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August 2009

This week's round up

I'm just about to go on my hols for a week and wanted to do a quick round up of some of the things i've enjoyed reading in the last couple of weeks.

Will be back in a couple of weeks with  some thoughts on fundraising eutopia, the new Virgin Money Giving site and othe fundraising stuff.


An interesting look at how fundraising has evolved over the last 25 years

A fascinating interview with the founder of the Smile Train

'Round' with your donors

A challenge to fundraisers to defend charity costs

The importance of giving donors choice

Ken Burnett talking about 'twitter suicide'!


Is the carrot or stick best for management?

How to get the most from your team

Why social media isn't mass marketing

Some interesting thoughts on behavioural change over at the Herd blog

Seth with some interesting thoughts on presenting to small groups

Are you taking every opportunity to build relationships with your customers?

Donor Behaviour Research

Some interesting findings and points from a CCBfast.MAP direct marketing survey, which posed various questions about donors attitudes and opinions on giving.

In a couple of areas I think it's fair to say that the results vary greatly from my own personal experience e.g. 45% of respondents said they had donated to their chosen cause for over 10 years!  Most charities I know would kill for that sort of retention rate.

One of the good things about the survey is it asks the same questions over a period of time and so you can track certain trends.  For example the rise in the popularity of e-mail as a communication method.

To me the most interesting table was this one on the reasons people stop giving to charity.

"CCB fast.MAP 2008: Please state the reasons why you stopped giving to a specific charity?

Couldn't afford it anymore 41%
Other, please specify 29%
It wasn't clear to me how my money was helping 22%
Another charity seemed like a more worthwhile cause 14%
Another charity needed my moneymore. 7%
Lack of communication from the charitythat I was donating to. 7%
A lot of media attention about the cause I decided to support instead 2%
Because I gave money instead to a recent disaster/ appeal 2%
When another charity contacted me, I liked its more personal approach 1%
I moved house and the charity did not contact me 1%
Another charity offered a freegift/incentive 0%"

The accompanying text explaining about the 'Other' reasons was especially informative with respondents expressing dismay at being 'bombarded' and charites not respecting their wishes.

Overall, I'd recommend taking a quick look at the report as there are some interesting nuggets of information.

Never miss a chance to go the extra mile

Received a lovely letter from a donor today.  I promised I'd send her some information and an update on her previous donation and sent it off (with a personal note) last week thinking no more about it. 

She was so touched (I was just doing my job) that she sent me a 3 page handwritten note thanking me and telling me a lovely anecdote about her father's work at a local factory. Also enclosed, much to my amazement - my letter didn't include an ask - was a sizeable donation.

It just emphasised again how important those personal touches are, how you need to inject some of your own personality into communications (and not always follow the standard approach) and that by doing so you can build connections that will reap long term benefits.

This really came home to me when I rang to thank her.  She didn't want any praise or thanks, she actually wanted to thank me for giving her the chance to remember her father, tell her story and to make a difference.  We had a great chat and both got off the phone feeling good about the world.

To me it emphasised the importance of treating everyone as an individual and to give them a chance to share their story and experience.  The key lesson for me was never miss a chance to go the extra mile for someone, you'll reap the rewards in the long run.

Face to Face Fundraising Takes a Battering

Face to Face (F2F) fundraising seems to have taken a battering in the media over the last week or so. 

First up Ben Goldacre (author of the excellent Bad Science book) started a Twitter campaign using the #stopchuggers hashtag to vent about F2F fundraising.  It quickly gained some traction before dying out. 

By the way, for a quite funny rant against the campaign and Ben see the following post  - beware - bad language a plenty!

Second, Professional Fundraising magazine reported on two London councils attacking F2F fundraising and the PFRA.

Finally, the Observer asked the question 'Should we give to street chuggers?' in which Caroline Howe of the Institute of Fundraising argued for it and Richard Marsh of Intelligent Giving argued against it.  The comments make interesting reading and show the frustration some members of the public feel about F2F.  The best comment came from Mark Phillips of Bluefrog (*update* you can read Mark's full comment and some extra insight at his blog), who gives a reasoned and balanced appraisal of the situation, emphasising the need for charities to retain donors and communicate with them in appropriate ways.

