Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Smarter acquisition

I've ranted... errrr blogged quite a lot over the past few months about how things in Canada look and feel pretty much the same as most other places I’ve worked.

I blogged very recently about the fact that in any country that we work in we need to understand the difference between informed versus intuitive decision making.

I wanted to take this a step further and talk specifically about something many organization's are wondering at the moment....

To recruit, or not to recruit...?

I think now is as good a time as ever to be actively looking for new supporters, with a caveat that we need to be smarter about the channels we use to canvass support and who we reach out to.

Check out the blog I posted recently on the Recession watch site and the state of play with street recruitment in North America. In short - the number of people being recruited to a monthly gift on the street is up around 5%!

Anyway I digress.

When analyzing your acquisition efforts, cost per recruit is important. So too is volume (the sheer numbers you are bringing in). Of course there is retention. And let’s not forget average gift values.

But frankly, for me one of the most key measures is the value to date (VTD) of a donor over a period of time. In other words, how much a donor (or group of donors) is giving to you in total over a fixed period, taking into account their subsequent giving behavior. This becomes even more powerful if you can work out the net value, taking into account all costs.

This – VTD - is more important than ever. Research undertaken recently by the guys at bluefrog showed that a chunk (40%) of those surveyed said they were unlikely to start support a new charity in the current climate.

Does this mean stop all acquisition efforts now? No. But it does mean we have to be smarter about those groups we reach out to.

I suggest that as well as looking at VTD that you should consider some donor profile analysis looking at the behavioral insights of your best donors – whether that’s regular donors or onetime cash givers– overlaid with some basic geo-demographic profiling (where they live, age etc) that enables you to look at who really is giving to you and where did they come from. Again this will enable you to identify those channels that will allow you to target like for like donors based on who you already have on file that have historically performed well in terms of their overall VTD.

Sound like a bit of work? It is! But in terms of the long term impact this can have on your recruitment efforts now and post-recession, it will be worth it.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas doesn't end in December

Just a quick posting this morning before I shut the laptop down and start to unwind for a few days.

Whichever part of the world you are I hope you have a wonderful and relaxing holiday break.

But please, all you fundraisers out there, remember the message from my earlier posting on Christmas appeal tips. Your Christmas (end of year/seasonal) appeal doesn’t end in December.

It ends when you fully acknowledge and thank your donors, and just as importantly feedback to them about the impact of their gift on your beneficiaries:

Four tips when writing your thank you letter:

1. Don’t default to using the same thank you letter you used last year, which was the one you used the year before that and so on..

2. Thank, thank and thank again. An easy mantra to live and breathe by. Make sure the words thank you are in the letter. Remember, the letter is about your donor and your beneficiaries, not your organization.

3. Continue the story from the appeal/letter/solicitation the donor responded to in the first place. You shouldn’t be a disjointed organization, the journey for your donors should be seamless and continuing. If you (and I hope you did) talked about a real, human story/case study in your appeal letter than give your donors an update on what’s happened since you last wrote or spoke to them.

4. Give them hope that their support is making a real difference. But let them know their support will be needed this year as much, if not more than ever.

I hope that helps as you begin to think about feeding back on how your donors have helped you. Most importantly don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of making your thank you a dull, generic and bland communication. Stand out from crowd and thank genuinely.

Oh, and remember, a letter should be as long as it needs to be…

Enjoy your break.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

No time for complacency when securing that 2nd gift

I’ve always been fascinated (sadly) by the effort, or lack of, by many charities around the world at securing a second gift from donors.

Consider this:

• Data I have looked at (through initiatives such as the Pareto Benchmarking study) in countries such as Canada, the UK and Australia shows that charities still recruit far more cash (one-time) cash donors than any other type of gift (including monthly/regular gifts).

• Cash second gift rates vary from around 30%-40%, on average.

• Most charities I know (there are exceptions, of course) don’t have a 2nd gift stream – so once a donor gives their first donation they are thrown into the ‘normal’ donor communications cycle. This herein lies the crux of the problem. Often a donor may not then be solicited for 3-4 months – far too long. Hence why I believe we simply don’t retain more donors. Often it’s done to logistics around getting the data sorted and then managing to include an ask sooner, but that’s a barrier – and I have seen charities overcome this.

Now, if you are recruiting small volumes of donors (say, less than a couple of thousand per year) it makes it somewhat more difficult to justify a separate stream to treat these donors, but if you are recruiting significant volumes, it’s simply madness not to reference these people in a special way in order to get that all important subsequent commitment.

So, enough ranting – some tips on how to improve 2nd gift/retention rates:

1. Test the impact of a feedback (non-ask) letter around 2 weeks after the donor gives their first donation. Purely and simply focused on telling them where their money has gone and thanking them again, telling them how wonderful they are and promising to continue to feedback.

2. Test the time between the initial gift and the subsequent solicitation. Typically somewhere between 3-8 weeks works best, but this will differ for organizations (and may be impacted by the first tip suggested above).

3. Test a cash (one-time) ask as the 2nd gift versus a monthly giving request. But do not mix the two of them. Many organization’s ask for cash throughout an appeal/pack and then include a monthly giving option at the bottom of the response form. This usually suppresses response to the cash ask – it is confusing for donors. If you are not sure about this however, test it.

4. Test the phone v mail. For new recruits I’d suggest phone those you can (over say $25USD) and ‘mop up’ those you can’t phone with a mail ask. But make sure the proposition around monthly giving is strong. Refer my previous posting on getting the monthly ask right.

Bit of a theme coming through here? Test, test and continue to test.

Good luck, and keep me posted with any successes or failures!


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Informed v intuitive decision making

I've just returned to Toronto from a mini road trip to Ottawa and Vancouver.

As always I met loads of interesting people, particularly during the two workshops I held in both cities.

What fascinates (interpret frustrates) me of late are comments like this...

"We are cutting back our donor development budget at the moment because of the recession..."

"We are not investing in XYZ because we anticipate a downturn next year..."

"We are not allowed to attend that conference as our training budget has been cut..."

Why do they frustrate me?

Because most of these comments are prefaced by one of either two things:

1 An admission that to date fundraising income (from individuals) has not been affected by the global downturn - in fact most org's I speak to are tracking on par with the same time last year or even seeing an increase

2 They just don't know (I.e. havent looked at data/evidence/facts) and are therefore basing these decisions on intuition/gut feeling/emotion

Now in some instances there are likely very sound reasons for some of the comments I have listed above, but having spoken to (literally) hundreds of fundraisers, board members and Executive Directors over the past few months, most of these decisions have been made without being armed with the right data.

And I am not just talking about data from industry bodies, economists, sites such as the Recession Watch blog - I'm talking about looking at your own data. In fact I blogged about this very topic a few months back on Professional Fundraising's blog series.

So the message for the day: arm yourself with real data before making what could be recession suicide.

Now is not the time for panic and rash decision making, but sensible, pragmatic and supporter focused fundraising.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Getting the most by getting it monthly

Intuitively this statement makes sense.

It’s no coincidence that your health provider encourages a monthly membership fee, likewise your cell company and even your bank that pushes for monthly, even fortnightly transactions. They aren’t daft; they know that as your transactional regularity strengthens so too does your value as a customer.

The same logic applies to individual donors. If you can get them to give to you on a regular, ongoing basis they will give more and be more engaged.

In the UK, Australia, Canada and most other developed fundraising nations, this is certainly the case. Monthly giving – where donors contribute ongoing amounts to you via a regular, periodic payment (through their bank account or credit card), has revolutionized the fundraising world in which we live.

Let’s looks at Australia. Data from a recent benchmarking study conducted by Pareto Fundraising showed that of 23 Australian and New Zealand charities in the cooperative, more than a quarter of the income from the 2007/2008 financial year (US$26m out of US$93m) raised from these organizations was from donors contributing on a monthly basis.

