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.
David looks at everyday creativity and writes about seeing a cultural shift - from a sit back and be told one to a making and doing one.
So what's this got to do with fundraising?
Quite a lot.
Something that we repeatedly find people mention in our research at Bluefrog is a sense of disappointment with charities. They enter into a relationship with an organisation in the hope that they are going to be an active part of something good. What they receive is a stream of communications talking about what the charity is doing and requests for money.
Disillusioned and unengaged, they soon stop their support (This behaviour is often incorrectly described as lapsing).
But when people can actively do something more than sit back and give, they create cultural capital that benefits them as much as the charities they support.
And an example of craftivism is Save the Children's Knit One, Save One campaign. This generated over half a million knitted hats for newborn babies in developing countries. It was also responsible for generating 50,000 messages that were delivered to Gordon Brown encouraging him to do more to help prevent deaths among children.
Save the Children isn't unique. When you think about it, there are a number of examples of this type of engagement already offered by charities.
Child sponsorship provides donors with an opportunity to write (and receive letters). Kiva enables people to help set-up new businesses (and see how they are performing). Care International offers supporters the chance to send advice and good wishes along with educational materials to school children in developing countries.
Organisations that fill the gap between giving cash and full-time volunteering are benefiting from the desire people have to create and connect. It doesn't matter if this is done on-line or off-line, but by giving people the chance to create change rather than simply be paying spectators, we offer them a welcome opportunity to add meaning to their world AND move it in the direction many of us would like.
That's the sort of approach that drives real engagement. It's an idea that I find really exciting. If you've got a few minutes to spare, you should really watch this video.
There have been a number of posts in the blogosphere offering advice about what charities should do with donors recruited in response to Haitian earthquake appeals.
Traditionally, emergency donors are very hard to retain, often only surfacing during the next high-profile disaster.
So any advice on how to improve conversion rates is useful stuff.
Jeff Brooks and Steven Screen dedicate a whole podcast to fundraising around the Haiti earthquake. You can download this via itunes or by clicking here.
Jonathan Grapsas, recommends making the second ask very quickly. His colleague, Sean Triner, wrote a piece for Fundraising and Philanthropy Australia a few months ago that looks specifically at the issue of converting emergency donors. As well as advocating speed, Sean details a five point disaster conversion plan that is well worth implementing.
He refers to the advice of Leo Orland from Australian fundraising agency, Robejohn. Leo also sees speed as essential, recommending donors are thanked immediately. At the same time they should be promised feedback and told when to expect it. Excellent advice.
But I think it is useful to look at what exactly we should be saying in these communications.
With conversion, content really is king and developing the right strategy shouldn't be left to chance.
I've been doing some research on what strategies were used following the tsunami emergency in 2004 to see if there are any lessons to be learned. I've found a great piece by Tom Pope that looks at a number of US organisations and how they approached the loyalty building process. It's a long article so I'm highlighting the key points of each strategy and the results. You should definitely read it in its entirety hereas it contains loads of interesting information. Additional material comes from Fundraising Success magazine.
41.000 were recruited at the time of the tsunami. Mainly from TV reports. Donors were given access to the standard communications programme of an online newsletter updated on a bi-weekly basis.
No second appeal results but things look positive. Many corporate donors came back to support work surrounding Hurricane Katrina. Over $2.3 million was received without any marketing support.
Strategy to convert online donors was to bond them to the organisation through...
"...direct mail, online strategies and reporting back quickly to them, an in the same way they reached you...when you ask them for a gift, you have to give a compelling story about why the gift is needed, and you have to recognise their help."
Created a separate monthly giving programme that focused on converting emergency donors by highlighting three emergency issues faced by the organisation – immediate response, reconstruction and emergency preparedness.
Follow up appeals
One month after giving donors received a feedback postcard.
After two months donors received an in-depth newsletter focusing on Oxfam's response to the crisis.
After four months donors received a request for a regular gift...
Donors who gave via the web were emailed.
Donors who gave via the telephone were called.
Donors who gave via the web were called.
Results (conversion to regular gift)
Emailed web supporters - 0.2%
Telephone supporters who were called - 7.5%
Web supporters who were called - 13%
So what does all this mean?
One of the ongoing themes of this blog is the concept of donor needs. By answering them, we can build loyalty and raise more money.
One incredibly important need is for personal growth - in part, this means to reaffirm a donor's self-image. This can be answered by showing them exactly what they helped achieve. This seems to be what the IRC did.
All things weren't equal for charities or their donors, but the IRC found that more emergency donors responded to their first warm appeal than those who were recruited at other times. With an 85% uplift, that's quite astounding.
Other charities that chose to lead communications by telling new donors about the wider work of the organisation didn't do so well.
That's because donors care more about what THEY have personally done, rather than what a charity is doing.
