Donor experience: Are we doing it all wrong?

It’s just one month until the IOF Convention, and I’m looking forward to some exciting sessions this year on an increasingly important topic.

If we look at the most commonly used phrases in our sector at the moment, I’d hazard a guess that ‘donor experience’ must come a very close second to ‘GDPR’. We’ve had the Commission on the Donor Experience, we’ve got a new IoF Donor Experience Special Interest Group setting up the Donor Experience Project, we have donor experience teams and ‘donor experience’ is appearing in more and more job descriptions.

And, excitingly, we have included a number of sessions focusing on individual giving and the donor experience at Fundraising Convention this year. As a member of the Convention Board, and part of the team that has put together the Individual Giving track, I am excited by these sessions, and that we are curating a ‘Donor Experience journey‘ through the convention sessions that will allow you to identify the most relevant ones to go to – from advice on creating multi-year, multi-channel fundraising campaigns to a global view of mid-value giving or how to harness the power of community when talking to audiences connected to your cause there are many different angles of donor experience to explore. Academics will take you through social psychology principles in Relationship Fundraising 3.0 and how to write a better thank you.

But first, it’s worth taking a look at what we mean by ‘donor experience’ – how important is it; and, crucially, are we doing it right?

It’s this last question that I’ll be focusing on in my session, How to Get Your Whole Organisation Behind Delivering Great Experiences. While it is great that we’re taking this subject seriously, I see common mistakes. I’ll cover several of these, but there are two things I’d like to point out now that I think we’re getting badly wrong:

 

We spend too much time eliminating negative experiences

Does that sound odd? Surely we don’t want to give our donors a bad experience? Surely that’s what caused the problems in the first place?

Of course, that’s right. And we should certainly try to get things right – it’s right that we spell the donor’s name right; use tactics that don’t unduly pressurise the donor; and spot when a donor is vulnerable and support them rather than exploit them.

But we need to recognise that these are simply satisfiers – noticed when you get it wrong, but expected (and therefore unnoticed) when you get it right.

It is moments that surprise and delight donors that they remember, that they talk about and that build the most valuable commodity of all, donor commitment.

It’s the hand-written note from the CEO that simply says thank you and that we’ve noticed your long-term support; it’s the private message to the donor that says what a difference they’ve made; it’s the book of stories from the children the donor’s donations have helped. At Cascaid, we used to call it ‘magic’.

We spend far too long worrying about the things that donors will never notice, ensuring the experience of giving to us is no worse than (and therefore the same as) giving to everyone else. And too little trying to create magic.

 

We measure the wrong things

The second common mistake I see is that we measure the wrong things. Or, more to the point, we don’t measure the most important things.

Peter Drucker famously said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”. If we want to improve the donor’s experience then we need to measure it. And that means measuring how they feel about giving to us.

Yes, there’s a cost involved. Yes, it will take up time. Yes, it’s scary. But if you’re serious about wanting to improve the donor’s experience, you’ll want to know how they feel.

Many of you will know that I set up About Loyalty, which offers charities a quick and simple way to measure the commitment, satisfaction, trust and emotional loyalty of their donors and, importantly, benchmark them against other participating charities to evaluate their own performance. Our research shows that higher scores in these areas lead to greater retention of donors, and a quantifiable increase in repeat giving. (A copy of the report can be requested here.)

This is just one option – you can create your own donor satisfaction scores, use the simple Net Promoter Score or even do as the NSPCC did and create your own ‘donor happiness‘ index. I wrote about these in the Commission on the Donor Experience Project on Measuring Satisfaction and Commitment.

Whatever route you choose, the single most important step you can take in improving your donor’s experience is to measure something. The moment you start to measure something you change it, and it changes you. So choosing any one of these measures will change the way you behave, the way you understand your donors and the way you plan your fundraising.

Measure it. Something. Anything! And report it just as widely as you do your financial results.

 

These are just two of the things that I see us getting wrong. In my session, I’ll go through others, the research behind them and some tips for getting it right.