In Canada the trend is following that of the Brits and Aussies, with around CAD$22m (out of around CAD$80m) of income received from the nine organizations’ last year coming from committed monthly donors. And the proportion of income from this source is growing annually.

But recruiting new monthly donors, whether using mail, online, telephone or employing canvassers on the street is expensive. So before shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars on recruitment programs, concentrate on your house (warm) cash file first – that is, people who have supported you before. Spend some time and effort endeavoring to get your one off-cash donors to change their behavior and begin giving on a monthly basis.

So how do you do it?

Most effective channels

A combination of mail and telephone produces the best results.

If you’re approaching new cash recruits, the most effective approach I have seen attempts to convert donors somewhere between four and eight weeks after recruitment. Firstly via mail then followed up by a phone call for those who have a valid phone number and don’t respond to the initial mailing. If done properly (taking into account the factors below), expect a response of around 8-14 per cent of those contacted to commence a monthly gift.

For existing (i.e. not new) cash supporters – use the phone first and ‘mop up’ non responders and those without a valid phone number with a mail pack. Expect a response of between 7-12 per cent.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) managed to increase the number of their cash donors giving monthly from 8 per cent to 20 per cent in just over 18 months. See examples in Italics below for an illustration of how they did it.

What’s at the core of brilliant monthly donor conversion?

There are six key elements to producing inspiring, compelling and effective conversion campaigns (by phone and mail). When approaching donors:

1. Focus on the benefits, not the ‘product’. Many charities get obsessed with product names for monthly giving programs and forget that donors want to support beneficiaries, not products. Don’t be concerned about a fancy name (like ‘Wings of Hope’); highlight the difference the individuals support will make. i.e. “...monthly contribution of $20 Mrs. Sample, you would be making a truly profound contribution to the protection of our environment…

2. Explain why monthly giving is so vital. Remember, you are trying to change behavior, not attitudes. So a clear and thorough explanation of the importance of monthly giving is crucial. It’s important because it provides long term and committed support which allows the charity to plan more effectively and therefore has a bigger impact, not because it saves the charity on administration costs i.e. “...affordable gift every month, you will help make it possible for us to commit to the highly effective, long-term environmental work necessary to protect our coral reefs, our rainforests…”

3. Target the right donors. A simple but effective selection criteria should include donors who have donated more than once; have given within the last 12 months; whose value is greater than $20 and who have previously paid by credit card (which indicates a propensity to use periodic payments). If you overlay these criteria you will reduce your selection significantly but increase the likelihood of a greater response i.e. ACF’s best responders were those who had given more than once and previously given over $25 by credit card.

4. Use compelling and empowering copy. Always talk about the impact this change of support will have on someone’s life. It isn’t about the organization but the people, cats and dogs or environment they support. Use language that suggests that donors are becoming partners of yours, not monthly donors. Also include powerful imagery that supports (but doesn’t distract from) the proposition and messaging i.e. “… from pressuring our politicians to cut greenhouse pollution… Partners make themselves heard and get things done.”

5. Personalize where possible. Go beyond name and address. Always refer to the donors past support and the impact that has made. Talk to them about areas of your work that you know they are interested in and refer back to comments they have made in the past or areas they have told you (through surveys) they are passionate about i.e. “…For more than 11 years now you have provided exemplary support…I know that you share my frustration about our worsening climate change crisis…”

6. Break it down into daily amounts. A dollar a day is an easier sell than $30 a month. Make the amount sound affordable to the average person, even using analogies like ‘less than the price of a cup of coffee’ i.e. “… for the equivalent of just 65 cents a day…”

Ongoing cultivation and dispelling the myth

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me you shouldn’t mail cash appeals to monthly donors, I would be a rich man. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact ‘monthly donor converts’ are typically at the top of the tree when it comes to appeal mailings, responding at rates upwards of 20 per cent and as high as 50 per cent. You could argue that the term ‘conversion’ is a misnomer because we aren’t asking donors for a transformation, just a shift in their behavior.

In terms of their ability to continue to give cash gifts, again, this is fairly intuitive.

You strengthen the relationship with this donor by getting their more regular commitment. You continue to cultivate them but constantly refer to this special partnership they have with you.

You treat them genuinely as individuals, keep them up to date, thank them and when the need arises ask them appropriately.

Follow these simple steps and you’re well on your way to increasing the value of these donors and most importantly having the greatest impact you can on your beneficiaries.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The perfect journey...

I travel a lot. For work and pleasure. And whilst I love seeing different parts of the world, I hate the actual travel part.

Airports, waiting, being in transit. None of this is fun as far as I am concerned.

Which is why my trip from Toronto to Vancouver today with Westjet was memorable and as close to the perfect journey as I could have had.

Let me explain.. (and keep reading to the bottom fundraisers, there is a point to this).

I booked the trip several weeks ago. Not long after booking I realized I had booked the wrong date for the return leg (in fact, a month later than I had intended!)

The experience I had when contacting Westjet to change it was pleasurable. Yes they charged me a fee for changing it (let's face it, I was the stupid one who got the dates wrong) but the representative was warm, helpful and genuine in her efforts to help me get on the flight I wanted.

Fast forward to today.

Everything about the journey went to plan and was completely seamless. To summarize:

- We left on time. We arrived on time.

- The flight attendants were warm and friendly.

- The plane itself was clean and well kept. And we even got our own personal TV's at no additional charge (unless you wanted to watch a movie) - 24 channels for free.

- The pilot kept us up to date regularly about our departure, flying conditions and arrival time.

- The in-flight food service was served efficiently, and with a smile!

And almost more impressive than all of the above was that I was able to reserve an exit row seat online the day before the flight. Something I have never been able to do with any other airline and at 6 foot 2 and someone always looking for that little extra leg room, heading to the airport knowing that was already under control was comforting.

The point of this?

From the time I reserved my flight through to disembarking in Vancouver this afternoon, Westjet and their team were consistently professional, courteous and warm and clearly committed to making my journey perfect. They made my life easy, kept me up to speed with progress and made me feel welcome and valued (the hostess even said 'thank you' as I left the plane).

How often do we get this as donors? Or more importantly, do we offer this as charities to our donors?

Tomorrow I'm delivering a workshop on donor engagement. It's not that often I turn to the commercial world (and certainly not the aviation sector!) to draw some inspiration, but today was a special day.

Hats off to Westjet. I look forward to the return journey...


Friday, December 5, 2008

If you walk the walk, you need to talk the talk..

I can often be critical of myself for behaving in a way that I wouldn't espouse others, including my clients, to behave.

Like sometimes being ultra conservative when I believe in taking calculated risks.

So I was thrilled to see a great example of feeding back where my money had gone from The Fundraisers Fund when I checked my emails this morning. You will remember I posted about this brilliant idea a couple of weeks back. Fundraisers helping fellow fundraisers to receive the training and development they need.

The email thanked me for my monthly/regular gift and then went on to say...

"Here’s the proof that the Fundraisers Fund works. And that your money will too.

Bursary recipient case study, India:

"I am Sudeshna Mukherjee. When I received a bursary I was National Coordinator for Resources at Make-a-Wish Foundation in Mumbai, India. I had no fundraising experience when I took on a fundraising role and had to rely solely on my natural instincts.

"I gained my first taste of professional training when I attended the fundraising foundation course offered by the SP Jain Institute of Management in Mumbai in conjunction with Resource Alliance in 2007. Then, thanks to the Fundraisers Fund, I won a bursary place at the International Workshop on Resource Mobilisation (IWRM) in Kuala Lumpur in 2008.

"The key thing I learned at the IWRM was the importance of telling powerful stories. As a result I completely redesigned my pitch to corporate donors, putting at the forefront real stories about the children that my foundation helps rather than focusing on the funding needs of the foundation. I saw immediate results, securing a major new corporate partner within weeks of my return to India."

