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!

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