And yes, we’ll be asking you how you feel about the session when you finish. So I’ll definitely spend a bit of time thinking about how to include a little bit of magic too that you still want to talk about it in years to come.

 

This post is also being published on the Institute of Fundraising’s site today.

Supporter Experience – where to start

On Monday I met with 14 charity professionals who have the phrase ‘Supporter Experience’ somewhere in their job titles. It was fascinating to hear the different roles they have in different charities, and also to hear the shared frustrations and concerns.

There was a shared sense that the task is big, with so many areas to look it. And with any big task, it is sometimes difficult to know where to start. It reminded me of this article that I recently wrote, a shortened version of which was published on the new Donor Experience Project website.

 

Where do I start?

OK, I know I’m supposed to create a better donor experience, but the Commission on the Donor Experience (CDE) has 28 projects, over 600 pages to read and over 500 recommendations. Where on earth am I supposed to start?

Is that you? Has the sheer volume of good stuff (and there is some very good stuff in there!) made you think you don’t know where to start? If so, I can’t say I blame you.

If I could do just one thing, I’d do the single most import thing. I’d change what I measure and put in place a KPI around how my donors feel about supporting us. Then I’d ask them. And then I’d report what I find.

What you measure is what you do.

When I wrote the CDE project on Measuring Satisfaction and Commitment, I started by saying that, “an obsession with short-term financial KPIs is the single biggest reason that donors are dissatisfied with the way charities fundraise.”

I continued, “It forces us to follow ever more aggressive strategies in order to achieve the target amount of income or new donors. It also means that we never understand the impact of our communications in terms of how we make donors feel about us, or how emotionally engaged they are with us.

Of course we’re here to raise money and we should have our financial KPIs. Adding longer-term financial KPIs is an improvement. But the biggest step forward will be when we add a KPI around how we’re making donors feel. Then change will happen.

The moment that you begin to measure something, you change it – and it changes you!

So, what should we measure?

Donor Satisfaction

This still leaves the question of what you should measure. To be honest, I don’t think it really matters, as long as you measure something!

In the CDE I outlined some choices including Net Promoter Score or Customer Effort, through to measuring Loyalty, Commitment or Donor Satisfaction. And I give examples where charities and companies have used standard tools like these or where they have created their own.Loyalty

And many of you know that I set-up About Loyalty to make it simple for charities to measure and benchmark Loyalty (Commitment, Satisfaction and Trust).

Commitment

In all the examples I gave, it’s the act of measuring something (and reporting it widely) that has created the change – a change for their donors and customers and, in the longer term, a change for their incomes.

If you’re serious about changing your donors’ experience and you don’t measure it then it simply won’t happen. Do it today!

(By the way. If you need more persuasion, there’s a growing body of evidence that shows that improving donor loyalty, commitment and satisfaction generates more income in the long term. I’m working with the IOF’s Donor Experience Project to pull this body of evidence together – watch this space!)

 

A P.S. about GDPR (because I couldn’t not mention it today!

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Loyalty driver 1: Personal connection (pt 2)

In the first part of this blog I wrote about how important increasing a donor’s loyalty is – the way they feel about your charity. This is the ultimate goal in relationship fundraising and to do it we need to know what drives loyalty. As a starting point I wrote about how important personal connection is to that.

That’s all well and good if you’re a university, a health related charity or a local cause. But what, I have been asked, can you do if you’re not one of these? Is it still relevant?

Yes!

Because your job is to create a connection between the donor and your cause or, better still, your organisation – an emotional link to give them a reason to believe that your charity is important to them personally.

Of course, you can’t just create a new cause, but can you present your work differently?

Can you make your appeal local?
Macmillan London appealRecently I received two appeals from national charities. Macmillan Cancer Support asked me to support their services in London. Now I don’t live in London, so I have to question their targeting, but if I did then they would have an appeal that is relevant for my family and my community – the people that I love.

