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November 2009

Is the Professionalisation of Charities a Bad Thing?

That's the question I've been asked to answer at a forthcoming Third Sector magazine discussion.

In particular I'm going to be debating the following:

  1. Does the recession make it increasingly important for charities to seek efficiency by becoming more professional in their methods?
  2. Is there a conflict between professionalism and passion for the cause?
  3. Have some of the larger charities become so professional in their style that people see little difference between them and the corporate sector?

My instinctive answer to the question in the post title is no.  I don't think it is a bad thing and it's actually one of the key traits I'd look for in any charity I supported.  You want to see any gifts you make have the best possible impact and you need to make sure you have a professional approach to your work to make this happen.

Professionalism isn't enough by itself, but it is certainly a prerequisite for support from me.

As for the questions above, I think number three will prove to be the most controversial and personally I don't see professionalism and passion as mutually exclusive things.  To be successful you need both.

I'll report back on the discussion later in the week, but if you have any thoughts in the mean time then please let me know.

Are You Missing a Chance to Humanise Your Auto Responses?

The out of office replies I get from people are generally rubbish.

Short, no punctuation and boring.

It doesn't need to be so and over the last few weeks I've been experimenting with making them personal, interesting and useful.

Rather than the standard reply I've included specific detail on where I am and who I am seeing, have added an interesting link or included a quote.

The feedback I've had has been fantastic.  As it isn't what people are expecting it has stood out and created an element of surprise. I've had return e-mails commenting on things I'm up to, saying thanks for the link and it gives a conversation starter if I'm on the phone to someone.

None of it is rocket science, but it just shows how important the small things can be and the impact they can have.  In this day and age it can be too easy to hide behind automatic responses and impersonal e-mails and the key thing for me is to look for opportunities to humanise your communications and make them personal.

It is not just out of office replies that this applies to.  There is your e-mail signature (I'm going to try some different things with that in the next few weeks), the auto replies supporters receive when they register for your e-mails or make a donation and even the error pages on your internet pages (check out some examples of these at this site).

Do you have any automated responses that you've personalised?

What response have you had?

Are there any other ways you can make these mundane, standard responses interesting?

I'd love to hear your thoughts...

This Week's Fundraising Must Read Round-Up

I had to have my first day's sick leave in over two years last week and have been playing catch up ever since.  I'm rubbish when I'm not well, so I want to say a big public thank you to my wonderful girlfriend for looking after me.  

Fortunately I'm feeling much better and I'll hopefully have time to write up some of the ever growing list of article ideas I have.

Whilst I do that, why don't you check out some of the best recent articles...

Katya on the one word secret to great relationships.

Scribblybark with a great fundraising e-mail from charity:water.

Matt Parkes looks at the relationship between charities and their agencies.

Jonathon Grapsas challenges the sector to get over our obsession on admin costs.

Who good fundraising is a lot like creating a fan club.

Mark Phillip's comment on the recent charity branding report in the UK.

Bryan Miller on why good segmentation can still fail.

Aline asks "What can we learn from brands people love". Lovemarks is one of my favourite marketing books and well worth reading.

5 Tips to Improve Your Appeals

Presentation tips from Steve Jobs.

Tom Peters has 9 questions to see if you are caring enough.

Lessons in marketing from a 5 year old.

How to inspire people

Chris Brogan on how to prioritise your social media efforts.

Making the Most of Retail Gift Aid Donors

On Tuesday I attended a conference on Retail Gift Aid organised by Eproductive who help charities reclaim gift aid from donations to shops.

The part I was most interested in was the afternoon session by Rachel Beer of the Beautiful World fundraising agency. Rachel was talking about how you can make the most of these donors and increase loyalty and repeat donations.

It is an area I'm really interested in as I think charities completely under utilise the data that their shops provide and that shops offer a much cheaper way to recruit and engage donors than other acquisition methods.

Rachel had done some research on 700 shops in the Eproductive scheme.  This covered 315,000 donors & 572,000 donations.

They discovered that the average donation value was £41.32 and the average donor value is £75.66. 45% of donors give more than once.

When you consider these people have voluntarily signed up and given, then the sums involved are quite staggering.  These people have little acquisition cost and it would be far more cost effective for charities in the scheme to invest in these supporters rather than in other acquisition methods. If you can increase the number of donations or get them involved with other fundraising then the potential  is massive. In terms of some of the big charity shops chains we are talking millions of pounds.  Despite this potential nobody seems to be doing much with these donors.

