Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The next 'big' thing?

We're always looking for 'the next big thing', right?

It's a conversation that I've been having with lots of people over the last couple of months.

Fortunately, for us in North America, the biggest areas likely to impact our programs dramatically are staring us right in the face. Specifically:

1 Finding lots, lots more of those wonderful monthly donors. By doing the following:

- Spending more where you'll get the greatest return. Often to take a quantum leap we need to make a sizable investment. It's not the answer we may want to hear, but its often the reality. Refer to previous posts about looking and understanding the relative net value of different types of supporters.

- Finding hand raisers. In seeking out and attracting new people to support on an ongoing basis, this offers the potential to find serious numbers of new individuals.

The concept is simple: asking someone to do something really easy, really simple. "Would you sign this petition?" .... "Would you stand beside me and say no to....?"

Quickly followed by something else. Perhaps another simple action or campaigning piece. Then once this person has had the chance to know you a little better, we ask for a regular, monthly gift. It opens up a conversation for many you couldn't have has minus the two-three stepped approach. Bingo.

- The above ties into another question which I'm regularly asked: where do I find younger donors? The simple answer is on the street. There is no better mechanism for finding younger donors that face to face fundraising. Large volumes, and quickly. There are caveats as always and this blog has dedicated a lot of time in the past talking about street fundraising.

- The next best place is moving into the digital space. We know through benchmarking that the average value of online recruited monthly donor is between $900 and $1,000 after five years. The challenge is finding them. Needle in a hay stack. Volumes are tiny.

My suggestions here:

- Don't use any one vehicle in isolation. Banner ads, Google AdWords, cold eblasts. All great sources to 'push' people to do something. But very difficult to make them work on their own. Sheerly as a result of volume.

- Keep it really simple. Send prospects somewhere, preferably a custom built site. When they land there, make it hard for them to get out. Don't have lots of distractions. Keep the space really clean and simple.

- Get a phone number. Even if you need to incentivize people to provide it. The difference between success and lack of it, when it comes to multi staged approaches and conversion is the penetration level of telephone numbers.

- Put your personal feelings aside. If I had a dollar (actually maybe ten) for each meeting I've been in where someone has said "I would never do that", I wouldn't be blogging right now. I'd be off sailing in the Caribbean. Gut feeling and instincts are great, especially in direct response where you can test.

But data is critical. If Greenpeace had listened to what I'm sure the gut instincts of a lot of their staff were thinking in the early 90's, we likely wouldn't be writing about face to face. And the sector would be billions of dollars worse off.

2 Getting back to basics on bequests. By doing the following:

- Looking at your data. Our work through benchmarking uncovered recently that the things that intuitively make sense (yes, our "gut" instincts) in this instance are spot on. Loyalty is a driver in someones propensity to leave a bequest. Number of gifts, cumulative value and how recently someone has given a onetime cash donation are indicate how likely someone is to have confirmed you in their Will.

There is likely an element of targeting here, in other words we're asking these people more often, but it's mostly a reflection of the relationship.

- Repetition. Follow the logic of all fundraising: ask, ask and ask again. You're planting seeds here. Whilst we have seen supporter surveys as one of the biggest drivers of delivering prospects and those who have self identified as confirmed bequestors, those who have the most success are the gardeners who planed those seeds long before.

Once, twice a year we need to be telling people the enormous difference they're lasting legacy could make. And of course, not just educating, but asking.

- Not overcomplicating things. Ask for residual bequests. They're worth far, far more because they hold their relative value over a time. For some organizations 20, 30 or 50 times more than a specific amount.

And almost in all circumstances the large majority of planned giving income is from actual bequests left, that is not gifts of stock or securities. Yes there are always exceptions, but I've found these incredibly rare. Which means, keep it simple. Push for residuals, offer specific bequests as an option.

- Focusing on the why. A much more effective way to introduce, and quite frankly, sell bequests. The how needs to come afterwards.

- I mentioned getting back to basics. The mail, whilst helping spot those people with a greater likelihood of leaving a gift in their Will (older, loyal, long term donors) also happens to be one of the most effective ways to 'convert' supporters. In fact the mail plays an integral role through bequest packs, surveys and follow up conversion letters. However of course the best approach strategically uses the telephone and some face to face solicitation (including things like bequests events).

