Tuesday 19 April 2011

Bad social media

A gripping, occasionally chilling assessment of the pros and cons of social media activism. Does the Internet in society empower or censor citizens?

Kind of makes you think twice about 'Liking' or 'RTing' something, huh?

Monday 31 January 2011

The most advanced 360 degree video in the world

An amazing innovation
Several cameras are fitted under a helicopter, recording high quality video in every direction.

They capture the view as the chopper swoops into ravines, skims along river beds and arches over mountain peaks. The serenity of wilderness lakes and the drama of ancient glaciers are burnt to hard drive in astonishing detail, from a perspective few people will enjoy for themselves.

(Btw, I know data isn't really 'burnt' to hard drive!)

The real innovation, however, is in harnessing the latest computer processing power to knit millions of frames of video together. The result is the ability to create a seamless view - up and down, side to side and forward and back.

The pilots could simply have posted a video of the view looking forwards from the cockpit as the helicopter navigated this stunning landscape. But instead this lets you relive the experience...

...as if you had been in the cockpit.

As if you had been there, looking around as they flew.

Try it for yourself!

Click 'play', view full screen and then click and hold the screen. If you move to the left it is as if your head is turning to the left. Look down as you soar over the jagged mountain ridge! Look back as you speed over cobalt blue cracks in the glacier.

Why do I like this?
Possibly because it combines many of my favourite things, including aviation (as you now know, from a recent post!), mountains, glaciers, forests, rivers, photography - well, video - and the innovative use of cutting edge technology.

However, I think the lesson about innovation is not that you always need to invent new things - but that you can seek to use others' inventions creatively.

What could 360 degree video do for your fundraising or marketing?
You cannot let (most) supporters wander round a lab, visit an agriculture project in the Andes, walk through a deprived inner city estate or dive on an endangered reef.

Photos simply cannot impress upon a donor what "the volcano has destroyed this town" means. I tried to capture a sense of it when I had the privilege of visiting Goma one week after the 2002 eruption to witness emergency relief by local NGOs ... but mere images can't convey the devastation...

I can think of a few charities that are already pushing in this direction. Take charity:water ('give one person clean water for $20'), for example, which broke new ground when it tweeted links to live videos of bore holes breaking into aquifers, bringing water to a village for the first time. Or PDSA, which created a virtual tour of an animal hospital to show what a donor's money could buy.

But photos - and even someone else's videos - are just so two-dimensional.

The donor is not there.

At last the technology is advancing, increasingly rapidly, to make it possible to put them at the centre of your work.

How do you approach innovation? And how do you harness other people's innovation, such as this?

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Know what you're about

In a classic piece of 'you'd-be-forgiven-for-thinking-this-is-bad-timing', I got back into running last year, just as the snow was starting!

Ignoring the cold weather, I'm getting into running in a more serious way than I have before. This is partly by following a really strict training schedule, prescribing exactly how I run, for how long and on which days. But it is also by monitoring heart rate and distance.

Push yourself too hard and you burn out - the reason so many New Years resolutions fizzle out.

Push yourself just enough and your body does amazing things! Like getting in better shape gradually.

And so, in my thirst for heart rate and distance data, I entered the market for a heart rate monitor.

I was really impressed by Polar's reputation and marketing. Including this video that does nothing more than explain the product and position Polar as the expert in the field.

Polar's strapline - listen to your body - shows how single-minded they are in aiming at this niche market. And it is clear that they know what they're about.

It made me reflect: how single-minded am I on what I'm about - and how single-minded is my organisation in what we're about in the minds of our audience? What about you?

Anyway, as it happens, and for all Polar's effort, I went for a Garmin! Which at the very least tells you that your consumer (or supporter for that matter) is hard to win over.

Monday 3 January 2011


As some friends and colleagues know, I'm something of an aviation 'enthusiast'.

Er, to the point where on a trip to Zimbabwe last summer I flew a Boeing 747 on my laptop flight simulator into Johannesburg while the real Boeing 747 I was in flew into Johannesburg (arousing slight alarm in a fellow passenger sat nearby)...

Anyway, ask me sometime and I'll bore you with industry trends, technological advances and simply why flying is so amazing.

The point of this post, to kick off 2011, is to sound an aviation-inspired cautionary note: don't let your pride get in the way of your judgement.

I was saddened to read of the accident on 28 July last year in which a C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane of the US Air Force crashed during a practice flight for an air show.

A report published in December concluded that the pilot pushed the boundaries of safe flying just too far - apparently disregarding the safety of the three crew flying with him.

The following video shows the flight from take off until a few moments before impact.

The plane ascends very steeply, much slower than the USAF's stated minimum speed. It levels off at only half the required altitude. It banks to the left at 60 degrees (the USAF's maximum is 45) and then to the right at the same angle.

During this final manoeuvre the speed had dropped significantly below the stall speed (when the wings can no longer keep the plane in the air), triggering audible warnings in the cockpit. The pilot routinely ignored these warnings and told others to do the same, saying they were inaccurate. But this stall was serious and the co-pilot warned him three times about the loss of control.