Rachel went on to suggest some ways you could engage these donors further and I've added these to some of my own thoughts:

    • Surveys to identify those interested in hearing more about us.
    • Use e-mail for notifications to save costs.
    • Inviting donors close to services in to open days to hear more about your work.
    • Offer promotions e.g. £5 off voucher next time you bring a bag of goods in (though need to be aware of gift aid benefit rules).
    • Christmas Cards to the top donors per shop.
    • Certificates/rewards for loyalty e.g 10th bag of goods or donating over £250 etc
    • Inviting to local fundraising events (where applicable)
    • Sending them raffle tickets
    • Offering thank you’s / incentives in conjunction with partners.

This list is by no way exhaustive and I'd be interested to hear any additional ideas that you may have.

The final bit is some of my own personal thoughts on what could be done to engage with these donors.  Charities are a long way off achieving this, but it should be possible with the right investment:

 What does the future hold? Some thoughts…

What turned Tesco from an average supermarket into the dominant retailer in the UK?  Much of it was due to the launch of their Clubcard and their use of data to send relevant & personalised offers to customers and to improve the efficiency of their stores. 

As gift aid matures, there could be real value in starting to record a description of who gives what.  This data could be an immensely valuable marketing tool both for charities and for external organisations.

On the macro-level, imagine all the donors who regularly donates books.  The theory would be if they are donating lots of books, then they are probably reading lots of books.  This would be powerful set of data that could be sold/rented to a book retailer.  You could send all those people a voucher saying thanks for donating the books, here’s a £5 gift voucher off your next purchase at a book retailer.  Imagine your delight as a customer, the goodwill this would generate for your charity (and where future donations would go) and how much the retailer would be willing to pay for these extra customers.

Moving further forward, as data capture becomes more sophisticated you could take this one step further and capture the author’s of books (or make of clothes) donated (this could easily be done through their barcodes or ISBN number).  You could then work with publishers or booksellers to make an exclusive offer when that authors next book comes out! 

Some Midweek Reading to Keep You Out of MIschief!

Spent last weekend in Krakow with some old school/uni friends and am still recovering from the late nights (i'm getting too old to stay up to 3 a.m), hence the lack of posts in the last week or so!

Anyway, last week's round-up of stories is overdue and so without further ado, here are some of the articles.

There was some more good articles related to the 2020 vision. I particularly enjoyed Kimberley's comments.

Although it wasn't directly related there was a series of excellent posts on Sean's blog about a new book on philanthropy. It's relevant to the debate as I believe fundraiser's need to do more to get people to think about giving in the coming years. The first post asked why you give and attracted over 40 comments and there are many that are worth reading - ignore the first one though! :)

Howard Lake pointed out a new feature on Amazon to promote items via Twitter to raise funds.

Does your definition of lapsed match your donors?

Three good related articles on transparency (via Katya' blog.)

Sean on long fundraising letters.

Beth Breeze challenges X-Factor (and other mainstream appeals) to pick less conventional causes.

Some great tips from the Fundraising Coach on using Facebook and Twitter.

Future Fundraising Now (Jeff Brook's new blog) on how to get donors talking about you.

Adrian Sargeant on self regulation of fundraising.  Ties in with my post on the IoF's direct mail crackdown.

Beautiful World ask if anyone is watching charity video?

Would you dare ask an unruly donor to stop giving? Here's an example from a cinema who bans unruly customers!

Eaon on passion & types of advocacy

Hugh talking about 'Evil Plans' - my review of his last book is here.

Chris Brogan on a tactic I like to use at work: "A Middle Up Down" approach!

Great Storytelling Tips

As well as reading a number of fundraising blogs, I also try and keep up to date with as many non-fundraising ones as I can.  I think it's good to look at outside sources for inspiration and ideas and not always look internally at the sector.

One of my favourite non-fundraising blogs is Darren Rowse's ProBlogger site.

Darren provides a wealth of useful information on blogging and specifically on writing compelling copy.  He recently posted two fantastic articles on storytelling that I thought you might be interested in.  They are aimed at blog writers, but I believe they have huge resonance for fundraisers as well.

