Knowledge Centre Blog

Helium – For Impact Learning

June 24, 2013 8:38 am

Helene Hugel, Artistic Director, Helium, and Gilles de Decker, Chief Executive Officer, BNP Paribas Ireland

As part of the New Stream Programme, a number of Irish arts organisations have participated in For Impact Fundraising Training run by the Suddes Group in cooperation with Business to Arts. The programme  changes people’s approach to fundraising. In the first of a series of interviews with organisations that are applying the For Impact principles in their work, we catch up with Artistic Director and CEO of Helium Arts, Helene Hugel, three years after participation to discuss how the training has led to new funding options. |Interview by Chandrika Narayanan-Mohan

Helium is an arts and health organisation fostering a culture of creativity within Irish healthcare for children and young people, through the development of participatory arts programmes in community, primary, and acute healthcare environments.  Helium’s mission is to create positive experiences of hospital and healthcare settings for young people, to support a child-centred model of healthcare through the arts, and to innovate models of arts practice which give a creative voice to young people living with illness.

Over the three years since Helene took part in the For Impact Fundraising Training, Helium has been able to create new funding relationships, with their most important being a €60,000 investment over 3 years from the BNP Paribas Foundation for the Cloudlands Dublin project. Cloudlands is a flagship project taking place in Cork, Galway and Dublin. Helene and her team aimed to secure sponsorship investment in each of these three locations and with the help of their For Impact Training have succeeded. For the Dublin location they have recieved an investment from The Ireland Funds, and have received sponsorship from The Metronic Foundation in Galway and PepsiCo Ireland  in Cork for the projects locally. As Helene says, “these were major achievements because we never really received money from corporate sources before.”

One of the challenges that Helene experienced is getting out of the ‘small organisation’ mindset and realising the potential, even if it takes a little bit more time with less staff and resources. “Because we’re small, it took a while to see the fruit of it coming to bear” she says, “It takes a while to build things up”. However the For Impact training did demonstrate that an organisation does not need a large fundraising team in order to see results, which Helene found very motivating; and taking the time to understand the impact of the organisation helped her adjust her thinking. Her advice to similarly-sized organisations is: “You should recognise that you might be small but you make a bigger impact than you might think, and a bigger network of people who care about what you do”.

One of the main learnings from the For Impact programme that encouraged Helene to actively pursue investors is their ‘Act Now’ mantra. She believes that you should “act now, as opposed to taking your time to do loads of research which you can get bogged down in, and you end up not doing anything.” Her initiative, supported by recommendations from Business to Arts, helped secure the three-year funding from the BNP Paribas foundation.

Helene and the team have made an effort to improve communications and ‘simplify the message’. They hired communicating consultants to help them with messaging, and get it out effectively. In hospitals that Helium work with, there is now a laminated sheet outlining the key messages about Helium, which staff can refer to. This way, Helium aims to ensure that the same message is being delivered from all angles of the organisation and the places they deliver services. One objective of this tactic is also to encourage parents of children benefiting from the programme to make a donation to Helium, which this year happened for the first time. This tactic has been very effective for approaching potential investors.

The process behind acquiring the past sponsorships for Cloudlands was surprisingly simple. “It seemed terribly easy,” says Helene, “but you have to realise that a relationship builds up over time and the outcomes of projects over time build your reputation.” She believes that an organisation should have initiative about approaching funders, but it is also worth developing a long-term relationship with partners and supporters. “I’m constantly trying to act, even if it’s a little thing in terms of fundraising” says Helene, “like constantly following up with those who we already have relationships and looking at our existing circles, and looking at what we can build from that.”

Additionally, following the For Impact tagline of ‘Just Ask’, Helene encourages organisations to ‘Think Big’ with their asks.  Additionally, when making an ask, Helene recommends following the For Impact rule of ‘Spend more time with better prospects’ by trying to bring people in to see the work.

Give existing or potential investors the experience, let them experience the work. Helene Hugel

In a time where organisations are changing their funding model to be less reliant on government funding, Helene feels like it is “really important to be thinking outside of the box when it comes to diversifying funding… money brings in money, if you can diversify it can only be good.” Helene found that the ability to secure corporate funding to be very empowering, and has “brought a sense of independence to our organisation”.