I feel some of the backlash is a bit harsh on F2F, as other areas of fundraising are equally guilty of producing low returns and damaging the sectors reputation - cold direct mail for example.  The difference with F2F is that the audience it targets is much more likely to be vocal about it's dislike of the technique and use social media to criticise it.

The other big problem is that it is has become a victim of it's own success and the market is nearly at saturation point.  The PFRA do a good job of trying to regulate the profession, but the agencies and in-house teams are having to work harder for the same money and attrition rates continue to be a huge problem. 

However, in all the debate and criticism no-one seems to have come up with a viable alternative to recruiting new donors on the scale that F2F does.

Child's i Foundation: A model for non-profit social media?

I've recently been introduced to Child's i (thanks @annemcx) and have been really impressed by how they are using social media to connect with their audience.

Check out the site and get in touch with Lucy (the founder) on Twitter or Facebook.

Here are the five key things that I love about the site:

  • It's written in an authentic voice and with personality. The passion, determination and drive of Lucy comes shining through and there is generally (I'll come back to this at the end) a lack of jargon or NGO speak. It seems like one person talking to another.

  • The site takes you on a journey and presents a compelling story. It's full of interesting videos, has a clear roadmap of what they want to achieve (and when by) and explains how you can make a difference.

  • Complete transparency. Even when Lucy gets asked an awkward question she answers with complete openness and honesty.

  • It offers plenty of opportunities to feedback and to ask questions and, from what I see, the questions get a quick and comprehensive answer.

  • You can choose your level of involvement and engagement. It goes from volunteering and donating money right down to the 'slacktivism' of following on Twitter/Facebook or displaying a badge.

Cynics might say 'that's great, but you can't scale it' or 'it'll never work at my charity' but eventually every charity that wants to fundraise from the public will have to engage with their supporters in similar ways or lose out to charities who do.

What Child's i have done isn't rocket science but very few larger charities have managed to cut through the bureaucracy and gatekeepers to allow staff to use social media to talk and engage with supporters in the same way.

However I see two big challenges on the horizon.

The first challenge for them will be turning the followers they are collecting on their journey into donors. However, by building trust, permission and continuing to tell an inspiring story then I would hope that when the time comes for a 'hard' ask enough people will be inspired and motivated to give.

The other challenge is maintaining the passion, authenticity and personality of the charity as it grows. At a certain point it's going to be hard to keep the personal touch that makes the site stand out.

Finally, my one (smallish) criticism is about the one bit of jargon on the site, which can be found at this post. Whilst I can completely understand why they don't want to use the word 'orphanage' unfortunately the reality a 'short-term transitional home' means nothing to me and I'd guess most people.

I always subject these things to the 'mum' test. If I asked my mum to give to a Ugandan orphanage she'd probably say yes, make a donation, feel good about it, but not ask too many more questions. If I asked her to give to a Ugandan short-term transitional home then she'd give me a funny look and say 'What?' and when I'd explained she'd say, 'Why didn't you say it was an orphanage? Of course i'll give.'

It can sometimes be hard to accept this (Jeff Brooks writes/talks about a similar problem with leprosy here), but I think it's vital that you use language that people understand even if it isn't 100% accurate.

Overall, I'd like to commend Child's i on a great example of social media in action and I'll certainly be making a donation towards building the home.

What I read last week...

A wasted trip to Liverpool to watch Everton at the weekend meant I've only just caught up on Google reader and picked out my favourite stories of the last week.

The postal strike in London led to a frustrating week at work as I waited (and waited) for the responses to come in from our recent appeal.  Luckily the weekend has brought in the deluge I was hoping for (along with some complaints) and it's looking like it will go well.

Highlight of last week?  Ken Burnett re-tweeting my post on 'Adopt a Word'!

Anyway, these are the articles I'd recommend you check out from the last week or so...

There's been a couple of interesting posts on newsletters this week.  First up was another in-depth and fascinating post from Mark Phillips.  This was followed up with a debate on Sofii between Tom Ahern and Sean Triner (both of whose views I respect) on the merits of fundraising newsletters.  I'm on Tom's side on the debate as when they are done well newsletters can be great fundraising vehicles and the problem isn't newsletters but bad, irrelevant and dull content.

The Agitator on relevance

Cheapskate Cliff Richard fans (and the lessons for direct mail)

How do children get involved in philanthropy?

