Modern charity fundraising includes campaigns being mobile, telephone and direct mail. To read about being successful in the fundraising methods which suit your charity best, click on the headlines below.
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An explosion of media channels, led by new technology, means there are more ways to give to charity than ever before. In theory, it should be easier for people to donate their few pounds per month via mechanisms ranging from the simplest – dropping loose change in a bucket in the local supermarket – to the most high-tech, such as making a pledge on a mobile phone during TV programmes like Children In Need and Comic Relief.
Yet the third sector’s use of new technology has created something of a paradox. Yes, charities can now create umpteen chances for people to give at their convenience. But at the same time, if timely one-off payments become more likely, does longer term giving get less so? And if that is the case, how can good causes persuade more people to become committed donors to shore up long term revenues?
Recently independent research was conducted by St Ives Group amongst representative panel of 1,000 UK consumers, during a two-month period, to find out more about people’s giving habits. Overall, well under half the respondents (40%) said they donate on a regular basis.
Telling patterns for Generation Y
Breaking the survey results down by age group reveals some other telling patterns. Of those respondents aged between 16 and 30 – also known as Generation Y – 64% say they give to charity, at an average of £88 per year. However, only 29% of this age group count themselves as regular donors. In the next age band up, 67% of 31-54 year-olds give at an annual average of £112, with well over a third (39%) donating regularly. And in terms of those aged 55 and above, 72% donate at an average of £172, with 53% giving on a regular basis.
This tells us that charities have some way to go to persuade the younger generation to give on a regular basis. In future decades "Gen Y" could become a big problem in terms of recruitment and income planning as people become more used to making one-off donations rather than committing to ongoing payments.
This trend correlates with the findings around preferred channels for making donations: 16-30 year-olds were the only age group to have a low preference for direct debit. Instead, they like to log on to a charity website, send a text, or give to an agent face to face. Clearly, though, there are also large proportions of the older age groups who do not currently give as often or in as structured a manner as charities would like.
It’s quite understandable that people are less able to give to charity frequently in these cash-strapped times, especially the younger generation. Some of my friends and colleagues have been forced to cancel direct debits and have instead chosen to pursue other financial commitments. That doesn’t mean they won’t sign up again in the future; if something is close to your heart it’s likely to remain a recurring theme over the course of your lifetime.
While fewer than a third of younger people reaching 30 are currently committed donors, however, you could justifiably argue that the picture for fundraising in years to come looks quite bleak.
Giving more in future
But all is not lost. Perhaps just as important as the statistics about who is currently donating are the conclusions one can draw from a question asked about
giving more in the future. In sharp contrast to the findings mentioned above, 53% of the youngest age group surveyed claim they will at some point add more charities to the list they already support, and exactly a quarter have a desire to give more overall in the future.
This should give the third sector as a whole encouragement that their future is built on firm foundations. Maybe unsurprisingly, both figures drop as donors get older; just 34% of 31-54 year-olds, and 18% of respondents aged 55 plus, want to add to their charity mix. Meanwhile a total of just 14% of everyone aged 31 or above say they will increase donations.
Back to the here and now. What the results around one-off versus regular donations give us is a useful indication of how people can be persuaded to become more frequent supporters. On top of that list must be a system for making it as easy as possible for someone to donate.
This means understanding who they are and providing their preferred method of payment at a time and place which is convenient for them. For example, knowing that individuals aged 30 and under like digital media and/or giving in person should automatically make it easier to plan ways of targeting and recruiting them.
The survey also highlighted some wider contextual issues around recruitment methods. The responses revealed that, overall, people are more encouraged to sign up for regular payments through either direct debit or Payroll Giving.
Payroll Giving is a relatively recent innovation and is yet to take off across the business spectrum, but it clearly has supporters amongst people who want to donate to charity. In contrast, the survey found that face to face, text and online channels encourage one-off payments. Refer back to the stats on regular giving amongst 16-30-year-olds and that’s certainly borne out by the comparatively low 29% of them who donate frequently and prefer the channels just mentioned.
Different short term givers
It’s important to note that there are also different types of short-term givers. Amongst every respondent who said they donate, less than a third (30%) only give to one charity. The 70% who support multiple causes give on average to three or four. Meanwhile, men are more likely to support several organisations compared to women. The glad tidings here are that people feel able to donate to a portfolio of organisations; a range of charities get a bite at the cherry. The bad news is that this promiscuity dilutes the finite amounts available to fundraisers.
Clearly strategies such as communication, brand differentiation and – not least in this context – reasons for and ease of giving will continue to be important as hundreds of charities across many sectors vie for share of pocket.
This is where donor data analysis and insight become crucial. If you can understand how big people’s charity repertoires are and what types of causes they donate to, you can plot contact strategies accordingly. A fundraising director may decide, for example, that it’s not worth spending money on targeting the low value, promiscuous donor and instead decide to allocate their hard-earned budget to creating a longer lasting relationship with someone more likely to become a committed giver.
Better contact programmes needed
It’s a generally held belief amongst data management professionals that charities don’t make the best use of their data. Not true in every case, of course. But even when data is segmented, generating crucial understanding of donor motivations and behaviour, contact programmes are not consistently targeted enough to have a major impact on fundraising streams.
In order to convert people from one-off to long term donors careful nurturing needs to put in place. Sending communications through the right channel or channels is just as important as providing the best ways to give money.
All that said, charities shouldn’t simply consign the one-off donor to the campaign dustbin. There has to be a balance in the fundraising strategy and investment plan of any charity which supports casual donors as well as committed giver. Every penny and pound that come into the coffers is worth having. That type of planning requires a great deal of vision and, potentially, a lot of donor data.
Negotiating the donor landscape can be like guiding a chugging old car through a pond full of treacle and many charity workers will think it hardly puts the fun into fundraising. But this stuff matters. Our research shows that a lot of people give to charity, rather than a specific charity. Some donors do this multiple times, across multiple sectors. But the right data, insight and contact strategy can make it easier for charities to pinpoint the best supporters to approach, in an efficient way, in a bid to transfer them from infrequent to regular giving.
As a case in point, Generation Y might not be regularly supporting all of their charities of choice now, but by no means does that sound the death knell for a third sector funded by the kind-hearted British public. There is huge potential amongst this age group – the key earners and donors of the future – and if charities approach them in the right way the future could be brighter than it might look just now.
"Charities have some way to go to persuade the younger generation to give on a regular basis."
"…53% of the youngest age group surveyed claim they will at some point add more charities to the list they already support."
