I was talking to a couple of friends recently who over a quiet dinner, both relayed their days from hell. Though the situations were quite different the problems in both cases related to a failure in a process and ultimately the choice of communication.
Essentially in both examples, email requests were sent by their staff members, high priority for an important matter and for whatever reason they weren't actioned. The results were disgruntled people, a delay to the service, complaints, and some repercussions at a higher level and a review of the current procedure.
What I thought was interesting was the steadfast reliance to just one mode of communication - and not necessarily the most appropriate or relevant.
This got me thinking about how we as charities communicate with our supporters and sometimes I think that too readily we choose one way, whether or not we are getting a response or not or because we always do it that way.
Equally sometimes we don't take into consideration as quickly as we might what is the most appropriate mode of communication for the message we are sending.
Thus we are probably not as strategic as we could be about trying to capture as many of the personal details as possible to give us more choice in how we can communicate.
And we certainly need to give more thought to the various channels open to us and how the use of these may change as the relationship develops. In the same way they do for us in our personal lives.
Q1. You want a friend to look after your beloved pet while you go away for the weekend - would you (a) text them to ask them to look after your treasured pet (b) write them an email (c) get on the phone?
Q2. You are at work and the light above your desk has gone and is flashing and making you feel a little queasy - would you (a) email facilities team letting them know about your strip lighting (b) give them a call to let them know (c) pop-down and just mention it?
Now there are no right or wrong answers to the questions above (though some would get you a quicker more effective response than others) - and equally I would say that the answers chosen would depend on a number of things: how good a friend is it, have you asked them to look after your pet before, do they live close by, do they need time check their diary several week's in advance, do they constantly text or are they always forgetting their phone? Or with facilities department - where are they in the building? Two floors away or 14 floors away, are they particularly busy at the moment due to staff holidays or sickness? You see what I mean?
The point is, there are variables that should probably be considered for all our requests to supporters too.
Recently I had the pleasure of collecting the IOF award for best use of the telephone for an emergency campaign. Which asked ActionAid Child Sponsors linked to a region of Pakistan whether in the emergency they would allow us to derestrict their support to enable a quicker response on the ground. The response was overwhelming and I was thrilled that we won.
But when the situation was originally being discussed there was an assumption that it would be a mailing because that is one of the main channels we use to send out our emergency communications.
For me however, there were a number of factors that needed to be weighed up:
It was an emergency, people would be worried about their own sponsored children (a letter no matter how well crafted would possibly raise more questions than answer), the request was urgent and we wanted to get the attention of as many people as possible, it was a potentially sensitive subject and required time for explanation if people had questions about their support, their child even our emergency response.
Therefore, the campaign was much more suited to the telephone and it had the desired affect. Allowing us to speak to our supporters, reassure them where needed and ultimately get them to understand why we were asking for what we were and the difference it would make to the people of Pakistan.
I appreciate that we are often limited by only having certain supporter details and thus there is only one route open to us. However, if we ensure that data capture of key contact information is part of the wider strategy for our supporter communications and look at it as a way of enabling us to better communicate to our supporters - then it is a worthwhile effort.
Of course our supporters will soon let us know if they don't want to be communicated via this means or that..and of course we should give them a choice - but if we have the choice to start with and choose the appropriate channel with the right communication based on their support and the other information we know about them - then I think we may also find the number of 'don't mail me or email me or phone me' exclusions could go down.
Relevant communications are all very well and good but at the end of the day they are only relevant if they get seen, read and hopefully acted upon. Therefore, how we choose to communicate these messages can be just as vital as the messages themselves.
A big thank you to Ethicall in Bristol for doing such a great job on the campaign.