Donors give through charities. Not to them.
It's far too soon to see how donors who have given to Haiti will convert to regular support, but some early data shows that it doesn't seem it will be any easier this time around.
The American Red Cross has done fantastically with their Haiti text donations. $26 million had been raised by Thursday the 21st of January. But only about 5% of those people gave the Red Cross permission to contact them again.
As for my recommendations? You know your donors better than anyone and will probably have your own programmes and tests results to draw on. But, for what it's worth, this is what I would do.
Thank donors quickly.
Ask donors what they want and how they want it.
Update regularly with a focus on what the donor has done.
Use the web where possible, but make sure your emails are being opened.
Use highly personal direct mail communications
Show the donor you know who they are. Remind them of the value of their gift and what it has done in Haiti.
In all future appeals, continue to write about what the donor has done rather than what you, as an organisation, have achieved.
Use the telephone to convert donors to regular giving.
Be creative in how you engage donors. If people aren't interested in setting up a regular gift for general work, offer them alternatives...
Consider setting up an emergency fund. Gifts to this will be used for reconstruction and for the next disaster. Feedback on the impact of the donor's actions will build loyalty. From there, conversion to non-earmarked forms of giving will be easier. (I've worked on programmes like this in the UK and they are effective).
If you have donors giving via direct debit who give to your emergency appeals, consider asking them if they would be willing to have a gift automatically added to their monthly gift the next time a disaster strikes.
Many donors who have given to Haiti might be making their first significant gift to any charity, if we show them the impact of their action and make the experience rewarding, we will do more than raise more money for one emergency.
We will expand the universe of people who give to charity, increasing the effectiveness of the whole sector.
And that can only be good for everyone.
And finally, this approach isn't just suitable for emergency donors. The same basic strategy can be used to convert all new recruits.
Kimberley of Kimberley's Comments put up a post last week that got me thinking. She recounts a story of traveling in India. Hot and thirsty, she stopped for a drink of pomegranate juice.
Fast forward to a freezing cold day in Canada and the thoughts of the sweltering August day come flooding back. Kimberley is soon to be found sitting at the kitchen table carefully extracting pomegranate seeds one by one. She carefully squeezes the seeds and re-creates the taste of last summer.
Her husband (who is a chef) thinks she's wasting her time and recommends she puts the fruit through a juicer. But the taste wasn't the same. The bitter skin made it undrinkable.
Patience, determination and detail beat speed and mechanisation to create a sweeter, more satisfying product.
Kimberley points out that applying the same values to our fundraising can make the experience of giving far more satisfying for our donors.
I have to agree with her. But there was something else I took from her story.
And it relates to one of the basics of successful marketing.
It comes from a paper called Marketing Myopia, published by Theodore Levitt back in the 1960s.
In it, he looks at industries that died because they failed to adapt in the face of new technology. The most famous example is the American railway system which declined, as Levitt argues, because they defined their business too narrowly – from the perspective of trains and not from their customer's perspective of efficient, fast and comfortable transport. Road and air vehicles ended up taking most of their business.
In Levitt's words, the rail bosses were product oriented instead of customer oriented.
The other analogy that explains this concept is related to drills. If a customer buys a 10mm drill bit, what he or she actually wants is a 10mm hole.
But that analysis isn't really deep enough. Most people want a hole so they can join wood or metal. So the drill bit manufacturer is actually in the business of sticking things together. Suddenly his competitors are no longer just drill bit manufacturers. They are also companies that make adhesives, welding equipment, staples, clamps and perhaps one day, laser guns.
When I read her blog, I saw that Kimberley's focus had been on getting the liquid into a glass. If she had looked at just drinking pomegranate juice, she might have tackled the problem of extracting it in a completely different way.
And it's the same when we look at fundraising. When someone gives to a charity, what are they actually doing? What are they 'buying'?
The web has spawned many new charities that are growing at a tremedous rate at a time when other established organisations are struggling. Non-profits like DonorsChoose, Kiva and Charity:Water are bringing donors much closer to the people they are helping. As a result, they are putting traditional charities to shame.
The people who set these charities up are not experienced fundraisers. But they seem to have an innate understanding of what donors want and have used the web to supply it. Their success has perhaps been down to the fact that they haven't looked at traditional charity models and copied them. They have looked at supplying what donors want – inspiration, self-affirming feedback and evidence of what has been achieved in a way that works.
The big traditional charities will have to increase their focus on donors needs if they are to continue to compete. But whilst they slowly move into a new way of working, the smaller charities like I CAN, Child's i and BullyingUK will lead the way and reap the rewards on engaging in work that really is donor oriented.
And if you are interested in the way I eat pomegranates, I've made a short video to show you how to do it. No juicers, knives or sophisticated fruit mashing equipment is required (thanks to Peter for the tip).