Mobile fundraising has become commonplace. Anyone sitting on a train, waiting at a bus-stop or even just walking along the street will regularly see posters asking for a donation via text message – perhaps to fund research into much needed medical treatments or to support humanitarian relief following a disaster. As a fundraising channel, mobile fundraising has made huge strides in recent years and there is plenty of scope for it to develop further.
Certainly, the popularity of mobile fundraising is increasing. A survey of charity donors carried out in 2012 forecast that donations made using mobile phones will reach an impressive £150 million annually by 2015 – up from just £15.3 million in 2010.
A similar upward trajectory was confirmed in a report, issued last year by the UK mobile operator Three, which found that phones were increasingly being used as a means to donate to charities – with an increase of 242% recorded between 2011 and 2012. How are we to account for the rapidly increasing popularity of this channel?
A number of explanations come to mind. The amount of people who have mobile phones and who can send and receive SMS/MMS text messages, use the barcode-like Quick Response (QR) codes or take advantage of other methods of giving while out and about has risen rapidly.
There is undoubtedly a convenience factor as well. Making a donation using a mobile phone is quick, hassle-free and convenient. Text donations can be sent from the comfort of a train seat, an armchair at home or just about anywhere in between without the need to fill in forms or click through complicated webpages.
Versatility of mobile fundraising
Another key factor for the growing popularity of mobile fundraising is its versatility. The "text to donate" mechanism uses a "short code" number, a shortened version of a phone number that is easy to read and easier still to remember, that can be printed anywhere – on a coffee cup, the inside of a train carriage or a billboard poster.
The channel’s popularity with fundraisers is greatly increased by the reliability of the data it provides. When a supporter sends an SMS text message to donate to a charity, they are providing a legitimate and instantly verifiable phone number that a charity can use to make further contact with a supporter. There are no missing or wrong numbers to worry about – a supporter’s phone number simply appears in a database the moment the text is sent.
This touches on another reason for the channel’s popularity with fundraisers – namely the useful role that it can play as part of an integrated and "multi-channel" fundraising strategy. It sits well alongside other fundraising methods and text response has become a widely accepted and increasingly important part of direct response television (DRT), face to face, digital and outdoor fundraising channels.
There is a speed and swiftness to the donor’s journey that was previously unheard of – something that is particularly important where you have a fundraising "ask" which lends itself to a quick and impulsive emotional response and where it is important that a charity engages with a supporter while the cause is still in their mind.
Not a magic bullet
Despite its positive attributes, mobile is not a magic bullet. Like any fundraising method it has areas it can improve upon. It is currently the case that donations made through a mobile device tend to be for smaller amounts – usually in the region of between £3 and £5, levels which are lower than the average value of a typical direct debit donation.
Does this mean that smaller donations made through a mobile phone are cannibalising potentially larger donations which could be made through direct debit? I would suggest not. Experience shows that nearly all who donate regularly through their phone state that they are not interested, at least initially, in giving via direct debit and prefer the element of control that phone-based giving gives them – a subject which we will return to below.
There are also questions about how effectively a donor can be engaged through a 160 character text message. There is a clear challenge and skill involved in conveying a succinct message, within the traditional limitations of the mobile format, that will strike a chord with a potential supporter. However, these limitations matter less and less.
Telling a fuller story
The increasing ubiquity of smartphones is an opportunity for charities to communicate with their donors directly through a variety of media. Images, film and other multimedia content can tell a fuller and more emotive story than a plain text message ever could.
As they are delivered directly to a phone that rarely, if ever, leaves a supporter’s side they are more likely to be seen and heard than, perhaps, something that drops through a letterbox or can be glimpsed only in passing on the street. Donor stewardship is an aspect of mobile fundraising which holds real promise and significant progress is already being made in this area.
So where should mobile sit in an overall fundraising strategy? It has proven incredibly effective at making it easier for the public to engage with and first announce their support for a variety of charitable causes in a quick and easy way. It is during the second stage of a donor’s "journey" – when charities and fundraisers are looking to maximise the value of supporters – that other channels, such as telephone, have a critical part to play in converting one-off mobile donations to long term regular support.
Effective for smaller charities
Mobile tends to be a channel that charity and fundraising professionals associate with larger organisations. There is, however, no reason why mobile cannot be equally effective for charities of all sizes as long as there is a strong proposition – ideally a simple and easy to communicate need paired with a straightforward, tangible solution. With the right messaging and a clear call to action, small charities might well be surprised by how successful mobile fundraising can be.
So what about the future? Mobile fundraising is developing in promising directions that should deliver benefits to both supporters and charities. One emerging trend is the placing of control over donations back in the hands of supporters. Regular giving-by-text services allow supporters to skip a monthly donation by sending a text.
For supporters, the option to skip a donation can be a game changer. Just one text and the donor can opt in or out of making a donation in a given month without having to cancel their support altogether. At a time when many donors are tightening their belts, this technology is giving people a much needed flexibility.
The current signs are that that mobile fundraising is here to stay. The next generation of supporters and donors live by their mobiles. In 2011 over a quarter of 18-24 year-olds (28%) said that they donated by text, compared with less than one in ten 45-54 year-olds. The number of young, mobile-savvy donors has undoubtedly increased since then, fuelled by the increasing popularity of mobile devices and the availability of ever-cheaper smartphones.
Not being left behind
Charities which don’t want to be left behind will need to invest in technology so that they can continue to connect with tech-hungry supporters or work with agencies which will enable them to deliver this. Mobile fundraising is one of the fastest developing channels available to charities, which will need to embrace the channel or risk losing out on a valuable additional income stream for their work.
The web is a platform that charities need to be taking advantage of in order to extend their reach. Increased online engagement can boost charities’ incomes, cheaply and quickly. But too many org.uk domains are littered with basic errors.
The aim of a charity website should be this: to foster a relationship between the donor and the charity, attract and engage new donors, and make it easy for advocates to donate.
To test out the process I pretended to have a million pounds I wanted to donate to cancer research. I googled international cancer fund and the top result was at that time a particular cancer charity (of course, rankings change all the time). All good so far. Then I clicked on the website of this no doubt excellent charity to test out the donation journey.
I was greeted by a whole host of typical mistakes. First sight, in the only colour that popped out from a mass of purple was a welcome message and above it were nine calls to action - in fact there were 26 buttons to click on the home page alone.
Littered with options
The site was quite literally littered with options and links like an overzealous Christmas enthusiast decorating his tree. And the carousel kept changing every seven seconds; clearly the site designer went to the same talk as me in 2003 when carousels were seen as the cure for people with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
In fact the number of twitter icons all over the home page was the only thing that convinced me that this site wasn’t built and deserted back then. I finally found the "about us" section hidden away in a secondary navigation bar, only to land on a page with one shrunken stock image and even more text littered with links.
