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The smartphone is rapidly becoming indispensible. Whilst many people are still using non-data enabled phones for voice and SMS, Apple, Samsung, HTC, Nokia and the other smartphone manufacturers have been busily wooing the population with sleek touchscreens, data and GPS enabled apps and all kinds of technological wizardry. This trend is sweeping the globe – according to Forrester, there are expected to be one billion smartphones in circulation across the world by 2016.
However, most of us remember a day when it wasn’t like this; we made phone calls from our landlines or from phone boxes in the street. We navigated via printed maps, and sent letters via post boxes.
Like this, the ways in which charities manage their donors has also evolved, from traditional, face-to-face engagement and physical leaflets, to social media and mobile engagement. The tough choice for the charity manager today is deciding which digital channel and method has merit, and which may fade away. There was a time when Twitter seemed to simply be a flash in the pan but charities such as RSPCA now have more than 45,000 followers.
An evolving science
Unfortunately, charities today have less funding and more competition. Physical materials are expensive, and postage equally so. Whilst these can generate revenue and awareness, it is hard to measure whether they have generated a sense of engagement which will engender long term giving. Furthermore, the rise of the charity mugger has given many charities using face to face engagement a bad name, with outsourced staff being overly aggressive so as to meet their targets.
Recently, Lord Hodgson, a Conservative peer published a report concluding that "chuggers" were having a negative effect on the high street. However, with firm guidance and rules of engagement, there is little doubt that they can be an effective charity tool, raising awareness and money for a cause.
This raises an important point: it can be complex to evaluate the best method of fundraising for one particular charity, especially when online awareness campaigns and fundraising tactics such as websites and twitter can support traditional methods, such as mailers and collectors on the street – and vice versa. However, this cross-channel support is important, particularly in a time when charities need to work harder to gain donations.
The internet, social media and the rise of the mobile have gone a long way to helping smart charities continue to gain funding in the recession and re-engage donors across both online and offline channels. For example, the British Red Cross has both an effective online and offline presence, with local shops around the country, as well as a website and Twitter feed which support all activity across the country.
Whilst real life engagement still has a place in the modern world, savvy charities should also consider how mobile and online channels can help them. Consider the meteoric success of the BBC website during the Olympics. Mobile viewers accounted for 34% of views of the BBC Olympics website content – 9.2million hits!
This trend is generally true for news as more people receive breaking news on their phones, which can also act as a call to action for donations both online and offline. Consequently, it is essential that charities have mobile optimised sites so that donors can continue their journey to making a donation rather than getting stuck on a site which is not optimised for mobile.
The role of online, mobile and social
You’ve probably noticed just how easy it is to make a purchase on your mobile phone. Indeed, the first thing that most smartphone users do is to download apps – many of which are paid for – with a single click.
This means that it is inherently easy to enable donations via mobile devices. It’s fast, it’s easy and it’s completely non-intrusive. Many donors may feel significantly happier donating anonymously via their PCs and mobiles than they will face to face with a chugger on the street. This ease is supported by the increasing sophistication of the mobile site: websites are more sophisticated and interactive than ever before. With the dawn of HTML 5, mobile sites can now present an ‘app-like’ experience to users without them needing to download or install anything.
This can make mobile sites a great deal more usable, increasing the time which users spend on them and decreasing the frustration of using them. This can be invaluable when trying to draw users into deeper conversations. After all, many websites tied to certain causes feature forums where users can chat to other users and share views.
This means that both mobile and standard sites are frequently not just a portal for one-click donations, but also an information service. Indeed, these sites frequently tie into GPS, making people aware of what is going on in their local area, as well as creating a community in cyberspace.
Behind the scenes
By using location and special interest based information, mobile, social and online all offer the possibility of better customisation and engaging one on one with customers, but from a distance and without having to get "feet on the street". This customisation can also be done by the technology "behind the scenes". For example, do you run a pet-related charity? Your donors may be either "dog people" or "cat people". By asking them for their preferences or recording them as they browse, you can engage them more appropriately and provide them with bespoke information.