Here is why this is a brilliant example of donor engagement:

1 I got told how my money was making a difference
2 It was told using a real story, with tangible results.
3 It was done quickly. Just 2 weeks after I set up my gift.

Hats off to he team at The Fundraisers Fund. You guys really are talking the talk.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Christmas appeal tips and snow capped houses

I wanted to blog my top tips for your Christmas appeal. And I'm going to below - but I have to say that it has just dawned on me that Christmas this year will be a little different from what I am used to.

You see, for me, Christmas is about endless barbeques, 35 degree (celsius that is) days and cricket in the backyard. For those unsure about the heritage of cricket, think baseball with a different shaped bat, a 'pitch' rather than a diamond and players on considerably lower wages!

Anyway I disgress. I'm sitting on a train to Ottawa and whilst I planned to spend most of the journey working - I have to admit I keep getting distracted by coverings of snow on the fields and houses that we pass. To most on the train it means nothing, but to me it's slightly intriguing.

Enough of my Christmas experiences - if you are just putting the final touches to your Christmas appeal, or equivalent - some useful tips for increasing the chances of it 'rocking'. Some of these may come a little late but useful for future appeals nonetheless...

1. Send (test) a pre cursor to donors to let them know about your upcoming Christmas appeal

Tell them what you are going to tell them. Tell them. And then tell them what you told them.

A great piece of advice I was once given during a training course. Think about how you could apply that to your program. A week or so before your Christmas appeal, tell your donors about the appeal they are about to receive.

This can be done by email, a postcard or even a phone call. But test this to see whether it has a positive impact on your overall campaign.

Oh, and don’t forget to tell them what you want to tell them in the main appeal and then tell them what you told them if you do a reminder mailing.

2. Keep it clear and give donors a compelling reason to give

Not that you need the holiday season to remind you of this point, but keep you message clear and ensure you ask donors to do one thing only.

Conflicting messages suppress response to any campaign.

3. Make it hard for donors to stop reading your appeal

I once read some great copy feedback from Ken Burnett which pointed out that what you want to do is get the reader mentally nodding in agreement as they read the letter. We might think we have developed brilliant and compelling copy but is it going to keep the donors attention for two, three or four pages?

Make it hard for them to put it down. Not by focusing on Christmas, but by establishing a need and helping the donor help you find a solution.

4. Donor recognition – make it more prominent than ever

Thank, thank and thank again.

A simple mantra to live and breathe. But go a step further. Recognize the donor’s type of support (monthly donor, confirmed bequestor etc) and refer to past support at this time of year.

Make sure it is apparent that you know who your donors are and how they have supported you in the past. Everyone likes to know they are remembered and valued.

5. Christmas ends in January

The perfect donor communications cycle asks people to support, thanks them for their generosity and cares for them along the way.

This last ingredient is often forgotten or not done well. Your Christmas appeal doesn’t end in December, it ends when you tell your donors (including those that didn’t donate at Christmas) where their money has gone and the impact it will have, or has had, on your beneficiaries.

Hope that helps. Keep me posted on the success of your next mailing!


Saturday, November 29, 2008

The sandwiches were great and the coffee even better..

In a recent posting I took aim at the awful food dished up at most fundraising conferences.

Kimberley Mackenzie was quick to point out that I would be pleasantly surprised at the food served up at the AFP Congress in Toronto. And she was right, the food was particularly pleasant, in fact the nicest I have had at any fundraising event to date.

But I did get more value out of the three days than the chicken breast served up at lunchtime on Monday.

In fact it was a fascinating three days, especially as this was the first time I had attended Congress and I had heard good things.

When I got the chance to deliver my session on Wednesday morning I talked about the four things that stood out in my mind as being 'topical' during the previous couple of days. Namely:

The 'Obama' effect. No real surprises here. Everyone, not just fundraisers, are talking about the US Presidential elect. My take on this was as follows: yes his fundraising team did an amazing job. But let's not try and emulate what he/they did. We simply can't. Rather than getting distracted trying to, just take out the key points. And for me the big thing that I would take out of his campaign (which many charities struggle to do) is deliver a clear and consistent message. Every time he spoke he and his party stood for one thing, change. If only we could emulate this single focused approach whenever we communicate with donors. Don't confuse them, but inspire them and make it clear what you want them to do.

Kiva. If you don't know about this little beauty then you should. The organization that facilitates mirco-lending for those budding entrepreneurs in the developing world.

My worry about mentioning this so frequently is that many are looking to be 'the next Kiva'. And when you're a small grass roots organization, you need to worry and concentrate on what matters most. Where your next dollar is coming from. How you can service your donors better. How you can have the biggest impact. Not star gazing at Kiva and wondering 'what if'..

Digital fundraising. What fascinates me about this (and hand in hand with this, the 'direct mail doomsayers') is that for as long as I have been attending fundraising conferences around the world, the last seven years to be precise, 'they' (the doomsayers) have been saying the same thing.

Now I'm not here to solely beat the drum of direct mail BUT I can tell you one thing.. it ain't dead. And I can tell you something else. Online givng won't be taking over 'traditonal' methods of giving anytime soon. Certainly not in terms of giving levels. In one sesion I saw data that suggested that around 2% of giving from individuals in Canada is donated online.

Broadly speaking that is backed up by the benchmarking work we have been doing lately (which I blogged about earlier in the week) at Pareto Fundraising which shows that whilst direct mail isn't necessarily growing rapidly, it certainly brings in a massive chunk of income for many, many charities, here in Canada and abroad.

'Recession' impact. Loads of discussion and crystal ball gazing on this one. Lots of data shown to suggest (including in my session) that to date (although I appreciate things are prone to change very quickly) individual giving is still strong across the sector, but guess what... corporates are the first ones to leave you, if they haven't already...

More info on this can be found on the Recession Watch blog.

So was it a worthwhile week? Of course. Lots of interesting debate and discussion. Lots of interesting people generating the discussion and lots of ideas floating around my head about how to move my clients programs (and the sector) forward.

Oh, and of course, just to reiterate some really good sandwiches to top things off nicely. I can't wait for next year!


Monday, November 24, 2008

Aussies and Canadians really are alike... now I have the data to prove it!

I accept there are some subtle differences.

Canadians obsess about hockey. Australians obsess about football and cricket.

Canadians say 'eh'. Australians say 'no worries'.

We're talking semantics now. And in the eight months I have been living in this beautiful country I have been banging on about (see my recent blog on this) how alike Canadian and Aussie donors are.

And now I have some data to prove it.

On Friday I delivered the first round of the Canadian Benchmarking study that we at Pareto Fundraising have been working on with nine fantastic Canadian charities over the past five months.

And whilst I won't reveal all of the key findings (you'll have to join the cooperative to get the complete lowdown!), there are some fascinating insights that are worth sharing (and that are frighteningly similar to what we have experienced 'down under'), namely:

- The economic downturn is NOT currently impacting negatively on individual giving to date (up to June this year): in fact collectively the group has increased income levels from individuals, BUT organizational giving is down from the same time last year.

- Those charities that have invested in growing their monthly giving file are seeing the payoff from this focus with ongoing and committed support increasing rapidly over the last five years, whereas conversely one-time cash gifts have stagnated in the same period.

- Major gifts (for the purposes of this exercise we are talking over $1k (CAD) have been growing steadily both in terms of number of gifts and their level of total donations. **With a health warning that this was for the first half of the calendar year and this is one area that we may see a downturn in from July onwards.

Overall there are strong similarities between the performance of Australian and Canadian charities in terms of where growth is coming from and which areas are having an impact on the sector.

For more information on just how Canadian charities are stacking up, get in touch with me at jonathon.grapsas@paretofundraising.com or call me on +1 416 786 4059.

