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 clichéd 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?

Thursday, 30 April 2009

£1 pack ancestor from the 1930s

In a dusty back room of a crumbling, disused Methodist chapel, in a small village near Nottingham, an old bookcase stood against a wall.

Tall and dark, its years seemed to weigh even heavier than the stacks of papers that lined its shelves.

The Victorian chapel, seen here in Google Maps, sat on a tiny plot of land. With no space to park vehicles it proved impossible to sell; its owners eventually realised that for the land to be useful the chapel had to be demolished.

As the contractors moved in, to start the painstaking process of taking the building down – literally brick-by-brick to avoid damaging nearby buildings – they found something unexpected in that undisturbed back room.

Under one corner of the century-old bookcase, a broken leg had been replaced with a stack of what looked like sheets of coloured card.

Only when the heavy brown frame was removed did they realise that a small part of England’s fundraising heritage had been discovered.

A Google search reveals only two mentions of this device, both from the 1930s – one in another village near Nottingham, and the other from a village near Pontypool in Wales. Both relate to fundraising for Methodist chapels.

The Foot of Pennies was a variation on a theme still familiar today. It was a device for collecting coins that could be taken home and used in house-to-house collecting or simply in private, family offerings.

Low value engagement
In 1935, one penny was worth the equivalent of about £0.17p or US$0.25c in today’s currency, meaning the Foot of Pennies would only raise the equivalent of £1.33 or a couple of bucks.

And that’s not much more than the £1 pack of today. (Although of course one penny could probably buy more than £0.17 does now...)

My hypothesis is that although it proved a useful vehicle for raising funds, it was primarily intended to work in a similar way to the £1 pack – by engaging the members of the community and building momentum towards regular, higher value giving.

It strikes me that although it is indeed a foot long, it only contains eight pennies. Why not 12? The mini die-cut envelopes, each with a gummed flap, could have been stapled in two staggered rows of six.

In ‘old money’, twelve pennies made a shilling, which would have seemed a more natural fundraising target.

For the historians among you, 20 shillings made one pound, meaning 240 pennies in a pound – in the Anglo-Saxon years of England in the late 700s, 240 silver penny coins weighed 1 pound (1lb).

Maybe the Methodists of the 1930s were unconcerned with price points and maximising their fundraising targets.

What they did appreciate, though, was clever design. The part-gummed, die-cut, roll-folded coin strip was stapled precisely to allow a row of pennies to be inserted.

And given that in the case of this chapel, and in one of the two examples on Google, the Foot of Pennies was used to raise funds for Sunday schools, the coloured cards and relatively small donations would have worked well to engage a younger audience. (Indeed, I wonder how many of our older donors today remember the Foot of Pennies.)

The wording is also worth a closer look: “Kindly help to fill this in” and “Every little helps”. The former is polite and direct, whilst the latter helps overcome any barriers that the small donation amount may raise.

What an intriguing – if little-known – piece of fundraising nostalgia.

Do you know about the Foot of Pennies – or anything similar?
Please add a comment if you do.

I will ensure this is featured on sofii, but if you know of a museum of fundraising, or anything similar, where you think a copy of this should appear, do let me know.

Would you like to own a Foot of Pennies?
I have ten copies from that Victorian chapel to give away. Simply email me with your postal address and I will happily share this delightful glimpse into the UK’s fundraising history with you. First come, first served.

For the very first reply I receive, I’ll also include a 1930s penny found under the old bookshelf – where it had probably rolled during a particularly busy counting session!

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Twitter, charities and fundraising

This blog post will be out of date in a week.

Twitterati, hashtags, followfriday and retweet sound to most people like an obscure dialect from an isolated Himalayan valley.

But to some, they are the suddenly familiar phrases of the 140-character world of Twitter.

Outsiders have caught snippets of course. There was the celebrated “There’s a plane in the Hudson”, with the photo that fizzed around the newswires several minutes before even the NY authorities knew.