We need to think about the different ways that the arts bring value to society and the economy, and we can sell ourselves to investors that way, and the programme really helps to do that. Helene Hugel


For Impact Fundamentals

November 9, 2012 6:18 pm

Georgina Neal of For Impact (right) with Oonagh Desire of Abbey Theatre and Gemma Duke of NCAD

Georgina Neal of For Impact (right) with Oonagh Desire of Abbey Theatre and Gemma Duke of NCAD

For Impact has been an important part of the New Stream fundraising training programme since 2009. Tom Suddes and Georgina Neal have worked with numerous Irish arts organisations and arts managers in recent years. We asked them to recap on lessons learned and share some of the most important elements of getting off to a great start when fundraising. Here’s what they said…

What are the elements of successful For Impact People/Organisations?

Think Big! Build Simple! Act Now!

This is one of the first mantras I learned. If you don’t do anything else other than this, you will succeed. Tom pretty much sums it up by saying….

“We Become What We Think About” Tom Suddes

“You Become What You Think About.”  Earl Nightingale

This is one of the most profound ‘THOUGHTS’ (pun intended) ever recorded. Earl Nightingale is the father of personal development. Written in 1956, his book, THE STRANGEST SECRET, was the seed from which the personal development industry grew.

When Earl was 35 years old, he recorded this short message for a small group of salesmen one Saturday morning. The message had such a positive IMPACT that everyone wanted copies to share with their friends and family.

Earl arranged with Columbia Records to duplicate this record and ultimately received a Gold Record for sale of a million copies. (This is in the 1950s!)



Tell us the story of an arts organisation you’ve mentored? 

The Abbey Theatre is an amazing organisation, with an incredible rich history, a glitch some years ago that has been dramatically reversed, and a terrific Senior Team.

We worked with The Abbey and I believe they would tell you that one of the most important things we did as their COACH was to help them tell their story! Obviously, as a theatre/artistic/performance group, The Abbey and its leadership understand the whole idea of ‘STORY’. The challenge was that the story they were telling (and not telling) wasn’t working.

We helped them with a number of storylines; my favourite is:

The Fundraising/Development Story.

It’s a simple story. Yeats was the original fundraiser. The Theatre was built on fundraising…literally. It’s in The Abbey DNA. The performer is also the business storyteller. The theatre’s first gift was from Annie Horniman for £10,300.  Yeats then did three whistle-stop funding tours in the U.S. where the Irish Americans built the Theatre and brand known today. Yeats sat with people in New York just as The Abbey is doing today… continuing the tradition. Fiach MacConghail is today’s Yeats and the person The Abbey is sitting with is today’s Annie.

For more information  an-example-of-the-power-of-story·        

What advice would you give to an organisation considering/implementing a fundraising plan?

There are many aspects to a fundraising plan. Many arts organsations in Ireland are talking about replacing reduced funding and/or finding a way to be sustainable.

At the highest level – we can summarise the transformation we’re driving and the key to funding results with this perspective:










It’s all about your impact. It’s not about asking for money. It’s about being, believing, emoting, and communicating how it is that you’re going to change lives, save lives and impact lives. When you do that – it’s a game changer. (Almost) everyone wants to have an impact and (almost) no one likes asking for money. Once you get that, it’s a transformational brain change!

Thinking in terms of the impact means:

  • It makes no sense to cultivate someone for six visits before asking
  • People don’t give to special events or to the annual fund. They give to Arts, Artists, Audience, etc.
  • You can’t screw up an ASK (for financial investment) if you’re authentic (simply an intermediary to change/save lives) and you let the funding rationale drive the ask

To help, this is the MASTER CHECKLIST we use for ourselves … and encourage our partners/clients to use them. It is a work in progress, but a great way to prepare for your Quantum Leap to being a For Impact Organisation.

  1. Simplify the MESSAGE. (On a Napkin)
  2. Create POWERFUL STORIES. (The Power of the Story)
  3. Do the MATH. (‘Blue’ + ‘Green’)
  4. Create an ENGAGEMENT TOOL. (Visual. Simple. Purpose/Priorities/Plan.)
  5. Get LEADERSHP ENGAGED. (Champion. Invite. Invest.)
  6. Build a MASTER PROSPECT LIST. (Including the IDEAL PROFILE).
  7. Define your FUNDING MODEL. (Today. Tomorrow. Forever.)
  8. Commit to SALES! (Sales Team. Sales Process. Sales Performance.)
  10. Use Presentation FRAMEWORK & FLOW. (From Authenticity to Present the Opportunity)

Back to Sustainability – This is a good message, but I ask you to consider what do you mean by being Sustainable ……. no more fundraising?

