There is a saying “You can’t learn how to cook, from a cookery book”. Similarly, you can’t learn Fundraising from a guide. But there are key principles that persist regardless of your issue, strategy or audience. If you pay attention to these principles, then your “engagement” or fundraising programme will benefit. It is my contention based on experience and study, that the act of giving a donation, links a person tangibly to an organisation. This, and studies confirm this, the act of giving is the single most important measure of how engaged a supporter is. Studies from North America show that people who give and ideally give early in the relationship, end up as better volunteers, activists and donors.
I am privileged to be able to work alongside hundreds of organisations around the world. Most are clients of Vega. My role is to help where I can, maximise the organisation’s benefits from using Fundraising Intelligent Software. Modern software is both more intelligent and more process-aware, than in the past. It is not only a recording system, counting numbers, but good software can also help in the process of improving the numbers. In the near future, good software will do more and more of the responsive based engagement you now do.
That being said let’s get into some key principles.
- Don’t make decisions for your supporters, respect them enough to let them make the decisions
What this means is, don’t filter out groups from your database and say, “they wouldn’t like to support”. This applies, to clients, families, regular givers, corporate supporters. Any group that you think may not like to support any appeal or fundraising event or programme. Ask them. If you give people an opportunity to support, you are;
- Giving them an opportunity to participate in the success of your mission
- Giving them the respect that allows them to choose
- Possibly sending them your best and most urgent communications
- Responding if they say they don’t want to receive any communication or invitation
It is perfectly acceptable to send a strong appeal to regular givers. It is probably desirable to send appeal communications, with or without ask, to all supporters. Appeals generally contain great, urgent issue-based calls to action. Send these messages to as many people as possible.
- Be very clear from the start about your need. If you need financial support, say so. People won’t guess
It takes time to get messages across to an audience. It takes repeated communications before your central message gets through. The fact that you depend on public support to survive and deliver your mission, needs to be spelt out consistently and often.
If you want me to sign petitions or even register for an event, social media is a great place to get me to do that. If you need money, you need to tell me why, and you need to tell me often.
If you are asking for financial support, make that the single focus of the communication. You can have, should have, multiple communications that inform, inspire or amuse, but you don’t confuse fundraising communications with petition requests or other non-financial “calls to action”. Focus on what you want people to do. It should be utterly obvious, what the issue is, what the ask is, how much you want and how I pay. If your desired pathway is obvious through the communications, then if I accept your case, I will probably donate. Ideally, those pathways and the way the issue is presented, are personalised to me.
- Know your audience
I have talked often about the need to segment your audience. You can use the classic Fundraising segments determined by recency, frequency and amount. The supporter who has given a donation more than once has given recently and gives more than your average, is statistically more likely to give again, if asked. That is a well-tested fact.
A Classic Recency-Frequency Amount Model.
But also, if you know your audience, you will know who in the audience is Millennial, who Gen-X, who baby boomer and who are part of the “Responsible Generation”. They have overtly different psychologies and respond to different “calls to action”.
Millennials are well resourced and willing to contribute. Their survey responses say they will make ethically based purchase decisions and will contribute to “causes”, but they are deeply sceptical and the story they are telling is their story. You are an agent for them. They don’t read emails and in fact, there is evidence that they are “reading” in an entirely different way.
Gen-X are well resourced and as value-driven as the preceding generation. They also are sceptical and want involvement and transparency. Again, email is a long-winded medium, but phone friendly emails will get through and be read.
Baby Boomers are conscious of retirement. They are active on the internet and on social media. They may still be mail responsive and will actually read emails.
The shrinking ranks of the responsible generation are still loyal supporters of charities and respond to very traditional communications. They read newspapers, letters, even emails. Many still send cheques.
- Know your media
What are people accessing a medium for? What do they expect and therefore what will be the mindset they bring to the experience? A Fundraising or even an Engagement ask can move from appropriate to offensive, depending on the forum or media it is presented in.
What are people on Facebook for? The survey results indicate connecting with friends sharing experiences, even reading the news. But purchasing or donating, engaging financially is not a primary motivator. So, if you want donations, then you can use Facebook to direct people to places where they can donate.
With each media comes attitudes, audience and mindset that influences how people react to your communications. Study how each audience reacts in different media and use that media appropriately.
- Is respect. Respect the intelligence, knowledge and world view of your audience
Personalise every communication including, landing pages, all engagement messages and all donor experiences. Accept no barriers to personalising your messages to your recipients.
The closer you get to know the person, their ambitions and their motivations, the better placed you are to engage them in supporting you.
While this is desirable in the “Responsible Generation” and in communicating with the Baby Boomers, it is absolutely vital when you are talking to Gen-X or Millennials. The highest level of appropriate and personalised communication is required. You achieve this by micro-surveys and increasingly through chatbots.
Most Gen-X and Millennials are sceptical about fundraising communications that sound like “fundraising communications”. Thus, the repeated use of a forename where the emphasis is required can be off-putting. Even though that has been a staple of DM campaigns. Use guidelines to ensure that your comms are appropriate and respectful to each cohort. I have recommended the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) communications guidelines before.
Be consistent and have a plan. People are using you to get something done. You are a proxy for my ambition to “save the whales”, “protect children”, “provide welfare”. If you tell a donor what you are doing and ask for support, consistently, they will support you consistently. I worked for a large organisation that ran 6 “appeals” a year. Six issue-based appeals for the support that highlighted the work the organisation was doing. The programme was languishing. A proposed solution was to reduce the number of appeals. This was rejected and by a combination of improved structure and consistent messaging, the programme tripled in nett income over two years.
I am still amazed the organisations don’t have good fundraising and engagement plans. Any plan can change or respond to an event, but a plan must exist.
If you have an organisation calendar, this is often the basis for your fundraising plan. Lent, Easter, Christmas are classic calendar events for Christian charities, High Holidays for Jewish organisations. But also we have Tax Year events and other annual milestones that help us as organisations focus our community engagement efforts.
Again, consistent communications are vital. You do not Fundraise when you need the money unless it is an emergency appeal responding to a community emergency. You fundraise or engage all year round, so you have funds “when you need the money”.
- Is testing
Test all Test programmes well before you launch them. I have seen programmes launched with no testing and with a 7-figure income budget for year one. Of course, it failed. It didn’t mean it wasn’t a good idea. It just meant it was lost through poor planning and poor expectation setting.
New Programmes take at least 3 years to mature and can take longer. Programmes like High-Nett Worth, Corporate or Bequest Programmes will always take at least 3 years to mature. If you are launching a new programme, you need Board and Management support and you need everyone to know how long things will take.
Remember that resilient programmes are multi-part programmes. That is, they are like an eco-system, where if one part receives a shock, the others can respond and adjust. Always remember “Relationship Services” and build an integrated and multi-part engagement and fundraising programme, helped by great technology.
Author Tony Lindsay | CEO & Founder | www.vega.works