That's it for a Tuesday morning. The next big thing for us North American fundraisers just happens to be right here, on our doorstep. There's a hell of a lot of growth still to be driven from more effectively generating lots of new regular supporters, and helping people leave us their most significant, lasting gift.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Debunking the myth: 'mail less'

I was checking out Jeff Brook's article on Fundraising Success this morning, The Curse of Too Much Mail.

I've broached this a lot in the past, namely here at how often should I talk to my donors and more recently here when drawing a similar bow, specifically how often should I blog?

Jeff is absolutely spot on when he points out "Adding more impacts to your schedule increases revenue and improves donor retention".

And when qualifying that also hits the nail on the head by saying "The real problem isn't too much mail, but too little relevance. The wrong 
message sent to the wrong people at the wrong time."

Earlier in the year we looked at this as part of our benchmarking study in Canada.

And guess what we found?

Those that contact their donors the most often invariably deliver the most net income. You'll note I said contact, not mail. Yes a large portion of that contact is through the mail, and yes a large portion of that includes asking, but not always.

That includes asking, thanking, updating, feeding back. Some more asking. And then all over again.

That includes phone, mail, digital, personal contact.

That includes getting the balance right.

So when we looked at this in detail the upshot was that those organization's delivering the best retention and reactivation rates, and the most net value both in terms of cash income and monthly were those who made the most effort to reach out and get in touch.

So we really shouldn't mail less. We should mail/talk/connect with people when we have something to say.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Haiti response: 'mystery shopping' findings released

One of the things I'm passionate about in our sector is delivering brilliant levels of supporter care.

In fact much of what I've done over the few years is working with charities to find even better ways to reach out and look after those people who are the lifeblood of what we do: our donors.

You may have seen some earlier posts here about the mystery shopping work we've been conducting in different parts of the world. To understand how charities care for donors, and look at ways to do it even better.

So in the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti earlier this year, I got together with my colleagues in Australia and our friends over at Pell & Bales in the UK, and The Fundraising Company in Spain to get a sense of how charities fundraising for Haiti were doing in the wash up.

I'll spend some more time over the coming weeks looking at some of the specific findings from this project, but in a nutshell here's what we did:

• Made an online gift around two weeks after the Haiti disaster. The gift made was for the equivalent of $25 USD, to 52 organizations in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and Spain. A full list of those organizations that we ‘mystery shopped’ can be found at the end of this document.

• Sat back and watched what happened after the donation was made. We monitored the organizations subsequent efforts for the next two months (up till the end of April).

• Analyzed the results, based on five key criteria:

1. Initial contact experience. What was the experience like as a donor making the donation? Did the charity actually take our money?

2. Response time. Did we hear back from the charity the same day the gift was made online?

3. Value of the ‘thank you’. Was it personal? Were we actually thanked ’? Was a story shared? Were we provided with links to up to date information?

4. How proactive the organization was. Was information shared about how our gift would make a difference? Was regular/monthly giving promoted initially and throughout the period?

5. The follow up. Was there ongoing feedback and updates? Were we asked for subsequent donations, and if so were we asked to consider a regular/monthly gift?

So what happened?

For the most part the initial response to our gifts was pretty good. Most responses were speedy, the level of thanking was good (mostly) and in the main our gifts were processed (except for 4 donations we attempted to make in Spain).

Immediately after our gift we began to be communicated with regularly. We were kept abreast of what was happening in the field. Certainly from an operational perspective. Our biggest observation was that there were a real lack of stories being shared, about people, real people, who were actually being helped. We were fed lots about the facts, not much about human stories.

Subsequently we wanted to see how many efforts were made to ask us for another gift/s. And in particular did these organizations each out and ask us for a regular/monthly gift? The take up on this was low, which was disappointing. We know that (perhaps bar the US, see my earlier post) all of the countries have seen explosive growth in this form of giving and we expected charities to ask us to 'convert'. And quickly. Some did (just 29% in the first 2 months), most didn't (some have done since).

As I said there will be more on this over the coming days and weeks. In the meantime, check out a summary of our findings and some observations and recommendations about what next.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Why hasn't monthly giving exploded in the US?