For some reason he left it too late to try to correct the mistake.

It was not even as if this was without precedent. This video shows a B-52 bomber crashing in 1994 in a similar way while practicing for an air show. The pilot broke similar safety regulations and he also died with three crew members.

So what are the lessons for you?
First, put yourself in the place of the pilots. Pushing boundaries is very important in any field if you are to outperform your competitors. But not listening to your own judgement - or the judgement of others - on when to stop is foolish.

Was it pride that led to these crashes? Maybe. "I'm not going to listen to them; what do they know? I'll show them..."

The lesson is clear.

But now put yourself in the place of these pilots' leaders. In both crashes the blame was placed equally on pilot error and on the USAF culture that allowed such disregard for regulations, just because the pilots in question were outstanding.

There is surely some echo here of what happened in the risk-taking culture of the financial markets pre-recession.

The lesson is less obvious here but one practical example comes to mind because I dealt with this just before Christmas. If you manage a team, do you take responsibility for ensuring that everyone with laptops has passwords enabled? No? What would happen, therefore, if one of them lost their laptop and the data on it was stolen?

If you're the pilot
The strongest lesson, however, must be for each of us in our own roles.

I am ultimately responsible for performing the job I have been given. How aware am I of my pride? How well do I listen to my own judgement or that of others?

As we head into an even more challenging economic environment in the UK, with austerity measures beginning to bite, can you balance prudence with ambition? Especially if - as in our case - you have bucked the trend of previous years?

Monday 12 April 2010


I love Skype.

From video conference calls to one-line greetings, it offers great flexibility in keeping in touch.

This morning a friend Skyped the following one-line question...

"Tell me why I would or wouldn't spend some money on door-to-door"

I had just a couple of minutes so I fired off a quick reply. Between new job, new baby and new house, my blogging capacity is still limited so I thought I'd share it with you here - as I wrote it...

"Would: what you see is what you get (to use a photography analogy), i.e. you get the donors you pay for, guaranteed. And the lapse rates are well understood so you can play with Excel to good effect to produce a forecast.

Wouldn't: it has gone to the dogs, i.e. D2D used to be a route to good quality, low attrition donors, a) because it was new and b) because some providers still used a two-stage approach where a leaflet would be left so the donor could take time to make the decision. That yielded lower volume but very high quality.

So, would I or wouldn't I? D2D is now in F2F territory with regards to attrition and I don't think I could justify the low ROI. That said of course, if other acquisition channels aren't working, the pay-by-results nature of D2D may push the swingometer back."

Do you agree?

What would you have said?

Friday 19 February 2010

Self awareness


I was beginning to wonder if I would ever blog again.

Job: new, very stretching growth targets, new strategy to develop.

House: sold old house, found and bought new one, moving end March.

Baby: due, well, about now. In fact, was that my phone?

Given time contraints, I would like to introduce a new style of blog here: the video blog.

Episode 1: self awareness. You may have heard me mention this, and I may even have picked you up on it if I've seen you not being self-aware.

It is perhaps the most important character trait to develop, in enabling you to reach your full potential.

Watch the video, smile, and please add comments below.

By the way, the blog post I refer to in the video is here.

Further posts are brewing so as baby, job and house settle down a little, I shall return!

Thursday 19 November 2009

Poacher, gamekeeper, poacher

This week I leave Bluefrog, after two and a half years agency side, to return client side. I had worked in an agency before, prior to moving into the charity sector, but at a more junior level than Client Services Director.

So what has my side-swapping taught me?

Perhaps chiefly that there are misconceptions and prejudices – on both sides – that can get in the way of working constructively. Similarly, the two sides can misunderstand one another, meaning there are times when neither meets the other’s needs – for information or due process for example.

In the months ahead, as my perspective shifts as Director of Fundraising, I will no doubt gain further insights. In the meantime, and for what they are worth, here are my Top3 recommendations for clients and agencies on how to get the best from your relationship with the other.


1. Brief well
This is the single most important piece of advice. Briefing well will have the biggest impact on how effectively the agency delivers.

As clich├ęd as this sounds, you get out what you put in. Work hard, do lots of research, find out about the audience, give context, define the proposition, be precise on budget.

Less is not more with briefs, even where it is 'just another appeal mailing'.

Mark shares more thoughts on brief writing here.

2. Don’t buy on price
Being price conscious is one thing. We're not out of the recession yet, after all.

But it has saddened me to have witnessed several examples of charities buying purely on price. They turned down Bluefrog's solution, despite the proven route to more net income that it offered, and bought something cheaper ... only to return months later and admit that rather than saving five grand, they wasted the entire budget.

Buy on value. Push your agency to prove the results on which their recommendation is based and keep your eye on net income. A great example of this is Bluefrog's high value donor segmentation, which sees mid and high value donors selected, talked to and asked differently. It costs more but net income is typically 50% higher.

You may need to persuade someone to let you spend a bit more but hey, you're fundraisers – you're supposed to be able to persuade.

More on price below...

