Focus on the donor is key, but let’s not forget the power of the masses

By Dominic Will

HOME Fundraiser_WEB

It’s been refreshing to be in Holland this week and meet up with peers and charities from all over the world, getting a slightly different perspective to the ‘bunker’ mentality that has been very prevalent in the UK over the Summer. For the benefit of international readers, the UK charity sector and fundraising specifically have certainly had their fair share of difficulty, with negative media attention, government scrutiny and impactful independent reviews of self-regulation.  Amongst charities and their professional fundraisers this period is commonly being referred to as the fundraising sector’s ‘summer of discontent’.

Throughout this period, not a day has gone by without one sector expert or another championing the importance of managing donor relationships better. We know that donor care is not just important, it is vital! But is this focus on the individual donor and the collective sector self-loathing about how rubbish we’ve been at communicating with lots of them, in danger of moving us just a little too far from the beneficiary? Could it be creating a cautiousness around large fundraising campaigns that are vital to meeting the myriad needs on our global society?

Let’s look at how relationships kick off…

We would argue that the fundraising ask should always be a positive experience, reflecting the values of the charity, but most importantly the ask should fit seamlessly into the dialogue or broadcast carrying the message. Dan Pallotta, in delivering the excellent opening plenary at this year’s International Fundraising Congress (IFC), mentioned a number of famous commercial brands in relation to the importance of aspiring to a higher level of performance. What resonates here is that these super-brands never make it about the money. For Disney or Apple it is about the experience, the aspiration; less the focus on cost. So too should be the fundraising ask, of any type or level, at any scale. Whether you are faced with a high value prospect or whether you are knocking on 100 doors and trying to inspire one or two people to give a moderate, regular donation, the ask for a donation must be confident and fit seamlessly into the communication – but should never be the sole focus.

Our risk is that we don’t think this is possible when talking to the many. That somehow a more human and intimate connection can’t be made. Which, unsurprisingly, I don’t agree with!

So, talking about human connections, when you welcome a new donor, don’t make the first thing on your mind how you can get them to upgrade. Instead, thank them, show them how important they are to your organisation and the good you will be able to do with their donation, and then leave them alone to enjoy the first step in their new giving relationship with you. Let them absorb it and feel good about it.

This is an important concept when looking at some of the ills associated with fundraising.  The vigour used in direct mail and telemarketing has topped the headlines across the summer – ‘hounding’ donors and the vulnerable and elderly, too many approaches, consistently asking for more, and the sharing of data.  Mass marketing therefore has almost become a dirty word never to be repeated within charities, certainly not to trustees and never to the public.

However, if we think about mass marketing it exists to meet a need, and when it’s done well we shouldn’t forget how powerful it can be in changing perceptions, and through great charities, in changing the world. A friend and colleague who was in Sumatra at the time of the tsunami in 2004 said that he witnessed the initial aid supplies arriving on the runway tarmac within 24 hours. There were five letters emblazoned on each crate: O-X-F-A-M. A local said to my friend “Those Brits are fast”. My friend’s chest almost burst with pride. We must never lose the means to make this possible.

So big doesn’t mean bad, there has been a subtext that has tried to demonise volume with bad practice and negativity. Large organisations and campaigns need to meet large problems.

Within the UK as in many other countries in the world, there is a mass audience ready to help if and when they are asked in the right way.

One positive outcome from this summer’s reality check has been a greater focus on the important stuff, i.e. a commitment to best practice in all areas of a fundraising operation, whether in-house or commercial. This is the principle all organisations should start with. For me as joint Managing Director of a fundraising agency that is a commitment from the top to being GOOD at what you do.

This has universal application irrespective of the channel or discipline you work in.

Dominic Will is joint MD of HOME Fundraising, a professional face-to-face fundraising agency based on an ethical fundraising model.


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