Saturday, 27 March 2010

A fundraising tale of two cities...

Whilst on the metro during a recent trip to paris, a couple got on. Nothing odd in that. At first they looked like any other 60 year old couple that you might see across the world and all seemed to be just so. Then the tambourine and the violin started up.

The reaction that followed was no different to what you would see on the London underground. So as the first rendition started - something from Carmen - I noticed a lot of people shift uncomfortably, avert their eyes and just looked desperately for an escape route. For me, my first reaction was to actually check to see whether I had any spare Euros.

Now, of course a huge assumption was being made by the whole carriage. The assumption being that this couple were playing music for money and it was a fair assumption. For me, what was quite interesting was that despite how lovely the music was, I couldn't enjoy it or engage with it until I knew I could afford the experience.

By the time the couple performed 'La Vie en Rose' the people on the metro were much more receptive and as the hat went around our Euros went in.

Back in London and on the 'misery' line just yesterday, I had a similar experience. This time it was a man in his mid twenties, a little scruffy and dirty in appearance got on. This time no music was played, just a heartfelt plea for some 'change' to help him with a hostel for the night. For many the reaction was the same as in Paris; no eye contact, uncomfortable glances and ipod volume up.

Now just a few observations from my Paris and London tales in relation to fundraising:
  • With so many communications coming at supporters these days - there is probably an assumption that everything is an 'ask' of some kind. Now this is all very well if it is, but if the communication you're sending is a feedback or just a plain old 'Thank you, you are fantastic!' Then unless we do more to make that clear at the outset - the likelihood of these vital communications being seen is very small.
  • Likewise. If we are asking for money, we need to be more upfront about it and not cloak it as something else. People who support you know you will ask them for money at some point and if done correctly and well it isn't a problem.
  • Be relevant - now this is an obvious point - but it was made even clearer to me when discussing the French buskers with my sister, who said that she was moved to donate just as much about the music choice as the quality of the music being played. Not to say she wouldn't have given if they were playing Pachebel's Canon or whatever, but actually the music was a motivating factor. So we can't underestimate the worth of finding out as much as we can about our supporters and going to them with information and areas of work in which we already know they are interested.

  • The London experience showed a bit more of the 'we've seen and heard it before' cynicism so whether this man was genuinely in need or not, for many it was nothing new and many remained unconvinced. I think often we are guilty of doing this with appeals. For our supporters it is probably all too frequently what has been seen before. The challenge therefore for us is about making these 'asks' more innovative and dare I say genuinely urgent - after all putting urgent on something doesn't make it so.

  • The other difference between Paris and London was also around the concept of knowing what your money was for. In Paris people were paying for the entertainment, the music and even if the couple were as in need of the money as the man in London, that's not really why they were giving. For the man in London faced with the cynicism around homelessness etc his case for support was not enough to reassure the many that the money was going to where he said it was needed. Donor fatigue? Just not an original case for support? all these things need to be considered in relation to your communications plan.

  • Finally the biggest observation from these underground travels is that people really don't seem to like being put on the spot to make such decisions as to whether something justifies a donation or not...of course people still do - as I did, but it is about control and choosing when and how. People are much happier with that.

And just because it is such a great song and it reminds me of Paris - enjoy!

Happy Easter!

Monday, 15 March 2010

Do you know what your supporters are doing?

Oscar Wilde once said that a cynic is a man that knows the price of everything but the value of nothing... now I am not saying that all of us in the fundraising world are cynics and in fact a healthy dose of cynicism helps us keep our wits about us.

However, in some cases I do think we as fundraisers can be a little prone to put price before value i.e. we can judge an activity on its cost and income rather than the true value an activitiy can yield both from the supporter and the value to the supporter.

Take appeals for example - they will have a clear spend attached and a corresponding income target based on xx number of supporters being mailed and xx% response rate and of course in simple terms these are the main measures of success.

However, one dimension of such activities that we don't seem to be so focused on is how we measure the bi-product or rather bi-behaviour of such activities. Instead we focus on the behaviour we have planned for and are expecting. And really - since when do people behave completely as we would expect?

We know that measuring any response to recruitment requires a recognition that people today engage multi modally across channels - so having seen a DRTV ad they are as likely (if not more so) to follow-up on-line as they are of phoning or texting.

The point is the same can probably be said for how people choose to 'respond' to your communications. As we acknowledge the value of integrated channels in recruitment for example - we probably need to apply the same logic in measuring response to supporter activities.

So, next time you run an appeal or any activity for that matter, do some digging in the data to see how many people who didn't formally respond to your appeal chose to do something else in the same time period while bypassing your donation form or response device. Who:

  • Increased their dd payment permanently instead of making a credit card payment

  • Chose to take up another offer or product instead of sending in a cheque

  • Decided to leave a legacy in their will to you instead of uplifting their DD for one month only....

  • Sent in a donation using an old donation form ie not the one for your most recent appeal?

Now part of the solution is of course ensuring that your donation form / response device is more than just a mechanism for a one of gift - but facilitates any number of ways people may want to respond to one of your requests for money or time. By doing so and ensuring upfront that all parts or methods of response are part of the data capture and thus part of the on-going reporting, means you would be capturing all of this information automatically.

That said though there are certain behaviours that it is more difficult to monitor like the example earlier of someone choosing to use an old donation form to respond to your latest request. It is probably more common than we realise and yet often the only way you may find out about these responses is when you see money showing against an old activity in the monthly accounts.

Meanwhile without a proactive eye out for such eventualities the likelihood could be that the thank you letter relating to that old appeal has gone out with little relevance to the reason why the supporter gave this time.

I won't labour the point to heavily about the importance of the donation form and making it work better, because everything from fonts, ask levels and cancel your dd asks have been shared already at queerideas at askdirect or at Sofii - and much can be learned from all of them in helping to perfect your form or at least to test.

However, what I am ultimately suggesting is that in order to truly measure the value of an activity we need to look beyond the ROI . We should look at all the ways your supporters are behaving in response to any given activity - even if indirectly and ensuring that processes and triggers are in place to monitor them. That way we will see the wider value of an activity and will be better informed to make decisions about their future direction and strategy.