IFC Round-Up 2013

So it’s that time of year again: time for another IFC round-up blog. So what were the theme’s from this year’s conference? I think they were;

  • Engagementwith regards to driving loyalty and life-time value. Interesting these sessions were as focused on our own personal engagement as a fundraiser as much as donor engagement (after all – if I’m not passionate how can I expect my donors to be?)
  • Emotional Fundraisingreplacing ‘storytelling’ as the new buzz word: the next thing we all need to learn to do differently, properly. Now that it’s beyond question that emotions not reason drives decision making we as sector need to understand what we really mean by emotion (it’s not always just sentimental). And boy is Charlie pleased to have the masses talking about this at last!
  • Impact – how do you demonstrate impact: as an organisation and as an individual.
  • Integration from acquisition to retention we saw example after example of the best results coming when we speak to donors across multiple channels.
  • Risk Taking – the need for the sector to innovate, to do it faster and bolder (and be donor led in this). Tony Elischer challenged why we would even have 5 year strategies and went as far to suggest we should be all be working to a 3 month strategy

Great stuff. All important. But if you read blogs and know the sector well then you’ll probably know these themes well too. Haven’t we all been talking about this stuff for a while?

Unfortunately the conference didn’t move us on too far from talking about why we should do these things to how. More debate is surely needed about the barriers to change in these areas. After all, who wouldn’t want to conduct more innovating, rewarding and successful fundraising – so what’s stopping us?

Is it that we need someone to show us how – in part yes – we have a culture in the sector of waiting for someone else to test first – but that is why innovation was a theme, we need to break away from this thinking. The evolution from talking about ‘innovating’ to ‘risk taking’ this year is significant and very helpful: It’s not about having processes and structures in place to ‘innovate within the work place’, it’s about growing some b*lls and trying something different!

There was one very useful session that did show how it can be done. It was Suzanne Cole Nowers session entitled ‘What you can learn from US political fundraising’. Suzanne showed us a different way of fundraising: truly engaging, impactful, emotional, ballsy fundraising. When sharing how the US 2012 election raised over six billion dollars in a matter of month’s she shared 4 secrets of US political fundraising;

  • Research – know your public/donor. Listen to them, carry focus groups, tele-focus groups and surveys
  • Testing and risk taking – Suzanne talked about never ‘rolling out’ and how what worked last month probably won’t work this month. She compared political fundraisers to bungee jumping addicts when referencing their approach to risk taking
  • Urgency – in the messaging, action and risk taking. Suzanne talked about ideas in the board room being tested 2 hours later
  • Multi Channel – political fundraising campaigns are always integrated and results maximised by reaching out to people across multiple channels – from knocking on their door, to phoning, mail, online…you name it they do it!

Suzanne also joked that a further secret to success was that they don’t have to consult a brand team (there isn’t time), but I’ll leave Charlie to pick up that subject for a different rant on a different day!

So there were a few ‘How To’s’ courtesy of the US candidate race. But I fear we could have examples of ‘a different way’ coming out of our ears and many would still struggle to change, innovate and engage our donors. As I voiced in a recent article for Civil Society, in order to see real change;

  • There needs to be a cultural shift amongst trustees, CEO’s and senior managers away from fundraising being perceived as a sideline that finances the mission to placing fundraising and engagement of the public as a central and integral part of that mission
  • Fundraising needs to be restructured away from silos and towards relationship marketing teams and product & innovation teams
  • A significant increase in the quantity and quality of research – given the size of the sector the amount of research being conducted to understand supporters, how they give, how they want to give and engage is meagre.
  • A genuine shift from transactional to relationship fundraising: listening to people and how they want to support you and develop the processes to manage and support what they want
  • An acceptance of risk and failure. Developing alternatives to Direct Debit giving will require investment and innovation that will have as many failures as successes. But currently whilst a trajectory of decline is accepted for DDs, failed campaigns and new ideas are not.

You’re Being Irrational

For a sector born of raw emotion we’re surprisingly ‘rational’ in the way we view donors. Trouble is donors, a.k.a. people, aren’t rational.

The inherent contradiction undermining our sector is we’re trying to fit all the raw emotion, passion and drama that drive our causes (and donations!) into a behavioural model that’s rigid, mathematical and outdated. Campaigns are designed to appeal to people as we think they should act, not as they do.

Standard behavioural models based on classical, or standard, economics give us a delusory comfort zone. Algorithms neatly package people into an excel sheet, where it’s assumed people are logically evaluating everything, making informed choices based on all the information. What it doesn’t do is look at human nature which is often impulsive, short term and arbitrary.

That’s where the science of Behavioural Economics comes in. It studies actual as opposed to idealised thought processes and behaviour. This isn’t fuzzy theory, its neuroscientific fact. Behavioural Economics leading voice, Daniel Kahneman, won a Nobel Prize for his work. If you’ve read my review of his seminal work ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ you’ll remember his classic example of the difference between how we see things and how they really are. Take a look at these two lines…


Clearly line A is longer than line B right? Wrong. The horizontal lines are of identical length. Now you know the lines are equally long and if asked you’d say what you know. But you still see the top line as longer. You cannot decide to see the lines as equal. As Kahneman says “…we can be blind to the obvious but we are also blind to our blindness.”