And who failed to smile when “Don’t tell wifey” accompanied a photo of Demi Moore in her undies, pressing Ashton’s trousers?

Even the cerebral world of BBC Radio Four has enjoyed its fair share of Twoops – my suggestion for ‘scoops via Twitter’ – with political blogger Guido Fawkes breaking the news of the leaked Downing Street slur emails via Twitter.

It is of little surprise, therefore, that charities and their entourage of suppliers and umbrella bodies have flocked onto Twitter.

Heavyweights and many smaller causes, all punching at the 140-character weight.

Twitter, if nothing else, is a great leveller.

And there has been much to excite charities – even in these opening months of 2009.

Twestivals – festivals in cities around the world, organised via Twitter – raised $250,000, which as the website states, “equates to 55 water projects in Ethiopia, Uganda and India, clean water for just over 17,000 people.”

The charity that benefited? The almost unknown charity: water, whose profile has skyrocketed on the back of Twitter – most recently through being the beneficiary of half of actor Hugh Jackman’s $100,000 offered via Twitter.

Mr Jackman’s generosity would, in my view, have been worth more if he had offered $10,000,000, an amount he may have noticed leaving his bank account. As it is, for an outlay of AUS$100k (US$72k!), he has generated publicity worth much more than $10m, at a return on investment of which any fundraiser would be envious.

From one low profile charity to another. Malaria No More has enjoyed similar exposure through Ashton Kutcher’s face-off with CNN. The cynic may say that the offer of $100,000 to fight malaria if he gets one million followers was nothing more than another cheap publicity stunt. Doubled within the week by Oprah, in her high profile entry to the Twittersphere.

Interestingly, the narrowly-vanquished CNN later mused on these developments and wondered whether this hype foreshadowed the beginning of the end for Twitter.

Back to charities, then, and their burgeoning use of Tweets. As a vehicle to facilitate campaigning and supporter mobilisation, it seems perfectly suited.

However, I wonder how many of these charity accounts are simply the ‘new media team’ (as they are often still called, sadly) – unused by fundraisers.

Whether Twitter remains, or even truly becomes, the great fundraising vehicle it has the potential to be is hard to predict.

But one dimension of Twitter that fundraisers around the globe could tap into, and benefit from for as long as its popularity lasts, is its value in connecting people.

I was trying to avoid the ‘networking’ word, but that is really what Twitter is good for. Not in the traditional sense, however.

Twitter connects people by enabling them to reveal the intricacies of their lives to one another. Not the inane “I’m waiting for a bus” Tweets, although many seem to enjoy sharing such details, but rather the moments of reflection, discovery or achievement that would otherwise pass unnoticed.

Skim reading is essential, with hundreds of updates a day to filter, but tools such as TweetDeck make the job easier … and a little perseverance is richly rewarded.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Bad losers


Even when we [very occasionally] lose pitches, we're not as sour as this lot from NZ:

Nice creative though!

Monday, 13 April 2009


Condé Nast has a tough job.

Consumer magazines is a notoriously difficult segment of the publishing industry.

A brief look at year-on-year ABCs shows just how tough things have got. The following charts show percentage circulation growth, first for men's monthlies, then women's monthlies, and finally women's weeklies - the worst.

Into this maelstrom, two high profile titles have been launched. And although each raises questions, as we shall see, they nevertheless prove that the magazine industry is bursting with innovation.

Of course this giant organisation must innovate, to survive, but its boldness and determination are what impress.

Condé Nast caused a stir with its Beth Ditto-bedraped Love.

Editor Katie Grand commented on the cover shoot: "Everything about the way that Beth looks reminds us not of her imperfections but our own. She has self-assurance and confidence by the truckload. She is happy with who she is and the way she is. Don't we all wish that we woke up in the morning and felt like that?"

Grand continued: "Everything has been botoxed, lifted, sucked and dyed out of the women that represent the absolute aspiration of real women."

