I'm Mark Phillips, the founder and CEO of Bluefrog. After a decade working for both ActionAid and YMCA England, I decided in 1997 to create the fundraising agency that I had been searching for.
This is my private space where I share ideas, results, research findings and the odd thought on fundraising. I try to avoid looking at my belly button and concentrate on stuff that will make fundraising more effective. It should all be stuff that you can actually use.
If you want to know more, click on the About button below.
CAF have just released a new report that segments the UK population according to their attitude to charity. They have identified three key groups – The Civic Core, The Middle Ground and Zero Givers.
The Civic Core, volunteer the most, donate most goods to shops, campaign the most, are most likely to help out in their community, run charity events and undertake local fundraising activities.
They comprise just 9% of the UK population but account for 66% of the country's charitable activity.
But importantly, they don't necessarily donate the most money.
That accolade goes to the Middle Ground. 83% of this group (which makes up over two-thirds of the UK population) give donations to charity, in comparison to 82% of the Civic Core and just 2% amongst the appropriately named, Zero givers.
This is a very important point. Though we may have a super committed core that undertake the lion's share of the UK's charity activity, we have a much larger group who are happy to hand over the cash and let others get on with it.
Middle Ground donors obviously care. But they aren't necessarily engaged enough to make the time to do more. There are many reasons for this, but sadly the CAF report doesn't focus on them or suggest what we might do to change their behaviour.
In my experience, this Middle Ground genuinely want to see how their giving has made a difference, but they are most likely to be bored and turned off by communications that simply talk about what the charity is doing. The lack of personal relevance fails to engage them.
As a result they carry on giving almost in spite of what charities do or say.
Three quick tips for changing attitudes amongst the middle ground would be to…
Beef up your thank you programme. Put real effort into making sure a donor feels valued.
Rather than hitting them with a stream of disparate appeals, take a focus on two or three projects where donors can see real change happen over time. This is a far more effective approach than sending out communications aimed at demonstrating just how much work you do or how many people you help.
Supplement your appeals with a secondary non-financial request related to work a donor has already funded. Ask them to campaign or undertake an activity in support of a project they have an emotional and financial link to.
Great fundraising isn't about reducing the amount you ask for until it means so little to the donor that they simply don't care about handing it over. Nor is it about asking again until the donor feels uncomfortable saying no.
It's about engagement.
It's about finding a point of connection that resonates with your audience.
It's about creating that spark of understanding in your donor that giving brings joy.
It's about keeping that spark alive and watching it burst into flames as you show your donors that giving is one of the most enjoyable things they can do.
Any idiot can ask someone for a few pounds or dollars. What's hard is showing someone that their donation is worth far more to them than its cash value.
Note: All images adapted from Scott Adams' Dilbert series. Words are mine.
A new study aimed at improving our understanding of donor motivation and behaviour has just been published by New Philanthropy Capital.
The report, Money for Good UK, looks at both mainstream and high-income (£150k+ household income) donors. It's a hefty 90 pages long, so whilst I recommend putting a few hours aside for an in-depth read, here are a few of the most important points.
First off, a chart that shows what donors value the most – explanations of how donations are used and evidence of impact.
I don't need to point out that there are loads of similar studies that report the same findings. What's particularly interesting here, is that they ask donors to rate the sector's performance.
As you'll see (on page 53), little more than half of the mainstream donors surveyed think charities perform particularly well in demonstrating impact or explaining how gifts are used. Worryingly the number drops to less than 45% amongst high-income donors.
But the reserachers didn't stop there. Unlike other studies, they dug a little deeper.
They went on to ask what would happen if charities did a better job in these areas and found that the outcome would be rather substantial...
And after some serious number crunching, NPC have also been able to quantify the impact of giving donors what they want...
If charities did a better job in the areas donors care about, it could lead to donations INCREASING by £665 million.
Donors would be likely to SWITCH their giving (to the tune of £1.7 billion) to charities that put the effort into showing them how their gifts made a difference.
It might sound obvious, but what does this mean?
Quite simply, a focus on demonstrating how donations are used will not only raise more funds from your current donors, it will reduce attrition and improve recruitment as you attract new donors who currently give to other charities.
Of course, we can't discount the impact of cause and emotion from the reasons why people give. As NPC's Chief Executive, Dan Corry, says in the report...
"A picture of a child in need trumps a whole lot of analysis, whatever impact geeks might hope."
But no matter the organisation or the work they do, this report demonstrates that many donors question whether their gifts actually make a difference.
And that is something we should be rather keen on addressing. Because at the end of the day, that is a fundamental reason why anyone gives.
By focusing on this key donor need we will not only raise more funds, but also bring our supporters closer to the work that lies at the heart of what we do.
This is a guest post from Bluefrog's new Head of Donor Engagement - James Waring.