If we can make such a fundamental mistake about something as simple as the length of a line, what other assumptions could we be getting wrong? Segmentation? Communication? Motivation? Asks? Frequency? The list goes on and on. As fundraisers we have to ask these questions and challenge outdated assumptions. We need to start by constantly reminding ourselves that a huge proportion of our sectors income is based on a premise that isn’t rational to begin with.

Giving isn’t rational. It’s beautiful, commendable, noble, but not rational. If it was, if the decision to donate was based simply on a cost benefit ratio, we’d tackle the world’s problems one at a time until they were all solved.

The decision to donate is an emotional one, and neuroscience has proved that emotion and reason can’t co-exist. When the neurons driving emotion are fired up they suppress the ones used to reason. Reason kicks in after the fact to justify the decision we made.

The emotional part of the brain is much larger than the rational. The signals that run from the emotional brain to the rational outnumber those running in the opposite direction by a ratio of 10 to one. (Yet you’ll still hear people claiming their donors are “rational”, as though supporting their charity gave them immunity from neuroscientific fact!)

Standard economics turns a blind eye to all of this. But the beauty of behavioural economics is that despite our surface level irrationality, we’re fairly predictable if you know what you’re looking for. For a great introduction and insight into the subject I highly recommended the work of Dan Ariely, starting with his book ‘Predictably Irrational.’

After all, if giving isn’t rational then we’re irrational to plan and communicate as though it was!


How to treat your Fundraisers as heroes

As I was reading Jeff Brooks post on ‘How to treat your donors as heroes’ recently I had two thoughts: 1. It’s a great post and 2. If I was writing a piece on ‘How to treat your telephone Fundraisers as heroes’ the tips I would give wouldn’t be too different.

Here at Pell & Bales we talk about ‘championing your Fundraisers’ a lot, we talk about supporting them, inspiring them, engaging with them.  The reasons are plentiful – it will drive better results, better conversations with your donors, and it will bring you closer to your fundraising and supporters by proxy.

See below my very slightly edited version of Jeff’s seven tips;


Ok, the messaging is targeted at and tailored for the donor, but more than that,  the telephone script is a tool. A tool for the Fundraiser. The best scripts are flexible, adaptable, and leave room for the fundraiser to personalise the story and the ask. They are written with the FR in mind – this is not ‘copy ‘this is a conversation ‘guide’, it needs be deliverable in a credible way, it needs to equip the fundraiser to deal questions and barriers to giving, it needs to be written in spoken language (this means it may not always be grammatically correct or be as heavily branded as much as the brand team would like)


We love stories. We use them all the time in our fundraising – just try shutting Charlie up about it!  But stories also have a place when working with your fundraisers. Real fundraiser engagement with the cause and clever script writing allows the fundraiser to tell stories first hand rather than as the third person which can help hugely with the credibility of the call.  A fundraiser that has recently visited the run down National Trust property or the local Marie Curie hospice can share their own views and observations e.g. “the thing that shocked me personally was to see..” or “I meet a patient recently that told me…”


One of the single biggest things to drive good calls is  inspired and motivated fundraisers – quite simply, you can hear it in their voice. Never under estimate the impact of bringing in a beneficiary or service user into the campaign centre to share their story with your fundraisers.


This ties into the previously mentioned ‘flexibility of scripts’. But beyond this, the phone could be used in a much more sophisticated way that it is by the majority of charities right now. Your professionally trained fundraisers, and the flexible personalised medium that is the phone could be much better utilised to deliver real donor choice and donor led fundraising. As things stand,  our fundraisers can usually offer supporters a Direct Debit, or…a Direct Debit!

Giving donors/fundraisers a choice is about listening too. Listening to what they want, what they need, their preferences and ideas. Meet with your fundraisers regularly – they speak to hundreds of your donors a week – charities have access to a free focus group but aren’t always utilising it.


I’d love for charities to adopt ‘Fundraiser stewardship’ as a strategy in a similar way we do ‘donor stewardship’. We recruit people that are inspired to pick up the phone and change the world and its our job (we P&B and you the charity) to keep that inspiration alive. It can be a tough and thankless job at times, so regular demonstrations of appreciation go a long way.  We’ve even had celebrity videos of thanks in the past, but a humble hand written thank you note or Christmas card from the charity can be equally impactful.


Tied to acknowledgment and thanking, reporting back to fundraisers on what you were able to accomplish through their fundraising is key. Closing the loop builds trust and makes your fundraisers feel good – so the more you do it the more they will want to fundraise for you.


A great conversation for your fundraiser means a great conversation for your supporter. Provide the tools, appreciation and support as outlined above and it’s win win. I implore charities to treat their agency fundraisers as an extension of their own internal team: to  support and engage with all fundraisers as you would your DM Officer, Marketing Exec. or Community Fundraiser that’s recruited directly by the charity. Make it your job to ensure they love their job!