3. Be respectful
In this post I suggested that each time you open your mouth, write an email or fire off a text, you can choose to communicate in a way that will open the other person up and result in a constructive conversation.

And it seems clear to me that where the other person is someone you're relying on to deliver a complex project with a strict deadline, this is even more important.

And so again, I have been saddened to see not infrequent examples of account team members being on the receiving end of really nasty phone calls or – more often – emails.

Your agency is not your punchbag.

I am a marketer when all's said and done, so unashamedly I offer the Four Ps of respecting your agency:
  • People. Don't stop at being nice. Be considerate too. Don't just expect people in the agency to work late, even if they regularly do; they're often paid no more than you and they would actually like to leave on time too.
  • Processes. Making last minute changes to creative not only shows poor project management, it puts an agency in a difficult position where it will have to work more than the allocated hours for a job and then face the unpleasant task of trying to charge you for some of that time.
  • (A)ppreciate (sorry). I witnessed an occasion just last week where a client sent a plant to a Senior Account Manager to say thank you for working late to organise an urgent print run. So out of the ordinary was this gesture, that she will happily go an extra mile in future. That client's work is now always a priority.
  • Promote. Agencies depend on word of mouth marketing. Do not be ashamed of mentioning that a piece of work was created with help from an agency. A client of ours was recently interviewed on a programme of work that we had helped develop the strategy for. Some of our ideas were being implemented with great success and yet there was not even a passing mention of our involvement.
The classic way to show disrespect for an agency – especially with digital work – is to haggle on price. This video illustrates an all too familiar experience.


1. Clients have internal issues
Don’t underestimate or dismiss the challenges that many clients face internally.

I have worked in some truly stone age organisations, with internal bureaucracy that would make the government look like a start up on Red Bull. You need to find ways to help your client, not put them under more pressure.

Where internal politics or sign-off procedures threaten to derail your schedule or hamper your quest for a good case study, meet face to face with your client and explain the impact, and then work out a solution together.

2. Sell good stuff
Only recommend what will work, not just what will sell.

I seem to have been lucky with my agencies over the years. I have taken for granted that (most of the time) they have recommended the right thing. But in working at Bluefrog I have seen several examples of shocking practice from other agencies, who have presented slick creative that in direct response terms was always going to be as much use as a chocolate fireguard.

Not sure why, but inserts seem to be a favourite. Agency: "you should do inserts. Look, here's a nice design". Client: "ooh yes, I agree, how nicely designed". But on what basis does the agency think this will give the best return on investment?

Selling duds is short-sighted, as it damages all agencies' credibility in the eyes of clients.

3. Challenge inexperience
Don’t hesitate in going to senior client staff when big decisions are being messed up by amateur, inexperienced – if well meaning – juniors. [gasp]

I'm sticking my neck out here.

Slightly embarrassed, I have had to concede that charity marketing teams are rather too often not staffed by skilled marketers. Heads of department seem to accept on-the-job learning, where junior staff are allowed to direct agencies and inevitably produce weak work as a result. Imagine being in a plane when the captain announces, "afternoon, this is your captain; we're coming in to land shortly and I'm going to sit with you while a trainee pilot takes over - she's only read about landing a plane and is still getting to grips with the controls but we should be alright in the end."

Although a poor advertising campaign does not threaten life immediately, many charities who deal with life and death issues would have been able to save more lives if only the campaign had worked better. And there is an obligation to use donated funds to the best possible effect.

And so, be ready to challenge clients. I only stick my neck out like this is because I have seen enough examples of even large national charities running campaigns in the way I have described above.

Do these factors resonate for you – whichever side of the fence you are on? Please add to them, agree or disagree by leaving a comment.

These final weeks in this role have been incredibly busy so I have not written as in-depth a post as I would have liked. Do fill in some of the gaps.

Finally, may I say very publicly how much I have enjoyed the madness, intensity, achievements, constant learning curve, many successes, fun and privilege of working with my client services and legacies teams, Mark and the other Frogs, playing a part in helping such fantastic organisations do industry-leading fundraising.

Friday 25 September 2009

WWF Med shows how to use the media

I'm a bit proud of my sister for this.

Co-ordinating a week of 14-hour days with different media crews from around the world is impressive enough.

But when each day involved taking a different team out into the Mediterranean on a WWF yacht to track and tag blue fin tuna, where each trip resulted in news coverage like this from Channel 4, it's very special.

Click here to read more about WWF's work to protect this amazing, endangered creature - a 4-metre warm blooded fish that swims at up to 60 miles an hour.

Tuesday 15 September 2009

Charities - how and why to SEO Twitter

Here's a brief post from search specialist Addam Hassan that outlines the importance of, and some of the ways to improve, the SEO (search engine optimisation) of your Twitter account.

Discussing the growth in Twitter, Addam points to recent UK data from Nielsen NetRankings, showing that in July 2009 28% of referring traffic to Twitter came from search.

The significance of this is put into context by a comment on the post: "recent Google behaviour also suggests that the algorithm is now ranking Twitter much higher than previously and so brands' Twitter accounts should be considered as another Web channel - which require the same amount of optimisation and ‘feeding’ in terms of driving traffic".

