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.