Woodland Trust making it local to meAt a similar time the Woodland Trust proved they have better targeting by asking me to support the creation of a new Centenary Wood (to commemorate the centenary of the start of World War 1) just up the road from me. I enjoy walking outdoors, love woodland and (although they didn’t know this) earlier this year I visited the WW1 battle fields in The Somme and Ypres. For a national charity, I now have a local connection. And when I’ve visited the Centenary Wood (as I certainly will) I will have a personal experience.

Can you create a connection between the donor and the beneficiary?
I’ve talked before about the Baby Boxes for Bosnia campaign I ran for Feed the Children in the 1990’s. Besides being a brilliant ask, we gave people the chance to write a message of support – messages that we read.

Some of the most touching were from mums, writing to other mums that they’ll never meet or know. “I don’t know what it’s like to live in a war zone, but I do know what it’s like to have a young baby” started one mum on her message. This wasn’t just an international aid charity helping people in a far away country, she felt a personal connection to the mum receiving the box.

Be creative
Not everyone has the direct experience of ill-health, abuse or poverty (or whatever your cause is), but I’ve been involved in successful appeals asking farmers and teachers in the UK to give to farmers and teachers in Africa and medical professionals to provide medical kits for flying doctors.

Or maybe you need to create a product that links something we all do every day to your cause. I love the fact that I can twin my toilet with one in Burundi or Bangladesh.

It’s up to you. Don’t just give up and say my cause isn’t relevant. Think about your donors, your cause and your beneficiaries. Find what they have in common and get creative.

Your donors’ loyalty depends on it!

Loyalty driver 1: Personal connection pt 1

Building donor loyalty is, I believe, one of the most pressing challenges our sector faces. As the cost of finding new donors gets higher and higher, it is about time we did something about the shockingly low retention rates that we all have.

And if we’re serious about growing retention then we have to grow donor loyalty. But how do we do this? How do we change the way they feel about us to create that “feeling of support or allegiance” (as loyalty is defined)?

We know a lot about the drivers of loyalty and in this, my first post in a series looking at these drivers, I’m focussing on arguably the most important of these (at least for some charities) personal connection.

We know that often people give to you because of something that has happened in the donor’s life which means that your cause or your charity is particularly important to them. It’s why people give to their local air ambulance or the university they went to or the hospital where their daughter was treated; it’s why people who have lost someone they loved to cancer give to cancer research charities; it’s why older people tend to give to elderly charities and why Christians give to Christian charities. The experience has created an affinity.

If these are your donors then you have a huge responsibility to them. You have a cause that is very important to them and you will be talking to them about issues that will often be very personal. And, at the same time, you want to develop their support and giving over time.

But how do we do this? Here are seven points to help you to nurture these important donors and grow their loyalty to you:

1. Remember that every donor’s personal connection is unique

Don’t make assumptions. A donor’s connection may be with the cause (e.g. cancer), the organisation that they received support from (e.g. Macmillan) or maybe the individual part of the organisation they received support from (e.g. the nurse or a ward). The person with the experience may be the donor themselves or a loved one and the outcome could be extremely happy or desperately sad.

Everyone’s connection is unique to them because everyone’s experience is unique to them.Perhaps most importantly, everyone’s emotional response is also unique to them.

2. It’s not about you, it’s about the donor

It isn’t for you to tell these donors why they should support you – they have their own reasons. Prompt by all means, but remember that encouraging someone to think about why they support your work is far more powerful than telling them why they should.

3. Remind them why they give to you

If they have told you why they give then talk to them about this. Many Livability donors (a Christian disability charity) have told the charity that they give because of their Christian beliefs. And Livability mentions this in appeals because it increases response.

If they haven’t told you, create tools to enable them to think about it themselves. This could include writing down their story, either to share it as many do or to put in a private place and to look at in special moments (as Cancer Research UK did when people decided to leave them a legacy – the note sits with their will and will be a reminder should they ever look to re-write the will).