And for those going to the AFP Congress in Toronto starting tomorrow, I look forward to seeing you there!


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fundraisers helping raise funds for fundraisers

That's a bit of a mouthful isn't it?

Well, that's the premise behind a brilliant new initiative called The Fundraisers Fund set up recently by the Resource Alliance and charity specialists The Good Agency.

A simple model. Fundraisers coming together to donate a few dollars, pounds, euros - to help fundraisers in the developing world have the same training opportunities that we in the developed world sometimes take for granted.

Now given my obsession with investment in personal development and training (see my latest rant) I was drawn to this idea and quickly signed up. How could I not when I looked at the gallery and saw some images of some of the bursaries from the recent International Fundraising Congress held in Holland.

We think we have a tough job as fundraisers (which we do). Imagine doing it with no training and development budget, little access to some of the world's best fundraising practitioners and working on a shoestring..

Makes you stop and think.

Ok enough thinking. I have signed up.

Will you help get a fundraiser from the developing world to a fundraising conference?

If so visit The Fundraisers Fund to join now!


Friday, November 14, 2008

Getting more from conferences than really bad sandwiches...

For some, fundraising conferences mean horrible sandwiches and really bad (almost airline like bad) coffee..

I know that's what it often means to me!

But seriously..

I often wonder what delegates goals are when they attend such conferences. Is it to look at what others are doing and rip it off? Is it to satisfy you or your board that you are delivering 'industry standard' or better results? Is it to meet some fellow fundraisers?

Or is it just to get out of the office for a couple of days? That's the cynic in me coming out now..

Let's face it. Conferences are expensive. And I'm not talking about the registration and travel costs. But YOUR time! Often we forget to factor that in when we work out the real costs of training and development.

So my point is - make the most of your time at any conference or training you attend. You owe it to your employer and more importantly, your beneficiaries.

I'm really (no seriously, REALLY) excited about the upcoming AFP Congress in Toronto in two weeks time.

For a number of reasons. It's my first Congress since moving to Toronto. I'm told it's a great conference (by lots of people who attend LOTS of conferences). I'm speaking - which I love doing.

But most of all, there are close to 1,000 delegates attending. And if I can't walk away from three days of meeting other fundraisers, attending sessions, listening (an undervalued skill as a fundraiser) and the occasional social event with a minimum of three brilliant ideas then I don't think my time (and Pareto Fundraising's investment) has been well spent.

So that's my challenge to you. Three ideas and three concrete actions from the next training event you attend.

Go away from there and make real change. Do I sound a wee bit like the Democratic party now? :)


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cracking on with it and efffective donor engagement..

I had the pleasure of meeting with Dave and Leisha from a brilliant organization called Meal Exchange yesterday.

They had recently attended one of Pareto Fundraising’s workshops on donor engagement and I had arranged to meet with them to find out about what they do, and hopefully give them decent and useful advice.

We had a great chat over an hour so and I met their lovely dog who wanders round the office, brushing up to your leg occasionally.

But the best part of our catch up was when they showed me this brilliant thank you video clip they had developed for participants and sponsors in their recent Trick or Treat campaign.

In the workshop they came to, we had showed another example of a great thank you video that a small, grass roots charity had developed. So these guys just cracked on with it and within a few days had developed this. Well done guys – bloody great stuff.

Not only that but they wrote a fantastic, heartfelt thank you to their participants of which, I loved the copy below which told (a personal story) of how this program can change lives.

“ … One Trick or Eat participant was standing on the sidewalk with her grocery cart full of food, the rest of her team was visiting another house. As she stood there, a boy around 10 years old came up and asked what she was doing. She explained that she was trick or treating, but instead of candy she was asking for donations for the food bank. Without a word the boy upended his bag of candy into her cart and walked away. This is just one of the many stories from Trick or Eat that illustrate the generosity that exists in our communities…”

Hats off to Dave and Leisha for getting on with it (or as well call it as Pareto fundraising, JFDI – I’ll let you work out what that stands for)… and not just getting on with it, but applying some simple but effective donor care and engagement.

Keep up the great work guys.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Canucks and Aussies behave the same...?

Thats what I am expecting to see next week when Pareto Fundraising releases our first Canadian Benchmarking report.

The cooperative we have formed pools the data from nine leading Canadian charities: WWF Canada, Amnesty International Canada, Médecins Sans Frontières, the David Suzuki Foundation, Care Canada, Street Kids International, CBM (Christian Blind Mission), Canadian Feed the Children and the BC Cancer Foundation.

Firstly, hats off to these brilliant organizations for being early adopters to this exciting initiative.

The exercise will allow us to take a good look at what is happening with some of the leading charitable organization's in this country. Where growth is coming from, what's working and what isnt and what impact (if any) is the global economic downturn having on Canadian non profits. (For more info on that visit our Recession Watch blog).

Now if I had a dollar (or what's commonly referred to as a 'loonie' over here) for every time someone said to me "...but Canadian's are different..." then my retirement would come a few years early.


Just like Brits, Aussies, Kiwis - Canadian's behave the same. I'm talking as donors right now. We have proved this in Hong Kong over the past year and a half after being told repeatedly that the Chinese culture was very different, that they wouldnt respond to fundraising techniques developed in the Western world etc. And guess what... they did! At ridiculous levels.

So I fully expect to see the same trends, behaviours and patterns from Canadian donors as we have seen at Pareto Fundraising in other markets.

Oh, and if you're interested in finding out more about this exciting project let me know.


Friday, November 7, 2008

You may remember back in August I posted a blog called Its not you, its me.
I talked about the fact that often we get caught up as fundraisers writing about us, rather talking to donors about them, and more importantly, their beneficiaries.

I'm revisiting this because its so bloody important!

Sean Triner wrote about telling personal stories in his blog yesterday when referring to thew story Obama gave in his election speech about the 106 year old Atlantan woman.

And I read a gret story in Canadian Fundraiser recently from Alan Sharpe which talked about turning statistics into a compelling story. The copy he references is fantastic.

This was the first line of a 'thank you' letter he discovered from a hospital to newly acquired monthly donors...

"Dear Mr. Sharpe,

I shook hands with our country’s youngest heart transplant patient the other day, and he asked me to thank you. You are now a vital member of the team that’s keeping Brad alive."

I love it.

The personal and heartfelt tone is brilliant. Its all about you (the donor) and is real and moving.

As Penelope Burk, one of the leading authorities on thanking in our sector has written, we (charities/fundraisers) need to find unique ways of saying thank you because let's be honest most thank you letters are rolled out from the year before, which were used the year before that...

You get the picture.

The one above was truly unique and stood out from the clutter.

So the message for the day, use personal and human stories - and don't forget to continue using them in thank you letters.

Look how powerful they can be.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Change, change, change

The key word in the US Presidential election.

And as I sat on my couch last night trying to come to grips with such a monumental occasion, I tried to put my finger on the key ingredient in Obama's campaign. (And of course, always trying to find something to blog about)!

And then it hit me. Consistency in message. Clarity. Single focus.

Yes there was some brilliant fundraising. And yes he captured the attention of millions of Americans, not to mention a record voter turnout (the biggest in America in 100 years).

But for me, Barrack Obama and his team kept it simple. And very focused. It was all about change.

In fact if you check out Obama's website today, just hours after the victory, plastered all over the site is that six letter word time and time again.

Consistency and clarity.

The change message encapsulates so many things. Change for the American people, change on their position in Iraq, change on climate change action, on economic reform.

But the Obama campaign has never missed a beat when ensuring that word (in case you missed it, it is change) is always at the heart of their messaging.

And as I have banged on about several times before, charities often fall foul on keeping a clear, consistent and single focused message.

Don't conflict or confuse donors. Let's learn from Obama's message and make some changes today!


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Getting the basic's right...

