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!