Respect your donors

Respect your donors

Respect your donors

Fundraising | Tony Elischer | 1 Feb 2007

It’s time to start treating donors with the respect they deserve, says Tony Elischer.

If it wasn’t such an over-used cliché I would want to make 2007 the year of going ‘back to basics’. While technology continues to push our needs for creativity, speed and response, sometimes I think we lose sight of some of the basic thinking that has shaped fundraising to date, perhaps even to the extent that we are ‘throwing out the baby with the bathwater’.

We talk about donor-insight, donor-centred and donor-sensitive but we seem to ignore the common courtesy of treating the donor intelligently. Let’s face it, in this ‘knowledge age’ we all have instant access to information and views, which is making us much smarter. In addition fundraising has now come of age in the UK and our core target audiences know the workings of fundraising techniques as well as we do. We know it’s only a relatively small percentage of the population that are true charity givers – the people we are all trying to target – and it is these people who over the years have seen all our work in action. That is not to say they are now immune to it, but they are certainly more cynical and demanding. The higher the donation being given or sought, the more analysis they do.

It is more than ten years since Oxfam introduced the £2 a month ask, which at the time was heralded as committed giving, although in reality it was only really regular giving. The proposition was simple and appealing: £2 a month could teach a man to fish and thus become self-suffïcient. The reality of this was that it made people think and want to engage, but this ‘sector marker’ went on to establish the crazy idea that £2 a month or £3 or £5 could change the world as every charity leapt on the technique and simply took the same proposition. This revolution changed the way people thought of charities and the way we approached the market. These programmes have now diminished in appeal and response yet increased in cost. Is it because we have found all theregular givers in the UK? Or is it because the world is different and people simply don’t believe anymore that they can change the world for £2 a month.

Commercial marketing is about creating a picture in people’s minds around lifestyle, health, leisure, wealth and sexual appeal. To do this commercial marketers invest millions in building brands that throw up smokescreens to make people believe their claims. Of course, while many of us engage and connect, the reality is never the same as the promise. We simply settle into a comfort zone and accept what we get. But this is not an option for charities. We need to build our brand and propositions on reality, transparency and honesty as this is the only way we will gain the trust from our supporters that will build the elusive lifetime value we all seek from the UK core of real donors. “Obvious!” you may cry, but look around you at the different approaches and propositions in the marketplace. Is it just me or are some charities creeping firmly back into the area of wild claims, sensationalism, sad premiums, over-complicated propositions, over-engineered creative and basically misleading stories or reports? Perhaps it’s desperation, perhaps its naivety or perhaps it’s the fact that, sadly, many direct marketing programmes like this will deliver short-term results. The balance is that donors are intelligent, after all they are you and me, and unless you establish the right approach, tone and deal from the outset their interest and support will be short lived and your programme will be forever countering high attrition and unacceptable cost ratios.

Some possible new themes that may help refresh the situation or move your thinking on:

  • tell great stories with a beginning, a middle and an end
  • openness and straightforward talking/reporting
  • seek ‘inspiration’ as a theme; ways to touch a combination of the head, heart and spirit
  • celebration: why do we always show how desperate a situation is? Sometimes give the donor a ‘break’ and let them celebrate what their support is achieving
  • a picture really does ‘speak a thousand words’.

So why not take a deep breath and a step back and take an honest view of how intelligently your propositions, your servicing and your team, treat current and future supporters.

Tony Elischer is director of THINK Consulting Solutions


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