Nonprofit search terms
So how does the charity sector fare in a simple test?

The following table shows the position on the search engine results page (SERP) when the search terms were entered into Google; a simplistic test but an interesting reflection of the current prominence of Twitter. I only looked at the first ten pages of search results, so a blank result shows that no reference to Twitter appeared in the first ten pages.

If you know of any other studies like this, let me know by adding a comment!

Four steps to SEO your Twitter
Clearly, 140 characters doesn't leave a great deal of scope for complex SEO. However, there are four areas to pay attention to, and doing so should noticeably boost your results.

  1. Twitter full name and Twitter user name. The full name (on my account that is 'Matt Parkes') should be clear - as close to you or your brand name as possible. The user name (on my account that is 'parkeslife') should ideally match it as closely as possible. For example, Save the Children's full name is clear but their user name is 'stcuk', which is good for tweeting - it leaves 134 characters out of 140 left in tweets where it is mentioned - but is not as clear and would interfere with search ranking. In contrast, Dogs Trust's account works very well.
  2. Bio. Easy to overlook or trivialise, this little paragraph will be used by search engines in the same way as a meta description, affecting search results and also appearing in the search engine results page (SERP) description. The SERP description is important because it will be read by people as they glance through search results. From this perspective the bio used by Barnardo's - 'We Believe in Children - Do You?' - is somewhat ambiguous; what would someone see if they click through to that Twitter account? What keywords do you need to include in your bio?
  3. Tweet content. Very simply, you need to be conscious of how frequently you use keywords - the more frequently they are used the more relevant that search engines will think your Twitter stream is. Feature keywords in the first few words of each tweet wherever possible - or at least regularly. This will ensure that search engines see individual tweets as more relevant than if the words appear later in the text. The example below from Adopt a Word's tweets illustrates this point, where a Google search on 'adopt a word' displayed this tweet (albeit a few search pages down).
  4. Get linked to and mentioned. In a similar way to traditional SEO, you should make every effort to get mentioned on Twitter. RTs - retweets - work in a similar way to 'fwd' in email, except they embed a link to your Twitter account by featuring your user name preceded by the '@' symbol, e.g. '@parkeslife'. Search engines rank sites - and by extension Twitter accounts and tweets - based on many factors, one of which is the number of links back to them. This is why charities in particular need to see Twitter as a space where frequent interaction occurs - not as a platform from which to emit a monologue.

Do you have anything to add? I am in no way a search expert, so again, please add a comment.

Why bother?
A caveat to this post would be that Twitter's prominence in search results is only beginning to change now. Many of the searches above - and several others I tried - didn't yield any reference to Twitter, let alone individual tweets. It would therefore be easy to dismiss this issue but I think that to do so would be short sighted.

Tweeting is unlikely to be your primary communication channel with supporters, and simply ensuring that your website indexes highly is enough, surely? Not really.

You may not regard Twitter as a priority but (increasingly) your competitors might, especially unforeseen competitors such as charity:water, and their tweets could index very highly. In natural search results this will begin to erode the traffic that would otherwise have clicked straight through to you.

As you will understand if you have read any of Bluefrog's blogs, engagement is the most powerful force in fundraising, and it is the watchword of Twitter. In contrast, chances are that your website is a relatively static and flat environment - somewhere donors or campaigners visit only to download information or possibly to donate.

Twitter is - or at least has the potential to be - an interactive space where corporate gloss can be replaced by a human stream of consciousness. It has the potential to engage your supporters in an interactive relationship, giving you access to direct and immediate feedback.

Indeed, before this post ends, I should say that I find it completely baffling that so many charities - especially the big names (e.g. UNICEF UK) - do not follow all the tweeps who follow them. The reasons may not be as negative as those outlined by Seth Godin in this post, where he says the 'non' in nonprofit is significant because it reflects a general attitude to doing new things, but my guess is that "it'd be too time consuming to follow them all" has been said more than once.

Tuesday 8 September 2009

Daylight robbery

I'm aware that I risk mixing metaphors by using the image of the vulture after the heading above, but both are apt. You decide which works best.

I am frequently surprised by stories of publishing companies selling advertising space in various journals and magazines with the promise of great returns.

The sales tactic will be familiar to many readers.

"We have just had a cancellation, this is well below rate card, etc..."

Sadly, many fundraisers seem too soft to say no - or too inexperienced to ask for evidence that these ads work. And the publishers exploit their gentle nature mercilessly. I know of one small to medium sized charity that was spending £80,000 a year on advertising in solicitors' journals - as they are somewhat ambitiously called - without anything to show for it.

One of our clients surprised us a couple of years ago, when he announced, "oh, but you're wrong ... we did get a response from a solicitor's journal; we put a different 'room number' in the registered address shown in each ad so we could track any response". Astonished, we asked for more detail. "Well, in fact," he continued, "it was just on the envelope from the solicitor - the will inside featured an entirely different address."

We have given up hope of ever seeing evidence that these ads work.

