Wednesday 28 January 2009

Break the rules

I saw this ad in the back of a cab.

What struck me is that according to the rule book, you can’t get much worse creative. Difficult typeface to read. All upper case. Upside down!

But it works.

It reminded me that consideration of target audience comes above everything else.

Five minutes in a taxi is plenty of time to gaze, work it out, absorb the message.


Next time you’re developing creative, sit back for a moment and think about which rules you could break.

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Keep on your toes

My wife says that unless you can teach a group about a subject in three bullet points, you don’t understand it.

Her logic (and temperament) become inconsistent when I suggest that I understand her but couldn’t possibly sum her up in three bullet points.

Still, her assertion often comes to mind when I think about the fast pace of change in the worlds of fundraising and marketing.

Some might argue I need to get out more, but from time to time I challenge myself and glance through the IDM’s syllabus for the Diploma in Direct and Interactive Marketing or conference outlines, such as the IoF’s Strategic Fundraising Management conference.

I ask myself whether I could stand up and speak on all of those topics if called on at short notice. And I set about plugging any gaps in my knowledge.

Try it.

Thursday 22 January 2009

Top3: what charity marketers can teach their commercial peers

Admittedly, there is a swathe of charity marketing that is muddled, wasteful and not strategic.

However, it would be grossly inaccurate to deny that in many instances, charity marketers use more sophisticated and more effective techniques than their commercial counterparts.

This is the first in a series of 'Top3' posts, in pairs, using the format ‘what A can teach B', followed by, 'what B can teach A’.

Here’s my suggested trio of things the Dark Side could learn from non-profit marketers.

Basic, huh? But how many times have you received communication from companies who appear to pay no attention to who you are?

There are so many good examples from charity marketing to draw on, but one in particular comes to mind.

A couple of years ago Bluefrog’s data planners started introducing ‘ultra-personalisation’ with various clients. This is where each mailing, telephone script or digital communication contains details personalised to that individual.

From a simple reference to the number of years the donor has supported, to relating the number of doctors in a large rural area in Uganda to the equivalent number of doctors in the nearest town to where the donor lives, this has steadily increased value across the donor spectrum.

I have been banking online for nearly a decade. Every year of that with the Co-operative Bank. Why, then do I still get statements or letters through the post with leaflets promoting online banking?

Here’s an idea, Co-op: split the mailing into two segments; A. already bank online, B. don’t bank online. Marginal increase in production costs but a saving on print and a saving on customer irritation.

Of course, the likes of Tesco do segment - into many thousands of distinct segments in their case - and create carefully tailored messaging to each segment.

But charity appeals are among the most consistently complex and effective models of segmentation. Not only are donors split by simple value bands, they are also often segmented by recency, type of giving, number of relationships, contact preferences, age and propensity. Among many more.

At Bluefrog, we have for several years also advocated segmentation by low-value and mid/high-value donors. The proposition is often the same, but when served different creative, the latter group responds radically differently.

Although costs increase, net income always goes up – sometimes doubling.

Early commercial models include BA’s Club World, but such communication products are still relatively rare.

Give to charity and you get a warm feeling. Some charities mess it up, by bombarding donors or conveying wastefulness, but on the whole, people know they will feel good if they give (through meeting their donor needs).

Charities who really tap into that do so by calling on a host of techniques – perhaps most importantly of all being the thank you.

Send the same generic thank you time after time, and donors will switch off. The best charity marketers know that, and certainly at Bluefrog we advise a fresh thank you letter be written with each new appeal or communication, to be ready as soon as the gifts begin arriving.

If you buy a new car, you expect a certain level of attention – although a fawning, sickly ego stroke takes it too far.

But imagine if commercial marketers said ‘thank you’ with every purchase, in the same way even a small donation is received with gratitude by most non-profits? Particularly online, there is so much scope for personalised, relevant thank yous and feedback requests – why, then, do so many insist on regurgitating the ‘transaction confirmed’ messages they wrote in 1998?!

What do you think? Which aspects of non-profit marketing would make it into your top three?

Monday 19 January 2009

Two weeks in. 2009: the challenge you can overcome?

This post from The Agitator got me thinking.

Reflecting on the knee-jerk reaction of some fundraisers to cut back in the face of recession, Roger comments: "The most practical course of education for most fundraisers would be experience on a well-run farm.

"They would learn the cost of not investing in seed corn (donor acquisition) … they would understand that an investment in weeding (donor cultivation) and good fertilizer (information and accountability for donors) is essential for sustainability.

"And, if they were fortunate enough to work on a farm with an orchard, they would come to understand that it takes three, sometimes four, or even five years to bring in a profitable harvest of fruit from newly planted and continually pruned trees."

Bluefrog’s experience in the past four months has shown us that despite the naysayers it is possible to fundraise successfully in the gloom.

