As you might know, I will be leaving Canada to return to the UK in October. I have had an absolutely fantastic couple of years working for HMA and with my lovely clients (you know who you are!).
I’ve learnt a lot about fundraising in North America. And I will take back my valuable learnings to the UK to share.
Whilst being in Canada I’ve kept on track with fundraising in the UK. Although the fundraising culture is slightly different – the basic principles remain the same.
I often share with the HMA team and clients new ideas, tests and results from the UK. And there is one last subject I’d like to touch upon.
In the past few months, there has been an unprecedented attack on British charities from the national media outlets. The level of dissatisfaction with fundraising and the way donors are treated is at an all-time high. The media, the government and the general public are all calling for change.
Ken Burnett, one of the top UK fundraising consultants, is also calling for change. He wants fundraisers to focus on donor experience. To analyze what donors what, what they currently get and how we, as fundraisers, can invest in making sure we build happy, lasting relationships with our donors. Without making these changes, the future for charities in the UK looks bleak.
What can Canada learn from this? Well, at a time where charities are already being scrutinized by the current government, it is crucial you take the time to look at your donors’ experience. Are they getting what they want? Are they treated the way they deserve? Is it a two way conversation?
If you’re like most people, you thank people every day. You probably even say thank you to the waitress that gave you bad service. That’s just the way we’re wired. But when’s the last time you really said thank you? When’s the last time you wrote a thank you note?
For most of us it probably wasn’t that recently. You might not even remember when you last did it. With how busy we are its much easier to just send a quick e-mail or text message to thank a friend for something they’ve done. And while this is a nice gesture, it doesn’t have nearly the power of a hand-written thank you.
The same is true for your donors. They’re likely regular donors to many organizations. So they probably receive thank you letters at least monthly. Sure, most of these are personalized with their name, and maybe the area they supported. Some might even have a hand-written note or PS. But even that doesn’t have the power of a thank you note or card that’s actually hand-written. That comes from your heart.
As one example of how powerful a personal thank you can be I’ll share a story from one of our clients. The client had just received a $10,000 gift from a donor who’d only given smaller amounts in the past. The client has a policy that the highest ranking person on staff calls the donor as soon as a gift at that level is received. So they called. And when they did the donor told them ‘You’re going to be very happy you called today’. The donor went on to advise that he’d made five $10,000 gifts to five organizations he cared about, and he had an additional gift of $122,000 in stock that he was going to give to the first organization that thanked him. That was our client.
When you host an event, you see all sorts of passionate people come together to support your cause. And you might think these people have great potential to become a regular donor to your next direct mail campaign.
The truth is though, that these individuals tend to be passionate about the cause and passionate about possibly supporting a friend but unfortunately they generally do not have the same connection to your organization. When we talk about prospecting you would think that event donors are the best lists to turn to but in many cases they do not perform nearly as well as you may have thought. In fact, the response rate is likely lower than that of your rental or trade lists.
It is a slippery slope trying to convert these event donors into loyal direct mail donors but if you don’t at least try you may be missing out on some potential long-term loyal donors.
Last week summer, this week Christmas? Not quite, but now is the time that you want to start thinking about your holiday campaign. Particularly because you’re going to be integrating your direct mail with your other channels, right? Right?
If not, you certainly need to think about it. September – December is a big time for most organizations, and more and more donors are going online to make their holiday and year-end gifts. And if your organization isn’t planning your holiday campaign with all channels in mind then you’re simply losing out on revenue.
As summer is in full swing and the weather is hot many organizations take this time to ‘cool off’ from regular fundraising activities. Summer is the time when 3rd party events boom and walk-athons and golf tournaments take priority. People are going on vacations, reaching their maximum for spending on leisurely activities.
So how does an organization compete with all of these other donor priorities?
My advice to you is take summer as a time to focus on stewardship. It’s a struggle for me to comprehend, seeing that summer has just begun but the holiday season of giving is not that far away. Organizations will begin sending Christmas messaging in October and Thanksgiving messaging at the end of August. The competition in the mail from September to December is heavy so the summer is a time to give your donors a bit more breathing time and stewarding before you begin sending out the many holiday messages through multiple channels.
Take summer as a time to share with your donors exciting things that are happening at the foundation by sending out a Newsletter. Perhaps organize a small TM campaign that thanks donors for their supports and asks for a single or monthly gift.