There have been a number of recent posts on various blogs looking at the reasons why people don't give to charity.
Last week I added to the debate when I wrote about nine techniques that donors use to avoid giving to appeals.
Reading them, you'll see that they could more accurately be described as the techniques donors use to avoid making a decision about giving.
They allow the donor to distance themselves from having to refuse a gift. If you are a nice charitable person, saying no to a good cause can generate some real self-esteem or guilt issues. Handily, the blow can be softened by placing the blame elsewhere.
But donors do actively make decisions not to give and at Bluefrog we see tackling these barriers as a central part of any fundraising strategy. As a result, we've spent a fair amount of time in research looking at what they are and how we address them.
We've identified three main reasons.
It's an obvious one. But one that perhaps too few charities give consideration too. If you don't have much disposable income or feel uncertain or insecure about the future, there is a negative impact on giving behaviour. We also discovered that a significant number of people going through a major transition in their life – child birth, divorce, job change, house moving – also restrict giving.
This covers the age old complaint of admin costs, concerns over corruption and mismanagement and the relative lack of worth of the cause. Interestingly, it can also relate to gift prompts that are seen as being too small to make any difference to the problem being tackled.
There may be no awareness of the organisation or the cause. The potential donor may be emotionally occupied elsewhere and 'can't be bothered' to give. The emotional distance between the donor and those in need might be too great and, of course, the donor may be emotionally withdrawn to the point that don't have any need to give.
These barriers can be tackled in different ways.
The first, by offering a very low entry price – an example of which is detailed here – and through making giving easy.
The second requires an emphasis on efficiency and demonstrating beneficiary need. Being open and developing credibility is an essential part of this process.
One of the most difficult parts of creating a good brief is writing the proposition. This is the single most important thing that your advertisement or pack should convey to the reader – the very essence of what you want to say.
It most definitely isn't a synopsis of a charity's mission.
A good proposition should be directional but also requires insight and inspiration. I've seen far too many briefs default to the standard, but almost useless...
"Please give us some money so that (insert beneficiary here) can be saved."
The person who writes this is simply abdicating the planning function to the creative department. That's fine if you have a strong group of creatives who can do the planning for you, but it can leave inexperienced people completely lost.
Your proposition should focus on a nugget of information that has the power to make someone stop and think. From that point you can add the supporting information to a mind that is both interested and engaged.
As an example, here's a video built around one motivational idea...
The Child's i Foundation is a small charity that is building a babies' home in Uganda. When they put the video together they could have focused on any number of facts – infant mortality figures, the numbers of babies in need of help, what it costs to care for one child for a day, week or month. But they didn't.
If you watch the video (from 0:35 to 1:25 if you are pressed for time) you'll see Lucy talk about one simple point. As soon as someone walks into the nursery, all the babies reach up to be picked up and cuddled. The footage provides the evidence as Lucy compares their actions to what a baby might do in the UK. She goes on to explains that the babies simply want to be loved and talks about the consequences for a child who doesn't receive any affection.
There are no huge numbers. No claims that the organisation is the best at what it does. No big brand statements. it's a simple fact that brings home in human terms the life of an orphaned baby.
Without sight of the video, a briefing proposition might have said something like...
Orphaned babies in Uganda need your help.
With the video, it would be...
For an orphaned baby, cuddles are as important as food and medicine.
The difference between the two would be very significant to a creative looking for direction on how to answer the problem. The second version contains a concrete thought rather than the ubiquitous will you help?
This form of proposition obviously needs to be backed up by evidence, which brings us back to the supporting information. Again, this shouldn't lack inspiration either. And it doesn't need to just come from within the charity. Doing your homework on Google can pay huge dividends (for a few tips on how to use Google to the best effect click here). The better the support information, the better your finished creative work should be.
But above all, your proposition should be single minded and relevant to your donors. It should not be taken from your brand book or mission statement. You are developing a communication designed to move people and should concentrate on doing so.
It was Archimedies who said when describing the concept of leverage...
"Give me a place to stand and I can move the world."
By helping your agency develop a good brief, you give them a great place to stand in which to move the world in your direction. Which, when it comes down to it, is what we all want to do (with thanks to Gary Duckworth for the analogy).
The Docklands Light Railway is under construction, it's freezing cold in London so the bike isn't getting out as much as it should and, as a result, I'm doing loads more walking. I pass a number of Starbucks on the way to work. I don't really like coffee (unlike the much-missed Matt Parkes whose daily caffeine buzz now comes from pressing the number 57 on a machine in Swindon), but I do like this advertising board that stands outside most of their coffee shops.
They don't proclaim to serve the best coffee in the world, the country or even the city. They are better than that. They serve "Your perfect coffee. Made just the way you like it".
It's something that we can learn from. Rather from banging away about how our charity is the best at caring for animals, beating cancer, helping women or fighting poverty we should concentrate on being the best charity for our donors.