Furthermore, with modern content management systems and smart development, the charity outreach team can usually update the website by themselves without needing to consult the technical team. Frequently, mobile sites will not need re-provisioning when new content is generated – they can simply update from the main site. Mobile sites can also be clever about tying into systems like GPS, identifying where users are and telling them about nearby services, stores or charity events in their area.
Mobile may still seem like a bit of an alien experience to many charities. Whilst we as users are comfortable logging on using our phones, we often don’t have the faintest idea about how to actually engage our audience or where to start. It is important to remember that mobile, online and social are simply interrelated channels – no different to putting people on the street with donation boxes, but smarter and slightly more complex.
It’s also important not to undervalue what you are already doing – anyone with a website is already doing mobile; the question is simply whether you are optimised for mobile. Do consider the ROI (return on investment) of what you are planning to do – a recent research study estimated the value of mobile commerce in the UK alone to £1.3bn at the end of last year. However, consumers are fickle, and have short attention spans, so a frustrating site experience can easily result in a lost donation.
Charities today need to be competitive and think innovatively. As we all know, donations are far harder to secure than they used to be, and even the "big names" in the charity world are having to work harder than ever before. Unless people know about you, they cannot engage with your cause; and unless they engage with your cause, they will not donate. Also, it is important to remember that mobile is not going to go away – simply consider throwing away your mobile phone for a week or even a day and the anxiety that this would cause.
With this in mind, charities need to consider what mobile, online and social can do for them – and with the power to engage users, increase donations and promote your cause, it is definitely worth thinking about seriously.
"…it is essential that charities have mobile optimised sites so that donors can continue their journey to making a donation rather than getting stuck on a site which is not optimised for mobile."
"Many donors may feel significantly happier donating anonymously via their PCs and mobiles than they will face to face with a chugger on the street."
"Mobile sites can…be clever about tying into systems like GPS, identifying where users are and telling them about nearby services, stores or charity events in their area."
Organised by St Luke’s (Cheshire) Hospice in Winsford, now in its eighth year, the Midnight Walk is by far the Cheshire-based hospice’s largest single fundraising event. Having raised almost £2 million over the eight years, 2009 saw the walk’s fundraising total peak at a significant £325,000. The brainchild of former patient, we believe that the success of the initiative is attributable to a very dedicated and determined team of fundraisers who have a real passion and commitment to the hospice and the walk in particular.
I want to explain here the unique ethos behind the event, the intricacies of planning and managing the walk, and the lessons for other charities who are keen to plan a similar occasion.
THE BACKGROUND. The Midnight Walk was a result of a conversation between myself and a family friend, Claudia McLaughlan, who was also a patient at the hospice. Despite undergoing chemotherapy, Claudia was keen to raise money for the hospice and suggested the idea of organising a ladies only night-time walk. Initially I didn’t feel that it would work.
At the time there was a similar well-known walk which took place in London, but nothing other than that. The idea of walking through Crewe at midnight was certainly not as appealing as walking through London, following the Marathon route. However, Claudia was a very persistent lady and we began to look into options. Our hope was that we could persuade 100 women to walk a half marathon and raise £10,000 for the hospice. But three weeks later, with no structure in place we had received 550 entries. We went on to raise £88,000 in the first year.
THE EVENT. The template for the St Luke’s (Cheshire) Hospice Midnight Walk is relatively simple. We keep the walk to ladies only and try to appeal to a wide target area of potential walkers, as too many group walkers can dilute the sponsorship totals. By incorporating a diverse group of walkers, the sponsorship per head is increased. In an ideal world, every walker would be an individual who lives and works miles away from other registered walkers.
Although many of our walkers find out about the initiative via word of mouth, we do run an extensive publicity campaign through our regular newsletter, local press and radio. We also have an active poster and leaflet operation which targets gyms, slimming clubs, supermarkets, banks, community centres etc. We have good success with well-placed banners and have had limited success with billboard and bus advertising.