Which I agree with. And which is why it is disappointing that the innovative remix on style that Love claims to be evapourates as the first pages turn to reveal the standard fare of botoxed ads for Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Miu Miu, etc.

The publishing behemoth goes on to tell us of the future in its men's lifestyle/ technology title Wired.

Innovation streams through your fingertips, as the rough texture of the cover plays with your senses.

And the cover is not finished with innovation until you have opened the three-panel roll fold image of London in the future - helped by amazing photography from Jason Hawkes.

This in turn leads to a breathtaking four-page ad for Sony Bravia, inside.

Even the launch of Wired was handled innovatively, with bespoke audio ads, featuring editor David Rowan describing the new magazine in a 30-second spot, created exclusively for music platform Spotify.

Unlike Love, Wired is content-rich, and its blend of geeky technology and slick lifestyle content works well.

But given that this US title failed in the UK before, in the mid nineties, and given that beyond this high profile launch issue it promises little more than GQ or FHM without the objectified women, it needs to be carefully judged not to run aground.

However, the innovation in both titles is hard to miss.

And so, as we head back after the Easter break, how can you take inspiration from Condé Nast?

It strikes me that three aspects of being innovative stand out from their recent launches:
  1. Never stop putting your customer or donor at the centre of your thinking. Continually ask how you can better meet their needs (e.g. the Beth Ditto image)
  2. Understand that you don't need to do completely new things - sometimes just doing the old things differently is enough (e.g. the textured, roll-fold cover)
  3. Look for ways to take your message to your target audience that your competitors still think are too fringe (e.g. the Spotify ads).

Friday, 3 April 2009

Bent out of shape

How well do you take feedback?

For many, getting feedback on areas they need to improve can be crushing.

But if you want to go far, you must see it positively.

Feedback is your number one opportunity to develop.

Over the years, there have been [many] occasions when I have not met expectations, when I’ve dropped plates, when I’ve let people down. And in each case, I have endured embarrassing meetings with bosses – and not every boss has communicated constructively. (Although my current boss, with whom I had to endure one such meeting a year ago, handled it very well.)

However, in each case I have managed to coach myself through, and to take the feedback onboard. And I have grown.

The F word
Why do people avoid or deflect feedback? Clearly, factors such as poor self-esteem, low confidence and being unable to deal with conflict have a powerful effect.

But perhaps the biggest single force in getting those defensive barriers up is fear.

Fear you’ll be exposed as a fake. Fear you’ll be cornered. Fear you’ll be rejected.

In Tribes, Seth Godin argues that people are afraid of blame and criticism. He asserts that when people are not remarkable it is because they are afraid of criticism first and foremost.

If you’ve seen a colleague criticised by your boss, the fear sets in. Fear of criticism is a powerful deterrent and it doesn’t even have to happen for its effects to set in.

Now if you are in a position of leadership, you need to take this to heart: criticism stifles creativity.

There is criticism and there is feedback
A nagging, grinding negative voice puts a damper on anything. Mood hoovers can bring a team down … but leaders can be mood hoovers too, and they need to recognise that to be really good they must develop good feedback techniques.

Feedback, in contrast to criticism, can be the thing that turns someone’s whole career around.

Ten or fifteen years ago I worked with an analyst who needed to improve in some areas. Very bright, he was held back by certain weaknesses. Luckily for him, we had a great boss who gave honest and direct feedback (sometimes humorous too, like the time he got a flannel he'd bought specially for such an occasion out of his desk drawer and handed it to me, when I was dodging a question). The clincher for this analyst, however, was that he took the feedback onboard.

He is now Chief Marketing Officer for a global consumer brand.

To paraphrase Godin again, the only thing holding you back is your own fear. In every organisation, people rise to the level at which they become paralysed by fear.

The essence of leadership, he says, is being aware of your fear … and seeing it in the people you wish to lead. No, it won’t go away, but awareness is the key to making progress.