Katya's take on the direct mail debate from last week

Non fundraising articles:

This article on writing bold copy for blogs also has plenty of relevant and useful info for fundraising.

I've just discovered this post on storytelling.

Guy Kawasaki's ten steps for innovation (as reported by Eaon)

Seth on critics

Some more 'nudges' in action

Barriers to creating donor magic: Lack of time and resources

Creating donor magic isn’t easy – if it was everyone would be doing it.  However, if you  can get it right then it will give you a natural competitive advantage. There are two main barriers that consistently get in the way of making it happen and this week i'm going to look at the first of them - lack of time and resources.

 Barrier 1: Lack of time and resources

Everyone’s busy. 

The e-mails flow in, the phone doesn’t stop ringing, the letters keep coming and a ‘catch 22’ situation occurs: if you spend your time trying to create donor magic then you won’t have time to do the transactional stuff, if you don’t do the transactional stuff then any donor magic efforts will be wasted.

So what’s to give?

Let me be clear: you should strive to get to the situation where every donor encounter improves the relationship, but day-to-day realities mean this is hard to achieve.

However, there is a compromise.  Instead of trying to create donor magic for everyone, to begin with you should aim to create it for your ‘true fans’ – those people who respond to every appeal, always turn up to open days, volunteer on a regular basis and have strong opinions (though they don't necessarily always agree with you) on what you do.

These people can become what Malcolm Gladwell calls our ‘mavens’ and ‘connectors’ or who Seth Godin describes as ‘sneezers’: people who spread ideas and recommendations through communities. 

They aren’t necessarily the richest or most generous, but they are the people who seem to know everyone or are the people others turn to for advice and recommendations.

Concentrate on creating donor magic for these people first and they will naturally recruit new donors and do much of the work for youHowever, these people can be hard to please and you have to be willing to give up a little bit of control (which can be scary) and give them the tools and resources that empower them to spread the word about your nonprofit.

If you can get this right then you will form a powerful tribe of supporters and create a movement of support for your work.

Adopt a Word, Twitter & the power of celebrity

I loved this story at Professional Fundraising about I-Can's 'Adopt a Word' scheme, which received a massive boost when Stephen Fry bought a word and then tweeted about it.

The charity weren't promoting the site at the time and have seen a huge increase in traffic and adoptions in the last week.

Like many of the best fundraising ideas it was simple, easy to understand and there is a clear connection between the cause and the fundraising mechanism.  However, there are still a couple of areas that could be improved.

I instantly wanted to buy a word for my girlfriend, as she's been complaining I've lost my romantic touch recently and I thought she'd find it cute if I adopted a couple of our pet names for each other.

However, it seems we're not quite as original as I thought and quite a few other couples share the same pet names - I won't embarass myself or my girlfriend and reveal what they are! After looking at about a dozen words they were all taken and so I gave up, didn't adopt a word and so I-Can lost a potential donation.

I'm sure this problem will happen a lot, so here's a couple of suggestions for how I-Can could overcome this problem in the future:

  • Have a waiting list for people to get their chosen word in the future.
  • Auction off the most popular words.
  • Offer bargain words of the day or bundles (based on current affairs) to get rid of less popular words. For example, after David Cameron's outburst the other week, I'm sure the word 'twat' would have attracted a large donation and generated a heap of publicity!
  • Let more than one person adopt the same word, but charge an increasing amount per word i.e. first person pays £20, next £25, next £30 etc, etc.  They could then use this data to produce an interesting PR piece about the most popular words to adopt and those in need of some tlc.
I hope I-Can can put some of these ideas into practice in the future and that the scheme raises lots of funds for their excellent work.

What i've been reading (and debating) this week

I love a good debate and this week has provided lots of interesting reading.

I've already discussed the debate about high performance v high impact over at the Tactical Philanthropy blog and even more good content has been added in the last couple of days.

The other big debate centred on direct mail and social media.  It started on the Agitator blog, but it continued in Mal Warwick's newsletter and on the Frog Loop blog. 

Good stuff.

Elsewhere, I also enjoyed reading the following:

The use of 'urgency' in fundraising

Keeping donors engaged in tough times

Emotional v rational messaging in nonprofit communications

What type of images generate the most money?

How to design a flat organisation and reduce hierarchy.