Analyze the number of touch points that your donors are currently receiving and ensure you’ve got a good mix of asks and stewardship. In e-mail you should shoot for 3 stewardship/content e-mails for every ask.
Before you know it the summertime will have passed so allow your donors the time to enjoy it by showing them how much you care.
As a lot of you who have met Harvey will know, he reads. A lot. Every time you see him he will have a new book recommendation for you.
One of his recommendations this year is The Political Brain by Drew Westen. Have you read it?
Drew Westen’s research spans across two decades looking at the role of emotion in US presidential elections.
He studies campaign videos, live debates, advertisements and speeches. And he tells us why each worked well or failed miserably.
It is a fascinating book, and has the power to change the way elections are managed by competing parties. For those of you who are working towards campaigns in the run to the Federal Election in Canada, this book is a must read.
I recently looked further into his research on environmental messaging. And it makes perfect sense:
‘What resonates with people are not specific fuel standards or the mechanics of how a cap and trade system would work or the precise tonnage of carbon emissions per year. What moves them is a set of themes that bring the issue home to them: economic prosperity and jobs; energy independence and self-sufficiency; clean, safe, natural sources of energy that will never run out; getting pollution under control and making polluters pay for their own messes so we protect our health and the health of our children, preserve the majesty of our land, and reverse the deterioration of our atmosphere; harnessing American ingenuity and restoring American leadership; and protecting our legacy to our children the way our parents and grandparents protected their legacy to us.’
He goes on to suggest the following alternative wording in your campaigns, which will resonate more with your audience:
Canadians are known for many things. Maple syrup. Hockey. Saying sorry all too often. And of course, Justin Bieber (We really are sorry about that one…)
But Canadians are also unique for our giving habits. Some of the ways that we give are quite different from our friends in the south, and knowing Canadian giving habits is key to fundraising in Canada. Whether you’ve come to Canada from the US or abroad, or you were born in the Great White North (We actually don’t get nearly as much snow as some people think), the below list will help you understand some of the most important giving behaviours that make Canadians a little unique.
Canadians love to give to friends
Peer to peer fundraising in Canada is huge. In most major cities there’s runs, walks, bike rides, and other events happening weekly throughout the summer. All of these events are fueled by friends asking friends for money. And for Canadians this is very comfortable.
Looking at the global leaderboard for Movember last year Canadians accounted for 24% of worldwide donations. For a country of only 35 million this is quite impressive. And we were less than $1,000,000 behind the US in money raised, even though our population is 1/10th of theirs.
Do Canadians grow better beards than any other country in the world? Possible, but that seems unlikely. The success of events like this in Canada is simply because we love to support our friends in their charitable endeavours.
We don’t text to give
If you were to pull out a direct mail pack from any time prior to 2010 what are some things that you notice?
The pack likely is very basic in its design, possibly including a short teaser, “Your gift enclosed”, “Renew your support today” or an emotional quote. But what you probably wouldn’t see from back then is glossy paper, full bleed, full colour designs and the reality is that these very simple designs worked.
With online integration becoming more and more a part of every organization’s annual giving program has come a need to make things ‘pretty’ and rightfully so. Online, your presence needs to be attractive and easy to navigate. It needs images; pictures and design to stand out although what escapes us is in direct mail is this is not necessarily what’s going to set you apart.
As a foundation it is important to remember that your most loyal long-term donors are those that may not have grown up with colour TV. Flashy is not what they connect to. The reason they are loyal donors is because they love your foundation. They want to feel that emotion when they receive a direct mail piece from your foundation because that is their reassurance. That is what comforts your donors when making the decision to continue giving to your foundation.
Direct mail isn’t going anywhere anytime soon regardless of how progressive we become online. And many on the people on your donor file at this time are likely most comfortable with mail. This leads me to a few gentle reminders when developing your next direct mail piece:
There's been a lot of discussion lately around mid-level programs and the idea that for a long time these 'not quite annual, but not quite major' donors were being lost somewhere in the 'middle'. If you haven't read "The Missing Middle" report, I strongly recommend it. Click here for the link.
And so I asked my friend and fundraising peer, who happens to manage a mid-level giving program, "How are you keeping your mid-level donors from being 'lost in the middle?'" over dinner last night.
The reason I was particularly interested in asking this question is because my friend’s organization has developed a specialized program for mid-level donors so that they're no longer 'lost in the middle'. They have their own donor manager, their own communication channel and messaging, and their own highly personalized stewardship plan.
Here are a few highlights from our conversation that you might find interesting: