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April 2011

How many donors do you REALLY have?

I've recently stopped writing to around 3000 'donors' and somehow managed to raise more net income from my latest appeal.

Am I a miracle worker? No.  It is just the fact that they weren't really donors in the first place...

It can some times be hard to let go of people on your database and stop writing to them, but you have to do it.

My charity is probably an extreme case, as once you had given to us you were classed as a 'donor' and received every mailing until you told us to stop or (as was usually the case) died. 

The worst example I've found is someone who gave £5.00 in 1995 and has since received 73 mailings without giving again.  Mark eloquently explains the problems with this approach in his 'Tragedy of the Commons' post.

Using the excuse that they might give again or they could be legacy prospects isn't good enough.  When I did some analysis on these past donors and the response rates then we'd been losing money for years by continually mailing them and would never re-coup that investment.

What I did for the latest appeal is to simply split the file into three segments.

  1. People who had given after 2010
  2. People who gave in 2008 and 2009.
  3. People who had given at least five times, but whose last gift was before 2008.  

I used some extra personalisation to customise the asks, but essentially that was it.

The results?

I spent 33% less.

Net Income was about 20% up.

The first segment responded at 30%, the second at just over 5% and the bottom at 2% (still losing money overall).  I'm convinced we can improve these figures even further in the future by amending the bottom segment and reducing the number and type of mailings to them.

Now, before you get too excited with the 30% response rate read Jeff's post on donor retention.  He describes perfectly the problem we have:

"One of the hallmarks of a dying donor file is amazing retention rates, superb campaign response, and other excellent loyalty measurements. These numbers all get better and better as the file atrophies. When you aren't getting new donors, those who stay with you longest are your elite, the real believers."

So, my next challenge is how to attract new supporters to the charity!


Easter Reading Round-Up

A number of really strong, thought-provoking articles this week to share, which I know I took a lot from.  Where ever you're reading this I hope you have a peaceful and enjoyable Easter.  Thanks for reading...

A couple of in-depth, thought provoking posts

I start off with articles from two of the best fundraising thinkers I know.

Ken Burnett's article on face to face fundraising really made me think and to reconsider some of my views on face to face fundraising.  Are office based fundraisers letting the guys on the street/doors down?

Then Steve Bridger's article '15 conversation starters for rebooting charity' poses some difficult and fascinating questions. What would the answers be for your organisation?

The Agitator on donor retention and acquiring new donors

An excellent series of posts on the always great Agitator blog about donor retention and securing second gifts.  To paraphrase "you guys deserve a raise!"

Donor Retention Survey Results.

New donors... Garbage in, garbage out

Acquiring New Donors - plan B

Acquiring New Donors - plan C

How to retain 70% of donors

The Most Influential in Fundraising List

The launch of the yearly 'Top 50 Most Influential Fundraisers' list provoked a flurry of posts.

Mark challenges people to think about the fundraisers who truly influenced you in the past twelve months. I was very humbled to be included in Mark's list, so thank you!

Kevin takes a different slant and reframes the question in a thought provoking way.

Howard made me laugh with his post on the 'Award for narcissism in philanthropy'.

Anyway, I've vowed not to vote for anyone who pitches to me (you know who you are!) and to follow Mark and Kevin's advice to pick people who have truly influenced me in the last year.

Other articles

Amanda asks if having a customer service department means you're failing?

Mark on the tragedy of the commons.

Aline on how Adopt-a-Word puts the fun in fundraising.

Jeff asks if you are sending too much mail in Fundraising Success Magazine.

Rachel on the volume v value debate.

Lucy asks you to stop caring what the other kids think!

Kenya on brand longevity.

Advice for Good on how to get donors and influence people.

Karen on killing response rates.

Katya's 10 gifts.

Copyblogger on why brevity isn't always good.

Seth on how to fail.

Tom Peters on things beyond your 'to-do' list.

Finally, best wishes and hugs to Lori who bravely shares her story about her recent battle with cancer.

Why the little things matter: three recent examples

I wanted to share a couple of recent examples of why it's so important to go that extra mile for donors.

On the response form of a recent appeal a donor had ticked the 'remove from mailing list' box and put a comment asking why we didn't merge with other charities in the field.

It would've been easy to ignore this comment and simply remove the donor and think nothing more of it. However, I decided to write her a letter thanking her for her past support, confirming the removal from our database and explaining why I thought merging would be a bad idea.

The result: a lovely letter back, which asked me for a regular giving form and a generous annual donation from a donor who didn't want to hear from us again!  It's little moments and notes that like that really give me a buzz in fundraising.

I've also recently done a 90th anniversary appeal and a number of donors wrote on their response forms that they were also going to be 90 this year.

My team suggested getting birthday cards to send with their thank you letter and I sent them off yesterday wishing them well in their 90th year.  Regardless of whether we hear anything back, it was the right thing to do and I am sure it will be appreciated.

Just to show I'm not perfect, I've been regretting a missed opportunity that we had to thank donors for the same appeal.

