What are the three most important pieces of data a charity can hold on its supporters? A Fundraising roundtable, supported by Valldata, brought together some top fundraisers to discuss what they value most in supporter data. ‘Everything’, for starters.
In a pastry-laden conference room last month, Fundraising gathered with fundraisers from a range of organisations. The question that was asked seems both simple and infinite. Given that charities invest so much time and money in their CRM systems, what is the most important information that they hold? And are charities holding and using that information in a way that benefits both their organisation and their supporters?
Stefanie Pfeil, director of fundraising at the International Rescue Committee, says that basics are fundamental.
“IRC is setting up its individual giving. We get 95 per cent statutory funding,” she says. “When you start from zero, and in this market where it is going online, it’s boring, it’s unoriginal but I’m going for correct email addresses as one of the most important pieces of information.”
Email addresses alone, however, are not enough. And will they even be around in the future? Guy Upward, head of direct marketing and legacies at Royal British Legion, says that for the Facebook generation, email is rarely used to communicate. Much of it is on social media, Facebook mail system, which charities struggle to access. Others cite individuals having multiple email addresses for multiple purposes as potentially watering down the value of email.
Email is cost-effective, Pfeil says, but it’s not a cure-all. “Even with an email address you still need a solid name with it. Writing to ‘lollipop500@hotmail. com’ isn’t going to work.”
NSPCC is in nearly the opposite position to IRC. With some 750,000 supporters on its database, keeping contact details up-to-date and accurate is absolutely critical.
NSPCC’s Marcus Missen says: “Number one is contact data. But am I saying the bleeding obvious?
“For charities it’s the question: what is contact data? Is it traditional name and address? Is it phone?” he asks. “For me, in reducing the cost of contact, email is the most cost-effective – but then it’s really easy to be lost in spam filters, to be ignored and start bothering people. In reality the most effective data we can hold from our point of view is phone number.
“It’s intrusive, but it’s driving upgrades.”
Pfeil agrees. In previous charities telephone had been a powerful tool for upgrades. “It seemed almost the only way that gave us percentages that seemed to work,” she says.
Hamish Horton, chief executive of Valldata, says the perception of telephone as intrusive does not marry up with how individuals treat their own telephone numbers. For one of the NSPCC products, says Horton, there is a higher proportion of people giving their telephone number than other kinds of personal data.
The lapsed and the lost
Consultant Michael Naidu, however, says that as important as knowing who is on your database is knowing why they have stopped supporting.
“Cancellation reason for direct debits is critical, because the direct debit system is fundamental to all individual giving,” he says. “We all talk about great supporter journeys, relationships and all of that, but actually you can tell a lot from the reason why people cancel.
“I know a lot of large charities that spend a lot of money on donor acquisition, but can’t actually say why someone has cancelled their support.”
Horton agrees that data, particularly regarding direct debit cancellations, is not being well used. “While it might be a very valuable piece of data, a lot of people don’t do anything with it. The traditional mentality is three strikes and you’re out, which is crazy because direct debits are a live transaction.”
The single-supporter view
Upward, of the Royal British Legion, says that while he has limitations with his data, his ambitions are sky-high. “My answer was everything is important. What I really want to know is as much detail about that person as possible,” says Upward.
“The issue with us is that there are an awful lot of ways you can interact with the Legion. You can be a staff member. There is a mythical figure of 300,000 volunteers who collect poppies during the Poppy Appeal. We’ve got 5,000 Poppy Appeal organisers, we’ve got 360,000 members, we’ve got 18 trustees, 2,500 branches – each one of which has a chairman, a president, a treasurer, etcetera – we’ve got people who go on our holidays, people who shop with us via Poppy Shop, and a bunch of people who give us £10.”
Without volunteers on its database, or indeed without attributing fundraising totals to individuals sponsored, Upward feels the Legion could be missing out on opportunities.
“What I’d really like to do is get into the position where however people interact with the Legion, we have their details on the database, so at least we know who we’re talking to.”
Upward recalls a telephone fundraising complaint. An elderly “sharp as a button” lady received a call from a young telemarketer asking her to upgrade her gift. Listening back to the call, the Legion team found that a lack of data was behind the problem.
“She was saying ‘Don’t you know who I am? I am the branch chairman! I raised £50,000 for the Poppy Appeal and you want me to increase my donation by £5!? This is outrageous!’”
Had the telemarketer had the information about the woman’s history, says Upward, he may not have made the conversion, “but at least both of them could have walked out of it a little better than they did”.
Missen asks how many charities actually have a ‘singlesupporter view’. “What we don’t look at is the totality. I attrite on my regular gift, then I get a call saying ‘Why have you stopped supporting us?’. No I haven’t. In my consciousness I’m going to give you a legacy. I still love you, but now you’re talking to me like a stranger,” he says. “The challenge is how you take that backward-facing view of the totality of my support and put in my future capacity to give to drive the ask. That is a key bit that few of us are doing.”
Valldata’s Horton has encountered charity opposition to letting donors know just how much charities know about them. “I had a conversation with a client a few years ago. The concept was about telling donors how valuable their contribution was over a period of time. The fundraiser said there was no way they would tell a supporter anything about how valuable they’ve been to the charity because they might freak out and stop supporting,” he says.
With regard to calculating donors’ precise capacity to give, most of the fundraisers thought this was an unproven science. Pfeil says she has seen many instances when major gifts have come from supporters who would never have been picked up by wealth screening. Missen says that wealth needs to be considered alongside inclination to give too. “You’ve got to model those two factors. Just looking at one of them is too simplistic.”
The discussion turned to the barriers that silos within organisations pose to sharing and making the most of data.
Missen suggests that once a value is assigned to something, such as volunteering or campaigning, it becomes a value to the organisation. It can be measured. “Whereas at the moment if it’s too difficult you’re probably messing up,” he says.
But even with values assigned to different supporter acts, there needs to be top-level buy-in to ensure that supporters are treated holistically.
“An individual just wants to engage with your charity, feel good about themselves and do something for the cause,” Pfeil says. “It’s us who come with our internal prejudice and therefore can do a bad job in engaging people on a multi-dimensional level.”