I've been canvassing opinion from some of the best American fundraisers of late about the $64m question: why has monthly/regular giving not really "taken off" like it has in other developed fundraising nations?

The views I've had back from some of the best in the business, including the likes of Mal Warwick, have been pretty universal.

Before I go on I should say, for clarification, by monthly gift I mean an auto deduct or automatic payment form someones credit card or bank account. I am not referring to monthly giving clubs that require organizations to send monthly reminders to people. These are two very different things.

Most cite the proliferation and unsophistication of the banking system. Cheques still play a huge role in the lives of people in the US, less so automatic payments, like us Aussies and Brits are used to. As a side note, the UK plans to go "cheque less" by 2018.

There were other consistent reasons given, like trust (both with banks, and from donors).

I feel all of these are excuses. Monthly giving really is the big idea, the next big thing in the US.

Of course there are some brilliant organizations with large monthly files. ASPCA, Amnesty International, Greenpeace. All I believe are riding the monthly giving wave. There are no doubt more. But not enough.

But for me, there are two very simple reasons why ongoing, regular gifts have not (yet) transformed the monthly giving landscape in the US.

1 US charities are a victim of their own success. Direct response, in particular direct mail, programs in the US quite simply, rock. The sheer volume, and on the back of it, levels of income organizations generate from these vehicles is astounding.

There's a part of me that thinks if I was Director of Development of a US charity I too would find the case for monthly tougher if I was bringing in tens of millions of dollars through the door this year with an intensive onetime cash driven program.

It's certainly an easier "sell" in Australia, Canada, the UK or New Zealand, where we are fishing from small pools comparatively.

That doesn't mean it isn't a case worth fighting for. For example, check out the slide below which shows the average 3 year net value for monthly gifts versus onetime cash gifts. This varies by method of recruitment, and of course varies depending on other factors, but gives you a sense of the difference over the long term of the power of monthly gifts.

When you put it like that, its a tougher proposition to ignore.

2 Poor execution. To be fair, this is not exclusive to the US. There are many cases of not getting the implementation right, and I've blogged about it lots, including back here.

However the point I want to make here is its easy to do something once, not get it right - reflected by poor results - and then be heard to say "we tried that and it didn't work". I also talked a little while back specifically about this topic, why poor execution can get in the way of a solid approach.

I hope this doesn't happen for lots of US organizations in the pursuit of serious fundraising transformation.

Monthly giving has changed the way we fundraise in the UK, Australia, Canada and many other countries.

The US is next.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The 'best' speakers at conferences

Fundraising conferences want the best speakers, the latest and most topical content, real case studies, insightful commentary, sharing results. Right?

If you answered yes to that question then why the hell do we care about whether the person facilitating the session works directly for a charity, or works indirectly for a charity (consultant/agency)?

Quite frankly we shouldn't and we need to stop our obsession with this.

My colleague Sean Triner wrote a piece earlier this week about the same issue. I won't steal his thunder too much, check out what he has to say.

I was speaking to a colleague a little while back who told me about a certain conference that had a mandate to have a certain % of their speakers (in fact almost exclusively) from charities.

This doesn't help anyone. Least of all the delegates. As I mentioned in the first line of this blog, surely we want the best, of everything? If we agree that's the case then it's irrelevant which organization the person at the front of the room is paid by.

Of course consultants have a vested interest in speaking. Noone will deny that. But again, if they present loads of really useful, practical case studies, share results and provide tons of brilliant ideas then that's the point. If they don't, then they don't get invited back. Simple. Same goes for charity folks.

I've been fortunate recently to help out the gang at AFP as part of the education committee for Congress 2010. By the way it's shaping up to be a terrific event.

As part of the education committee we're looking for the best of the best. From locally here in Ontario, throughout Canada and from around the world.

It's not a debate about 'charity v consultant'. Hence why Congress is one the leading fundraising get together's in the world.

Check out Sean's article as he looks in depth at the inherent problems with our obsession with consultants speaking.

But please. Please stop complaining about this. Put your hand up and contribute at conferences and understand the reasons why focusing on the best is more critical than focusing on charity speakers.