We do charge a registration fee of £15 per walker, as this reflects the true cost to offer a place. It covers a branded Midnight Walk t-shirt, a named sponsorship form, a branded bottle of water and banana at the half way point and a breakfast on finishing, plus the cost of policing the event and making sure that registration and the finish runs smoothly.
Working with the police
Initially the police would not agree to help, as it is against their national policy to encourage on-road walking events. But they eventually came on board three weeks before the first walk. We do have to pay the police which costs upwards of £3,000 per year to have eight officers on duty throughout the whole event. They maintain a rolling road block and are used in any parts of the route where there may be problems, such as pub and nightclub areas. Whilst you can run the event without police, they make the walkers feel safe and it’s very positive to have their presence.
Other security measures we take on the evening are through enlisting the help of Raynet (walkie-talkie enthusiasts and a charity in their own right). They set up a communications team along the course and at base and help to monitor the progress of the walk and the position of the last walker. We make a donation to their funds in lieu of payment.
We also have Red Cross cover throughout the night to provide First Aid if needed. Again, we make a donation to the charity for their support.
The event is supported by almost 200 volunteers who organise registration, stewarding, car parking, refreshments, vehicle support and are on hand to welcome back walkers and hand out medals at the completion of the walk. The majority of the volunteers are male and all volunteers wear a specific t-shirt (which is a different colour to the walkers), and stewards wear high-visibility jackets.
Thorough risk management
Our risk management is very thorough indeed and we spend a lot of time making sure that our walkers and volunteers are safe. Walkers are registered at the beginning of the route, signed in at the halfway point and then again on completion of the walk. Any walker who isn’t signed back in at the end of the walk is contacted on their mobile phone or home number and we have been known to get exhausted ladies out of bed after they have returned home. However everyone appreciates that we need to ensure they have finished the walk safely.
The stewards themselves marshal the route in pairs and there is a person who walks at the rear of the route, at the slowest pace, who then allows the marshals to leave their checkpoint. We also have a street license so that the stewards are able to collect any donations given on the night in sealed buckets. These buckets are passed back to the volunteer’s coordinator at the end of the proceedings and go into the accounting process, along with all the funds raised from the event.
Secrets of the walk's success
WHY PEOPLE WALK. We believe in caring about and nurturing each and every participant in the walk. It’s not enough to register them and a few months later to hope that they turn up and take part. We take the time to make sure they understand what their support means to the charity and let them know that they are making a real difference.
In the run up to the event we contact the walkers with training tips, healthy eating recipes, patient stories and general words of encouragement, to keep their enthusiasm topped-up for the event.
T-SHIRTS. We pre-order and print out t-shirts, so they’re an integral part of the event and can serve several purposes. We make sure our walk t-shirts are a very bright colour and the walkers get their t-shirt when they have paid their registration fee, not when they arrive at the event. As the t-shirts are a very effective advertising tool, encourage ladies to train in their t-shirt, and not save it just for the night.
We also change the colour and design of the t-shirts every year, to make sure that this year’s walkers are easily recognisable and to ensure there aren’t any ladies walking who haven’t registered for the event. It’s essential to make sure that you put volunteers in a different colour t-shirt and main organisers, who are able to answers questions or make decisions, in a different colour altogether – so everyone is easily recognisable.
LOOKING AFTER THE PENNIES. We ask all walkers to bring a copy of their sponsorship form with them and registration volunteers calculate and take a note of the value of all individual sponsorship forms. This means that when the walkers leave at the end of the evening, we know how much money has been pledged and therefore stand a better chance of collecting it all.
Claiming Gift Aid
If walkers lose their forms, or fail to send them back with the collected money we lose the opportunity to claim Gift Aid. If walkers don’t or can’t bring a copy of their sponsorship form on the night, we keep the original and post it back to them when we have copied it.
Each year we actually bring in on average 94% of monies which have been pledged. Organisers of any mass participation event will know that this sum is much higher than usual. We believe that we have a responsibility to those people who have pledged or promised funds to the walkers, to make sure that the money collected goes to the charity.
