in music, in a way it isn’t often in writing.

As fundraisers, we should be masters of dissonance too, just like Purcell and Lotti. We should know when to use it and when not, when to give our listeners a break. But unlike the musical masters, we shouldn’t be afraid of leaving our readers and donors on an unresolved chord – for them to supply the final cadence.

Lastly, you’ll notice that a lot of this music is polyphonic – each voice goes its own way, and builds the harmony with the others as it goes. That sums up for me the way we can use our different fundraising channels. If we do it badly, there’s always the risk it will end up a bit like this (not that this isn’t a brilliant 20th century masterpiece, but it’s not what we want):

No, what we are after, when our programme is really working for us – our mail, online, phone and what-have-you all ticking along together – is the miraculous easy complexity of Orlando Gibbons – listen to how this piece just purrs along like a musical Rolls Royce:

So there you go. It may just be me of course, who thinks this all has any relevance to fundraising. If so, thanks for bearing with me, and I hope you enjoyed the music!








Filed under Direct mail fundraising, Fundraising

Fundraisers – we are Agent Coulson


I quite often hear it said at conferences and other events where fundraisers get together, that we’re super heroes, we’re amazing! And although it’s true that we do our jobs with great dedication, it has always made me a little uncomfortable to think of myself that way.

And then I saw the Avengers movies and it clicked for me. We’re not the super heroes – Hulk, Cap America, Iron Man and the like. No, those are our donors and beneficiaries, who we work tirelessly to inspire and support. We’re Agent Phil Coulson of SHIELD – call him Coulson, Agent Coulson, or AC if you must. Never Phil – he hates that.

Agent Coulson is fearless. He’s tireless. He’s unflappable. He always has a plan. But he’s not up front. He knows his role’s behind the scenes, coaching and coaxing those brilliant but temperamental heroes to step up and do the right thing. And he’s proud to do that.

And he may take a lance from an Asgardian super-villain for the team (and which of us hasn’t heard of a great fundraiser fired because someone else didn’t really get it?) and yes, that’s heroic. But it doesn’t make him a full-blown Hero with a capital H.

Because he’s an enabler – and that’s what we are too.

And we’ll do our jobs with everything we have and no-one will know who we are outside our circles. And that’s fine.

Don your shades and your earpieces people, and wear them with pride. ‘Cos we’re agents of SHIELD.


Filed under Fundraising