I was about to give up before spotting the shiny yellow "donate now" button. Perhaps they’d get me to part with my cash after all? So I clicked on it. But to my confusion I was presented with more text and links leading to a duplicate site for their UK branch. I was trapped in a recurring nightmare: another flicking carousel, another shiny "donate now button".
I backtracked and checked the charity on the Charity Commission to see if it was a legal charity. All fine – so I thought it must be a small charity with no budget, but it has an £8.9m income. I also read the annual report and don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the document which says "our website continues to be an excellent resource for a number of key audiences".
Glowing talk about visitors
It went on to talk glowingly about website visitors and boasts about these figures as "impact". I would love to see the bounce rate on the poor 700,000 visitors a year; statistics like "total traffic" just do not prove impact.
Sadly the site is symptomatic of many brochure sites, built as an internal projection of the organisation onto the outside world, but utterly perplexing to you or me. It is not difficult to create an entirely personalised and reactive website, where once you sign up, the information is directed exactly at you.
Considering the supporter journey
I doubt many people actually get through to making a donation on that first site I visited at the time. The supporter journey has just not been considered, and whoever built the site clearly hasn’t even tried it. And what is an even greater shame is that the beneficiary journey has not been considered either. I imagine that those 700,000 people who visit the site each year leave feeling frustrated and angry.
In order to get donations, we need more than a shiny yellow "donate now" button. We need a compelling case for support and convincing calls to action. The charity needs to consider, like an earthquake appeal, what its epicentre is, and that will help activate people to advocacy. "What we do, why we do it and how you can help" needs to run through a website like a stick of rock, and a clear mission statement explaining its objectives serves as a solid basis from which to guide visitors into how they can help.
Missing out on online marketing
A greater loss is missing out on the power of online marketing. There is a reason why the commerce sector and gambling businesses focus on online marketing: there is the potential to crush costs and increase income on an unprecedented scale.
Charities can secure massive additional funds, hundreds of thousand of pounds a year through Google grants, and social media couldn’t be more suited to sharing social causes if conveyed in a fun way.
But it is pointless using tools like this unless landing pages are drawing people through to pages with purpose and clear calls to action. If only the £2.3m spent on generating income at the charity whose website I visited that while ago was invested more in these online tools, I could only imagine the potential impact. No doubt things have now changed.
The bigger issue is that there is so much potential to help people by just being a little more innovative. It should take only two minutes using various social media monitoring tools to go and look across Twitter, Facebook and Linked In at everyone with concerns and interest in “nutrition AND cancer”, bringing back thousands of results within a couple of hours.
One could then send all these people a message within one click to draw them through to the site, perhaps even to a landing page that specifically relates to their concerns. None of this is rocket science but too few charities are engaging with people in this way.
Unlike email, social media is novel enough that these personal approaches work. I am constantly surprised by how accessible the world is through these social platforms. Last night for example, I was exchanging messages with people I wouldn’t be able to get to in a hundred years. The world is small and fortuitously beneficial to us in our social age.
Relying on dry facts
It is also frustrating when the causes behind charities are so compelling, but their websites rely on dry facts. A simple short story from a credible source has far more impact, and if we want to achieve behaviour change we need to start with emotional engagement.
The problem with most charity websites, like the one I visited, is that developers or design agencies forget we’re dealing with real human beings with real concerns, challenges and cares.
Videos can be a good way to remedy this, and allows the charity to really show what they’re about. And you don’t need slickly produced celebrity-studded masterpieces. Short interviews with those who’ve benefited from charity funds can have just as much impact, as can a simple animation with an explanatory voiceover.
A regularly updated blog is also a great way to keep supporters updated with activity and tell the stories of those helped by the charity. It also offers the opportunity to increase a charity’s visibility and digital reach by boosting it up Google’s organic search. So it ought to be a top priority when it comes to a charity’s marketing strategy – and it doesn’t cost a penny.
Display of target thermometers
Many charities also fail to build a sense of urgency into their web donations, but target thermometers can work well. This is because smaller goals are more attractive as a result of their achievability.
Tapping into this psychology by launching micro campaigns supported by target thermometer graphics can be a good option to pursue, helping to tick all the boxes in that people know where exactly their money is going and can see the direct impact their own donation has made.
When it comes to the actual process of making a donation, the simpler the better. As soon as visitors are convinced they want to help charities need to make it easy, and this means as few questions as possible and a non-registering, one-off donation option.
Another tactic to boost repeat donations is to create sign-in profiles for users. This allows charities to securely store credit card information on third party servers via, for example, CTT or Stripe, and reduce the number of times a donor has to enter their details.
Increasing charitable donations
Already increasing the conversion rate from visitor to customer on e-commerce sites it can do the same for charitable donations. Also, just as e-commerce sites have learnt, in an age of smartphones and tablets, failing to have a website formatted for viewing across different devices is like buying a Swiss Army knife without the bottle opener.
Instead it’s worth consulting with an expert when designing a website to ensure it has a mobile responsive design.
But leaving behind the nitty-gritty technical details, to get the most out of their websites charities simply need to establish why people should give up their time or money and exactly what that will involve, but this is often glossed over by charities.
Importance of the charity
Perhaps too close to the issue they fail to recognise the need to convince people of its importance, but this is really the crux of the issue. Charities have a responsibility to cater for real people and provide real solutions to their needs through their websites. As a result the human interest element, a personalised experience needs to be prioritised.
There are three things you cannot telephone fundraise without, according to an old colleague of mine. Data, data and data. It is, of course, impossible to bring it all down to just one thing, rather like asking you to choose which of your internal organs is most important. However, in this particular instance it is true that without names and numbers nothing else can function. It is not the only thing, but it is certainly the first thing, the lifeblood of telephone fundraising.
Given the choice of an outstanding team of fundraisers with an amazing message but no numbers to call and a team of novices with 5,000 pristine records of warm donors, only one of those campaigns will generate support.
If we have the numbers, what then? Having them actually raises more questions than not having them. I've often harboured suspicions that some charities I've encountered down the years have shied away from telephone fundraising for so long, not because it isn't right for them or their donors, but because they don't want the headache which comes with looking at all that data.
How do we know which numbers are out of date? How do we segment the data? Which donor segment should we call first? How much should we be asking for? How soon can we call after a mailing? Should we call after a mailing? If there hasn't been a mailing should we send a mailing and then call? What should the mailing say about the call?
Each answer generates another 10 questions until reason and determination are drowned in a maelstrom of confused logic, swirling endlessly round and dragging the original idea, so simple in itself, down and down. Eventually the waters become still again, but floating on the surface is nothing but flotsam and jetsam of the original purpose, now gone; forgotten.