Self-awareness. Now there’s a big topic.

I liken it to sitting on your own shoulder, the whole day, watching yourself in each interaction, checking your reactions, gauging how you’re coming across to others.

Perhaps self-awareness goes hand in hand with being able to take feedback on board.

Without it, you react defensively. You even react aggressively, doing anything to deflect the comments. I saw this not long ago and it distressed me to see great talent wasted because the individual couldn’t take the feedback and admit they’d made a mistake.

How about you? Do you take feedback onboard … or do you get bent out of shape?

Thursday, 2 April 2009

From a £1 pack to a £2.5m legacy

In reply to Mark’s post about the pound pack, I thought I would offer two additional perspectives. The first is as a client who bought it, and the second is regarding its power in legacy fundraising.

When I arrived at ChildLine, my incumbent agency was Bluefrog. I remember the concern I felt when I looked at the database and found thousands of donors who had only ever given £3.

“What sort of mickey mouse agency is this,” I remember saying.

I was similarly sceptical when they came in to explain how it worked. I sat with arms folded, wondering how much more flannel they would spout.

But when I had seen a live campaign for the first time, my views changed entirely.

Like many others, I had dismissed the idea at the first hurdle. I was preoccupied with the low value cash gift, and failed to see the bigger picture.

In time, however, ChildLine had one of the most advanced and finely tuned mail acquisition programmes in the industry, generating thousands of prospects, thousands of mid value regular givers and thousands of core cash givers with each campaign.

And 'campaign' is the critical word in that sentence, as the pound pack approach is much more than a cheap tactical trick, but is instead a carefully refined strategy.

At ChildLine, in common with most other charities who used it, initial mail response was around 10%. (Bluefrog is still achieving 12% and more, e.g. for a cancer charity in November 2008.)

A significant percentage of these prospects can then be converted to regular giving via telephone and mail.

But what about those who don’t convert? At ChildLine, we developed the ‘nursery programme’ – a series of hard-hitting mailings that converted roughly 15% to the core cash giving file.

If, after six or nine months, they had still only given the original £3, we sent another pound pack. Response was well above 50%. And conversion calling to them generated more good quality regular givers.

Are you building the spreadsheet in your mind? It adds up.

What’s more, detailed trends analysis we performed on the database, broken down by recruitment source, showed the pound pack regular givers and core cash givers to be the most valuable on the file.

But why the mention of legacies?

A surprising picture is beginning to emerge of the power of this humble piece of direct mail. Three quick examples illustrate our discovery…

A young people’s charity which uses pound packs recently received a legacy of £500,000 from a taxi driver from Hornchurch who had given the organisation the grand sum of £1 several years before. He had resisted every attempt to upgrade, cross-sell or convert him. He had received Christmas card catalogues, legacy mailings and appeal letters. But his £1 remained his sole gift.

A large children’s hospital tested a pound-pack-to-newsletter-to-legacy-mailing strategy about five years ago. Responders to the pound pack simply received a newsletter to affirm their gift, followed by an ask for a legacy. Carefully targeted lists meant a strong response at every stage – and they have already recouped three times the original investment in legacy gifts from those responders.

Finally, only last night, at Remember a Charity’s advertising launch event, one of our clients – an armed forces charity – was telling me about a lady who responded to their pound pack two years ago. She had only ever given £1 to the charity, but when she died late last year she left £2.5million to them in her Will.

It would appear that the immediacy and interactive nature of giving pound coins via a simple card in the post engages even those prospective donors with little cash but great asset wealth – who may otherwise not make it onto a charity’s database.

Perhaps the most important lesson here is the reminder to treat every donor with care and courtesy – even those who only give £1 and who resist every subsequent ask for money.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

From anything to everything

A recent conversation between one of my colleagues in our legacies team and one of our clients’ donors went as follows: “Oh thank you for calling; I simply wanted to ask … how much can I leave to [charity name]?”