I've talked lots over the last few months about getting back to basics when it comes to caring for your donors.

Check out my latest instalment on this subject in Mal Warwick's latest newsletter.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Are you tuned in?

I've just finished reading a great book called Tuned In, a really easy read about how to connect deeply with your customers, or in our case, donors.

But before you tune out, it's valuable for anyone, regardless of whether you are a fundraiser, work in an agency or any type of service delivery for that matter.

The book shows you six simple, but powerful ways to creating products, ideas or services that resonate with your buyers.

I love it because it changed my mindset, and when you're a tad stubborn like I can be, thats not easy to do.

The premise of the book is getting you to think about what your buyers, customers, whatever you call them want.. rather than you forcing upon them what you think they want.

So why am I blogging this?

Because I reckon for fundraisers this rings true. We often/mostly tell donors what we think they want to hear, rather than what they actually want to hear.

I'm not talking about asking them how often they want to be mailed (because that is destructive), but being Tuned In to what donors want to hear, what resonates with them and for these very special people, what empowers them.

I work with my clients on developing communications that are relevant, timely and incredibly personal. We ask donors questions about their motivations for support, what makes them tick and what they think about us.

Then we develop communications that reflect their individual desires.

So, don't become tuned out. And read Tuned In.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Why we should focus on impact of our work, not cost

Impact, not cost. Sounds like a really clear distinction. And it is.

But you would be amazed how many charities get caught up in explaining to donors/members of the public how much projects cost and justifying their existence by explaining the breakdown of their programs.

I read with interest this article on Professional Fundraising's site this week, entitled Donors overestimate fundraising and admin spend.

In a new study by leading UK think tank nfpSynery, it was found that British donors grossly overestimate the amount UK charities spend on administration.

To be honest I am not surprised.

One of the scenarios we have 'mystery shopped' charities on over the past 3 years is how they respond to a complaint. Specifically, a complaint focused on the amount the organization is perceived to spend on admin.

What we found was staggering, namely:

- In Australia, only 77% of the charities we approached were able to 'resolve' the complaint in our eyes, meaning that they satisfactorily explained to us a breakdown of where the $ go.

- In Canada this figure was 62%, in New Zealand it was 83% and in Hong Kong a worryingly low 29%.

So what does this mean?

What we experienced was that most frontline workers we spoke to struggled to have the information to hand and clearly explain how the charity spends our money.

But more concerning was that rather than focus on where they were having an impact with my donations, they seemed more intent telling me about the % breakdown.

One great encounter we had was with Orbis in Hong Kong. Following a brilliant phone call where the staff member put us to ease and then turned us around by talking through the many and varied ways our gift was 'making a difference' we were then emailed a flyer - which I have shown above - which very simply articulates the enormous difference Orbis' individual donors have had on restoring the eyesight of those most in need.

Simple, but effective. What's plain to see here is that Orbis has treated over 1m patients and performed 87,500 surgeries. And whilst there is a pie chart devoted to the breakdown on expenditure, the main focus is on impact, not cost.

I only wish more organizations took such an approach. If they did then maybe punters on the street might have a clearer understanding on where charities are spending their hard earned.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Time to knuckle down and stop panicking!

"We have developed a recession budget".

"We expect income next year to be down by 10-15%."

"We are going to stop all donor acquisition next year".

As a consultant I'm fortunate to meet many fundraisers daily. So I hear lots of things: some inspire me, some puzzle me and some downright frustrate me. Like the statements above I have heard in recent times.

Working for a data-led agency you wouldn't be surprised that I have been looking closely in recent weeks at evidence from past tough times to try and forecast what's likely to happen over the coming year.

And the message I am getting consistently (again, looking at real data) and the message I want to convey to you all is the same...

Don't panic people!

All of the evidence from the past, from North America, down under, the UK and other developed fundraising nations suggests that troubled economic times doesnt necessarily mean troubled times for non profits/charities.

I love this article from Advancing Philanthropy which shows that changes in charitable giving are not directly linked to changes in the stock market (in this case illustrated using the Dow Jones Index.

As I have mentioned previously and as we have been demonstrating daily on Pareto Fundraising's Recession Watch blog - the future for us fundraisers is not necessarily bleak.

Yes its true that at Pareto Fundraising we have seen some drop in the levels of corporate support for some charities - however signs are that individuals are resilient and likely to stick with you.

BUT that doesn't mean we can take our eye off the ball. Donor engagement is more important than ever. And if the research I've done over the last seven years on the way we care for our donors is anything to go by, we do have some work to do.

Get back to basics - thank appropriately, listen to what donors want, fulfill your promises to individuals and provide honest and transparent feedback.

Stick to these golden rules and the ship should keep sailing in the right direction.

And leave the panicking for those working in the financial sector, not us fundraisers.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Recession hitting home?

I've heard stories in the past that the real threat of climate change didnt hit home with Alexander Downer, one of former Aussie PM John Howards' Senior Ministers until it was 35 degrees (celsius) one September day in Adelaide a couple of years back. Now for those not from down under, 35 degrees in September is unheard of.

I had my 35 degree day yesterday.

We had been negotiating with a particular supplier for some time on a certain contract and getting much the same result for the last few months. They had been kicking their heels in on the length of the term. We wanted shorter, they wanted longer.

Until yesterday when I got a welcome reprieve, an email something to the effect of.. "It seems that current market conditions are helping to manage the expectations..."

Bingo. There it was. This was the first time I had actually been in the midst of the economy hitting home.

Not having any real personal interest in the share market (except for mine and some relatives superannuation schemes which has had taken a hit because of recent stock crashes) - I still hadnt born the brunt of the global crisis, until now.

So what? Where does leave charities and fundraisers though?

At Pareto Fundraising we are on the front foot on this one and my boss, Sean Triner has just released his own plan for tackling these tough times. In fact I strongly urge you to follow his ten point plan to managing fundraising in a recession - a must read.

There will more on this, but for now get onto the ten point plan.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Me and me mum

Its been a whirlwind couple of weeks back in Australia, with trips to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Last week as I was having dinner with my family I told mum I needed a photo of her and I for a presenation I was doing for work. She got all excited thinking I was doing a 'this is my family' type gig at telling colleagues stories of old family holidays and the like.

So my diplomacy skills escaped me when I explained that I wanted a photo for a Masterclass I was presenting, highlighting the difference in different generations of donors... Errr...sorry mum! But to make it up here is that lovely picture of you. :)

Anyway, what staggers me as I meet fundraisers in all parts of the world is the general lack of differentiation in the way we treat donors that are so fundamentally different in their behavior, life stage and the way they were recruited.

I am talking specifically about donors recruited on the street onto an automatic payment (regular or monthly gift) - as we affectionately call 'F2F donors'.

I'm a classic F2F recruit. Im 31 years old and data from Pareto's benchmarking studies tells me I am the typical (I.e. average age) F2F donor.

Yet its amazing how many organizations fail to recognize the differences in the way I behave and the way my mum (donors recruited through other more traditonal channels I.e. direct mail, telephone) behaves.

Someone in a certain (will remain nameless) charity who has a large program recruiting F2F donors once told me they had been in their role almost 12 months and yet had never been told or taught that this group behaved so differently.

Think about the way F2F donors are recruited. They are usually stopped on the street by someone of similar age. Typically on their lunch break, short of time and unlikely to have been looking out for a canvasser to make a commitment to a charity.

They are more transient, because of their age. They typically have less disposable income, again a factor of age. They are also more mobile and more receptive to mobile and email technology.

Besides their ongoing commitment through their automatic payment they dont do much else. They will upgrade (if contacted by phone) but they dont respond to direct mail appeals and they are rubbish bequest prospects (again, a result of age and lifecycle).

I could go on for ages, but I wont. Mainly because I am now on holidays and about to get stuck into a BBQ my future father in law is cooking up.