Decision to call
Like most things in life it rarely needs to be as complicated as it becomes. There are 50 different opinions for every query in this business, but really there is only one decision that matters. It is the decision to use this data to call supporters or not. That is all. Once you have made that decision, everything else becomes subservient to necessity, to deadlines, to budgets. In other words, you can't finish unless you've started, so start.
Next is the message. It might seem strange at first, considering that the work done by not for profit organisations is so self-evidently good, worthwhile and deserving of support, to accord so much importance to crafting a message, but it is vital. It is vital because a well crafted message goes beyond what projects the support is needed for (and you might be surprised how often even that basic information gets overlooked too), and puts the person you are calling at the heart of the narrative.
Too often we are so intent on telling our story that we forget to include supporters in it. A good message reaches out beyond the receiver and surprises a donor. It is surprise not just at the constituent parts of the appeal, at the scale of challenges faced nor the scale of successes already overcome, but surprise that springs up inside them at realising how strongly they care.
Once you have your message the next thing you need are mouths. Who will speak for you? There are both advantages and disadvantages of externally sourced support. There are also advantages and disadvantages of keeping things in-house.
High dial volumes
On the one hand you can have, if you find the right vendor, experienced verbal technicians, high dial volumes and professional commitment to success. On the other you can have, if you have the right people in-house, a level of passion and commitment to the cause that will outstrip even the most empathetic professional. Anyone who insists there is only one right way to do it is either selling something or grossly mistaken. There are, of course, dozens of right ways, each dependent on the cause, supporters and timing.
Finally, when the dust settles, it is important to ensure that you have determined, well in advance, how you will be evaluating the project. At first glance this sounds ridiculous, because surely money is how to evaluate a project? Money grows so enormous in every organisation's field of vision, so all-obscuring, that it is difficult to look beyond it.
In some instances it generates its own dense gravity to a point where, before long, logic has been warped around it and fundraising becomes something that is done to generate revenue in order to do more fundraising. However, an alternative proposition is that a good telephone fundraising campaign should be measured not just in terms of financial outcomes, but also in the success of the process from start to finish.
How many supporters were reached, what messages were they given, how did they feel, how much time was committed to making these calls and could it have been more, or less? Have these calls strengthened your relationship with your supporters? Donations, after all, are nothing more than the by-product of talking to the right people in the right way; of using appropriate methods, well devised messages and the right callers. Oh, and having data, of course. Lots and lots of data.
"…a well crafted message goes beyond what project the support is needed for…and puts the person you are calling at the heart of the narrative."
Charities are facing one of the most challenging economic climates for some time. Regular donations from supporters are under pressure as people tighten their belts. In this context, securing a legacy pledge from a supporter has become perhaps one of the most sought-after prizes in fundraising. The telephone is one of the best channels for running a successful legacy campaign. A telephone conversation can achieve results where printed literature on its own, with more reliance on straplines and buzzwords, cannot.
The telephone lends itself to the sort of sensitivity and real interaction that is a vital part of a successful legacy campaign. In addition, for conveying the emotional impact of a charity's cause or campaign message, the telephone is one of the most effective channels in a fundraiser's toolkit.
Telephone legacy campaigns are challenging but the results can be huge. The "return on investment" of a legacy campaign is better than most other types of fundraising. The income from a single legacy can be far greater than most other types of charitable donation, and indeed, some fundraisers will tell you that it is not uncommon for a single legacy to cover, or even exceed, the costs of a legacy campaign.
However, like with any fundraising, there needs to be careful planning, research and more than a little bit of creativity. Here are some tips:
Decide who to target
Planning for a legacy programme will revolve around your audience, your message and what channels you intend to use to put these across.
One of the most important steps at the outset is deciding who to contact. People who already support a charity are the most likely to respond positively to a legacy "ask", and a good database of existing donors or supporters and a system of tracking gifts can make all the difference here. In addition, I recommend using a "propensity model" which identifies the characteristics of a 'typical' legacy pledger and then finds the closest matches among the charity's pool of existing supporters.
Age is not necessarily a barrier to pledging a legacy, and younger supporters shouldn't be ignored. Nurturing young supporters can, over time, deliver good results. With that said, it is older supporters aged 55 or over who are often targeted in legacy campaigns, and for good reason. They are the most likely to have made a will or be considering making a will.
Decide on the medium
The effectiveness of the telephone in the context of a legacy campaign has been shown time and time again. The telephone allows fundraisers to have meaningful dialogue with supporters in a way that it is difficult to replicate using other, less interactive channels. For the best results, however, the telephone should be just one strand of the legacy campaign. For example, face to face contact with supporters is often a feature of legacy campaigns, where it is used to develop relationships originally established over the telephone.
Newsletters, leaflets, direct mail and websites are also channels which can play an important role, and can enhance a telephone conversation about legacies by emphasising the value of legacy gifts through eye-catching imagery, case studies, examples and "sign-posting" to more information.
Tailor the approach to the audience
Different approaches to "the ask", tailored for different audiences, will work better than a "one size fits all" approach. For telephone fundraisers there are two distinctive approaches to legacy campaigns that are suited to different types of supporter. A "legacy prospecting" campaign tends to focus on committed supporters who have a track record of giving to the organisation which is seeking a legacy pledge.
This usually involves three stages. The first stage is a telephone call that is placed before a mailing about legacies is sent out. During this call a supporter will be informed that a letter which will mention legacies is on the way and told that it would be appreciated if they would take the time to read it.
This has two important benefits. Firstly, it draws attention to the letter without implying any pressure to respond at a time when many supporters can feel inundated by direct mail from charities. Secondly, it provides people who would prefer to "opt out" of legacy communications or who have already pledged a legacy with an opportunity to say so and be removed from further communications.
The second stage is the mailing itself. In the third stage, which usually follows the sending of the legacy letter, calls would be made to supporters who had reacted positively to the first call. This would mention the letter that they have received and guide the conversation towards the need for legacy gifts and their importance to the charity.
At this stage, a supporter might be asked if the information that they have received is useful and asked if they would like further assistance. Their response would be accurately recorded and determine the type of follow up correspondence.
Another type of legacy call is known as a "status check". This usually involves contact with supporters who have previously been contacted about legacies and who indicated that it would be something that they would consider. This call may just take the form of a chat, intended to confirm that a legacy is still something that a supporter is considering and asking if any further information is required.
Even at this stage, the approach is soft, and fundraisers would not expect the supporter to make a firm decision over the phone. Instead, fundraisers could offer to send further information and, perhaps, ask if they could get in touch in the future in case the supporter has further questions.