Crucially, we can think of many better ways for a legacy department to spend even £500 - never mind £80,000.

But why my sudden catharsis?

Well I received an email today from one of the publishers in question, and I have reproduced a slightly edited version below to show that the [insert animal shown in photograph above] even try their [insert blog title] with agencies:

"I know that you are very busy this week, but I wanted to contact you as I have a last minute position available in the XXXX publication and as we spoke previously, I wanted to offer it to you first.

I spoke to your colleague XXXX who suggested that I contact you via email first.

The campaign has actually closed for this year, but one of my Fundraising clients phoned this morning and pulled out on a full page, as they are undergoing a re-brand and are unable to provide copy for me in time, really leaving me in the lurch and in a lot of trouble with Editorial.
[I laughed out loud at that bit]

I know this year is going to be so important for fundraising and I have come to you at the very last minute, so that is why I are
[sic] offering you this final last minute deal for a full page within the XXXX for the coming year.

We can offer you a full page, colour, glossy advert space within our limited preliminary section for £x for the coming year, and this is well below the rate card price of £y.

I can offer this to you at this price as it is a last minute deal and because I want to fill the space with a company that can provide a valuable and important service for charities. This means that you will be getting the same, full exposure as your competitors within the XXXX, but you would be paying a fraction of the cost.

I know you have been incredibly busy this week, but I am so confident with the XXXX publication, we have actually grown 14% in the last year, which really speaks for itself.

As I mentioned earlier, we are ready to sign off on the publication, so this would be your last opportunity to be a part of XXXX.

We can give you an extension on the copy deadline up until the 14th, so that you can sign the copy off when you are in the office.

I will call you back tomorrow to discuss this further."

Clearly publishers need to earn a living too, but my objection is the way in which, without exception, they are happy to take money from charities without being able to offer any guarantee of likely returns.

Fundraisers - take a stand against this!

Friday 19 June 2009

Attrition – ignored for a decade?

This graph illustrates Adrian Sargeant’s analysis of donor retention in the cash-giving files of the UK’s top ten fundraising charities in 1998.

Over the past decade it has become the most important graph in Bluefrog.

Published widely in 1999 and 2000, we must have quoted it 2,000 times.

It drives our approach to fundraising. We have invested hundreds of thousands over the years in seeking to understand it.

Why do half of all new donors never give again after year one?

And why, after five years, are we left with only 8% continuing to give?

When, in 2002, Ken Burnett published a new edition of Relationship Fundraising, it must in part have been because of his dismay at seeing these statistics, and what they reflected – that his 1992 edition of Relationship Fundraising was being ignored.

We even had a mini recession in 2001-2002, when the dot-com popped, to jolt us into action.

But it took Adrian himself to underscore the significance of these findings in 2004, in Building Donor Loyalty, co-authored by Elaine Jay. The graph above is Figure 1.1 in the book.

He comments on the shift among charities towards recruiting committed givers as a reaction to the challenges with cash donors, with committed givers yielding lower attrition rates – typically 20% at the time.

“Although that is a dramatic improvement,” he said, “it is still far from ideal. Imagine losing 20% of your friends each year!”

Worst case scenario realised
However, five more years have slipped by and we find ourselves in more difficult times.

I wonder whether Ken or Adrian envisaged this first decade of the 21st century ending with attrition levels among committed givers reaching 70% in year one.

But this is precisely the picture our analysis has uncovered. The following year-one attrition levels are for face-to-face recruitment:
  • Medical Research 64%
  • Overseas Development 65%
  • Mental Health 62%
  • Homelessness 64%
  • Elderly 70%
  • International Medical Research 64%
  • Children’s Health 64%

And this is not isolated to street recruitment. Average attrition levels for all types of regular givers were revealed by Rapidata in its analysis of Direct Debit cancellations in January:

However, Rapidata’s analysis, revealing soaring cancellation rates, can in some ways be misleading, implying that attrition has been problematic only in the last year. But take a closer look: before the credit crunch and recession, cancellation rates fluctuated around the 3.5% per month mark. In other words, we appear to have been content to be recruiting donors knowing that four out of ten of these supposedly ‘committed givers’ would turn their back on us within a year.

It is almost too late to wake up to what is happening. But it is imperative for the sector that we do.

We have ignored the fundraising prophets of doom (namely, Adrian and Ken).

As Adrian himself puts it, in his foreword to our lapsing research paper (PDF), “we continue to waste large sums of money on unnecessary acquisition and neglect the fact that were we to achieve even minute increases in donor retention the impact on performance would be profound.”

“Picking an easy number to illustrate,” he continues, “I estimated back in 2004 that a 10% increase in retention could lead to a whopping 200% increase in the lifetime value of the fundraising donorbase.”

Turning research into action
Bluefrog’s research into lapsers is one of the largest studies into the psychology of lapsing ever conducted. Based on its findings we have created a multi-step programme for donor retention from the point of recruitment. Called Protect the Donor, it is reproduced here in summary:
  • Start a relationship in the first place
  • Manage your donors’ expectations
  • Communicate in a way that pulls, not pushes
  • Think about the four donor needs
  • Provide choice
  • Know your donors. Look, listen and remember
  • Part as friends

For me, this boils down to one overarching recommendation: ensure that donors are engaged in the relationship.