Three conclusions stand out to me:
  1. Keep recruiting. We saw Christmas mail acquisition for a cancer charity perform as well as ever before.
  2. Keep asking. A Christmas appeal for a homelessness charity beat target by 30%.
  3. Push legacies. I’m not talking about a ‘give now, pay later’ message; just a straight forward promotion of gifts in Wills. Every legacies campaign we’ve run with clients in the past six months has beaten expectations – most recently for a development charity.

However, don’t use recession as a lever. One test we ran with a medical research charity showed that when the recession was mentioned it lowered average gifts.

Another post from The Agitator. Tom asks what makes a ten-year donor. As he suggests, January 2009 perhaps more than any other new year before is the moment to find out.

What clues are there among loyal donors as to how to improve retention? And in particular, are long-term supporters lapsing now – or giving at lower amounts than usual?

We know that legacy propensity leaps when someone’s been around for a decade – by seven times for one children’s charity client. And that seems to confirm that there is something special about this group – their continued giving is more than simple inertia.

So go on! Talk to them, seek feedback from them and run analysis on their giving histories.

After all, some of them will have been giving since the last recession – or even longer.

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Why fundraising is like making cappuccino

“Grande skinny caramel macchiato, extra hot, with three shots, extra cream, marshmallows, double vanilla and a dash of cinnamon” is heard rather too often for my liking.

This is sacrilege against the art of coffee making.

And I use the word ‘art’ advisedly. The perfect espresso is created only when the following six elements meet in harmony:
  • A perfectly maintained and spotlessly clean espresso machine
  • A quality blend of perfectly roasted, fresh coffee beans
  • A grind that is neither too course nor too fine
  • A carefully judged dose of the ground coffee
  • A tamping technique that is neither too firm nor too light
  • A portafilter tightened just enough to keep the coffee compressed and the steam pressure in

And then to craft a cappuccino, the densely foamed, steamed but not-too-hot milk is added, so that the following rough proportions are achieved:
  • A third espresso
  • A third milk
  • A third foamed milk

The best coffee in Shoreditch, if you find yourself in Bluefrog’s neck of the woods, is to be found at Food Hall, on Old Street.

Each cup is given the attention that a sculptor would give a masterpiece carving. And take-away is as good as drink-in … although a purist would argue that cappuccino cannot properly be drunk from a paper cup.

Am I sounding pretentious yet?

Time to infuse [sorry] fundraising into this.

Raising money
Why compare coffee and fundraising? Well, truth be told, simply because I love coffee. But bear with me and you’ll see that there are some really helpful parallels.

First, the espresso machine. This is your fundraising department and as you know, if that’s not working well, everything else is doomed. The metaphor can be taken further, however.

Espresso machines work under incredible pressure, and in a similar way, fundraising departments work with an ongoing challenge to find budget, high demands from Trustees, and a constant strain to develop the next target-beating campaign.

But the best Gaggia won’t make good coffee if it is neglected. And NCVO’s Third Sector Skills Research published last July was just one report to lament a skills shortage in fundraising. Unless we invest in developing skills, our fundraising will get more and more watered down.

“Credit crunch”, I hear you shout. Indeed, and several major players are certainly feeling more crunch than credit at the start of 2009, but scheme’s like the IoF’s Fundraising Learning Online are to be applauded, in making basic training affordable.

One thing remains unavoidable in a recession: those who continue to invest through the hard times will emerge ahead of the pack.

And so onto the next element: coffee beans. The basic ingredient. In fundraising that’s your strategy. It doesn’t matter what you do with a poor strategy; it is still a poor strategy, and it will only get you so far.

Adrian Sargeant’s regular sessions at IoF and IFC conferences on building a fundraising strategy give the basics. I’d hazard a guess, however, that fewer than half of the top-500 fundraising departments have developed a strategy with even that much thoroughness.

Cranfield School of Management run great courses on strategy development, and they can sometimes work with charities on a consultancy basis.

The grind, number three on the list, is your target audience. Not that I’m suggesting that donors are a grind.

In coffee making, it is important that the ground coffee is neither too course nor too fine. So, too, in defining your various audiences, it is important neither to view them as too homogenous a group, nor to break them into thousands of small segments.

The key, of course, is to understand your audience. To really understand what each set of donors – or prospective donors – is like: what motivates them, how do they give and how can you build relationships with them? There are myriad resources out there to help get into donors’ minds – CharityBloggers, for example.

But the best technique of all – and I aim this comment mainly at direct marketers, who, I’m sorry to say, are generally useless at this – is to speak to donors or read their correspondence.

In a brief spell in commercial brand marketing, before coming to Bluefrog, one of the brands I oversaw was Listen2. Primary audience: 65+. Not only does my iPod now contain some Mantovani and Vera Lynn, I made sure I spent time opening post and in the call centre.