Get the script right
The messaging of the legacy campaign needs to be thought through carefully. Even committed supporters will only leave a legacy gift in their will if they are made to care deeply about the cause or have a reason to be grateful for it. Leaving a legacy in a will is one of the biggest commitments that a supporter can make. In order for supporters to feel comfortable discussing something as sensitive as legacies they need to feel like they are having a real conversation with a charity.
Supporters should be engaged and at ease before the topic of legacies is raised. Consider having an open script that will allow fundraisers to build rapport, ask plenty of questions and have an authentic conversation that enables fundraisers to "bring to life" the work of the charity.
In contrast with other types of fundraising, the best conversations about legacies are usually less about the "asks" and more about having a dialogue, perhaps around the supporter's feelings about legacy giving. Again, it helps to be prepared. Some supporters may have concerns or objections to legacy giving and these will need to be dealt with in a diplomatic and sensitive way.
Itâ€™s important to state again that fundraisers should not be having conversations about legacies with a view to getting an immediate decision. The conversation should be about finding out the supporterâ€™s interest and intentions regarding gifts in a will, not about getting a yes or a no. Instead, the conversations should be treated as opportunities to discover where a charity should be putting its resources.
Which supporters, for example, should you be sending be sending further information to? Which supporters might benefit from a call or visit from a dedicated legacy adviser? Who isn't interested in leaving a gift in their will at all? Again, by treating legacy calls as a conversation, rather than a tick-box exercise, you are more likely to be in a position to answer these questions and direct your resources appropriately.
Choose the right fundraisers
Even the best laid plans or carefully honed scripts can come unstuck if the wrong people are doing the talking. No amount of advance planning will matter if fundraisers do not know enough about legacies or do not inspire confidence. Charities should try to identify the fundraisers or other members of staff who are best suited to talking about legacies. These will be the people who can have a genuine, warm and sensitive conversation, and who can improvise or go "off script" when necessary.
Think carefully about how you measure and manage the performance of your fundraisers in the context of a legacy campaign. Remember that the aim of the interaction with the supporter is not necessarily to get a firm "yes" but is instead to have a conversation, present information and gauge intentions. It is not about fundraising targets. Nevertheless, one can still measure success in other ways, perhaps by looking at how many supporters have made the journey from just "being interested" in legacies to becoming a pledger, or who have lost interest over time.
Capture responses and follow up
Your fundraisers must be careful to record any queries, requests, contact details and special actions accurately and promptly so that the necessary follow-up action can be taken. Any specific requests for information should be met, and if more detailed advice is needed prospective donors should be told where they can go and who they can speak with, for example a legacy adviser.
By the same token, if a supporter objects to the call, ends the conversation abruptly or otherwise makes it clear that they are not interested in having a conversation about legacies, this should be noted.
Following up over time with supporters who have expressed an interest in legacies is crucial. Indeed, it may be several years before you see results in terms of actual income. But with careful planning and by identifying the right targets, handling them sensitively and nurturing them over time, the results can be hugely beneficial to charities.
"…a well crafted message goes beyond what project the support is needed for…and puts the person you are calling at the heart of the narrative."
The smartphone is rapidly becoming indispensible. Whilst many people are still using non-data enabled phones for voice and SMS, Apple, Samsung, HTC, Nokia and the other smartphone manufacturers have been busily wooing the population with sleek touchscreens, data and GPS enabled apps and all kinds of technological wizardry. This trend is sweeping the globe, according to Forrester, there are expected to be one billion smartphones in circulation across the world by 2016.
However, most of us remember a day when it wasn't like this; we made phone calls from our landlines or from phone boxes in the street. We navigated via printed maps, and sent letters via post boxes.
Like this, the ways in which charities manage their donors has also evolved, from traditional, face-to-face engagement and physical leaflets, to social media and mobile engagement. The tough choice for the charity manager today is deciding which digital channel and method has merit, and which may fade away. There was a time when Twitter seemed to simply be a flash in the pan but charities such as RSPCA now have more than 45,000 followers.
An evolving science
Unfortunately, charities today have less funding and more competition. Physical materials are expensive, and postage equally so. Whilst these can generate revenue and awareness, it is hard to measure whether they have generated a sense of engagement which will engender long term giving. Furthermore, the rise of the charity mugger has given many charities using face to face engagement a bad name, with outsourced staff being overly aggressive so as to meet their targets.
Recently, Lord Hodgson, a Conservative peer published a report concluding that "chuggers" were having a negative effect on the high street. However, with firm guidance and rules of engagement, there is little doubt that they can be an effective charity tool, raising awareness and money for a cause.
This raises an important point: it can be complex to evaluate the best method of fundraising for one particular charity, especially when online awareness campaigns and fundraising tactics such as websites and twitter can support traditional methods, such as mailers and collectors on the street, and vice versa. However, this cross-channel support is important, particularly in a time when charities need to work harder to gain donations.
The internet, social media and the rise of the mobile have gone a long way to helping smart charities continue to gain funding in the recession and re-engage donors across both online and offline channels. For example, the British Red Cross has both an effective online and offline presence, with local shops around the country, as well as a website and Twitter feed which support all activity across the country.
Whilst real life engagement still has a place in the modern world, savvy charities should also consider how mobile and online channels can help them. Consider the meteoric success of the BBC website during the Olympics. Mobile viewers accounted for 34% of views of the BBC Olympics website content, 9.2million hits!
This trend is generally true for news as more people receive breaking news on their phones, which can also act as a call to action for donations both online and offline. Consequently, it is essential that charities have mobile optimised sites so that donors can continue their journey to making a donation rather than getting stuck on a site which is not optimised for mobile.
The role of online, mobile and social
You've probably noticed just how easy it is to make a purchase on your mobile phone. Indeed, the first thing that most smartphone users do is to download apps, many of which are paid for, with a single click.
This means that it is inherently easy to enable donations via mobile devices. It's fast, it's easy and it's completely non-intrusive. Many donors may feel significantly happier donating anonymously via their PCs and mobiles than they will face to face with a chugger on the street. This ease is supported by the increasing sophistication of the mobile site: websites are more sophisticated and interactive than ever before. With the dawn of HTML 5, mobile sites can now present an 'app-like' experience to users without them needing to download or install anything.
This can make mobile sites a great deal more usable, increasing the time which users spend on them and decreasing the frustration of using them. This can be invaluable when trying to draw users into deeper conversations. After all, many websites tied to certain causes feature forums where users can chat to other users and share views.
This means that both mobile and standard sites are frequently not just a portal for one-click donations, but also an information service. Indeed, these sites frequently tie into GPS, making people aware of what is going on in their local area, as well as creating a community in cyberspace.