4. Use the sense of community

Bringing people together and creating a sense of belonging is incredibly powerful when people have a shared experience. Membership is obviously a fantastic tool for this but there are many other ways as well.

If the community doesn’t yet exist then create it yourself. When Addenbrooke’s Hospital launched an appeal to raise money for the Rosie (their maternity hospital) they created the Rosie Born facebook group. Anyone who had been born at the Rosie could join. And much of their fundraising was run from this group.

5. Make the donor feel needed

The number of people with this connection may be small and exclusive so you need to tell those donors who give to you just how important they are to both you and the cause. In research with lapsed donors I often hear the phrase, “I didn’t think they needed me anymore.” You have the chance to make your donors know just how needed (and how special) they are.

6. Let this drive your recruitment

I know we’re talking about retention, but part of this is about bringing in the right people in the first place.

Not everyone is going to give to you so don’t try to reach everyone. If you can target according to the personal connection (e.g. by location) then do. If you can’t then make sure that you are still writing for the connected audience – let those people who do have the relevant experience self-identify themselves to you.

7. Add emotion to the experience

Emotion is essential in fundraising. You can successfully fundraise by understanding the donor’s emotional reasons for giving even if there is no experiential connection, but you won’t be successful if you use their experience without understanding the emotions involved.

Personal experiences create a complex mix of emotions. People give to their former university because of pride and because of gratitude; in research I ran for Friends of the Elderly earlier this year I heard people talking about giving to elderly charities because they felt guilty about their own parents and grandparents; people give because of a sense of fear of what might happen when they get older; they might give because of the memory of someone they loved; they give in celebration of being given the all clear (and, again, from gratitude); and, of course, they give through sadness, or an angry determination that no one else should go through what they have.

In conclusion…
You have an immense responsibility in nurturing these donors’ giving. But if you do this in a way that allows the donor to feel that you are there to help them achieve something important to them then you will be as important to them as they are to you… they will feel tremendous loyalty to you… and they will stay giving to you for many years to come.

This is the first in a series of posts looking at the different drivers of loyalty. If you haven’t done so already, do please sign up in the top right corner to make sure you receive them all.

Our 3 top priorities: retention, retention, retention!

Apparently retention is the new acquisition. All I can say is it’s about time too!

The 2013 Fundraising Effectiveness Report (download here) found that for every 100 donors gained by the sector in 2012, we lost 105. In any commercial setting a company that was losing more customers than it was winning would be shut down.

OK, that’s a US figure, but it’s not going to be very different in the UK.

Perhaps the worst thing is that we’ve come to think that the high cost of acquisition, low retention rates and long payback periods are acceptable. As long as it pays in the end, all is OK.

Our answer to fixing retention is to think about the mechanics. “If only we can get them onto Direct Debit” we cry, so we send them more and more DD asks. Or a strategy of, “Surely they’ll give more often if we send them more appeals” leads to more and more appeals, regardless of the quality.

Of course both these strategies work. A donor paying by Direct Debit will give more and for longer than one that isn’t. And by sending out more appeals you’ll generate more donations. For all I’m about to say, don’t forget the basics.

But there is something missing from this. Research shows that even satisfied donors lapse. They simply decide that they will support another organisation without you ever having done anything wrong.

The issue is loyalty. Loyalty not defined as whether someone gives again, but defined as how they feel about you. My favourite definition is ‘a strong feeling of support or allegiance.’

Read that again. Strong feeling… support… allegiance!

We need to change the way we think about donors. We concentrate too much on how much money they will give us before the financial year ends and not enough on how we are making the donor feel. We are excellent at measuring the effectiveness of our campaigns but we don’t measure the long term impact.

From the comments I had after my talk with Nick Mason at this year’s IOF Convention, I struck a chord with many people. All I did was exhort people to measure the donor not the activity. To really understand not just the response rate to a campaign, but the impact that the campaign will have on the donor and their long-term giving. On their loyalty!