In the first couple of weeks after you start a new job (as I have done this January) you often find yourself looking for things to do, or waiting around for meetings and inductions. During these lulls, in a bid to appear as up to the minute as possible, I’ve been reading a lot of fundraising blogs. One theme has really rung out across the sector this January – Retention (Somuchsothatallthesewords link to a different article on it).
Something else that’s in everyone’s mind and has decent retention rates is regular giving via your mobile phone. So could the retention issue be solved by the convenience of a text? Has one of the holes in that leaky bucket been plugged?
Giving regularly via your phone was created because engagement through giving to charity via a direct debit was pretty poor. After all, direct debits were invented to pay bills – you aren’t meant to think about them. I (and I’m still pretty young) remember back in the heady days of 2010 talking about how giving a monthly donation through your phone could be much more engaging – interactive content with a different tangible case study every month. And everything was sent straight into your pocket!
But anyone coming from the world of telemarketing (as I do) has heard hundreds of conversations with this new breed of 'mobile donor'. The fact of the matter is simple – they sign up because it’s easy, they can 'skip' a gift whenever they want and, crucially, they don’t think they are going to be asked to do anything more.
The lower attrition rates we are seeing from people who give via their mobile phone bill aren’t because we’ve fixed any of the basic problems leading to high attrition and a lack of engagement from donors; they’re because donors and some charities seem to have confused novelty with interest and convenience with loyalty.
If a product’s strength is that it’s new and easy now, the risk is that it will soon be old and unimportant.
Donors like the fact that mobile giving isn’t a direct debit, they like the fact that they don't have to put anything in the post and they like the fact that they don’t HAVE to give – but they also like the fact that it’s new and different.
Just under a third of the total amount given to charity comes via direct debits. The people who give via their mobile are more often than not, the very same donors. Very few of them are teenagers making their first gift to charity. Most are in their thirties, forties, fifties and older. So in a year or two, when they have signed up to three or four charities on their phone – how often are they going to get four messages across a few days and think “that’s it, I’m stopping two of them”?
I’d tentatively suggest that it will probably be around 50% - 70%; the same number that cancel their gifts from face to face, or telephone recruitment. When you are giving to multiple charities through the same medium, it loses its sparkle pretty quickly.
The extra level of engagement we were excited about isn’t happening, though on the face of it for good reasons.
Donors, if you ask them (which we have done), often don’t want additional content because they are worried that charities might take 'advantage' of them. More contact so often leads to more asks and upgrade calls that they’d rather dis-engage and be left alone.
But ask people why they cancelled their direct debit and beneath the claims of financial hardship we find the truth is that they weren’t engaged by the charity in the first place.
This quote from Phil Caroe (CEO of Allia) taken from a research paper on online giving by Spring sums it up. He was approached on the street to give by text and said "no"...
“I wonder whether at times we’re in danger of trying to make giving so easy that we get a gift but not a relationship. How many people made a text donation just because it was the easiest way to end the conversation?”
Throughout this post I’ve referred to the people who give money to charity as donors and not as supporters.
I’ve done that as they aren’t really supporting a charity. If the truth was told, they probably don’t even know what the charity really does and that is the issue.
Mobile fundraising is a great opportunity to really link the action of giving to the means of communicating what that gift does. But let’s not confuse the medium of a gift (via a phone) with the aim (cultivating long term, valuable relationships with supporters).
As fundraisers, getting people to say “yes” is one of the hardest things we do, but just because we’ve found a way to get people to do that more easily, doesn’t mean we should only ask for that one basic level of engagement.
Once giving regularly through your phone becomes “normal” and donors start receiving upgrade calls and text messages from multiple charities, we won’t be able to rely on the novelty of mobile to solve the retention issue. So something needs to be done to really engage these potential new supporters – even if they don’t think they want it.
For the best part of thirty years, Eastenders has dominated the TV ratings.
The Christmas episode from back in 1986 attracted over 30 million viewers and still retains the record for Britain's most watched TV show. And I bet this Christmas, it will be there at the top of the ratings yet again.
As fundraisers, it's not something than we should ignore.
Since the days of Aristotle we've known that to emotionally engage an audience, a great story needs three important elements – a beginning, a middle and an end.
At the beginning we'll meet the hero, the figure on whose fate our interest in the story will come to rest.
In the middle we see our hero overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of his or her goal.
And finally, we get our pay off and we find out whether our hero succeeds or fails.
Syd Field, who is seen as the godfather of Hollywood's story template created a paradigm to help illustrate how this three-act structure works for successful films. Here's an example featuring Star Wars...
You'll notice that the middle – the confrontation – is twice as long as either the beginning or the end. And there are two plot points designed to capture the audience's interest to ensure they carry on watching as the next act begins.
Take any soap opera and you'll find a never ending stream of stories that follow this simple structure, which leaves me wondering why fundraisers don't borrow this approach when building communication programmes for donors.
