Simon Scriver: Mystery shopping finds charities unprepared

18 Jul 2017 Voices

What would happen if I e-mailed your organisation right now? What would happen if I phoned? Not you directly, but that e-mail address and phone number you have sitting on your website’s homepage. The first one that comes up.

Try it for me. Get a friend to phone and make a donation. Send an e-mail from that fake address you have (you know the one). Ask an awkward question or just say you want to help.

What happens?

Well, statistically, it probably isn’t good news.

I keep a running tally. Before I start working with a new charity client I’ll mystery shop them. Yes I’ll make a donation, or I’ll email your [email protected] address to ask something simple like, “What does your CEO get paid?” Similarly, I’ve run seminars where we’ve called charities live over the speaker system to hear what happens. You might have responded to one of my alter egos.

Unfortunately, about half of organisations don’t reply to me.

How does that make you feel? Think of the work you’re putting in to your appeals, your social media, your press releases. All of this time and money trying to catch someone’s attention and be heard. But then half of those who come back to you with a quick, simple question are wilfully ignored.

And the ones that respond?

About 65 per cent send a link: They point me towards the answer rather than answering (at least it’s something). Another 10 per cent won’t tell me. And another 10 per cent ask me why I want to know, which is wonderfully obnoxious. But not quite as obnoxious as adding me to their mailing list (which is what a couple of charities did).

Think about this: when you ask someone a question what do you want in return? I’m guessing you want the answer? Of course you do.

Well only 15 per cent of organisations who respond to me give an answer to my straightforward questions.

How is your organisation responding? Are you engaging? Making them feel special? Or do they come away feeling like a number? Are you and the people around you doing everything right?

At IoF’s recent Fundraising Convention, the wonderful Amref Health Africa did everything right. When we called them live they gushed, they asked questions, they actually processed the donation! Even as a cynical mystery shopper I came away from the call feeling like I’d made their day... like I’d made a difference. Like they were jumping for joy in the office and running outside to spend my little £10 note on something wonderful.

Are you giving donors that feeling? Are you giving them what they want?

It’s not necessarily about what donors say they want. For example, if you ask donors if they want a thank you letter then almost everyone will say no, don’t bother. But I don’t know anyone who doesn’t appreciate thank you, and I’ve seen time and time again a well-crafted, gushing thank you letter deepen relationships and trigger donations.

Even the complaints are opportunities. They’re a chance to learn. A chance to improve. A wonderful opportunity to make amends and exceed expectations. Every contact is fundraising-related. How we respond and answer questions, how we behave every day, how every person feels after every interaction with us...this is fundraising. These are the moments that shape what the public think of us and shapes how they’ll respond to us when we ask for money.

It’s about empathy.

It’s about the service user who sits on your board. It’s about the empty chair you pull up to each of your fundraising department meetings to represent the donor.

It’s about language. It’s about our assumption that the public has any clue what we’re talking about when we say ‘development director’, ‘major donor’ or ‘community fundraising’. (A friend of mine doesn’t think giving away her money makes her a ‘donor’...she associates the word with giving blood).

And it’s about what they deserve.

Here is a person that who has been touched by your work. Who wishes to know more. Wants to help. And you’re considering putting a nameless, faceless, hollow chat-bot in front of them to box them in to the space you think they want to be?

It’s about devoting a minute to thinking about what this person is going through. The anger, the fear, the helplessness, the passion, the joy. That spark of emotion that flickered inside of them and drove them to reach out and make contact. Are you fanning the flames of action? Or are you dousing them in disappointment?

Simon Scriver is a fundraising consultant at Change Fundraising.

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