There are occasions where forms show that money has been handed to walkers, but it doesn’t come back to us. We always chase up the money, as it has been donated to our hospice via the walker in good faith. We don’t sit back and just hope that the money will come in as we know that we wouldn’t get anywhere near the 94% of the monies pledged, if we didn’t chase it up. We work very closely with our accounts department to make sure that we follow proper accounting procedures.
THE FACTS AND FIGURES. Since we started the walk in 2004, we have raised over £1.7 million for our hospice. We rolled out the template for the walk at the National Association of Hospice Fundraisers Annual Conference in 2006 and ran conferences about it in 2007. From figures collated by Help the Hospices over 60 hospices now hold a Midnight Walk (or night walk by another name), having brought in a combined total of over £20 million.
The success is varied with some hospices raising £20,000 and some raising in excess of £200,000 per annum. For many of the participating hospices, the walk has become their largest single fundraising event of the year and provides irreplaceable monies, which can pay for many days of dedicated hospice care.
PLANNING FOR THE NEXT MIDNIGHT WALK. For the St Luke’s fundraising team, it’s essential that we start preparing for the next Midnight Walk on the Monday after the walk has happened. Exhausted as we may be, we know that a good few hours debriefing ensures an even more successful event the following year. Immediately after the walk, whilst it’s still being covered in the local press, is the best time to bring on board new company sponsors.
As with every event, we’d like to improve on the success of the Midnight Walk. Primarily this would be by accommodating more walkers and improving on our 2009 fundraising peak of £325,000.
"We believe in caring about and nurturing each and every participant in the walk."
In the current economic climate, charities are facing one of the most challenging fundraising environments for some time. The cost of acquiring new donors continues to rise as more direct and less passive forms of fundraising are used. Meanwhile, an increased rate of donor attrition – the loss of existing donors – shows no sign of abating as people tighten their belts.
Unless charities make use of fundraising opportunities in new and imaginative ways to improve donor retention rates and generate more income from existing supporters, they are likely to see a fall in both the number of donors they retain and hence the income they bring in.
Although there is no single answer to the pressures that charities are facing, wiser heads will see the merits of integrated 'multi-channel' communication as fundraising teams look to connect with younger, technologically-savvy supporters. Charities WHICH don't want to be left behind should make sure that they are investing in the technology or working with agencies which will enable them to deliver this.
Communicating with supporters
Fundraising across multiple channels allows charities to communicate with their supporters in a way that fits with their lifestyle, preferences and media consumption habits. A narrow focus on single channel fundraising – for example, fundraising exclusively using direct mail – is no longer enough. The profile of the "typical" donor has changed significantly in the last ten years.
At the beginning of the last decade, direct mail was the favoured method. Donors today are younger and tend to use a variety of media – from web pages to SMS text messaging and social media – in their everyday lives. They don't just want to give money. They also want to fundraise, advocate their chosen causes and engage in conversation with the organisations they are supporting.
Of course, telephone fundraisers have long understood that effective communication with donors requires an adaptable, tailored approach which means that people are hearing from them in a way that is appropriate and relevant. For telephone fundraisers this has often involved the use of different "voices" to reach out to supporters, using a different script, tone or style of dialogue depending on the person being called. Integrating multiple channels into a fundraising campaign can be seen as an extension of this.
Previously untapped support
By embracing channels that complement the telephone, and choosing a medium that fits with the profile of the target donor, shrewd telephone fundraisers have been able to use different channels to reach previously untapped sources of support.
For example, by using online channels in conjunction with the traditional telephone, fundraisers have been able to reach donors who might otherwise not have responded well to a cold "donor acquisition" call. One way that this has been done is to combine an online action and a phone call. For example, a charity's website can be configured so that it features a "call me" or "register now" button which, when clicked, asks for a telephone number to be provided by the reader who, in turn, receives an instant call from a telephone fundraiser.
