Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Explain it to me...

As Robert Matthews says in this month's Science Focus Magazine:

"...even the most rock-solid phenomena can turn to mush when you try to explain them."

Now, I am sure Professor Brian Cox would have a great go at explaining the concept of magnetism or what time is and I would have a possible chance of understanding it... to a point. But if I didn't understand what he was saying whose fault would it be?

What the article went on to explain though and what really did resonate with me as someone who for a living has sent out communications to people about international development; disability, and war & conflict - possibly subjects that they have never had personal or direct experience of, is the point that it isn't necessarily the fault of the person explaining it - not entirely - it could be that the person / people you are explaining it to just doesn't have the knowledge to relate to what is being said to them.

This is borne out quite well by the fact that children will constantly ask' Why?' when you have answered their question or rather think you have!

Why am I banging on about the effectiveness of explanation is that it's our role often to relay complex information to people in a way that they will relate to - so we have to be even more aware of this point. Obviously.  Thus a timely reminder.

As fundraisers and marketeers - we should know the importance of understanding our audience.  The old adage of 'keep it simple stupid' is actually not patronising but actually helpful.  As Jeff Brooks points out, his approach is to write in a reading level of 4th to 6th Grade, he has this useful tool to help you - but essentially it is about helping your supporters to understand rather than building in barriers.

The other side of it is about us understanding our own causes in a way that it can be conveyed in a meaningful way to the people we are communicating to.  As fundraisers we need to ensure we spend time with our programme staff to gain an understanding of the work and then work to translate that in a way the person reading or hearing it will understand it enough to make the decision to do what you have asked.  

Obvious tips include:

1. Avoid jargon and acronyms
2. Don't worry too much about explaining the process - people tend to care about outcomes not necessarily how you got there
3. Read or share copy with family or friends to see if they understand it.  As much as we try to remain neutral and focused on our role as fundraisers, after a while you are commenting on copy or creative from a position of knowing.  Someone completely outside of your organisation will help be the objective voice
4. Get to know your donors and supporters - even if that is looking at the complaints, the white mail that comes back or call listening opportunities or taking supporter care calls - all are useful ways to get insight and certainly have value if you don't have budget for full research.
5. Try to build in something that could be familiar to the reader...even if it is the way you start the letter or leaflet or how you relay the story you are telling.

None of this is rocket science or quantum theory in this case - but the importance of communication and effective explanation and understanding relies on both parties. It would just be wise to not make too many assumptions. 

Thanks as ever for stopping by.

Monday, 11 February 2013

A quick lesson in how to get someone's attention - in the right way

I long bemoan the boring emails and communications I get from digital and creative agencies trying to sell their creative services and skills in what, to be honest is in the most dull and boring manner.  Emails of ridiculous proportions explaining their USP and attaching a 'creds' documents.  Not very creative.

I have already received several this morning - two to note but for very different reasons.

1 A mailing from a digital agency - quite lively creatively. A see through outer, interesting format, an offer of a free hour session - all good. But the the one thing that may make me more likely to actually get in touch at some point was the letter.  At the bottom handwritten in nice black pen were the words 'Hope all well post ActionAid.'

Now I have never worked with them before - I don't I know the Managing Partner signing the letter as far as I can recall - but I can honestly say that I appreciate the fact that they took the time to find out about me, the person they are writing to.  Simple as that.  Obviously it is a sales communication and I don't have the same expectations for personalisation as I would from a charity I support for example - so what I said here - still stands.  However, this actually set them apart.  And that is a good thing.

2 By stark contrast I received an email from an agency - telling me that they were not going to do the usual stuff (in an attempt to be different) and be 'to the point'. Great - love directness.  They then eventually go on to list some of their clients.  One of which was ActionAid. And I do recall them, though I never worked with them directly. 

There in lies the difference.  It is the small things that can get your attention. For good and not so good reasons.  Even more noticeable when your competitors are doing it better.

Thanks as ever for stopping by.

Friday, 1 February 2013

How did you decide who to cancel?

Just the other day I was talking to a friend who had just reviewed her DD commitments to charities and had decided to stop quite a few.  The main reason was financial.  And she was quite honest about that.  So having the chance to quiz a professional woman in her early forties about that decision making process, I took the opportunity.  Not least because as my friend and in an unofficial non survey way, she'd be honest.

Q. How did you make the decision?

"Recency of sign-up i.e. last in first to go...."   Really - why?  "Well I know I haven't made any difference as yet so the loss to the charity is less."

Q. Is that the only criteria? "No - I like to see I am supporting a range of sectors. Animal, health, children etc. So if there are two that are similar then I will decide on how recently I signed up."

Q. What about what you have received from the charity?  "Some of the information and communication I have received more recently have been lovely.  More to try to engage me I guess - I just don't have time to be engaged."  

"Thinking about it I have  probably received very little from the charities I have been supporting since university days - I can't recall any off the top of my head. But my heart is with them I guess."

Q. Why? Now this answer was very  interesting to me. "When I decided to sign-up to charity x I suppose it felt more considered, I didn't have a huge amount of money but I believed in what the charity was trying to achieve.  Over the years it probably works out at several hundreds of pounds of giving but by leaving now I would be giving up on something that I believe and have invested in."

Q. But how do you feel about the relationship you have with these charities?

Q. Yes, you know, on-going communication, how they make you feel, what they are doing and how they are letting you know?
 " I don't know.  I don't really want a relationship - a relationship suggests obligation on both sides.  I am giving my money because I want to and because I can and because of what they are doing with it not because of what I am getting back. I prefer it that way. My reason for supporting is my reason and and because of that I would feel less guilty if I stopped."

Q. Has any of them written or tried to call to win you back? 
 "No - not as yet. Should they have done? Have not heard a thing - but I guess that would be wasting their money to do that."

Now there is a huge caveat with this of course - it is one person, a busy person with a busy life.  I am not going to say that this is representative in any way.

But some key things I have taken away from this are:
  • Not everyone wants to be engaged.  They don't have time.  Now I could take my friend at her word here - but I won't because in reality the level of engagement we need to offer supporters has to suit people's lives.  Engagement is a positive thing - not something that should feel like it is competing with the other demands on someone's life.  More needs to be done to understand and meet this need before we run off and develop complex welcome processes and communications plans. Find out what people want from you.
  • What constitutes a relationship is interesting - not everyone wants to have one with you or rather not in the conventional way.  And I think we have to accept that this is okay. Just be clear on what relationship works for both the supporter and for the organisation.
  • Control over the decision-making process to support in the first place is pretty vital and thus the level of 'investment' people feel they have in your cause.  How do we instill as much control as possible in the process for people? or at least that it feels that the decision is theirs rather than a default reaction to someone not being able to say 'no'.
  • Who is leaving you? When looking at your attrition report - ensure it is broken down by years of support.  We can all get carried away with year one retention rates - but as I have always said I'd be more concerned with the fact that 2% of people that had been supporting my cause for 5 year plus, for example all of a sudden decided to walk out the door. So find out what your monthly attrition is made up of at the supporter level.
  • This should inform what you do about recovery and reactivation.  At the very least with the supporters of the type mentioned above - it would be wise to have a system to identify them and indeed speak with them to find out what made them decide to leave after all this time and if possible to find out what kind of 'relationship' they may want with your organisation going forward.
  • As regards recovery and reactivation more generally - the expectation of supporters could be quite low or may be that as organisations we are not very good at it.  On this basis though there is an argument and an opportunity attached with communicating to someone who has left you - just to have the opportunity say thanks and goodbye for now at the very least.  That way they are more likely to remember you well and positively if they ever want to give to your cause again.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Thanks as ever for stopping by.