Charles Bagnall: Does the past hold the secret to the future of fundraising?

31 Jan 2022 Expert insight

Charles Bagnall from Advanced reflects on how the environment for direct marketing has changed, and what it means for fundraising

Image credit: Mark Phillips on Pinterest

This content has been supplied by a commercial partner.

The picture above shows an old charity advertisement. It looks archaic now, but the clever ideas of people who specialised in print advertising all those years ago are more relevant now than ever in a world where ‘digital’ is changing the shape of marketing and fundraising.

In a recent Webcast we discussed the problem of Continuous Partial Attention. I joked that my listeners were probably answering emails and ‘Whatsapping’ right now, and when I got off the call I learned from my son that one listener had been messaging him during the session! CPA is not a new concept, but since the phrase was coined by a senior Google exec ten years ago, it is having a profound impact on sales and marketing, and that means fundraising too. The truth is we are all constantly communicating through several different media platforms 24/7. That being the case, what chance does your latest email piece or text message or letter have of actually getting the attention it needs? Direct marketers across all sectors are finding that results in terms of leads and business from personalised direct approaches has fallen drastically in recent years. Our own marketing department tells me that the proportion of our leads from direct marketing has fallen from around 80% to 20%, which means of course that Inbound enquiries now represent almost 80% of leads!

‘Direct Marketing is Dead!’

This would have been an attention-grabbing heading for this article, but it is not true. You can’t stop those activities, but now they serve a different purpose. Direct approaches, along with social media posting, campaigning, public relations activities, are now all about awareness raising. The new paradigm is that when donors want to donate, they take the initiative, they choose the time and the channel. The best way to maximise engagement is to focus on your online presence. Drive traffic from those other channels to your website. Are they going to find your site ok, and not your competitors? Have you done your SEO? Is it worth investing in Pay Per Click advertising? 

Now, when they do find your site, put yourself in the mind of the donor. What would really get them engaged? It might be fast access to a Donate button, or it might be a download of your latest campaigning brochure, or it might be an incentive (the cuddly toy still works for our animal welfare clients!). The beauty of online marketing is that you can refine what works. Site analytics will tell you which offers work and engage donors and which ones have high drop-out rates. You will however need a hook, something to engage them as soon as they arrive.

Interestingly, this change of focus to indirect marketing means we are, in a way, back in the world before direct marketing took off in the 80s when print media advertising was the main stay. Mark Phillips, a specialist in this area, has a Pinterest site ( of over 1000 vintage charity ads, with arresting headlines such as ‘Life Ends at 40.’ and ‘Write your own bloody headline!’ and ‘What happened to your sense of outrage?’ He tells me that re-working these ideas in his clients’ Christmas appeals generated great results. 

Finally what does this mean for your IT strategy? Well it means the focus must be on your website as your shop window, and it must be able to engage the donor. If you can’t think how to grab their attention – look to the past.  Then you can gather the data you need from them, and that data needs to flow immediately and seamlessly back to your CRM, so you can thank them, and start a relationship to secure the future.

Charles Bagnall is Senior Product Manager at Advanced


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