Sustainability vs. Transformation  Tom Suddes | July 6, 2011

An absolutely ‘brilliant’ line that Stuart McLaughlin, CEO of Business to Arts and a true For Impact leader, shared with me late in the day after our trainings. “I have no absolutely no interest in ‘SUSTAINABILITY’. I’m looking for TRANSFORMATION.”

It certainly fit into the whole theme in Ireland. The sustainability word is on everybody’s agenda, but I firmly believe it’s for all the wrong reasons.

Special Note: Stuart and I had a great conversation about one of the biggest differences between the For Profit/Business World and ‘Not-For-Profits’. In the real world, businesses and organisations go out of business all the time. The number of new businesses who don’t make it to the third year is staggering.

However, in the world of ‘Charity’ and ‘Not-For-Profit’… rarely, if ever, does one of these organisations actually go out of business. They quite often don’t pay their people. The Executive Director takes minimal, if any, salary. They can always find people to give them enough money to ‘survive’.

There’s just something inherently wrong with this.

  • Ridiculous duplication of effort (for example, there’s 6,000 organisations with ‘cancer’ in their name!)
  • Little, if any, collaboration
  • No concept of ‘M & A’ (‘Mergers & Acquisitions’)

Either make a true IMPACT… or move on to other things.

What are the common reasons for why organisations are not successful with fundraising?

SIMPLE – They just don’t ASK! ‘Just Ask’ is the ACTION part of the For Impact message. We’ve raised a lot of money.  A big reason for this was because WE ASKED.

So many times I’ve been on a visit to a potential donor with an organisation’s CEO.  We asked… the prospect (after some dialogue) said yes and the CEO then later said to me,

“We do everything you did. Except we usually just don’t ASK”

Through For Impact we’ve trained thousands. We keep track of everyone who leaves a boot camp or that we’ve worked with in some coaching/training capacity. There are those that go on to raise a lot of money and there are those that don’t do much…

As near as I can tell there is ONE salient difference between those that go on to raise a lot, and those that sit back. They GET this napkin message.









At our head office, we beat each other up about what words to use in our framework plans. We have a big fight [usually a good fight] about each piece of content that goes into our system.  No big words hang out there by accident.

With that in mind I want to point out what this napkin does NOT say.  It doesn’t say:

  • Just ask when timing is perfect
  • Just ask when you know exactly what to ask for
  • Just ask after you’ve visited with the prospect nine times
  • Just ask when your entire board is on board
  • Just ask when those butterflies in your stomach are finally gone
  • Just ask when you have the perfect message
  • Just ask when you have the perfect materials

It says, “Just Ask!”

  • Timing will never be perfect
  • The only way you’ll know what to ask for is by asking (and getting a response)
  • You are in the business of saving, changing and impacting lives It’s not about nine visits.  People cultivate because they can’t communicate
  • In relation to your board: just move… take action
  • I still feel like I’m going to be sick before a big ask
  • The only way to truly test a message is to ASK
  • Re: Materials, see my above point about message

Just ASK is all about action.

It’s permission to move.  Nothing happens until you ask!

Until you ask (one-on-one), the message is not personal.
Until you ask, people don’t know how they can help. Until you ask, the prospect doesn’t guide you through what else is needed (from the message, from the org or plan) to make a commitment.

Until you ask, prospects can’t say YES!

Just Ask!
Always Ask.

This is 90% of everything you need to know about raising money.

What have been the ups and/or downs of working with arts organisations?

My big take away on the arts sector in Ireland is they punch well above their weight in terms of delivery and performance, and yes that has been well documented.  And everyone knows the government funding pot is getting smaller.  If you put arts sector delivery and performance and add a touch of For Impact you will find that you can FUND your Vision.  Not everyone is out there doing this and I am still being told there is no money in Ireland.

Some organisations are small, others are big, and there are many in between, you need to be honest with yourselves, collaborate with each other and fund your vision.

To help get on track, I usually start with a simple vocabulary change, and I am still amazed every time I do this.  The change in words is not semantic gymnastics.  It helps people change the way they think…and talk…and then act.  Download it today.

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