Understanding the drivers of loyalty is key to creating a communications programme that grows loyalty and therefore value to the charity. I’ve been looking at this a lot recently. No-one has done more about this in our sector than Adrian Sargeant, and there is some fascinating and valuable research from the commercial sector too.

Personal connection is vital, as is what Adrian Sargeant calls identification (whether the charity shares my goals or values). Research we ran at Cascaid showed the increasing importance of giving a donor a sense of belonging and there is the growing issue of offering a donor social capital or status.

The list goes on. What’s important for one donor will be different for another. What’s important for one charity will be different for another.

Retention of our donors is the most important issue that we face as a sector and building donor loyalty is the most important aspect of that. Over the next few weeks I am going to share my findings of what the drivers of loyalty are and show some of the best examples of how charities are tapping into this knowledge to build their donors’ loyalty. There are some brilliant examples.

Watch this space. And if you haven’t signed up then please do to make sure you get them all.

Newsletters – was I wrong?

 

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about how poor I think charity newsletters are and how I’d like to see the end of them. A lot of people have told me they agree with me (whilst still producing their next newsletters!) which is always nice. But I am most grateful to one person who was keen to disagree, which is great.

I received a tweet from Denisa Casement, Head of Fundraising at Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI). In this tweet she shared her results which are, frankly, brilliant. One newsletter had raised €92,000 from just 8,500 donors. That’s nearly €11 for every person mailed!

Intrigued, I asked to see a copy of this newsletter which arrived very promptly in my post.

At first glance, the newsletter is nothing special. It’s not glossy, is only 4 or 6 pages long and doesn’t have masses of striking images.

What it does have, in bucket-loads is authenticity. The design is simple, and in keeping with the idea that this is a local charity who just get on with the life-changing work every day. And it has stories – of project workers, of clients and of volunteers. I was particularly touched by Davey Page, a Project Worker, sharing his experiences in one newsletter and then saddened to learn that he had passed away in the next.

But what strikes me more than anything is the way it says thank you. Over and over again. Every article talks about something real and tangible that MQI has done from building a new building to opening a new kitchen or opening a new Centre. And they thank me for my donations, because this is what they have been spent on.

I could talk here about how having clear objectives and obviously writing for a very specific audience pays off, but I don’t think that is the reason they work.

What comes across is the passion that Denisa obvious feels towards the work of the charity and, especially, towards her donors. It is this passion that drives the newsletters and, I suspect, drives all communications. She also told me that they have increased their donor file by 50% in the last three years, so it’s not just the newsletters that work!

So do I think I was wrong about the newsletter? To be honest, I’m not fully convinced. MQI has proved that they can be done well, but I still believe that more often than not they aren’t. In most of the donor research I’ve conducted, donors aren’t very excited by them and neither, in my experience, are many fundraisers.

I like what MQI have done and I’m impressed by what they achieve. I hope it lasts and that they continue to build the stories, the passion and the thanks into the newsletters and that no-one gets bored of them.

But I also have this nagging question at the back of my mind that wonders if creating a one-off piece of magic once in a while might pay back more. Am I wrong?

Surely we’re not evil?

A couple of days ago I wrote about the how the offer we make to the donor is more important than the ask we make for ourselves.

Millions of donors feel good about themselves because they have saved lives, stopped animals being cruelly mistreated, helped find a cure for cancer and so much more. Donors have a passion to make a difference, and we help them do it.

The world would be a worse place without us – not only for the causes we fundraise for but also for the donors we serve.

People who don’t speak to donors (and I bet there are lots of them in your charity) don’t often get this – so it’s our job to remind them. Bring donors into the charity, invite colleagues to donor events, make sure everyone listens when you have research presented back to you. Let everyone hear the passion that donors have.

That’s why fundraising is not a ‘necessary evil’ as someone described it to me the other day! We bring value to our donors that no-one else can. We bring joy into their lives too.

That’s not evil – that’s something that I am immensely proud of.