What’s really offensive (a.k.a who would you rather offend)

Apparently some of the 1200 people surveyed by the Advertising Standards Authority think charity ads are “distressing”, “offensive” and make them feel “uncomfortable or guilty”.

No one outside the ASA knows how many ticked that box, how the question was framed, or whether anyone surveyed ever donated to charity. But it’s enough for the ASA to consider taking a ‘tougher’ approach.

Surely by now we know there’s an enormous gulf between what people say in a survey and what they do? As I write, the British public has donated over £40 million within a week to the people of the Philippines, in response to images they’re seeing on the news. Are these images ‘distressing’? Yes. Do they make us feel uncomfortable? Yes. Do they make us want to help? Yes.

What’s offensive is everyday silent emergencies, like a child dying of hunger, injustice, poverty, violence, disease, or abuse, never get coverage.  If we don’t keep these causes in the public consciousness who will?

Our job is to give a voice to the voiceless and ask for help. To tell the truth and give our audience the dignity of choice; to help in any way they can if they can. If the truth is uncomfortable it’s uncomfortable; what’s the alternative? Are we to tell our beneficiaries their life is too ‘distressing’ for us to relay to people who could help them if only they knew?! Who would we rather ‘offend’; the starving child or the person eating dinner in front of the TV?

As a sector we have access to the world’s most dramatic, heart wrenching, inspirational stories. But we seldom tell them. The ever widening gulf between fundraising, brand, communications and front line services means we’ve become masters of obfuscation, understatement and jargon.

You’d be hard pressed looking at the average appeal to know exactly what the problem was, and what, if anything you could do about it. Too many appeals are emasculated with words and phrases like ‘could’, “…your gift could help…” (What else could it do?!) Or we use watered down language like ‘malnourished’ instead of starving (how many desperately hungry children would tell you they were feeling ‘malnourished’?!)

We’re so terrified of surveys, like the latest from the ASA, that we’ve silenced the voice of the beneficiary and replaced it with an empty, rhetorical mission statement. (Is it any wonder the number of donors and value of donations is dropping, and retention is at an all time low?) If we can’t stand up internally and say what needs to be said, then we can’t stand up as a sector and demand the ASA doesn’t silence the voice of the beneficiary. Now that’s really offensive!


How to redefine loyalty to yield meaningful and sustainable growth

Todays guest blog comes from Kevin Schulman, our U.S based friend and the founding partner of Donor Voice.

Kevin is already leading the global sector in strengthening donor relationships,  increasing retention rates and driving truly donor-centric fundraising approaches.  Kevin shares with us a belief in the fundamental truth that retention is ‘the problem and solution to your fundraising challenge.’

The good news is he shares the solution as well …..

 “Today we are faced with the preeminent fact that, if the non-profit sector is to thrive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships…” (FDR, May 27th 1933)

Truer (modified) words were never spoken.

Relationship is the key to retention and by extension, sustainable growth.  The math is clear – it can cost up to 10 times as much to bring in a new donor as keep an existing one.

So what to do about it?  The ‘relationship’ word is thrown around at non-profit conferences and by consultants by the truckload.  It has been a “soft”, just-believe concept.  And yet, as FDR noted, there is a science to it, which can be summed up as follows:

1)     The underlying elements constituting a healthy relationship between non-profit and supporter are known

2)     These elements can be measured using a proven model and formula

3)     This same proven model and formula are used to determine the organizational touchpoints (e.g. message, communications, events, donor service) that actually matter and by extension, those that don’t

This last point bears further discussion.  This is a model and framework to identify the touchpoints across functional areas that cause loyalty and in turn, the decision to stay or go.

This gets charities into the cause and effect business. No statistical model using transactional or engagement data is doing this.  Those models and purveyors are focused on efficiency of selection.  They want great predictions of certain, often singular, behavior (e.g. reactivate, upgrade, etc.) This is all well and good BUT greater efficiency, while worthwhile, is not going to yield meaningful growth.

Meaningful growth requires real, empirical relationship building that focuses on identifying what you do that truly matters to your donors, then optimizing the hell out of it (to the exclusion of everything else).

This is about building a 6 to 12 month test that is different from the “control” not by virtue of who is in or out (i.e. selection) and not simply by virtue of marketing message, but by a radically different set of touchpoints and experiences over a period of time.

Defining this different set of touchpoints is not guesswork, nor concocted from thin air. By applying the right model…one that adheres to basic laws of cause and effect AND combines attitudinal data (by measuring commitment and  performance of your touchpoints ) with transactional data…well then the blueprint becomes very specific and empirical, as illustrated below;

kevin schulman loyalty graph

And perhaps the greatest kept secret to better retention is revealed!

