Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lesson from Vodafone

It's not often I'll draw on something a telecommunications provider has done to inspire fundraising greatness. I'm often the first one to scorn at my phone company.

But I make an exception here.

Last night I got this email from the CEO at Vodafone.

Pretty candid. Quite gutsy. He even put his photo on here so we could visualize him apologizing. The only thing he could have done to expose himself more is done this via a video clip (but then the reach would likely have been lower).

I like the way that Nigel makes no bones about the fact that they haven't been up to scratch. He doesn't try and make excuses, simply tells it as it is.

"The simple answer is that we’ve been growing fast, and when problems came, we responded too slowly. "

He could have given us some garbled response tinged with big words that would have left us flummoxed but he didn't. Merely admitted they tried to run before they crawl.

I love the rawness of this. It reminds me of a client a few years back who had a major internal meltdown days after an appeal lodging. Database crashed, staff shortages, the works.

And what did they do?

Something similar to Nigel Dews. Wrote to their donors, explained what happened and asked for a little patience as it may take longer to get back and thank them if they had indeed already sent a gift.

What happened?

Gifts flowed in. To the apology letter. It wasn't the point, nor the intention. But it proved that showing their cards, opening themselves up, was absolutely the right thing to do.

Now if this client had done this again, and if Vodafone doesn't deliver, then people will walk.

But right now, it's hats off to Nigel Dews and the Vodafone gang. Never thought I'd say that.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Charity merger: Operation Smile Train

I was thrilled to receive a call from a colleague yesterday sharing the brilliant news about the merger of two wonderful organizations, Operation Smile and Smile Train.

Brilliant news because it will, if successful, give smiles to more kids around the world. Plain and simple.

Brilliant also because good, robust and successful charity mergers are few and far between.

There have been a handful of leading case studies over the past decade in the UK. Cancer Research UK is a cancer research organization formed in 2002 by the merger of The Cancer Research Campaign and Imperial Cancer Research Fund.

Before they merged, they generated around £225m between them. They've now more than doubled that to over £500m. Not bad in less than 10 years. More than twice as much pioneering research delivered, lives saved. Case in point.

More recently Age UK was formed, the coming together of Age Concern England and Help the Aged.

So what's the point?

Done correctly, well thought through mergers allow collaborators to further their great work. To quote the leaders at Operation Smile Train they're mission is simple, believing they can "capitalize on each other’s strengths to:

- Reach more children than either of us could on our own
- Launch more medical missions and train more local doctors
- Operate more efficiently so we can accomplish much more."

Simple, but inspiring, right?

If it works, yes. The reason I think this coming together is so important is it is the only one I know of (I'm sure there are more) when the organizations have a checkered history. It isn't any secret that things haven't been rosy in the past between Operation Smile and Smile Train.

But who cares. They've seen through all of the reasons mergers don't typically happen: ego's, territorial-ism and inability to see the bigger picture (and long term impact of coming together).

They've done it purely and simply because it is the right thing to do, ensuring Operation Smile Train will do what they do better than anyone else. No other reason.

And that means more smiles for kids who otherwise wouldn't been able to do what we all take for granted. Smile.

My colleague Sean Triner wrote a great piece about charity mergers a couple of years ago, worth a read.

That's not to say charities should merge merely for the sake it. There are arguments against it. Like losing your ability as independent organizations to be nimble, and as a result becoming less effective. But usually examples like this are hurdles. And hurdles are meant to be overcome.

Those who ignore it because its too hard or will put our own jobs at risk are doing those we're out to help a disservice.

And that means less of what Operation Smile Train will no doubt so better than anyone else. Create more smiles like the one below.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Why the 'flood levy' shouldn't harm good fundraising

It’s been a horrible start to the year for Australia, in particular the state of Queensland. We’ve been hit with some of the worst floods in our history and one of the more brutal cyclones; all while other parts of the country suffer through bushfires and heat waves.

With the impact of the floods likely to be in the billions of dollars, the federal government has introduced a 12 month flood levy, which increases personal income tax (by around 0.75%) for a year, for those earning more than $50,000. The levy is designed to help rebuild Queensland’s infrastructure ruined by the floods.

In the aftermath of the announcement, my friend Cam asked me what I thought, and whether I expected charitable support to be impacted by the levy? Did I believe that by the government ‘forcing’ people’s hands to support would be to the detriment of Aussie charities?

I really don’t think so. For two reasons:

People tend to give above and beyond what they normally would in emergency situations

Last year we had a Canadian client due to lodge an appeal the day after the Haiti earthquake. My client rang me in a panic wondering whether in fact we should post the appeal, or delay it.

My response was a categorical yes. The Haiti situation was horrendous, beyond belief. But the kids we were appealing on behalf of needed help. Their situation hadn’t changed one bit. It couldn’t wait.

So the pack went out, net income increased 25% from the previous year’s appeal. It was a strong appeal. No doubt some of those donors also reached into their pockets to support organizations working in Haiti. But they didn’t forget the kids that also needed help locally in Canada.

I believe the same will ring true after the floods. But a word of warning the next time this happens (and it will happen, disasters are occurring more frequently). Don’t offer an excuse as to why donors shouldn’t or don’t need to respond. Good appeals for support are about clarity and need, not easy ‘get outs’. So avoid wording that mentions conditional support, like “I know you’re probably helping in the aftermath of X, but we also need your help”. That provides an excuse to switch off.

We saw a similar situation as part of the economic meltdown a couple of years back. All of the direct response testing I saw showed what we intuitively thought. Mentioning the recession suppressed response.

People give when they see that something needs support, not when they’re presented a raft of excuses why they shouldn’t.

This was about infrastructure, not people

The flood levy is about rebuilding a state’s resources. Roads, buildings, technology. Decimated by a natural disaster.

Whilst that indirectly helps individuals, the levy isn’t about handouts to those affected.

Hence why I believe it won’t affect charitable support, assuming of course it’s backed up with damn good fundraising.

My advice to those fundraising post emergencies is to continue doing what you were planning on doing. Good results follow good practice.

And that’s what I told my mate Cam.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Don't give me an excuse not to donate

Enjoyed Jeff Brook's post today about fundraising words we don't like.

It got me thinking about 'excuses'. I reckon in direct response we offer too many ways to 'get out'.

Excuses not to respond. Like reminders of tough financial times, or other significant events that may take precedence. Don't provide an easy way out. I need to feel this is the most important thing I've heard, seen or read today.

Excuses to put something down, turn away.
Perhaps in frustration or annoyance. Like cumbersome and clumsy words. Trying to be too clever comes across that way. It can make me feel uneasy, even angry. But don't open the door for me to walk away.

You've got my attention, don't allow it to wane.