Alongside online channels, SMS text messaging is also popular as a way to enhance and extend the effectiveness of traditional fundraising techniques. SMS based calls to action generally involve asking a potential donor to text a word, such as "help", to a five or six digit number. The donor then receives a call from a person on the telephone.
SMS calls to action
This method has two distinct advantages: SMS calls to action are short, giving them a versatility that allows them to be printed in many places, such as billboard posters, television adverts – even on the side of a disposable coffee cup. In sending an SMS text message, the sender is also providing the fundraiser with a validated phone number which they can call straight away or add to their database for future use.
Smartphones in particular present a hugely exciting opportunity for fundraisers who want to deliver content that can help retain donors and keep them informed. All content, conversations and fundraising "asks" can be delivered to one handset which never leaves a donor's side. Reaching your supporters through their smartphones should increase "cut-through".
People are more likely to read something that has been delivered to their phone rather than posted through their letterbox. Smartphones lend themselves well to instant responses to appeals and other calls to action. Telephone fundraising agencies have developed software which allows donors to make and control monthly gifts direct from their mobile phones and receive multi-media content, including email and video, in return.
Speed is of the essence
Of course, capability is one thing; making the best use of the capability is quite another. Speed is of the essence for the telephone fundraiser who wants to work effectively across multiple channels. It is important that all channels – telephone, online, SMS and video – are integrated together in such a way that provides the donor with a seamless experience. Minimising the time between a potential donor sending a text and receiving a follow-up call is important.
Fundraisers will get the best results if they speak with potential supporters while the original call to action is still fresh in their mind. The technology exists for this. For example, there is software which can plan telephone calls, generate emails and send SMS text messages from one platform. This means that communication across all channels can be planned, delivered and measured in an integrated way, rather than separately, in a silo, as might otherwise have been the case.
With the proliferation of an increasingly wide range of media and communications channels, the telephone can still play a pivotal role in any multi-channel fundraising programme. It is an engaging and interactive medium. Whether using voice, SMS text messaging or email, mobile telephones will be the platform that supports both inbound and outbound messages, allowing for real interaction and supporter-led fundraising. In addition, for conveying the emotional impact of a charity's cause or campaign message, the telephone, still, reigns supreme.
"Smartphones in particular present a hugely exciting opportunity for fundraisers who want to deliver content that can help retain donors and keep them informed.…"
For a large number of charities, face to face fundraising has been a central component of their fundraising armoury for many years. This is of course perfectly understandable for two simple reasons. Firstly, the practice, whether it is door to door or street fundraising, can generate significant revenue. Secondly, and in many ways just as important, face to face fundraisers serve to raise awareness of a charity or campaign amongst a wider audience, including young people who are notoriously difficult to engage via traditional fundraising or marketing methods.
Both these benefits are made all the more compelling when you consider the existing backdrop of the most challenging economic climate for a generation. To put it simply, fundraising is far more challenging than it was only a few years ago, so face to face fundraising with its "profitable return" is if anything more important than ever for fundraising directors trying to figure out exactly where the money is coming from over the coming financial year.
But just as fundraising has become more challenging so have attitudes and public perceptions changed, none more so than towards street fundraising. I am not sure exactly who was the first to term the technique "chugging", but it poignantly illustrates how the majority of people now view the practice negatively. Reading through the negative media coverage about chugging you get the sense that something needs to change.
The recent investigation by the Sunday Telegraph must have made for difficult reading, but as with any such "expose" it will hopefully lead to improved standards for street fundraising. The Institute of Fundraising is in the process of arranging a "summit" to talk through the situation and hopefully this will mean the right people get around the table and discuss a positive outcome for charities, the companies providing the service and most importantly the public. I believe the most difficult element that will take much longer will be changing the public perception.
Whatever your own opinion on chugging, one thing for certain is that change is in the air and charities are having to adapt accordingly. And I am not only referring to chugging. It is widely accepted that the existing fundraising model is faced with the challenge to re-energise and reinvent itself. Indeed the Giving White Paper published by the Cabinet Office a little over a year ago stated that the sector had "flat-lined" before calling on greater innovation and "trail-blazers" to enact real and lasting changes.