Slightly taken aback, but sensing a golden opportunity, he managed a calm reply: “Well, from anything to everything.”

“Oh good,” the lady said, “I’m so pleased. In that case, since I have no relatives, I shall leave you my entire estate of property, shares and cash.”

It struck me that this happy tale perfectly represents the way legacy fundraising is the confluence of three different streams of fundraising.

Over the years, this lady had been invited to supporter events, including project visits, but in fact had declined.

She had received direct marketing messages, including a recent letter, to which she replied with feedback on the reasons for her support, and an indication that she intended to include the charity in her Will.

On her reply form she had also ticked the box requesting an in-depth conversation with someone from the charity – entering into more of a major donor or planned giving type relationship, where her philanthropy could be unlocked with one-to-one contact.

As Stephen George of the NSPCC pointed out in a seminar at last year’s International Fundraising Congress (ifc) in Amsterdam, legacy fundraising often falls down because the fundraisers either come from a direct marketing background, and know little of major donors, or vice versa. And even fewer come from an events background – an area about which Iain McAndrew of Save the Children is so fervent an evangelist.

It is this combination of different facets that makes legacies such a dynamic and interesting area of fundraising. But for the same reason it is also one of the most challenging.

Given the potentially broad reach of the Remember a Charity social marketing strategy, about to be seen in a new advertising campaign, I anticipate charities seeing an uplift in enquiries and responses across the full spectrum of legacy fundraising.

If you find yourself in this position, will you be ready?

Thursday, 26 March 2009

The Account Team is the agency

When I was a client, my Account Team was the agency.

My Account Director knew my strategy and helped build my budget. She somehow also knew what was happening in the detail. And she was good fun.

My Senior Account Manager was in charge of all the jobs running through the agency. Her role was to deliver each project on time, under budget and over target. And she did.

My Account Manager made it all happen. She was the one who knew exactly which change had been made by whom, when. And she delivered.

Sure, I loved meeting the creatives. I often had lunch with the CSD or MD. I enjoyed getting into the detail of the digital stuff. I was reassured by meeting the production team.

But they were all incidental serfs, at the beck and call of my Account Team - somewhere in the background.

When I sacked the agency, I sacked them.

When I reappointed the agency it was because they responded.

And as success built upon success, and as my managers and their teams gave positive reports, I knew my agency choice was right.

Does this resonate for you?

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Remember a charity

Controversial charity consortium, Remember a Charity (RAC), is launching a fresh advertising campaign.

After a two-year absence, our televisions and radios shall once again crackle with this most serious of subjects. Or cackle this time round, as one of the most ingrained conventions of legacy marketing is upturned: humour has been injected into the creative.

And who has brought about such renewal?

As anyone who’s worked with him knows, Stephen George, the body’s Chair, and Development Director for Legacies at the NSPCC, is bursting with energy. And, although not single handed by any means, his leadership, imbued with this dynamism, has both held the consortium together and driven it in new directions.

A fierce advocate of research, Stephen refers to its importance in this new phase of activity in every interview or speech he gives.

A scratch beneath the surface of the new logo alone shows that care has been taken to pay attention to feedback from research.

But despite the now visible progress, RAC remains controversial.

Controversial for one reason: a two-year gap in advertising and a perceived lack of visible progress, combined with the challenges brought by recession, has focused the minds of most legacy fundraisers. RAC membership fees have been weighed even more carefully, and a number of members have pulled out, asking the question, “is it worth it – what else could I do with that money?”

But as the latest advertising campaign breaks, and the inevitable learning and research that will follow it emerges, non-members may well be left wishing they were involved.

Charity consortia often go through rocky patches, where the merits of membership are debated, and any advertising that is generated is scrutinised.

And there will be much to debate and scrutinise now.

The latest RAC campaign is built upon the principles of social marketing, where an attempt is made to change behaviour at a societal level, over time – think drink driving or stop smoking.