But consider these points:

- F2F (younger) donors behave differently

- Cognitive dissonance (the horrible feeling you have when you question a decision you have just made) may take effect after a F2F donor has signed up - so do everything you can to kill this early on - welcome calls, materials reaffirming their decision early on after they join

- Upgrades will work if you use the phone. Get to them early, say 4-6 months after recruitment. Even if they dont upgrade, the phone call if done properly, will act as an attrition buster.

- F2F is bringing in tens of thousands of donors each month in most developed fundraising nations, so dont dismiss it lightly. But do think about how to cultivate these special people.

OK, thats it from me. My charcoaled steak is now ready. I return from leave on the 16th of October so may not post any new entries till then.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Three simple steps to raise more money

Thought I would blog something incredibly practical and remarkably simple today.

As you know I have studied the way hundreds of charities service their donors and members of the public over the past six years, from all over the world.

One of the biggest reasons charities fail to deliver an acceptable level of donor care is their reluctance, inability – call it what you will, to mystery shop themselves and ourselves. It’s so damn simple but usually overlooked/ignored.

As I have said time and time again to fundraisers on this topic, you don’t need to wait until Pareto Fundraising or another fundraising agency undertakes some formal mystery shopping and benchmarking exercise. Here are three simple but effective ways to make this happen and raise more money for your worthy causes:

1. Select 20 charities in the country within which you fundraise and send them $20 in the post and monitor what happens.
2. Set up a process to mystery shop yourselves – by phone, mail and email. You may even do it face to face (get a friend to walk in off the street and attempt to donate to you or make an enquiry)
3. Look abroad and pick some charities to mystery shop – email might be easiest here, again attempt to send them $20 and sit back and watch what happens

Don’t get hung up on processes, just do it. But make sure that you do allocate someone whose responsibility it is to look after this and make sure they have a decent chunk of time allotted to do it – ensuring they don’t get torn away to do something considered ‘more urgent’.

And finally – do something with the learning’s. Rip off what you like, critique your own materials, and continue the process on an ongoing basis. You’ll be amazed what you can learn and the impact it can have on your communications and service handling. And most importantly, your beneficiaries.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The true value of campaigning?

I’ve read and observed lots over the past few years from charities all over the globe about the value of their campaigning or lobbying efforts. For the most part I hear things like, “If a regular giver subsequently becomes a campaigner it increases their lifetime value by 20%”.

And as fundraisers we love this. Why? Because it’s quantifiable.

But what about direct impact? I’m not talking about how much extra money you can raise by getting someone to take action, but how does it help progress your cause?

For me, the primary reason I am yet to find someone who has truly cracked this is because of that dreaded five letter word…silos.

Let me explain…

I once had a meeting with a large NGO and we wanted to discuss some ideas to demonstrate genuine joined up thinking, how to bring fundraising and campaigning together to raise some money and empower individuals to take action.

So what happened?

The campaigners turned up for the start of the meeting, stayed for a bit, left for 2 hours and returned at the end when we were about to discuss ‘the campaigning part’ with a raft of excuses as to why they couldn’t stay for the whole meeting.

So what you say?

This isn’t a rant about campaigners. I like them. The point is, this is a universal predicament. Campaigners and fundraisers working in isolation.

What I am desperate to do is help organizations develop a ‘true’ measure reflecting the impact of their campaigning/ advocacy efforts. Not measuring outcomes, but real impact.

For example, if an environmental group was lobbying MP’s on their green policies, how could that organization measure the ‘greenness’ of the pollies following their work? Not the number of petitions signed or letters sent, but the change in behavior as a result of their work.

Creating such a model incentivizes campaigners and fundraisers to work together as both sides have a tangible gauge for their work and we can get on with developing truly integrated activities (minus arguments about whose budget is being used).
I’d love to hear from anyone who has managed to crack this one and developed such a model (so I can rip it off)!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Qantas and getting on with it in tough times.

Recession proofing, economic downturn, tightening your belt.

All terms that we are hearing daily at the moment. Regardless of which part of the world you are in. And we are not immune to it here in Canada.

But as I plan to fly out to Australia in a few days, one iconic Aussie company has got me thinking about the best way to tackle tough times, whether its economic instability or other. I’m talking about our national air carrier, Qantas. Now whatever you think of them, they are bloody resilient!

In the last few months alone they have dealt with a rupture in the side of a plane which forced an emergency landing, countless other mechanical failures, not to mention escalating fuel surcharges. Not surprisingly, Qantas chief executive Geoff Dixon has come out on the front foot stating that all of these “incidents were unrelated” and that “there had been no significant change in Qantas' rate of reported incidents over the past two years”.

But what shows even greater resilience, and where I think charities should follow suit in difficult times, is their view to advertising/spending. They just get on with it.

I have had no less than 4 emails from Qantas in the past two weeks telling me things like “South America is now closer than ever” and that I should “Grab a Great Deal on Domestic Flights - Sale Ends Soon!” Now I have plenty of travel planned over the coming months and South America is on the cards for next year, but that’s not the point. The point is they faced tough times head on and went about their business.

To back this up, as always I try and illustrate using real and relevant data. When I attended the Institute of Fundraising convention recently in the UK, I listened intently as Jonathan Barker from NFP Synergy talked about research his company had done into the effects of an economic downturn.

The data from the charities included in their study showed that whilst there was a slowdown in fundraising growth during times of negative GDP movement, there was still voluntary income growth. You can see the relative slides in the attached link.

NFP Synergy

And I’ll bet that those who grew more were the ones who carried on as per normal.

Now I’m not suggesting to be frivolous and make decisions you wouldn’t typically make, but just crack on with it. And equally as importantly, now is the time to really focus on genuine donor care with our existing donors, responding appropriately and respectfully, with genuine thanking and relevant and timely communications. Getting back to basics and servicing the lifeblood of our organizations (our donors) properly.

I bet you Aussies out there didn’t think you could learn something from Qantas now, did you?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Cats in Zambia and getting close to the cause

One thing that as fundraisers we don't do enough of is get intimately close to the causes we work for, support and are passionate about.

Typically because of time constraints, often because of logistics. Although few would argue just how inspiring it is and the momentum it can build either in your life as a fundraiser or in your journey as a donor.

This last week has seen two brilliant examples which has really bought this message home to me.

The first relates to a letter we received last week from Plan International Australia with an update on how our sponsored boy is doing. As you can imagine this always creates a spike of excitement in the household, none more so than last week.

Not just because Belfry is growing immensely, doing well at school and his community is really prospering from Plan's fantastic work, but because of the beanie he was wearing on his head in the accompanying photos.


You see for those who know me well, know one thing for sure. How passionate (some may say mad or obsessive) I am about my beloved Aussie Rules team, the Geelong football club. And some time back we decided to send Belfry a Geelong woolen beanie to spread the reach of my team far and wide, and of course to keep his little head warm.

So when we opened the letter to find two adorable pictures of him wearing it, it’s fair to say it made our day!

Not just because he is now a proud Cats fan, but because it bought us even closer to the cause. And that's what it is about as a donor.

The second example follows the Masterclass I delivered last week in Toronto which focused primarily on our experiences as a donor in the recent mystery shopping study we have conducted here in Canada.

At the end of the session I announced that as we were not able to give away all of the money we planned to (as a result of the mystery shopped charities inability to process gifts or just not respond in many instances) - I was offering on behalf of Pareto Fundraising to donate the balance to one/some of the session attendees and set participants a challenge to see who in the ensuing days could inspire me the most as a donor.

The response has been phenomenal. I have had brilliant and moving letters, emails and phone calls from fundraisers who genuinely believe in the causes they work for.