First up was 'Why Stories Are An Effective Communication Tool For Your Blog' which featured the following list outlining why stories are useful:

  • "Stories engage the imagination of readers
  • Stories go beyond facts and theories
  • Stories reveal something about yourself as a blogger (they’re personal)
  • Stories trigger emotions and the senses
  • Stories are conversational - they stimulate others to react and tell their stories
  • Stories provide hooks for readers to latch onto in your blogging (they’re relatable)
  • Stories grab and hold the attention of readers
  • Stories are memorable – while people don’t always latch onto facts and figures – a good story can be remembered for years
  • Stories illustrate your points in ways that can be much more convincing (and convicting) than other types of information"

He followed this up the next day with an article called "14 Types of Stories You Can Tell On Your Blog', which does exactly what it says on the tin.  If you're ever short of an idea for a newsletter article or web feature then this is a fantastic checklist for you to use for inspiration.

Here are just a couple of things he suggests - check the rest of them at his blog:

  1. "Personal Discovery Stories – tell how you discovered a lesson. These stories show your readers how similar you are to them and also might give some practical advice on how they might learn from your experience.
  2. Stories as Analogies and Illustrations – tell a story that on the surface has nothing to do with your topic but which illustrates a principle that is relevant.
  3. Success Stories – tell how you achieved something. These stories can be inspirational and motivating for your readers.
  4. Failure Stories – I find that these stories are incredibly powerful – particularly if you are able to show some lessons learnt through a failure."
p.s. If you're interested in blogging, then Darren's book is also well worth a read.

The Future of Fundraising

Bernard Ross of the Management Centre has set up a wiki-space called 'Fundraising Scenario's', which aims to get prominent fundraisers discussing what fundraising will look like in 2020.

There are four key questions (you can read the full document here) that =mc pose:

  1. How will donors be different in 2020? And how will they be the same?

  2. How, if at all, will markets for fundraising be different in 2020?

  3. How will technologies for fundraising be different in 2020?

  4. What other issues will be important for fundraising?

There's a wealth of interesting comment already on the wiki and it's worth a look.  More importantly it's already created some interesting discussion with Ken Burnett posting his views on fundraising.   Unsurprisingly he focuses on the donor and says his fundraising strategy would be around thanking donors properly and better and more imaginative use of data.

Ken's article was followed up by an interesting video blog by Jonathon Grapsas.  Jonathon urges fundraisers to focus on the long term, rather than the short term and gives four areas where as a profession we need to get better:

  1. Professional Development: in a downturn we should be training harder than ever (like a football team during a losing streak).
  2. Don't cut planned giving and bequest budgets.
  3. Donor Care: we don;t measure impact of good door care well enough.
  4. Data: use the data we have to get insight from the real value of donors.

He also urges us to use technology wisely and not let it distract us and destroy relationships.

I look forward to reading other fundraisers opinions in the coming weeks and months.

For what it's worth, I touched on some of Ken's and Jonathon's themes at the Third Sector Forum last week.  You can download the slides and accompanying handout here.

I've also been meaning to write an article on my idea of 'fundraising utopia' for the last six months or so and this has inspired me to finally finish it off.  Look out for it in the next few weeks...

Blaggers Banquet

Blaggers Banquet Logo

As well as writing this blog, I also write about one of my other passions, food and in particular restaurants in London.  It's something I love doing and i've been greatly impressed at the quality of the writing and photography (which put my amateur efforts to shame!) and the friendliness of the other bloggers I've met.

My fundraising and food world's collide in a few weeks, as i've volunteered to help at the 'Blaggers Banquet' in aid of Action Against Hunger.

Around 40-50 bloggers are getting together to cook a meal from scratch at Hawksmoor Restaurant to raise money for this great cause.

Niamh, the organiser has put out the following call for help:

"PRODUCERS: Want to donate some produce? Food, drink, items for the auction? It might be a good way to get your products seen by thousands of blog followers and sampled by the lucky few who get tickets for the banquet. Please get in touch – email We want to hear from you.

BLOGGERS: We’ve had a lot of blogger volunteers, but we could always do with more! We will need people in the kitchen, people front of house and blaggers. If you are interested in getting involvedven’t been in touch already, please email me at Those that have been in touch, I’ll be emailing asap.

AUCTION: We need lots of stuff for auction. Whatever you’ve got. Equipment, food, wine, trips, posh dinners. Whatever you’ve got, seriously! There will be an auction on the night and an online auction. Email"

If you'd like to get involved or can help in any way then please do get in touch. It should be a really fun day and will hopefully raise thousands of pounds for the charity.