It works by using research to uncover the nuance in attitude that affects behaviour. In the case of drink driving, the most recent campaign was built upon an insight that people’s resolve not to drink too much is blurred in the moment they face a “just one more?” decision.

We wait with fascination to see the impact of this latest campaign on the world of legacy fundraising. It is a bold and exciting direction. And 'bold and exciting' is just what we need.

According to the RNLI's Charity Monitor, 41% of adults aged 65+ have made a Will. And 41% of those have included a charitable bequest. That still leaves three in five that don't ... and given that the average for the population is only 15% of Wills with a charitable gift, we face an enormous challenge.

But whatever controversy and criticism – or praise and admiration – this campaign generates, legacy fundraisers could do well to look at themselves first.

Will they be so focused on RAC, their enfant terrible, that the breaking campaign finds them not ready to capitalise on the enquiries and responses it generates?

Monday, 9 March 2009

Romance them

"So Posh, happy David is in Milan?"

"They died as heroes"

"Cheryl flies in, Ashley jets out"

As fundraisers, how can we interrupt our audiences, when we compete with such sugar-rush media?

(The three lines above are on the same front page of just one of today’s free evening papers in London.)

Well in fact, Bluefrog seems to be interrupting rather well – despite the economic gloom. Recent recruitment of cash donors runs at 6% and £11 average gift for one client. And two-stage recruitment of committed givers runs at 12% initial gift and 9% conversion for another. And it is hard to keep up with our adwords and Facebook campaigns.

But our isolated success acts as counterpoint to the fact that Direct Debit cancellations are soaring, as Third Sector reports today.

Why is it that even stewardship-toting NSPCC is watching donors herd onto their online banks and cancel at such intensity?


There’s no romance left. One fundraiser recently said that signing up to a direct debit with his charity was like inviting a pack of vampires (if ‘pack’ is the right word) into your home.

But why have charities like the NSPCC allowed themselves to give in to the temptation to put their donors under such pressure? Like bankers peddling sub-prime debt, it seems that the quick wins of cash asks and upgrades has blinded many fundraisers into near oblivion.

The machine-gun staccato of appeal > upgrade > appeal > faux-feedback > appeal > upgrade > appeal has eroded any goodwill that may have been there at the start.

What appears to have been lost is the focus on the donor.

What do donors need?

Our research has revealed that a typical donor has various needs – sometimes as simple as an impulse to help, sometimes as complex as needing to grow or to define themselves. If, through the course of a communication cycle, you can show that by giving to your organisation, their varying needs can be met, you are far more likely to develop a lasting relationship.

Sounds a lot like romance doesn’t it?

I will never forget the moment, many years ago, when I was sat in a launderette, waiting for my washing to dry. Mercedes, the chain-smoking manager, in the middle of doing a service wash for a customer, screeched in delight, “Elaine, ooh, Elaine! Look at this! ‘Ere, can you imagine picking a bloke up in a pub ‘cos you fancied him ‘cos of the bulge in his jeans, only to get him home and find he’s got a pair of these on?!” (Holding up a ‘loin king’ padded thong.)

Looking back, I can see there is a salutary – if a little obscure – lesson for fundraisers in that.

As stewardship guru Karen Osborne puts it, standard donor communications are just, ‘this is what we promise to do with your money’. “Stewardship,” she asserts, is, “‘this is in fact what we did with your money.’ It’s the delivery on the promise.”

Just as employing loin kings is generally an unromantic tactic, so too is the harassment of donors for short-term gain.

If you want to foster long-term relationships with donors, build a mutual exchange with them: one that is fulfilling and stimulating for them.

– and other development agencies that offer child-sponsorship – boast industry-beating retention levels. They understand that for their richly rewarded donors, cancelling a direct debit would be like cancelling a part of themselves.

Take a moment today to look at what they do well, and think how to apply it.