The dose comes next and in my mind this equates to the offer or proposition. Clearly, this comes after understanding your audience, but it is nearly as important.

I’ve seen ads bomb for lack of attention to what the audience will be likely to do (e.g. direct debit ask when a cash ask would have been better).

Successful trust fundraisers will tell you that unless you really understand what the Trust is looking to support – and precisely which aspect of your work will push their buttons – no amount of hard work on the application will get a result.

Corporate partners, similarly, are usually looking for the right type of charity partnership.

And what you tell donors their money can achieve is equally critical.

The Prostate Cancer Charity’s Research Action Fund that Bluefrog created, works very well as a high value donor recruitment tool. And this is mainly because it maps precisely onto the sort of work the prospective donors want to support.

It is perhaps a stretch to see how tamping – the next element – equates to creative. But that’s possibly because not many people have used an espresso machine.

The skilled use of a tamper, to compress the ground coffee into the filter, needs something of a creative flair to get just right. I hope the next time you buy a coffee you get to see this in action.

In fundraising, whether it is community fundraisers sending invitations to a carol concert, major donor key workers chatting to someone at an event or the acquisition team in direct marketing developing a new DRTV ad, the message must be put across effectively.

Marie Curie’s Great Daffodil Appeal is an interesting example. For such a well-loved brand, warmly embodied in yellows and blues, opting for black as the primary colour for this annual appeal was a brave move. Blacks and greys evoke death, which for a cancer care charity is upfront but also seems a little risky.

It looked very nice on big cross-track posters in the Tube. But one can’t help wondering what the community fundraising volunteers, like those in the pictures, prefer wearing – black or blue. And what do individual donors think?

Finally, timing – when to tighten and stop tightening the filter holder. Often fixed, e.g. around Christmas, timing is rarely given enough thought. There is a tendency – if one thinks about timing at all – to try to out-do the competition and move an appeal a bit earlier.

Christmas card catalogues in August? Of course. And if you don’t get yours out in August too, you’ll lose sales. How long before someone tries July or even June?

Admittedly, you only have limited scope on testing timing, as your hand will often be forced by what other departments or competitors are doing.

Email is one area where testing is both possible and worthwhile – assuming you have sufficient volumes of responsive data. A few years ago, I heard a consensus emerging that Tuesday morning or Thursday lunchtime were the best times to send an email. But that has now changed, and the clear advice from digital experts is to do your own testing.

As I said elsewhere, from a stewardship point of view, the timing of feedback and thank you messages will be very important as the recession deepens. Specifically, I recommend now!

Frothy coffee
Cappuccino is anathema to true espresso lovers. Some argue that once milk – or even hot water – enters the dark nectar, it is ruined.

Others, however, enjoy delving into the velvety softness, allowing the warmth and strength to be drawn through.

In a similar – but less suggestive – way, a contrast can be drawn between fundraisers who see themselves as solitary espresso and those who strive to achieve a cappuccino-like mix. The former keep their head down and concentrate on the task in hand. Sometimes brilliant, often a little weak or bitter.

I would argue that the latter group, however, are more consistent.

They turn espresso into something greater, by mixing one third themselves, one third creative agencies and consultancies, and one third peer networks and industry bodies like the Institute. Not that I would suggest that the IoF is frothy and full of hot air.

Although they risk becoming a little bland, fundraisers who seek input from others and build upon the experience of peers and the industry stand a much better chance of being successful.

Donor needs
But going back to the “grande skinny caramel macchiato, extra hot, etc…”, maybe Starbucks and their 20,000 variations on a cup of coffee are right on the money. What they do is to recognise that customers have needs, and the most important of all is to be treated as an individual – to be given what you want in return for your money.

And anyone who’s read Mark Phillips’ post on donor needs will immediately see the parallel.

As Mark says, donors want to know what a charity has done with their money, rather than read about what the charity does (or what a corporate partner has given, or what policy statement they’re issuing); it's a very subtle difference, but a very important one.

But how do you implement that in practice?

At the risk of being clich├ęd, I shall draw this post to a close with a reference to Barack Obama’s astounding fundraising success.

As Nick Burne comments in PF, Obama succeeded because he, ‘made the campaign about me’.

Nick observes: ‘A statement on the front and top of Obama's website read: “I'm asking you to believe. Not just about my ability to bring about real change in Washington … I'm asking you to believe in yours." And it wasn't just a statement. He backed it up by giving me ways to get involved online. I could be a hero – part of the change. It was about me, my friends and family, and who I could influence.’

And in September 2008 alone he raised a record-breaking $150m, largely from ordinary Americans, primarily because he understood their needs.

Sunday 11 January 2009


Performance = Potential – internal interference – external interference

…or so the management theory goes.