I had planned to call and say a personal thanks to donors who had given over a certain amount.  However, other things got in the way and the opportunity was lost.  I am sure the thank you calls would have had a better long term impact on our fundraising than the other bits and pieces I was caught up with.

Have you had any recent examples of doing something little that has had a positive impact on your fundraising? I'd love to hear your story.

The price of clarity is the risk of insult

I was annoyed to recently receive a bland piece of direct mail from an unamed charity that is undergoing a rebrand.

Their normal warm and friendly tone approach has been replaced by dull, insipid copy that appears to have been written by committee.

They deal with some serious issues but have done everything in their power not to use the words that describe exactly what they do.  Instead they've decided to use flowery, wishy-washy and vague language instead.

The result: boredom, lack of emotion and a letter that went straight in the bin.

After I had a rant to my girlfriend, I forgot about it until I re-read this quote from Roy H. Williams in his Wizard of Ads series of books:

"The price of clarity is the risk of insult."

Now I'm not advocating that you go out your way to upset people, but if you are going to get a response then you need to write in a way that people can connect to, and engage with, on an emotional level.

This means that every now and again you're going to upset someone.  For example, the subject might be too close to a supporter's personal experience and so brings back bad memories.

However, when this happens there should be a little part of you that is secretly, though slightly ashamed to be, pleased.  It shows that your words have created an emotional impact and that others will also have been moved to think and act.

I always remember a bereavement counsellor I worked with at a hospice.  She used to get really annoyed when people avoided saying 'dead' or 'died'.  She taught me (though others may disagree) that using euphemisms like 'passed away', 'called home'  and 'departed' could prolong the grieving process by allowing people to avoid facing up to their loss.

So next time you are worried that your copy might upset someone take a second and consider whether that is a bad thing?  The wizard suggests that it ain't necessarily so...

Saturday Reading Round-Up

What better way to spend a glorious Saturday (in London at least) than reading some of the articles that have caught my eye recently...

Beautiful World look at some the charity landmarks on Twitter over the last five years.

Why one donor doesn't give to large charities.

Jonathon on using downgrading to increase donations.

Kev rants about small print and mismanaging expectations.

The Agitator wants to fire the top 83 direct response fundraisers!

Alison on looking for the new and not resting on your laurels.

Good stewardship or overkill? Happy Donors love the welcome they get from a charity, but think it might be too much for me...

Marc with a rant on asking!

Aline with some examples from Boden that direct mail fundraisers can learn from.

Renier shares his 10 years experience on 101 Fundraising.

An interesting case study on Kivi's blog about using the right words.

Tom Ahern writes on the Agents of Good blog.

A thought provoking post on Tactical Philanthropy on good intentions v good results.

Nine things to do when your boss is wrong.

Drayton Bird on the importance of studying.

Are you perfect or interesting?

How to make trouble at work (in a good way!)

Tips for charity street collections

1958 G day collection
Ladies collecting in London in 1958*

I spent yesterday morning stood in Victoria train station collecting money.  It's something I've always enjoyed (I know some people hate it) though it's a good few years since I last rattled a tin!

It's not something I've read many blogposts about, yet collections still raise millions every year, so I wanted to share some tips and ideas I've gathered over the years.

1.  Smile and try to make as much eye contact as possible.

2.  Use a bucket (if available) and hold it chest high in front of you.  If you don't have a bucket, try using two collecting tins and hold them as high as is feasible and comfortable.

3.  For some reason, I seem to collect more when I wear a suit and tie rather than casual clothes.

4.  Look for the natural traffic flows in the area you are collecting.  Place yourself near bottle necks, main routes of traffic or where people have their wallets/purses out. For example, near ticket barriers at train stations or as people leave a shop.

5.  Always say thank you, how much you appreciate the donation, have a good day etc. Try to make a positive impact in the few seconds you have.

6.  Make sure you have something in as large writing as possible outlining who you are collecting for.  Yesterday, we tested some A4 signs on our chests with short phrases like 'Help the blind' 'Stop, look, give' 'Every penny counts' 'It's for the blind'.  Anecdotally these seem to work/make a difference, but i'd love to do some scientific testing of what works best!

7. Again, anecdotally older women are still the most likely to give, with men under 30 the least - in fact I didn't get one donation from this age group yesterday, including from my own brother-in-law!

8.  If appropriate you should encourage service users/providers to help.  Nurses always did fantastically when out collecting in uniform when I worked at the hospice.  In fact we had quite an intense debate on whether we should all dress as nurses, though in the end decided it would be a bit unethical!

On average a decent collector in a good spot should collect £30-50 per hour.  The best collectors can collect over £100 per hour, which is a pretty good return.

What tips and experience do you have of street cash collections?  Any favourite methods to boost the total?

*: This photo is from my work archive.  Next week is our 90th annual street collection in the City of London. If anyone can spare an hour to help on the 15 April then do get in touch and I promise to repay the favour!