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?