Børns Vilkår –  driving growth by putting the mission at the heart of fundraising

For nogle born har julen et trist spejbillede. Image: Bjorns Vilkar
Image: Bjorns Vilkar

Every day and around the clock, Danish charity Børns Vilkår is there for children and young people who need someone to talk to through its helplines.  
Calls have grown steadily since the first helpline launched in 1987, and around eight years ago it became clear the charity needed more resources to achieve its mission of helping all children in need. 
“We were getting more calls to the helpline than we could answer,” says Lisbet Christoffersen, Børns Vilkår’s head of communications, press and fundraising. “So we decided we needed to expand our services and we wanted to do it quickly.” 
However, back then, fundraising wasn’t a priority for the charity with grants providing most of its income. In addition, Christoffersen says: “Most decisions were made by frontline staff and in general, I think many people in the organisation were not so keen on fundraising.” 
Director Rasmus Kjeldahl realised there needed to be a strategic shift both in how fundraising was viewed internally, and how the charity raised funds. 
Kjeldahl convinced the board to invest, expanding the fundraising team, employing external agencies, including Revolutionise, and shortly after that bringing Christoffersen on board.  
A new fundraising strategy was developed with the aim of increasing individual giving, through a variety of channels including direct marketing, telemarketing, DRTV, face-to-face and street fundraising.  
“Historically, we had relied on a few big donations from funders,” says Christoffersen. “We needed to diversify that base and build a solid individual giving programme. With more unrestricted income, we could help more children and fulfil our mission.” 

Putting the mission at the heart of fundraising

But applying for grants and appealing to donors one to one require very different approaches and skillsets.  
The individual giving programme involved emotional storytelling – taking the stories of those with lived experience and carefully crafting anonymised retellings to protect the children’s identity. By putting the beneficiaries at the heart of campaigns, Børns Vilkår could communicate how important its services were.  
Christoffersen explains: “We knew that the stories of the young people who called the helpline had the biggest impact in direct dialogue with potential donors. It is the emotional side of what we do that is the strongest ask for us and what has driven our growth. You need to show pictures of children that are unhappy to convince people about why the helpline is
important; you need to talk about your core values.” 

But at first this approach to fundraising met with some concern internally. “Some people at our charity were very worried that we would be disrespecting the children we helped if we started collecting money by telling their stories,” she continues. “When we spoke about our strategy, some said: ‘So now we are going to put crying kids in adverts to get donations!’” 
“But it has never been about just getting more money,” says Christoffersen. “The driving force was always the mission and helping more children.” 

Donation bag of Borns Vilkar
Donation bag. Image: Borns Vilkar.

Shifting the internal culture of fundraising

To get people on board with the new strategy, the senior management team realised there had to be a culture shift to embed fundraising throughout the organisation.  
Together with Revolutionise, they created an ambassador programme that identified key employees to become fundraising champions within the organisation. These ambassadors talked about how important fundraising is to the charity’s core mission.  
“One of the key things that helped to change the culture around fundraising was to engage with the rest of the staff about the impact of what we do,” recalls Christoffersen. “We focused on the technical side of fundraising and explained that actually it is quite an academic profession with highly skilled practitioners. It is something that deserves respect
Slowly the tide turned, and people started to see its value. “When I first joined, we had to explain everything we did in fundraising and why we were doing it,” says Christoffersen.

“Why we were running a face-to-face campaign; what we were putting in our next DRTV appeal and so on. We had to account for everything. But by focusing on how important fundraising is to our mission, we managed to get people on board, and they started to trust in what we were doing. And then when they saw the money coming in and what we could do with it, the respect for what we were doing began to grow. We changed a lot of minds. Now, no one bats an eyelid when we launch a new campaign.” 

Phenomenal income transformation

Through adopting this two-pronged approach, Børns Vilkår has seen phenomenal growth since the individual giving programme got under way.  
The charity has become one of the biggest and fastest growing fundraising organisations in Denmark, with the number of regular donors increasing from 12,000 in 2016 to over 75,000 now, and in 2023 it generated DKK130m (£14.9m) in fundraised income.  
Staff numbers have also swelled: from 30 to around 200 today, and with 11 full-time fundraising staff. 
There are more people volunteering too. On Denmark’s national charity collection day in March 2023, more than 17,000 signed up across the country to go door to door collecting funds. They raised DKK15.3m (£1.7m) in just one day, up from DKK3.3m (£300,000) in 2017. 

Despite the phenomenal income transformation over recent times, Christoffersen says that Børns Vilkår is still looking to grow. Having brought face-to-face and telemarketing in-house to accommodate the recent growth, the focus now is to remain competitive.  

“Denmark is a very rich country so people can afford to give. But it is also a very small country,” she says. “We are already in all the markets and using all the fundraising channels. We have a lot of exposure. We have been the biggest and fastest growing organisation in Denmark in terms of fundraising for quite a while now, but other charities are waking up. But if we remain focused on our core values, we will be able to keep growing.” 

Top lessons from Børns Vilkår

  •  Put your mission and beneficiaries at the heart of your campaigns. 
  •  Embed fundraising across your organisation. 
  •  Identify key ambassadors within the charity to champion fundraising. 
  •  Use emotional storytelling to highlight the impact of your services. 
  •  Never lose sight of your core values.