It is not about spending more money, nor about “creating” new experiences (at least initially). The answer to greatly improved retention is about getting a handle on the current world of communications, messages, publications and human interactions. Doing so means we can empirically identify those that cause loyalty, those that matter but are currently hurting loyalty and those experiences with organizational time, effort and spend against them that don’t cause loyalty.

With this framework the implementation plan is quite simple (albeit not easy since change is never easy).  If you send this communication, loyalty goes up.  If you send another it goes down.  If you don’t fix this in-person experience by delivering a different message and training staff to be more knowledgeable about issue X and Y (but not Z because now you know it doesn’t matter), you will lose 5% of the expected lifetime value.

This is radically different from the world today that is hyper obsessed with segmenting and slicing like crazy to identify who to target.  What gets served up to these people is an afterthought.  Perhaps there is some attempt to differentiate marketing message by segment. Perhaps.  But then what?

Too often this is the end of the segmentation mindset and these donors get put into the general flow of appeals, communications etc.

If you’re coming to IoF London next month you’ll hear me and Charlie talking in more depth about this, but in the meantime here are your top 10 things to remember:

  1. You need a retention plan.
  2. It has nothing to do with segmentation or targeting.
  3. It has nothing to do with frequency of contact or ask amount.
  4. A retention plan is not a marketing message test.
  5. This is far more than saying “thank you” differently (though that typically is required).
  6. A retention plan comes from getting a handle on the CURRENT world you serve and modifying it in significant ways based on empirical guidance.  Fix key experiences/touchpoints that matter but are broken, scale up key touchpoints/experiences that matter. Get good performance scores and reallocate time, effort and spend away from those touchpoints that don’t matter.
  7. If you build a new donor journey that is not significantly different from your “current” one then don’t expect a different outcome.
  8. If you build a new donor journey that is significantly different that you concocted internally then you should expect a different outcome – a worse one.
  9. You cannot A/B test your way to this answer
  10. You cannot build a predictive/selection model.  You must get into CAUSE and EFFECT mode.
  11. Bonus:  Don’t look at innovation as “risk” unless you are willing to assign a risk level to the status quo.  Too often the status quo is seen as 0% risk and innovation is seen as 100% risk.    ’Failure’ is acceptable if you do it quickly and cheaply – but there is far too much slow, expensive failure with status quo that gets overlooked.


Why are we still hanging-up on the telephone?


Considering the contribution that the telephone makes to the sector, I am always surprised at the lack of content about the channel at fundraising conferences. If you exclude (the rather good session) on mobile and SMS fundraising there was barely a mention of the channel at the IFC this year. Odd when you consider that response rates on the phone eclipse all other channels . And surely there is much to learn from the millions of conversations we are having with donors every year?

Sure it got the odd mention, more so perhaps than previous years, what with SMS and mobile making the channel more exciting and fashionable ,  but really nothing more than a mention here and there.

One such mention came from Stephen Pidgeon, a strong advocate of the phone.  When talking of how SMS Prospecting was changing the fundraising landscape in the UK, he asked the audience how they should follow-up these prospects. His answer of course was “Phone, phone, phone  – always the phone.”  The room was full of people silently nodding along as he spoke.

Then, someone asked a question which went something like this: “…but won’t the phone become over used? Won’t the public tire over the use of the channel?” So, the only question asked by someone in the audience was a negative one.  Great!  This about sums-up what we tend to hear on the rare occasions that the phone is mentioned.

Where are the voices of those using the phone successfully to raise millions of pounds each year? Why are we shy to talk about the amazing conversations we are having with our donors? The Agitator was one of the first to be vocal on this subject, calling the channel the neglected stepchild of fundraising.

Considering that the key themes (all mentioned in Bethan’s blog last week) from the IFC focussed on engagement, emotional fundraising and integration – what better channel than the telephone to demonstrate these things through a real-time conversation?

I probed Stephen Pidgeon to find out a bit more about what he thought about this. He said:

“The phone has in the past been seen by some as intrusive, but now, particularly in the two-step recruitment methods that engage people first, building a relationship of interest both sides, well then….the ONLY media for conversion is the telephone. It eclipses all others…”

Like us, Stephen is excited about how in modern fundraising the channel can be one of our greatest tools.  With regards to engagement and loyalty, he is a great fan of the ‘thank you’ call for example,

“Gosh I would be thrilled to receive one of those [thank you calls]! Telephone will be used more and more as a connection device, thanking, bringing news, asking for more money or money in an emergency.  It’s got to be integrated of course, but then ALL media has to be integrated, most of all social media.”

So we know what we’re putting on our feedback form to the IFC this year – a big ‘yes please’ to more topics around the telephone.

Will our call for 2014 to be the year of the telephone be answered? We shall see.