Behind the scenes
By using location and special interest based information, mobile, social and online all offer the possibility of better customisation and engaging one on one with customers, but from a distance and without having to get "feet on the street". This customisation can also be done by the technology "behind the scenes". For example, do you run a pet-related charity? Your donors may be either "dog people" or "cat people". By asking them for their preferences or recording them as they browse, you can engage them more appropriately and provide them with bespoke information.
Furthermore, with modern content management systems and smart development, the charity outreach team can usually update the website by themselves without needing to consult the technical team. Frequently, mobile sites will not need re-provisioning when new content is generated, they can simply update from the main site. Mobile sites can also be clever about tying into systems like GPS, identifying where users are and telling them about nearby services, stores or charity events in their area.
Mobile may still seem like a bit of an alien experience to many charities. Whilst we as users are comfortable logging on using our phones, we often don't have the faintest idea about how to actually engage our audience or where to start. It is important to remember that mobile, online and social are simply interrelated channels, no different to putting people on the street with donation boxes, but smarter and slightly more complex.
It's also important not to undervalue what you are already doing, anyone with a website is already doing mobile; the question is simply whether you are optimised for mobile. Do consider the ROI (return on investment) of what you are planning to do, a recent research study estimated the value of mobile commerce in the UK alone to £1.3bn at the end of last year. However, consumers are fickle, and have short attention spans, so a frustrating site experience can easily result in a lost donation.
Charities today need to be competitive and think innovatively. As we all know, donations are far harder to secure than they used to be, and even the "big names" in the charity world are having to work harder than ever before. Unless people know about you, they cannot engage with your cause; and unless they engage with your cause, they will not donate. Also, it is important to remember that mobile is not going to go away, simply consider throwing away your mobile phone for a week or even a day and the anxiety that this would cause.
With this in mind, charities need to consider what mobile, online and social can do for them, and with the power to engage users, increase donations and promote your cause, it is definitely worth thinking about seriously.
"…it is essential that charities have mobile optimised sites so that donors can continue their journey to making a donation rather than getting stuck on a site which is not optimised for mobile."
"Many donors may feel significantly happier donating anonymously via their PCs and mobiles than they will face to face with a chugger on the street."
"Mobile sites can…be clever about tying into systems like GPS, identifying where users are and telling them about nearby services, stores or charity events in their area."
Organised by St Luke's (Cheshire) Hospice in Winsford, now in its eighth year, the Midnight Walk is by far the Cheshire-based hospice's largest single fundraising event. Having raised almost £2 million over the eight years, 2009 saw the walk's fundraising total peak at a significant £325,000. The brainchild of former patient, we believe that the success of the initiative is attributable to a very dedicated and determined team of fundraisers who have a real passion and commitment to the hospice and the walk in particular.
I want to explain here the unique ethos behind the event, the intricacies of planning and managing the walk, and the lessons for other charities who are keen to plan a similar occasion.
THE BACKGROUND. The Midnight Walk was a result of a conversation between myself and a family friend, Claudia McLaughlan, who was also a patient at the hospice. Despite undergoing chemotherapy, Claudia was keen to raise money for the hospice and suggested the idea of organising a ladies only night-time walk. Initially I didn�t feel that it would work.
At the time there was a similar well-known walk which took place in London, but nothing other than that. The idea of walking through Crewe at midnight was certainly not as appealing as walking through London, following the Marathon route. However, Claudia was a very persistent lady and we began to look into options. Our hope was that we could persuade 100 women to walk a half marathon and raise �10,000 for the hospice. But three weeks later, with no structure in place we had received 550 entries. We went on to raise £88,000 in the first year.
THE EVENT. The template for the St Luke's (Cheshire) Hospice Midnight Walk is relatively simple. We keep the walk to ladies only and try to appeal to a wide target area of potential walkers, as too many group walkers can dilute the sponsorship totals. By incorporating a diverse group of walkers, the sponsorship per head is increased. In an ideal world, every walker would be an individual who lives and works miles away from other registered walkers.
Although many of our walkers find out about the initiative via word of mouth, we do run an extensive publicity campaign through our regular newsletter, local press and radio. We also have an active poster and leaflet operation which targets gyms, slimming clubs, supermarkets, banks, community centres etc. We have good success with well-placed banners and have had limited success with billboard and bus advertising.
We do charge a registration fee of £15 per walker, as this reflects the true cost to offer a place. It covers a branded Midnight Walk t-shirt, a named sponsorship form, a branded bottle of water and banana at the half way point and a breakfast on finishing, plus the cost of policing the event and making sure that registration and the finish runs smoothly.
Working with the police
Initially the police would not agree to help, as it is against their national policy to encourage on-road walking events. But they eventually came on board three weeks before the first walk. We do have to pay the police which costs upwards of �3,000 per year to have eight officers on duty throughout the whole event. They maintain a rolling road block and are used in any parts of the route where there may be problems, such as pub and nightclub areas. Whilst you can run the event without police, they make the walkers feel safe and it�s very positive to have their presence.
Other security measures we take on the evening are through enlisting the help of Raynet (walkie-talkie enthusiasts and a charity in their own right). They set up a communications team along the course and at base and help to monitor the progress of the walk and the position of the last walker. We make a donation to their funds in lieu of payment.
We also have Red Cross cover throughout the night to provide First Aid if needed. Again, we make a donation to the charity for their support.
The event is supported by almost 200 volunteers who organise registration, stewarding, car parking, refreshments, vehicle support and are on hand to welcome back walkers and hand out medals at the completion of the walk. The majority of the volunteers are male and all volunteers wear a specific t-shirt (which is a different colour to the walkers), and stewards wear high-visibility jackets.
Thorough risk management
Our risk management is very thorough indeed and we spend a lot of time making sure that our walkers and volunteers are safe. Walkers are registered at the beginning of the route, signed in at the halfway point and then again on completion of the walk. Any walker who isn't signed back in at the end of the walk is contacted on their mobile phone or home number and we have been known to get exhausted ladies out of bed after they have returned home. However everyone appreciates that we need to ensure they have finished the walk safely.
The stewards themselves marshal the route in pairs and there is a person who walks at the rear of the route, at the slowest pace, who then allows the marshals to leave their checkpoint. We also have a street license so that the stewards are able to collect any donations given on the night in sealed buckets. These buckets are passed back to the volunteer�s coordinator at the end of the proceedings and go into the accounting process, along with all the funds raised from the event.
Secrets of the walk's success
WHY PEOPLE WALK. We believe in caring about and nurturing each and every participant in the walk. It's not enough to register them and a few months later to hope that they turn up and take part. We take the time to make sure they understand what their support means to the charity and let them know that they are making a real difference.