This one works well if you’re mind-gyming yourself, i.e. when you’re talking yourself through a challenging situation, such as working to a deadline or when you’re working through conflict.

Mental self-control is critical if you’re aiming to perform to a high standard. And when you train yourself, you begin to notice the external interference, e.g. the negativity of others or the unexpected meeting that puts you under more pressure.

You also learn to notice the internal interference, such as your own doubts, tiredness or stress. And that’s the very moment in which you need to draw on your strength to put that interference aside.

Listen, you’re good. You know you can get through whatever situation you’re facing. Left to get on with it, you’ll ace it.

Understanding interference is also helpful when your team fades on you occasionally.

Building on see > do > get, if you discipline yourself to see that each individual has high potential, you can end up wondering why they under perform sometimes – which, let’s be honest, no amount of positive thinking can conceal.

So what are you to do? Well, given that we’ve seen how coaching yourself through challenges can help, it is nearly as simple as applying it to the people you’re leading.

But only ‘nearly’ as simple. You’re not a rugby coach, and your team may react unfavourably to a pep talk. Rather, you can employ one of a range of techniques that help them to mind-gym themselves.

First, listen, and make sure you understand what’s interfering with their potential – is it internal or external? Chances are, it’s some internal interference, fuelled by external interference such as change, job insecurity or poor management in your organisation. Tell them how you see the situation, or how you dealt with something similar. In time, you can even talk them through the concept of the mind gym.

Finally, get involved and be seen to be working as hard they are, conveying a drive towards a common purpose, and leading your whole team towards high performance and strong motivation.

Monday 5 January 2009

See > Do > Get

It is hard to work with dimwits.

It is hard to lead idiots.

It is hard to manage incompetents.

Especially when you're angry with them.

Especially when one or two of them really should go, for the greater good.

But is is essential that you do. Otherwise your feelings spill out and seed discontent, which in turn can seed mutiny.

Sounds extreme but I've seen it time and again.

Happily, there is a solution.


This is another of those annoying rules of management that sound silly but are remarkably true. My thanks again to performance coach Struan Robertson for helping me improve my management with this.

If you allow yourself to see your staff as incompetent idiots (SEE), you begin treating them as such and expecting nothing more than that from them (DO). And it is therefore no surprise if that's all you get from them (GET).

If, however, you discipline yourself to see each of them as potentially high-achieving members of your dream team, you will begin to talk to them and treat them as such. And it will probably surprise you when they perform well.

In fact, in time they'll excel.

Sounds too simplistic to be true doesn't it?

You will certainly still need to deal with one or two people whose performance or negativity has the potential to drag everyone else down, but I promise that you'll be happy you adopted this mantra.

And your people will appreciate it too.

Clearly, it begins with the decision to see them differently, and when you take this step, another hidden benefit emerges. The mantra could be expanded as follows...

SEE > FEEL > DO > GET start to feel better about working with them.

Developing mental self control like this is what I like to call 'mind-gyming'. (Wish I'd registered mindgym!)

When you mind-gym yourself, coaching yourself through challenges, you take your performance to a different level. And this is never more valuable than when you're managing people. How you are on the inside affects how you are on the outside. And people notice it.

So start 2009 with a new resolve to SEE everyone differently, measured by their potential not by their shortcomings.

Saturday 3 January 2009

The power of the image

Strange that the first thing I write on photography begins with an illustration – albeit a photo of one.

This image deserves attention for many reasons.

It is among the best examples in history of the illustration genre of imagery. Clean and simple, with powerful use of colour to capture shadow and detail.

And its use among political campaigning seems very fitting. As does the way this particular photograph captures the gritty hard work of the campaign trail.

But it is also a good place to start looking at what makes good photography. If I were to speak of some of the essential components of a good photo, portraiture would be a good place to start.

The eyes are on the top third. In fact, Barack’s eyes each sit on the intersection of the top horizontal third with each of the two vertical thirds.

(Draw an imaginary horizontal line, one third of the way down the picture, and another two thirds of the way down. Now draw vertical lines one third and two thirds of the way across the page. These are your thirds, and any photo is magically transformed if the focal point – or just the horizon or a figure or a line – lies on them. Especially on the intersections.)

Next, see the way he’s looking from left to right, tilting his head and looking into the picture. In fact, his left eye, sitting on the intersection of the top and right hand thirds, otherwise known as optical dead centre, is the point where one’s eye is drawn in the image.


We could dwell on the tight crop and shallow depth of field to make the background melt away, but that would be unnecessary, as the eyes have it.

PROGRESS and HOPE are both captured in Shepard Fairey’s iconic image. And this illustrator’s rise to even greater fame – let alone that of his subject – is well deserved.

Imagine what he could do with a camera.