I have even had a call from an amazing lady who volunteers for a large Canadian charity who helps people suffering from arthtitis (and when I say volunteer this includes teaching, helping others cope who are living with arthtritis, speak publically about the condition - you name it, this incredible woman does it). This wonderful lady spoke at length and passionately about her experience as a benefactor but also about her committment to advocate their work as a volunteer for, in her words, 'saving her life'.

Brilliant stuff. I only wish all organizations could inspire me and others as often and as well as some of these charities have.

Now the tough part… to decide to who to give the money to!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

“What people say about you when you’re not in the room…”

That’s my definition of a ‘brand’. Well actually, I heard it a conference once and it stuck with me as the best definition for a topic that in my opinion is horribly overanalyzed.

One of the most misleading things I heard about big charities brands was in an Aussie article a couple of years back. The focus of the article was that there was a direct correlation between the size of the top 50 or so Australian charities and their level of ‘brand awareness’.

Rubbish I thought! The point was being missed.

Brand awareness didn’t make these non profits the largest (by income) – it was the other way around. The reason they had such big brand awareness was because they all had one thing in common (maybe minus the odd exception) – they spent lots on fundraising. You think World Vision Australia has an annual income of near $300m(AUD) by luck? They spend around $25m per annum on fundraising.

The point is that spending on fundraising (and specifically recruitment of donors) is the best source of brand awareness for charities that there is. Who can convince me that plastering large billboards on a high street or spending on bus back advertising will out pull fundraisers on the street actually talking to the public about their great causes (I.e. people talking to people)?

I was reminded about this as I was flying back from New York yesterday and read an article on branding that caught my eye (most just put me to sleep or drive me crazy). The author was a guy called Guy Kawasaki, the magazine called Entrepreneur.

Guy’s message was simple: if you have a great product, a great brand will follow; so long as you are sending the right message. So simple yet so true.

He makes 8 really clear points, three of which really stuck with me.

The first was about creating one message and avoiding trying many at once, which many companies (and I know many non profits) do.

The second was about speaking English and avoiding using lots of jargon. Don’t try and be too clever – keep it simple!

The third which I liked was referring to companies stupid use of money when they have too much to spend on ‘branding’. He argued that ‘too much money is worse than too little, because when you have a lot of money, you spend a lot of money on stupid things, like Super Bowl commercials’. Now I would take a slight spin on that and add we do need money to spend but on things that will result in income and donors, which then help build who you are and what people say about you (not the other way around).

So what are people saying about you (or your organization) when you are out of the room?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What to learn from the Aussie Olympic team?

It pains me to say this, but Great Britain has headed their long time foes and my nation, Australia in the medal race at the Beijing Olympics. As a result, I’m looking for excuses because like any Aussie I don’t like being beaten by the Brits!

And in my quest to delve deeper into this unfathomable scenario, I did discover something which seems to be at the root of the Australian’s problems: complacency.

Consider these facts:

• The GB team spends more on its Paralympic team than the Aussies spend on both their Olympic and Paralympic teams combined.
• The British government is prepared to pour another 400 million pounds into Olympic sport in preparation for the 2012 London Olympics.
• Australian coaches have been poached en masse by the British, often at double or triple the salaries they were being paid in Australia, boosted by the proceeds of national lottery money.

Now, you could argue as a nation we are ‘punching above our weight’? 20 gold medals in Athens for a country with a population less than the state of Texas is pretty damn good. Yet we finished with 14 gold in Beijing which suggests somethign is awry.

So what the hell does this have to do with fundraising?

Well, like my current experience watching the Aussies slip ever so slightly down the medal table, I cringe when I see firsthand charities taking the foot off the pedal, not striving hard enough to get on the podium.

I recently met with a large Canadian charity to talk about some benchmarking we are doing of charities performance globally, and specifically in Canada.

The fundraisers I presented to loved it. Particularly the idea of being able to learn from others and picking the best of what they are doing that works.

However the meeting ended pretty abruptly when I was told there was one major barrier. There was a perception form certain parts of the organization (I won’t name names) that they couldn’t possibly learn from anyone else, they had all their bases covered and were leaps and bounds ahead of anyone else.

Now don’t get me wrong. This is one successful, very large organization that is doing well. But to think for a moment that nothing could be learned, refined, tweaked and absorbed from others in the sector is absurd. Especially when I have recently mystery shopped this organization and have seen for my own eyes what they are doing!

So as I watched the leader of the marathon enter the Olympic stadium with a lap to go, peering over his shoulder waiting for his challengers to surge, it reminded me of the way as fundraisers we should behave. Always on our toes and on the lookout for others. For if we aren’t then the same fate as the Australian Olympic team could await you.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Major Donors this afternoon?

I got told off by a fellow resident in my office last week because we made lots of noise. By me I mean me and some clients who were in the office. But there was a reason, and I reckon it was a bloody good one!

We had just participated in a session that Sean had delivered. It was entitled, Major Donors Next Week. And you guessed it, the focus was to attract some big gifts within a week.

The philosophy behind this approach is simple (says me who isn’t doing the asking!). Those clients who are brave enough to undertake this session with us, meet with major donors (or major donor prospects) within the next few days AND ARE PREPARED TO ASK, succeed. Those who don’t have less success.

Anyway why did I get told off?

Well, at approximately 4.55pm we struck gold. One of our clients who had participated in the training just solicited a $10k credit card donation over the phone. Amidst the excitement of this there were shrieks of joy, high fives and slaps on the back. Which was fun for us, but not so for the lady in the office next door. Oops!

The point is: the donation resulted because our client did something. They spoke to this particular donor with the intention of setting up an appointment. As it turned out he wasn’t fussed on meeting but he decided he would like to make a gift there and then. And just to play along with the script even more, he gave ten times the amount of his previous gift (coincidentally the amount he was going to be asked for in a face to face appointment)!

So, the question is, do we now rename the training Major Donors this afternoon? I don’t really mind, as long as I don’t get yelled at again!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

It's not you, its me

If you’re like me, nothing drives you madder than someone you meet spending every breathing moment talking about their favourite subject: them. Their favorite type of curry, their views on what’s right and wrong with the world and even their two bob’s worth on Cristiano Ronaldo’s possible transfer.

We’ve all been there as we try desperately to excuse ourselves to visit the bathroom in the midst of them gabbling about their son’s upcoming football match. Actually, if we are really honest we have probably been guilty of this ourselves.

So if we get that, why do so many charity communications talk about us, the organization, rather than you the donor? And more importantly, those we are helping, the beneficiaries.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past six years analyzing how charities respond to unsolicited approaches from donors through a series of mystery shopping projects, where armed with real bank details we attempt to do a number of things including make real donations.

And I’m often astounded at the level and breadth of those communications which focus on the bricks and mortar of the charities we try to support rather on the impact our donations will have.

Consider these two pieces of contrasting copy within charity materials.

We at the are celebrating our 75th anniversary this year and we hope you will come on board us as we celebrate this momentous occasion in our history.


I would hope that you can join me in the fight against childhood cancer and to help little boys just like Tommy.

The first is entirely organizationally focused, insular and cares more about birthday cakes and party streamers rather than changing lives. In fact changing lives or the cause for which they exist is not clear from this sentence.

Contrast that with the second piece of copy. Personal (using language such as ‘I’ and ‘you’), uses empowering language and talks about human impact, using a real case study.

Time and time again, through critiquing hundreds upon thousands of charity communications I constantly feel let down and frustrated. I (as a donor) don’t want to know, nor do I care about anniversaries and parties. I want to know about someone like little Tommy and how I can help make a difference to his life.

So whether you’re sitting in Vauxhall or Vancouver, spend ten minutes looking at every communication that leaves your building. You may just be a little surprised at what you find.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Shopping in Canada: 'mystery shopping' that is..

No, I haven’t been spending all my time at H&M or wandering down trendy Queen St West. I refer to the recent mystery shopping exercise we have just completed here in Canada.

