When Straight-Line Planning doesn’t work

I co-authored an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review calling for more collaboration in fundraising


Fundraisers often think in straight lines—in terms of steady, predictable growth, based on assumptions that results for a given approach will be roughly proportional to the amount of time, money, and effort invested. The typical strategy is to pilot a small number of ideas to get a sense of costs and pay-offs, and then scale them up based on what the organization has learned.

However, in a networked world, the assumptions that payoffs are proportional to efforts or that pilots scale predictably are often inaccurate, and nonprofits may need to modify their approaches accordingly.

The Class of 2030

Firetail have just published some original research in the future of Global Higher Education.


It’s had some nice launch coverage in the Times Higher Education Supplement:

Andy Martin, director of Firetail, said that while “the top few hundred ranks [in the URAP] are pretty stable”, there is much more volatility in the mid-ranked positions below the top 500. Within this range he identified Australia, China, Poland and Turkey as key countries that are moving up, while the US, Japan, Canada and the UK are generally losing ground.

“It’ll come as no surprise that Chinese universities are making the most dramatic gains” in the middle of the ranking, he told THE. “Their average position has gained from around 1,300 to nearer 950.”

He said that the most interesting characteristic is that these universities are deliberately planning for global success, adding that they are “globally aware and outward-looking, but take into account their local and social context”.

“For now, they will not replace elite universities or make them less relevant, but they are quickly improving and if traditional players don’t respond they will keep on rising straight to the top,” he added.

Mr Martin said that the main challenge faced by rising universities in strong higher education climates will be “finding a point of difference and a distinct place in the landscape” while those with a less established higher education and research and development environment will rely heavily on government policy and investment.

The full report is here:


Naturemetrics is a very exciting environmental start-up:

NatureMetrics is leading the genetic revolution in biodiversity monitoring, applying cutting-edge molecular methods to the challenges of tracking nature at large spatial and temporal scales, in remote or difficult ecosystems, or when target species are rare, inconspicuous, or poorly known.



IRIN is an amazing humanitarian organisation and I’m delighted to be joining the Board.

(GENEVA, 16 February 2016) – IRIN, the world’s leading provider of humanitarian news and analysis, has constituted its first independent board of directors, with award-winning international correspondent Howard French as its president.

IRIN reports from the frontlines of crises, bringing the voices of those affected to policymakers around the world. From rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo to rescue efforts in Nepal; from the Zika virus in Latin America to Syrian refugees in Europe; from UN financing to the competitive NGO industry; IRIN uses local voices and expert analysis to unearth the inside story on emergencies.

After nearly two decades as an editorially-independent project of the United Nations, IRIN has established itself as a non-profit association, constituted in Geneva, Switzerland in January 2016.


The Economist: How are Europe’s philanthropists measuring up?

Philanthropic organisations are increasingly measuring the impact of their programmes, a culture that has been adopted by private-sector entrants in this space. How are Europe’s philanthropists measuring up?
Across Europe, philanthropic measurement begins with a “theory of change”. “You need a theory for why you are doing what you are doing, and how it leads to better outcomes,” says Andy Martin, the founder of Firetail, a UK-based firm that advises clients on ways to promote causes and communities.

Wings for Life

Quoted in a piece for Wings for Life:

“There’s been a boom in running events at all levels over the last decade. Last year in the US alone, there were 28,000 different running events”, said Andy Martin, who is director of UK-based Firetail Limited, a consulting group that specialises in strategy and research for nonprofits, foundations and NGOs. “Most of these will have had some sort of charitable element. Around the world, but in the UK and North America in particular, running events are now a big part of a charity’s fundraising strategy.”

Lessons from Civil Society

I wrote a blog for the London School of Economics on the lessons academics can learn from civil society when thinking about their impact.
Academics should ask themselves three questions when thinking about the impact of their research to help form a broader understanding of how their work operates beyond reductive measurables.

Mobile World


How the world has changed in 4 years. This is a breakdown of the email clients people use to read the Firetail fortnightly email. An almost complete transition from desktop to mobile email reading.