Fast forward to 2012 and we are starting to see what I believe to be the beginning of the fundraising revolution. Until now innovation had been in pretty short supply in our sector, and we had not seen any major developments since the introduction of JustGiving which went on to completely change the landscape and mechanism by which people donated. I firmly believe that we are seeing the emergence of similarly exciting fundraising models which, while currently small, have the potential to turn the sector on its head and provide a hugely important new revenue stream for charities at what is a crucial time.
Nesta’s Innovation in Giving Fund has been a hugely important vehicle for fostering and encouraging the emergence of these exciting new fundraising platforms. To date Nesta has backed over 36 projects including ourselves and all are worth investigating. Personally I have found the likes of the Pennies Foundation, Timto and Blue Dot hugely impressive due to their core elements of simplicity and engagement, but also these are revenue streams for charities which simply did not exist until now.
If this group of innovative platforms maintain their growth then the fundraising landscape will look very different in the coming years. The challenge is to raise their profile amongst the public and also charities themselves, so all are fully aware of the possibilities that fundraising innovation can offer. However, just to be clear, I for one am not predicting an immediate end to chugging, nor am I suggesting that these platforms can somehow directly replace the technique.
I believe that chugging will eventually evolve into something different, such as a data gathering exercise to form the start of the donation process – something some of the bigger charities are already doing. But this evolution will be accelerated and led by innovation elsewhere in the sector, and thanks to the advent of new technology, there are now other ways.
As charities have continued to feel the squeeze, many fundraising teams across the sector have understandably focused on acquiring new donors. However, a hard-nosed approach, which has income generation as its sole goal, will only take you so far. Charities need to also make sure that they are looking after and getting as much value as they can from existing donors.
Charities could learn a lesson or two from the commercial sector in this respect, which has led the way in using the telephone to make customers feel valued. Nearly four in every ten calls made to customers by commercial organisations are service calls. In other words, they are calls which do not contain a sales pitch or "ask". In the charity sector, this type of call, often referred to as a loyalty call, accounts for just 1% of calls made to supporters.
Looking after donors means more than just making a positive impression. By giving donors that personal touch, loyalty calls can play an important role in helping to ensure that those who have decided to give continue to do so. Donor attrition – the rate at which existing donors stop making donations – is just one area that can be addressed by looking after your donors.
In the last decade attrition has become a major issue for fundraisers, driven by changes to the methods and channels used to sign donors up. In 2000, when a majority of donors were recruited using direct mail, fewer than one in ten people who signed up for regular giving stopped making donations within a year. By 2005 nearly one third stopped within a year and by 2011 the proportion had risen to nearly half – 41%.
There is no single solution to this, but there is evidence that a well timed loyalty call to give thanks or provide an update on a charity's work can have a positive impact. Carefully timed thank you calls can reduce rates of donor attrition by as much as a third in the first year.
Charities need to put time, energy and – yes – money into looking after their donors and should not just do it as an afterthought. The "thank you" call – just one example of how a charity can look after its donors – serves to illustrate the point here. Careful thought should be given to the timing of the thank you call as there is no "one size fits all" approach. A one-off call could be made to a donor during those crucial first four weeks when attrition rates are high or, alternatively, charities could track their attrition rates over time and schedule thank you calls at those points when drop-off tends to be at its highest.
Some thought also needs to be given to the method by which donors are kept informed and made to feel valued. Despite the proliferation of media and communications channels in recent years the telephone remains one of the most effective mediums for making donors feel valued. It allows for a personalised approach that is difficult to replicate using other channels. Whatever their merits, direct mail and email simply do not convey the same level of personalised attention as a telephone call.
Among charities, the competition for supporters is intense, and those charities which remember the importance of good manners and take the time to look after their donors will have the edge over those that don't. Remember – if you don't keep your donors happy and engaged, someone else will.