Over the past three months we mystery shopped 39 Canadian charities using 3 specific scenarios (an attempt to set up a monthly gift, an enquiry about leaving a legacy and a complaint). This follows 3 years worth of similar activity we have undertaken in Australia, NZ and Hong Kong.

The findings will be released shortly at Pareto Fundraising's next Masterclass in Toronto and during a session at the AFP Congress in Toronto (don’t worry we won’t be ‘naming and shaming’ poor performing charities). The focus of these sessions will be partly to look at how we as a sector ‘stack up’ including comparisons with similar studies in other parts of the world, but mainly focused on real and tangible ways to improve the levels of care you provide to your donors, immediately. And let’s face it, with everyone banging on about tough economic times, focusing on those you have, rather than those you don’t, is where your energies are going to be spent.

We’re in the midst of analyzing the results at the moment, but here are some teaser’s to get you by:

· In less than 20% of occasions did the charities mystery shopped actively promote monthly giving as a means for the donor to give (yet all of these charities have active monthly giving programs)
· We (the ‘donor’) were genuinely thanked for our offer to support in around 70% of cases. Which means the Canadian’s are doing better than the Aussies and the Brits, but the question remains, why isn’t this 100%?

Some of this, and more to follow, is pretty frightening (like the proportion of gifts that were never actually set up). But with the glass full, I’m positive that the charities mystery shopped will embrace the need to make change and look to others who are doing well.


Friday, August 1, 2008

Sole fundraisers flying the flag..

I meet some incredibly brilliant and inspiring people in my job. Actually sometimes I feel too fortunate to call it a 'job', but I digress...

More often than not these dynamic and great people are working as 'sole fundraisers' for various organizations.

I sometimes wonder what their job description says because I am sure that besides the obvious fundraising duties it must include everything from being able to deliver miracles from nothing, be expected to win wars that can't be won and all the time remembering that they are there to changes lives.

They really are the 'jack of all trades'.

But I would love to see more fundraisers from small/single 'shops' out and about, beating their chest, sharing what they have to offer with the rest of the sector.

You don't have to work for a large national or multinational nonprofit to be a leader, to have the runs on the board.

That's right, I'm calling on you wonderful people to stand up and be proud of what you do. Show off your brilliant fundraising efforts on websites such as SOFII, put your hand up to speak at industry conferences such as AFP's Congress and just generally 'get amongst it'.

Ok, I should finish now, I'm starting to rant using Aussie 'slang'...


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"The road to failure is paved with success.."

This heading sounds really profound, doesn’t it? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t..

I read this in one of Drayton Bird's regular emails. For those who don't know Drayton, I suggest you find out who he is and start subscribing to his emails series. Visit http://www.draytonbird.com/ to do so.

Sean Triner (my boss) and I had the good fortune of having dinner with Drayton a few weeks back in London. Although it almost didn’t happen. Who would have thought there were 2 restaurants with the same name in Marylebone Lane? Drayton sitting in one, Sean and I in the other..

Anyway I digress.

It was a fascinating couple of hours as we shared stories, successes, failures. Oh and a few glasses of red.

But the crux of what I have learnt from Drayton, not just over a couple of glasses of vino, but by reading his work for some time, is this..

Once you begin to think you can do no wrong, you will. Being cocky and careless leads to complacency. So even a 'guru' like Drayton spends his precious time, in between speaking, travelling the world and having dinners with strange Aussies doing one thing: studying.

To quote Drayton:

"Well, the difference between the winners and losers in marketing is mostly just that. Study. And the only reason I can give you these ideas is the same reason you're reading them. I study - I'm not that talented. I have a library of thousands of examples - good and bad - and I add to them constantly."

Simple but brilliant.

The minute we start believing we are great, we are destined for failure.

I can't stress enough how important this is and as I meet many talented and successful people during my travels, they all have one thing in common: an insatiable appetite to learn from others.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What is the true value of saying 'thank you'?

Saying 'thank you' to donors who give their hard earned to the causes we work for, isn't that hard. Yet it amazes me how often we get it wrong, or just dont do it.

This is top of mind for me at the moment as I am re-reading Penelope Burke's "Donor Centred Fundraising", which is a great read for anyone committed to the practice of putting donors at the forefront of their fundraising efforts.

I have spent a lot of time over the past six years analyzing how charities respond to unsolicited requests from members of the public, mystery shopping organizations in the UK, Australia, NZ, Hong Kong and now in Canada. And one element of donor care that universally lags behind, is the art of saying 'thank you'.

But rather than rant about why, how and when we should say 'thank you', I am particularly interested in some more formal measurements undertaken of the value of thanking, and combined with that, the value of feeding back and telling donors about the impact their gift has made.

Burke's research is really sound, and the study (this one in the US) consisted of hundreds of conversations with both non profits and of course, individual donors. But I would love to take this a step further.

Rather than asking donors how they feel about being thanked, how they like to be thanked, do they remember how long it took for their thank you letter to arrive, why dont we measure the true impact that varying levels of thanking and feedback actually have?

Let me explain..

I have tried in the past with clients of mine to implement a series of (long term) cohorts looking to uncover the optimum levels of thanking, donor care, feeding back and updating donors, who are as we know, the lifeblood of most charitable organizations. So rather than ask donors, actually implement a number of different communications streams, each with varying levels of thanking, feedback, information, regularity. Then sit back, and see what happens. And when I say 'see what happens', I mean analyze the real data and measure the impact.

I'll be honest though, I can understand why no-one has taken me up on this. You see, a project of this nature is expensive, bloody hard work, complex and it takes more than a year to conclude anything at all. The flip side is if we can say for sure what constitutes the most effective way to say thank you and the exact frequency and level of detail with which we should feedback - the impact it could have on our work (as fundraisers) and more importantly, our beneficiaries, is frightening.

Burke talks in her book about the revenue gap, which is essentially the income lost from failing to practice donor centred fundraising and communicating appropriately. In other words, the lost income as a result of donors attriting, which in many instances is linked to a lack of thanking/feedback.

I want to bridge the revenue gap for the many causes I work for.

And I pose this question: who's up for testing the level and nature of thanking and feeding back we provide to donors? Let's even think a little laterally, what's stopping a collaborative of charities putting their heads (and resources together) to find the answers together?


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Social networking: the next big thing for raising lots of money... OR an unwanted distraction?

I work for a brilliant fundraising organization called Pareto Fundraising. We exist purely and simply to help charities help their beneficiaries.

Right now I would argue that social networking as a way to raise money is an unwanted distraction.

Having worked with fundraisers around the world for the past 7 years one of my greatest sources of frustration is charities (and those within charities) getting distracted by things that just really don’t make a difference. Or in other words, don’t make them any money. Which in turn, doesn’t help their beneficiaries.

One such recent example of distraction is fundraisers trying to use social networking sites to raise money.

Now there has been lots written about this in recent times. And everyone has their 20 cents worth. I believe in looking at facts. Data. Evidence. And the evidence so far shows that as a fundraising mechanism (I am not talking about activism, campaigning, lobbying etc) - social networking has not been the 'next big thing' that some suspected it might.

Take the 'causes' application on facebook for example. If you look at recent reports, over the last 12 months just $2.5m has been solicited in gifts for 19,445 charitable organizations. That’s at an average of a mere $126 per organization! A pittance.

Now I could blog all day about other more effective fundraising efforts, but I won't. The point is, right now, social networks are not the answer for raising lots of money. The simple reason is there is no direct link between the charity and the individual and no real reason for them to support.

In time I may be proved wrong. But the point is, let's (as fundraisers) stop getting distracted or torn away from the stuff that ‘helps us help our beneficiaries’. Let's get better at thanking our donors, let's meet more donors face to face, let's develop more brilliant stories to be able to tell our donors or others we may reach out to for support.

Let’s get on with focusing our efforts where it really matters.