Treat me like a real person
At the risk of this becoming a Sargeant eulogy, I think it is worth quoting him again – albeit alongside his co-author, Elaine Jay – in their 2005 research, Redefining Commitment.

They identified two different types of commitment. Passive commitment exists where a donor feels no strong desire for the relationship with an organisation to continue and has no sense of ‘bond’ to the organisation. Intertia is all that maintains the relationship. And the weakness of this paper-thin connection is now being revealed, as fundraising megaliths such as the NSPCC, report spiralling cancellations by their £2-a-month Direct Debit cohorts.

Adrian and Elaine define active commitment, by contrast, as ‘the genuine desire on the part of a donor to maintain a favoured relationship’. Child sponsorship is just one example of where this commitment can be seen – and our own work with ActionAid over the past decade reflects what others who run these schemes report, i.e. single figure attrition rates.

The challenge, then, is to nurture that desire and it is here that I turn to Gary Larson for inspiration, and his satirical cartoon series, The Far Side.

The point being that we need to go back to basics and put the donor first in our thinking, for that is what is important to her:
  • Engage her by using her name, often, e.g. on the cover of a report you’re enclosing with a request for money
  • Engage her by showing her you remember things about her, e.g. the month and year she started supporting you
  • Engage her by giving her something to do alongside donating, e.g. writing a card to someone who benefits from your work
  • Engage her by showing her you respect her, e.g. by asking her what she’d like to hear about
  • Engage her by connecting her to your work, e.g. individual stories of the difference you are making – think of the success of Charity:Water and KIVA
  • Engage her by “delivering on your promise” to her, as Karen Osborne puts it, and telling her how you used her money

Before the recession, this sort of thinking was called ‘stewardship’. That phrase is outdated. This is now called ‘a formula for survival’.

Tuesday 9 June 2009

Harnessing talent

The past few weeks have been even busier than usual, and blogging has been pushed into the background I'm afraid.

To avoid another day passing with no posts, I thought I'd share this email, which I received today, from a former team member - announcing some great news.

It struck me how important it is to spot and then harness talent, to avoid it being wasted. This person was in a role that didn't give any outlet for his creativity. I changed that, moving him into a donor retention marketing role, and he has subsequently shone in a similar position.

I'm glad I had the chance to manage him, and I'm sure he'll go onto great things. Anyone who writes emails like this to his mates will go far...

(I've anonymised it with XXXXs.)

Subject: Ah, what the hell...


Sometimes in life you've got to roll the dice. You've got to defy logic and all the evidence before your eyes, and go with your good old-fashioned gut instinct. You know what it's like. You're not sure why you're doing something, but you do it anyway. Think Kevin Costner in "Field of Dreams". If you build it, they will come… And 99% of the time you're right. At least that's what I've found.

Of course there are exceptions:

- When I hired XXXX
- When I hired XXXX
- When I said to my old boss "he's boring, but you can probably trust him" when she asked me about a potential new recruit. His name was XXXX. [he ended up moonlighting]
- When I stole booze from XXXX's house after her surprise birthday party
- When XXXX, XXXX and I decided to have a quick lunchtime pint in Brighton (after meeting a supplier) and 9 hours later I found myself on a train platform in East Croydon, smelling of sambuca
- When I started spread-betting (at the desk) on the Ashes on the first day of that really busy period in 2005

.. Ok maybe it's nearer 98% of the time I get it right.

Anyway, there I am on my XX birthday last week. I'm looking at my finances and everything's screaming bankruptcy:

Massive mortgage
Spiralling childcare costs
Enormous debt repayments

.. And I'm thinking to myself "XXXX, you're in the stickiest situation since XXXX bought a new dress and asked if it suited her.." There's no easy way out. Except maybe, just maybe there is. What's the one thing that might overshadow your financial meltdown? What's the one thing that doesn't cost much, is stress-free and doesn't have any long-term consequences…?

A wedding.

You beauty - a wedding. Of course. Hell they don't cost much, there's no stress and you can forget about it the day after.

So last week I proposed to XXXX and she said yes.

And in one swoop, all my problems were solved.

It's a beautiful thing.

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Direct marketing vs. community fundraising


The oldest trick in the book.

There were thirty people in each session, and it worked each time.

“Under six chairs, there are plates with big bars of chocolate on,” I began.

“Could those six people please unwrap the bars and pass the plate to their neighbour.”

Pupils began to dilate as the fresh aroma of quality fairtrade cocoa burst out.

“Could the next person break the bar in half, and half again, and pass the plate on,” I continued.

Pulses quickened as everyone saw and handled the rich texture.

I repeated my commands until each plate was heaped with broken pieces of chocolate.

Breathing was slightly quicker as I made my final request, saying, “now would the last person please pass the plates to me.”

Slowly, to emphasise the decadence that was heaped before me, I emptied each plate to form a single mound of chocolate. The scene must have resembled an ancient fertility rite.


