Searching for a needle in a haystack

…when you could be shooting fish in a barrel?

Acquiring new charity donors has never been tougher – response rates are in decline, attrition is high and costs are rising. For the 1% response we might get from mail, 99% are saying no. For every person that stops on the street to talk with our fundraisers how many walk on by? And then, when we do secure new donors vast numbers are lapsing.

It begs the question, how sophisticated is our targeting? Which group would you target from the two below?





If only we could find whole communities of like minded engaged, socially conscious individuals like this just hanging out on the street corner right!?

Well, maybe not the street corner, but online communities just like this are growing and growing quickly.

In the last 12 months we’ve been working with online community specialists Care2 to identifying prospects who demonstrate particular charitable and philanthropic attitudes and a genuine interest in the cause.

This type of behavioural targeting is far superior to simple demographic targeting. When calling prospects to convert to regular monthly givers, results have been fantastic – as much as three times higher than a traditional cold list.

The other thing we love is the level of channel and message integration on this approach: data is collected online with a campaigning ask, quickly followed with an email (or mail) follow-up and then a phone call taking the ‘prospect’ to ‘campaigner’ and then to ‘donor’ seamlessly and efficiently.

As Tom at the Agitator said of Care2 in the states; it should be a staple in your acquisition toolkit. ‘Very Straightforward.’



Happy Birthday Mobile Phone


The mobile phone has evolved greatly since that magic moment on 3rd April 1973 when the first phone call was made…and so has the way mobile is used to fundraise.

Mobile milestones;


The first real volume SMS response to a charity appeal happened in 2009 when we saw an explosion of text messages overnight in response to Save the Children’s ‘Gaza Ceasefire’ appeal. It was exciting times, and we were proud to be part of the first large scale SMS conversion campaign that followed. This set the blueprint for the many 2 stage SMS acquisition campaigns that are still so successful today.


2012 saw the introduction of Monthly SMS giving.  Across amazing platforms like Connected and  Mobilise we are now signing-up thousands of supporters to give in this flexible, engaging and donor friendly way – finally a viable alternative regular giving product to Direct Debit!

Since 2012 we’ve been tactically integrating SMS into our phone campaigns and donor journeys. A pre- call engagement message here and a ‘sorry we missed you’ message there, or maybe a ‘good luck’ message to event participants.

Today, 2014

One of our latest ventures is working with Clever Voice. These guys have created a piece of technology that can record a voice message which you can then text to a supporter. The result? A clever mix of SMS, Voicemail and inbound call handling that delivers a personalised voice message from a celebrity thanking you for your gift or asking you to donate.

And finally, only this week we have started an exciting campaign that will gather learning on the most appropriate ways to follow-up on the phenomenon that was the Facebook #nomakeupselfie explosion. Let’s hope there are more spontaneous, public led campaigns in the future enabled by the wonderful mobile phone– and that we can help charities be ready for action in that event!


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.


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.

Six words away from free money

once upon a time

Ernest Hemingway was once bet that he couldn’t tell a story in 6 words – he took that bet and won with this short sombre story…

 ‘For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn’

This summer RNIB asked staff to draw on their own life experiences and enter a six word story into their very own storytelling competition – ‘keep calm and carry on storytelling.’ I was proud to be asked to help judge the winning entries. Here are my top five;

  1. Sight lost, RNIB found, future reclaimed!
  2. I never saw ‘till I couldn’t.
  3. Helping people see those who can’t.
  4. Slight sight gives you insight.
  5. Two kidneys. One brother, one each

What’s your story (your’s, your beneficiaries or your charities)? Can you sum it up in six words? If so tweet us your story to win a donation for a charity of your choice! Best story and winner to be announced this Friday!

If you’re not inspired then nor is your supporter

Here’s a recent news story showing how storytelling changed an organisation and the lives of the people it served.

Far too many people using Manchester’s mental health and social care services weren’t getting the help they desperately needed.  Complaints about care, communications and staff were massive but nothing was changing.  Each month the board met, looked at the numbers, did the maths and carried on as before.

nhs image

Until the Head of Patient Experience took action.  He made a series of short films of service users telling their story, and took them to the board. In his words “…there was pure silence in the room. We saw people rub their eyes, and look around the room awkwardly. It was clear then that we’d made the emotional connection between the service user and the board.”

These films are shown once a month at board meetings and throughout the organisation. Since they started they’ve seen a massive 45% reduction in complaints about care and a 20% drop in complaints about both communication and staff attitude.  Hearing the stories behind the statistics galvanized the board to take action.

Our sector needs to do the same. The ‘Great Fundraising’ report issued by Clayton Burnett earlier this year found many organisations had failed to meet their fundraising targets for several years.  It had got to the point that it was now assumed the target would not be met and that it was acceptable not to meet it!

Acceptable not to hit target?!  Look into the eyes of your beneficiaries and say that!  The trouble is too few of us do.  Let’s learn the lesson from Manchester’s mental health and social care services and stop hiding behind statistics, mission statements and jargon.  After all, if these things don’t move us how are we ever to move the public?