Any decent appeal will usually have a central character who is in need of help to overcome a problem. The pack or website will introduce them and give us a good description of the perils they face as they fight a disease or struggle to overcome poverty. And...well...that's usually it.
The donor will send in a gift and perhaps receive a thank you letter or email that was written a few months (or years) ago. If they are particularly lucky, they might find out more about the project from a newsletter sent later in the year.
But more than likely, the next communication will be another pack asking for a donation that features a different area of the organisation's work.
And that's the problem.
Fundraising stories are a little more complicated than those used by the entertainment industry. That's because the hero is actually the person who is reading our appeals – the donor.
When they are repeatedly refused the chance to find out what happens in the third-act, they can justifiably feel unsatisfied.
It would be a little like your mum coming in and turning off the TV just as the Rebel Alliance is about to attack the Death Star. Yes, we can probably guess what happens in the end. But it's not the same is it? Particularly if we think we are in the seat of Luke's X-wing fighter.
So why does it happen?
Far too often, appeals are so packed full of stats and factual information that we can forget that we aren't just informing, we are engaging as well. And no amount of statistics will beat a great emotional story when it comes to raising money.
61% of the people they questioned said the thought that too little of their donation was going to the cause put them off giving.
Because they didn't know what happened to their gift, they thought the worst - that it was mis-used or wasted.
It's pretty damning, considering how sophisticated fundraising has supposed to have become over the last few decades. It indicates that we are still getting the basics wrong.
But perhaps Eastenders might show us a solution?
It features a cast that we care about. The production team introduce new characters carefully and sparingly. And rather than have a different story for every episode, the series is paced so plot lines develop over weeks and months. As a story reaches it's climax and comes to an end, one or two more are bubbling away, ready to take it's place. Though story lines finish, the show never does. And viewers stick with it week after week, month after month and year after year.
So rather than constantly introducing completely new projects and building communication programmes based on when we need to ask for donations, or when we want to send out newsletters or launch a new campaign, we should build an emotional journey that carries the donor along with us, placing them at the centre of what we do.
That means featuring the same work in appeals, newsletters and on the website. It means we focus on building a narrative over time. And, as a result, it means showing donors the outcomes that are relevant to their experience of the organisation – what they have given to.
That way we might just get donors looking forward to our appeals.
If it's good enough for Dot Cotton, it's good enough for us.
One of the areas that Tony asked me to look at was fatigue.
This was a theatre, so it had to be entertaining. With the help of Raindown (who are an excellent production company that I highly recommend) we put together a short video where we attempt to demonstrate what it's like to be on the sharp end of so many fundraisers' efforts.
I don't believe compassion fatigue actually exists. If anything, I think people today are kinder and more compassionate than ever before.
The problem is that they are worn out by the approach of charities that think fundraising is just about asking more often in more intrusive ways.
Great fundraising is not just about demonstrating organisational need. It's about answering the needs of our donors.
It's about engaging and empowering them. It's about inspiring them with creative ideas that emotionally connect them to the causes that we raise funds for (you can read Aline's post on how we did this for UCL by clicking here).
It's the easiest thing in the world to just ask people for money.
What takes time and effort is the creation of the feelings of joy that every donor should receive when they see the impact of their giving.
That what we should be concentrating on. We are fundraisers. That's our job.
Should you wish to use the video or share it, feel free. All we ask is that you let people know that it was produced by Bluefrog.
There's a very common eye condition known as presbyopia that affects about 30% of the population. But it's far more common amongst donors to charity.
That's because most charity donors are well over 40 – the age where the lenses in your eyes start to change. They become less flexible and, as a result, it becomes progressively more difficult to read at close range or in low light conditions.
It's a fact that's important to take into account when designing your appeals. Body copy that's not solid black, that's printed over a tint or reversed out can be particularly difficult for older people to read.
Poor choice of font can make things even worse. Sans-serif fonts, for example, have been proven to reduce comprehension and recall.
To help younger designers to understand the impact of ageing on readability, I'd recommend they look at their work with xScope. It's a simple app that the designers at Bluefrog use to appreciate how people with Presbyopia and other common eye conditions will see the communications that we produce. I've taken a couple of screen grabs of a popular web site to show the impact mild presbyopia has on the reading experience.
First, how someone with normal vision would see it...
Now, how it would appear to someone with mild presbyopia...
It doesn't look so crisp any more, but the good design means it is still legible. But the fact is, that as someone gets older, that copy is going to get far harder to read and start looking uglier.
And that's the point. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. But what's beautiful changes over time.
It's summed up rather neatly by this photograph. Show it to someone in their sixties and they'll see Marilyn Monroe, whereas any young person will see the slightly less attractive Albert Einstein. It's a useful tool for anyone working on communications aimed at older people. Hopefully it should help them understand a little more about their target market.
If you can't see Marilyn Monroe, take a few steps away from the screen and she should appear.