In the run up to the event we contact the walkers with training tips, healthy eating recipes, patient stories and general words of encouragement, to keep their enthusiasm topped-up for the event.
T-SHIRTS. We pre-order and print out t-shirts, so they're an integral part of the event and can serve several purposes. We make sure our walk t-shirts are a very bright colour and the walkers get their t-shirt when they have paid their registration fee, not when they arrive at the event. As the t-shirts are a very effective advertising tool, encourage ladies to train in their t-shirt, and not save it just for the night.
We also change the colour and design of the t-shirts every year, to make sure that this year's walkers are easily recognisable and to ensure there aren't any ladies walking who haven't registered for the event. It's essential to make sure that you put volunteers in a different colour t-shirt and main organisers, who are able to answers questions or make decisions, in a different colour altogether, so everyone is easily recognisable.
LOOKING AFTER THE PENNIES. We ask all walkers to bring a copy of their sponsorship form with them and registration volunteers calculate and take a note of the value of all individual sponsorship forms. This means that when the walkers leave at the end of the evening, we know how much money has been pledged and therefore stand a better chance of collecting it all.
Claiming Gift Aid
If walkers lose their forms, or fail to send them back with the collected money we lose the opportunity to claim Gift Aid. If walkers don't or can't bring a copy of their sponsorship form on the night, we keep the original and post it back to them when we have copied it.
Each year we actually bring in on average 94% of monies which have been pledged. Organisers of any mass participation event will know that this sum is much higher than usual. We believe that we have a responsibility to those people who have pledged or promised funds to the walkers, to make sure that the money collected goes to the charity.
There are occasions where forms show that money has been handed to walkers, but it doesn�t come back to us. We always chase up the money, as it has been donated to our hospice via the walker in good faith. We don't sit back and just hope that the money will come in as we know that we wouldn't get anywhere near the 94% of the monies pledged, if we didn't chase it up. We work very closely with our accounts department to make sure that we follow proper accounting procedures.
THE FACTS AND FIGURES. Since we started the walk in 2004, we have raised over £1.7 million for our hospice. We rolled out the template for the walk at the National Association of Hospice Fundraisers Annual Conference in 2006 and ran conferences about it in 2007. From figures collated by Help the Hospices over 60 hospices now hold a Midnight Walk (or night walk by another name), having brought in a combined total of over £20 million.
The success is varied with some hospices raising £20,000 and some raising in excess of £200,000 per annum. For many of the participating hospices, the walk has become their largest single fundraising event of the year and provides irreplaceable monies, which can pay for many days of dedicated hospice care.
PLANNING FOR THE NEXT MIDNIGHT WALK. For the St Luke's fundraising team, it's essential that we start preparing for the next Midnight Walk on the Monday after the walk has happened. Exhausted as we may be, we know that a good few hours debriefing ensures an even more successful event the following year. Immediately after the walk, whilst it's still being covered in the local press, is the best time to bring on board new company sponsors.
As with every event, we'd like to improve on the success of the Midnight Walk. Primarily this would be by accommodating more walkers and improving on our 2009 fundraising peak of £325,000.
"We believe in caring about and nurturing each and every participant in the walk."
In the current economic climate, charities are facing one of the most challenging fundraising environments for some time. The cost of acquiring new donors continues to rise as more direct and less passive forms of fundraising are used. Meanwhile, an increased rate of donor attrition, the loss of existing donors, shows no sign of abating as people tighten their belts.
Unless charities make use of fundraising opportunities in new and imaginative ways to improve donor retention rates and generate more income from existing supporters, they are likely to see a fall in both the number of donors they retain and hence the income they bring in.
Although there is no single answer to the pressures that charities are facing, wiser heads will see the merits of integrated 'multi-channel' communication as fundraising teams look to connect with younger, technologically-savvy supporters. Charities WHICH don't want to be left behind should make sure that they are investing in the technology or working with agencies which will enable them to deliver this.
Communicating with supporters
Fundraising across multiple channels allows charities to communicate with their supporters in a way that fits with their lifestyle, preferences and media consumption habits. A narrow focus on single channel fundraising, for example, fundraising exclusively using direct mail, is no longer enough. The profile of the "typical" donor has changed significantly in the last ten years.
At the beginning of the last decade, direct mail was the favoured method. Donors today are younger and tend to use a variety of media, from web pages to SMS text messaging and social media � in their everyday lives. They don't just want to give money. They also want to fundraise, advocate their chosen causes and engage in conversation with the organisations they are supporting.
Of course, telephone fundraisers have long understood that effective communication with donors requires an adaptable, tailored approach which means that people are hearing from them in a way that is appropriate and relevant. For telephone fundraisers this has often involved the use of different "voices" to reach out to supporters, using a different script, tone or style of dialogue depending on the person being called. Integrating multiple channels into a fundraising campaign can be seen as an extension of this.
Previously untapped support
By embracing channels that complement the telephone, and choosing a medium that fits with the profile of the target donor, shrewd telephone fundraisers have been able to use different channels to reach previously untapped sources of support.
For example, by using online channels in conjunction with the traditional telephone, fundraisers have been able to reach donors who might otherwise not have responded well to a cold "donor acquisition" call. One way that this has been done is to combine an online action and a phone call. For example, a charity's website can be configured so that it features a "call me" or "register now" button which, when clicked, asks for a telephone number to be provided by the reader who, in turn, receives an instant call from a telephone fundraiser.
Alongside online channels, SMS text messaging is also popular as a way to enhance and extend the effectiveness of traditional fundraising techniques. SMS based calls to action generally involve asking a potential donor to text a word, such as "help", to a five or six digit number. The donor then receives a call from a person on the telephone.
SMS calls to action
This method has two distinct advantages: SMS calls to action are short, giving them a versatility that allows them to be printed in many places, such as billboard posters, television adverts, even on the side of a disposable coffee cup. In sending an SMS text message, the sender is also providing the fundraiser with a validated phone number which they can call straight away or add to their database for future use.
Smartphones in particular present a hugely exciting opportunity for fundraisers who want to deliver content that can help retain donors and keep them informed. All content, conversations and fundraising "asks" can be delivered to one handset which never leaves a donor's side. Reaching your supporters through their smartphones should increase "cut-through".
People are more likely to read something that has been delivered to their phone rather than posted through their letterbox. Smartphones lend themselves well to instant responses to appeals and other calls to action. Telephone fundraising agencies have developed software which allows donors to make and control monthly gifts direct from their mobile phones and receive multi-media content, including email and video, in return.
Speed is of the essence
Of course, capability is one thing; making the best use of the capability is quite another. Speed is of the essence for the telephone fundraiser who wants to work effectively across multiple channels. It is important that all channels, telephone, online, SMS and video, are integrated together in such a way that provides the donor with a seamless experience. Minimising the time between a potential donor sending a text and receiving a follow-up call is important.
Fundraisers will get the best results if they speak with potential supporters while the original call to action is still fresh in their mind. The technology exists for this. For example, there is software which can plan telephone calls, generate emails and send SMS text messages from one platform. This means that communication across all channels can be planned, delivered and measured in an integrated way, rather than separately, in a silo, as might otherwise have been the case.
With the proliferation of an increasingly wide range of media and communications channels, the telephone can still play a pivotal role in any multi-channel fundraising programme. It is an engaging and interactive medium. Whether using voice, SMS text messaging or email, mobile telephones will be the platform that supports both inbound and outbound messages, allowing for real interaction and supporter-led fundraising. In addition, for conveying the emotional impact of a charity's cause or campaign message, the telephone, still, reigns supreme.
"Smartphones in particular present a hugely exciting opportunity for fundraisers who want to deliver content that can help retain donors and keep them informed.…"
For a large number of charities, face to face fundraising has been a central component of their fundraising armoury for many years. This is of course perfectly understandable for two simple reasons. Firstly, the practice, whether it is door to door or street fundraising, can generate significant revenue. Secondly, and in many ways just as important, face to face fundraisers serve to raise awareness of a charity or campaign amongst a wider audience, including young people who are notoriously difficult to engage via traditional fundraising or marketing methods.
Both these benefits are made all the more compelling when you consider the existing backdrop of the most challenging economic climate for a generation. To put it simply, fundraising is far more challenging than it was only a few years ago, so face to face fundraising with its "profitable return" is if anything more important than ever for fundraising directors trying to figure out exactly where the money is coming from over the coming financial year.
But just as fundraising has become more challenging so have attitudes and public perceptions changed, none more so than towards street fundraising. I am not sure exactly who was the first to term the technique "chugging", but it poignantly illustrates how the majority of people now view the practice negatively. Reading through the negative media coverage about chugging you get the sense that something needs to change.
The recent investigation by the Sunday Telegraph must have made for difficult reading, but as with any such "expose" it will hopefully lead to improved standards for street fundraising. The Institute of Fundraising is in the process of arranging a "summit" to talk through the situation and hopefully this will mean the right people get around the table and discuss a positive outcome for charities, the companies providing the service and most importantly the public. I believe the most difficult element that will take much longer will be changing the public perception.
Whatever your own opinion on chugging, one thing for certain is that change is in the air and charities are having to adapt accordingly. And I am not only referring to chugging. It is widely accepted that the existing fundraising model is faced with the challenge to re-energise and reinvent itself. Indeed the Giving White Paper published by the Cabinet Office a little over a year ago stated that the sector had "flat-lined" before calling on greater innovation and "trail-blazers" to enact real and lasting changes.
Fast forward to 2012 and we are starting to see what I believe to be the beginning of the fundraising revolution. Until now innovation had been in pretty short supply in our sector, and we had not seen any major developments since the introduction of JustGiving which went on to completely change the landscape and mechanism by which people donated. I firmly believe that we are seeing the emergence of similarly exciting fundraising models which, while currently small, have the potential to turn the sector on its head and provide a hugely important new revenue stream for charities at what is a crucial time.
Nesta's Innovation in Giving Fund has been a hugely important vehicle for fostering and encouraging the emergence of these exciting new fundraising platforms. To date Nesta has backed over 36 projects including ourselves and all are worth investigating. Personally I have found the likes of the Pennies Foundation, Timto and Blue Dot hugely impressive due to their core elements of simplicity and engagement, but also these are revenue streams for charities which simply did not exist until now.
If this group of innovative platforms maintain their growth then the fundraising landscape will look very different in the coming years. The challenge is to raise their profile amongst the public and also charities themselves, so all are fully aware of the possibilities that fundraising innovation can offer. However, just to be clear, I for one am not predicting an immediate end to chugging, nor am I suggesting that these platforms can somehow directly replace the technique.
I believe that chugging will eventually evolve into something different, such as a data gathering exercise to form the start of the donation process, something some of the bigger charities are already doing. But this evolution will be accelerated and led by innovation elsewhere in the sector, and thanks to the advent of new technology, there are now other ways.
As charities have continued to feel the squeeze, many fundraising teams across the sector have understandably focused on acquiring new donors. However, a hard-nosed approach, which has income generation as its sole goal, will only take you so far. Charities need to also make sure that they are looking after and getting as much value as they can from existing donors.
Charities could learn a lesson or two from the commercial sector in this respect, which has led the way in using the telephone to make customers feel valued. Nearly four in every ten calls made to customers by commercial organisations are service calls. In other words, they are calls which do not contain a sales pitch or "ask". In the charity sector, this type of call, often referred to as a loyalty call, accounts for just 1% of calls made to supporters.
Looking after donors means more than just making a positive impression. By giving donors that personal touch, loyalty calls can play an important role in helping to ensure that those who have decided to give continue to do so. Donor attrition, the rate at which existing donors stop making donations, is just one area that can be addressed by looking after your donors.
In the last decade attrition has become a major issue for fundraisers, driven by changes to the methods and channels used to sign donors up. In 2000, when a majority of donors were recruited using direct mail, fewer than one in ten people who signed up for regular giving stopped making donations within a year. By 2005 nearly one third stopped within a year and by 2011 the proportion had risen to nearly half, 41%.
There is no single solution to this, but there is evidence that a well timed loyalty call to give thanks or provide an update on a charity's work can have a positive impact. Carefully timed thank you calls can reduce rates of donor attrition by as much as a third in the first year.
Charities need to put time, energy and, yes, money into looking after their donors and should not just do it as an afterthought. The "thank you" call, just one example of how a charity can look after its donors, serves to illustrate the point here. Careful thought should be given to the timing of the thank you call as there is no "one size fits all" approach. A one-off call could be made to a donor during those crucial first four weeks when attrition rates are high or, alternatively, charities could track their attrition rates over time and schedule thank you calls at those points when drop-off tends to be at its highest.
Some thought also needs to be given to the method by which donors are kept informed and made to feel valued. Despite the proliferation of media and communications channels in recent years the telephone remains one of the most effective mediums for making donors feel valued. It allows for a personalised approach that is difficult to replicate using other channels. Whatever their merits, direct mail and email simply do not convey the same level of personalised attention as a telephone call.
Among charities, the competition for supporters is intense, and those charities which remember the importance of good manners and take the time to look after their donors will have the edge over those that don't. Remember, if you don't keep your donors happy and engaged, someone else will.