By doing so, we will raise more money and better serve the causes we exist for. Thinking about it, all we have to do is swap a few words and we have the basis of a great fundraising strategy...
...Your perfect feedback. Delivered just the way you like it.
Whether you work for an agency or employ one you should read it. It will point out what you are doing wrong and show you how you can do things better.
It was written by Luke Sullivan, a copywriter with over 30 years experience working for some of the biggest agencies in the US.
It will make you laugh and cringe, particularly when he shares some painful examples of the stupid people he's had to work with (watch out for Mr. Froggy).
He doesn't talk much about charity advertising, but so much of what he says can be used to develop great fundraising materials.
Today on Adland I found a film of Luke presenting his thoughts on simplicity in advertising to a group of students. It runs for over an hour but should be considered required viewing for anyone whose job involves communicating with donors and working with agencies.
As I first walk through the doors of a charity, I often find myself having an Indiana Jones type moment.
It's nothing to do with dodging boulders or poison darts. What comes to mind is the closing scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark – the one where the ark is in a packing case being wheeled in to a huge warehouse packed full of thousands of equally non-descript boxes.
I hope that hidden in a draw, filing cabinet, on a computer or even in someone's head is going to be a game changing piece of information. A story, case study or some simple statistics that are the equivalent of the ark. If we can find it, we can generate a huge boost in funds.
Sometimes we find something in a few hours, sometimes it takes a few plane trips, sometimes it's just a long slog through file after file and interview after interview. But once we have that magical chunk of information, we have something that becomes a fantastic asset to an organisation.
The problem is that they aren't much good if they are allowed to exist in isolation.
Take a look at any long running recruitment pack that has been built around a great fundraising asset...
All of these use an inspiring idea to pull the donor towards the charity. But what happens next? Where does the great idea that catches the imagination of the donor feature once the relationship has started? Where is it in the second appeal or in the conversion to committed giving?
The idea of a simple pack of salts and sugar saving a child's life is inspiring and engaging. It's so powerful that it got someone to fill in a form and send off a cheque.
But the fact is, unless you keep inspiring, you are not going to get anywhere other than on a spiral of attrition.
Which is just what Adrian Sergeant found back in 2000. His research showed that 50% of cash donors give only once to a charity. After five years the number still giving falls to 8%.
So rather than think about creative work one pack at a time, I think we should be borrowing from the world of the web and develop a content strategy for our direct marketing programmes.
It should be designed with one purpose in mind – to give the donor a great brand experience. And it should be measured by increased engagement and income.
There are four key areas that I think we need to consider.
Who is the information for?
This is the easy part of the process. Most of us have a pretty good idea who supports us. What's important is using this information to answer...
What are they interested in?
A donor may well be interested in a particular aspect of your work, but what they tell us over and over again is that they'd like to know how their gifts are being used. If your donors invest financially or emotionally in a project, it's easy to build engagement by telling them how it is getting on.
Much more important is the fact that mailing programmes that offer feedback on ongoing work tend to raise more than those which feature a disconnected series of projects presented as self-contained appeals.
Consistency pays dividends.
How are you going to gather it?
It doesn't matter if you are a small single-centre charity or a global NGO, the only effective route to find your own great fundraising assets is to get up from your desk and go and talk to the people who are at the sharp end - either doing or benefiting.
Bluefrog's Head of Creative, Aline Reed has posted her advice on conducting a great interview (which includes some of her favourite questions) on her blog, Bluefrog Creative.
But you should also think about the best way to get non-fundraisers to flag up good potential projects (so you don't have to open up too many of those crates that I mentioned earlier on). This isn't easy, but one technique that I've seen used effectively is to offer a prize to all people who notify you of inspiring examples of work. It doesn't have to be much, perhaps an extra days holiday, a voucher or a cash bonus for all those that eventually get featured in an appeal. The expense is negligible in comparison to what that idea might generate and is well worth the investment.
When is it going to be used?
This is how you deliver those ideas. Few charities are going to be content talking about the same aspect of their work. It is likely that you'll probably want to feature four or five different examples of work over the course of a year and perhaps offer a taster of many others.
At Bluefrog, we've developed something akin to the soap opera model where we concentrate on three or four tight project specific areas work at anyone time. These may be featured in appeals, feedback pieces and newsletters. As we come to the conclusion of one story, another may well be reaching a climax and another might be starting. I've tried to demonstrate this visually with a set of story lines from a well know British soap, EastEnders.
But what is most important in implementing this type of engagement is developing a dialogue with donors. When you put a content strategy together, start off by getting out and speaking to your donors face to face and via questionnaires. By asking them what they want, how they want it and when they want it you'll remove all the guess work from your communications.
And that is perhaps the most important step any of us can make to raise more funds.