I looked up.

“Thanks very much,” I said, picked up a handful of chunks and stuffed them into my mouth. I chewed, and shovelled more chunks down the hatch.

Colour drained from faces. Small gasps escaped tightening lips. And something akin to the Rage virus from 28 Days Later flashed into hard, betrayed eyes.

I swallowed.

Deathly silence.

But my smile brought warmth back into the room, and people laughed, more because of the relief in realising that they had been tricked, than at any humour.

“Feels awful, huh?” I said. “You do all the work and then I get all the fruits of your labour.”

And in one fell swoop, I acknowledged their feelings, and showed that I understood their frustration.

My conference session on ‘direct marketing and the regional fundraising teams’ was off to a good start. I handed the plate round for a well-earned cocoa fix.

Integration! Inte-what?
ChildLine, not unlike many charities around the world, faced a dilemma. Fundraising had grown from a regional, community fundraising model, and eventually incorporated a centralised, direct marketing function.

I was head of the latter and was, therefore, evil personified.

‘Silo culture’ is a term that pretty well sums up the mess we were in. The regional teams mistrusted the head office teams, and vice versa.

After all, it was the regional (and by ‘regional’ I mean ‘regional and national’, for readers in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland) teams who worked at the coalface. They worked evenings and weekends, organised events and built relationships with supporters … only for DM (read ‘unnecessary evil’) to send out a mailing to the furthest reaches of the land, and bleed all the money back to the centre.

It made you sick just thinking about them, in their swanky London office, with their ‘segmentation’ and ‘marketing agency’ talk.

And it was in these stark tones that I painted a picture of how dysfunctional our interdepartmental relationships were.

Satiated, but slightly uneasy, silence.

Someone licked the crumbs from a plate in the back row.

With blood sugar rising, however, I knew I had them on side, and I began to tackle some more tricky issues. Like the fact that many of them held their own databases of supporters, and even mailed their own appeals in an attempt to boost local income.

The problems we faced can be summarised as follows:
  • Community Fundraising mistrusted Direct Marketing because they refused to allow them access to their database, refused to discuss collaboration and sent appeals into their regions with no consultation on timing.
  • Direct Marketing mistrusted Community Fundraising because they just wanted access to the database, tried to fill donor communications with news of local events and sent their own mailings to separately held but poorly managed databases of supporters.

If the regions vs. head office dynamic was bad, the community fundraising vs. direct marketing effect was terrible.

I illustrated this dynamic with the following diagram:

Does this resonate with your own experience?

Do add a comment if it does.

The thing I firmly believed, and still do, is that it does not have to be this way.

And the primary reason it can, and must, work differently is that the donor does not see the internal silos that get in the way of integration and collaboration.

If you have children, and if you have read the books about farms, you will know that silos are not military bunkers; the word was only used in that context from 1958 in fact. Silos are tall steel containers (originally pits underground) where forage – grass and other plants from fields – is stored as a winter feed for animals.

Over time, forage in a silo slowly ferments and becomes sour.

And doesn’t that depict just what happens when departments stop talking to each other and retreat into their own small world?

For our part, I’m pleased to say that in ChildLine we did break down the silos.

We found ways of working together, and our fundraising grew.

It began with dialogue. Surprising how hard that can be to sit down to talk. But we did, and we agreed to be open.

Two examples of the successes we achieved stick in my mind.

We agreed that the regional teams could send an invitation for local events, e.g. carol concerts, to a selection of the central database from their local area.

Uptake was good, and just being invited seemed to have an impact – analysis showed an uplift in subsequent giving from those who had been invited.

The second example is from the low profile worlds of payroll giving and legacies. The Direct Marketing team worked with the teams in Scotland and Northern Ireland as they used local influence to join consortia of charities that promoted each type of fundraising.

In the old world, this would have been inconceivable, as the question “but where would the money go?” would have torpedoed any attempt even to discuss it.

However, we did reach agreement on how the income would be reported.

And income ballooned.

Pitfalls should not be obstacles
Things can go wrong, when an attempt at integration is made. For example, if access to the database is unrestricted, supporters’ needs are often forgotten. I think of one organisation we work with, who were alerted to a problem when a donor contacted the chief exec to ask why he had received more than 50 pieces of mail and email, without counting telephone calls, just because he was a direct-giving donor, community fundraising volunteer and campaigner.

But the reason for my conviction that this is the way forward is that in my experience, an organisation’s fundraising benefits. At ChildLine, now part of the NSPCC by the way, the income curve became steeper as this collaboration took effect.

What silos do you need to take down? And how can you replicate this integration, so that you too see the following vision that I set out in those conference sessions become reality?

Monday 11 May 2009

Events fundraising at its best

I wrote an opinion piece for Third Sector last week, about a great example of events fundraising in Scotland.

In case you didn’t read about it, I thought I’d share it with you here.

In the summer of 2008, Scope and Capability Scotland joined forces to run the ‘Beyond Boundaries: Ben Nevis Challenge’.

The aim was to raise awareness of their work whilst forging new corporate partnerships.

TV presenter Ken Hames, who in the BBC’s Beyond Boundaries programme led groups of disabled people on treks around the world, approached Scope to suggest a race between teams of able-bodied people led by wheelchair users.

Hames offered to recruit the teams at his motivational training courses.

With a modest budget of £20,000, the organisers not only had to promote the event and arrange for professional marshals to be stationed at points along the route, they also had to commission special wheelchairs for the team leaders.

Eight teams of seven people set off at 15-minute intervals, starting at 6am. Each team aimed to raise £10,000, to be split between Scope and Capability. Two failed to complete the race, but still reached their target, with the event generating net income of £60,000.

Extensive print, radio and TV coverage was secured and participants posted videos on YouTube, including the following:

This is surely events fundraising at its best – partnership between charities, hard work behind the scenes, celebrity involvement and endorsement, several teams, corporate partnership and a tough challenge. But most of all, this was a great idea; and it is this spirit of innovation that drives all good fundraising.

Responding to Ken Hames’ suggestion and harnessing his enthusiasm as they did, the organising team were on the right track from the start. Getting his involvement in recruiting teams was inspired.

However, the success – and that pretty well sums up £60k net income – was only possible because of the fundraising teams’ willingness and ability to work collaboratively. Such collaboration is rare, but the public loves to see it and both organisations will have been seen in a positive light as a result.

The media attention ensured multiple objectives were met: income was boosted, awareness was raised and wider staff morale must have been lifted. And most importantly, by involving wheelchair users in the event, its overall value would have been immense – everyone involved on the day, and people who read or heard about it, will have been given a lasting impression of how able people with disabilities are.

Events teams at Scope and Capability Scotland – you deserve a raise!

Friday 8 May 2009

Blender shows how to use cheap viral video

The world of social media can seem bewildering.

From social networks such as Facebook and video sharing sites such as YouTube, right the way through to recommendation sites such as Digg and even the humble ‘rate this’ function found on any online shop, many marketers don’t know where to begin.

About 18 months ago, a pair of senior analysts at Forrester Research stepped in to the rescue. Their definitive Groundswell sets out how marketers can exploit these new opportunities. It includes, perhaps most importantly, a model for understanding your target audience and how to engage them in social technologies, by understanding their ‘Social Technographics Profile’.

Groundswell is especially useful because it enables you to keep apace with the ever-changing nature of these media: first, by setting out how to respond to these changes in the book, and second, by publishing updates and new findings on the blog.

Online video: why waste money on TV?

There are various case studies in the book, but I would like to focus on one that superbly illustrates how a little innovative thinking can give a huge return.

Blendtec is a manufacturer of expensive kitchen blenders. With dipping sales, they needed to find a way to stand out. One afternoon, their marketing director saw a pile of sawdust in the testing area – the result of a test to show that the blender was so strong it could blend a piece of timber – and realised people would like to see that for themselves.

He filmed his CEO blending various objects and posted the clips on YouTube. Viewers’ imagination was captured and, aided by a post on Digg, traffic soared. They started a blog, engaging with customers and fans, and people started to suggest increasingly bizarre items to blend. The clips have been viewed over one hundred million times – by people who chose to see them – and sales have spiralled.

The following clip is my favourite. The iPhone – will it blend?!

How charities can do the same
The following clips are both TV ads for charities. The first is the controversial but very successful ad for Barnardo’s and the second is the potentially more controversial ad for Women’s Aid.

Ofcom have banned the latter from running on TV.

Both portray the same truth: sickening abuse occurs behind closed doors. Both show the physical violence in a graphical way. One is allowed on telly. The other isn’t.

It is probably not possible here to debate the intricacies of the societal sensitivities that drive this. I wonder if we are subconsciously too ashamed to acknowledge that some adults treat some others in this way, simply because their strength is greater – whilst abuse of children is less surprising and therefore considered easier to watch.

In any event, the discomfort that the Barnardo’s ad generated is reflected in the number of complaints to the ASA.

However, both ads work incredibly well because although they show desperate images, they give the viewer an obvious way to respond – get involved, support the charity.

As Mark outlines in this post, the Barnardo's ad has been very successful. The ad has increased awareness of what Barnardo's actually does by 33% and, more importantly, 46% of people who have seen it say they are now more likely to support the charity.

Both ads have been viewed by many people on YouTube. The opportunity for Women’s Aid is to drive more traffic to the ads online, playing on the controversy, with clever use of channels such as Digg and Facebook – advertising on the latter being a relatively cheap way of driving additional traffic.

Big budget. Low budget.
You may have spotted a minor inconsistency in what I have written: both these ads were created by ad agencies, and required sizeable budgets.

However, the power of channels such as YouTube is that they can cost next to nothing. Fundraisers, and at the risk of being controversial I would say none more than community fundraisers, are often incredibly imaginative.

Look at what Blendtec has achieved. Although it uses humour, and doesn't deal with the hard-hitting realities that a charity ad might, charities can nevertheless learn some valuable lessons. What is your equivalent to Will It Blend?