Charities… the new supermarkets?

This post has been published today at Most of mine and Richard’s latest content appears there, so please do sign-up. But in case you missed it there, here’s a piece I wrote today about the need for charities to show leadership…

It was four months ago today that the Government put us all into lock-down; 1/3 of a year. For a moment, I’d like you to cast your mind back to that time. It feels a long time ago, doesn’t it?

It was a time of massive fear, as we were all scared about our health and the ability of the NHS to cope if there were a big outbreak of the virus. It was a time of concern for loved ones, especially elderly relatives if we couldn’t be there with them.

It was also a time of panic buying and unfairness as every day we heard stories of NHS workers and the elderly not being able to get to a supermarket to buy toilet roll and Paracetamol.

The problem was urgent, but simple. And the solutions, clear.

Up stepped the government. A week after the Cheltenham Festival and Liverpool hosted Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, they provided the leadership and clarity that we were all looking for by announcing the lockdown.

Up stepped communities. We set up WhatsApp groups so we could help our neighbours and we were grateful to our elderly parents’ neighbours for doing the same when we couldn’t be there. We protected the NHS with our sacrifices, and we clapped the NHS and other key-workers. And we cheered on Captain Tom Moore and gave to the NHS and other charities.

And up stepped supermarkets. Yes, SUPERMARKETS! While the government announced lockdown for all, supermarkets were seen as carrying the flag for the vulnerable – they raised the profile of the problem and gave us answers in the form of NHS-only shopping hours, and priority shopping for the elderly.

Supermarkets were the unlikely heroes of COVID-19 – providing leadership and a solution to the injustice that we all saw, but felt powerless to address.

Now fast forward and think about how different things are today.

What was a simple health problem has become a complex, multi-faceted one with no clear answers. We might be a little less scared for our own health, but we are still worried that the virus will come back. Mostly people are conflicted and confused as they want the economy to open up, but they don’t want to risk a second spike in cases. Most people want to go out and live normally, but they are scared to do so.

People (including your donors) want clarity, they want someone to tell them how we’re going to get out of this mess and they want a vision for how the things they care about most will be in the future and what they can do. They want leadership.

We’ve seen this in our public COVID-19 sentiment tracker, and Mark Phillips has reported it in the qualitative research that Blue Frog has undertaken.

But where is this leadership going to come from?

This time, it’s not going to come from the supermarkets. While trust in them remains high, they aren’t the ones who will provide this vision.

It’s not going to come from the Government – where net approval has fallen from a high of +41% at the end of March to little more than 0% today.

And it’s not going to come from the communities – who are the very people looking for the leadership.

There is a vacuum of leadership that we must fill. In the same way that supermarkets stepped in a few months ago, it’s time for charities to step in today.

We must be the new supermarkets! We must be a loud and relevant voice in the discussions and decisions around how our society comes back – painting the picture of a society that is better and stronger than ever. We must stand up and provide this leadership.

Yes, it’s our duty to do this. We owe it to our beneficiaries to make sure we never return to the inequalities and injustices that have been so horribly exposed by COVID-19.

But it’s also a massive opportunity for us and for our sector. Our donors (those amazing people who have stood by us over the last four months, kept their regular gifts going and given to our emergency appeal simply because they never stopped caring) want us to.

So, where should you start? There are three things to focus on:

  1. Give donors a vision to believe in: Don’t think too far ahead – we’re talking weeks and months, not years. Show them what you are doing today, and how you will help your beneficiaries through this time of confusion and fear for so many. What’s your current fundraising proposition?
  2. Make donors feel needed and valued: Ask! Don’t be afraid to ask, after all donors, just like all of us, will be delighted to know that they can play a role in making it happen.
  3. Ensure donors know that they are part of the solution: Thank and feed back. Show them what they have achieved. Make them feel great about the difference they have made.

It might be your vision, but you have given donors the vital role in bringing it to life.

That’s leadership!

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?


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.

Greenpeace IceClimb, one week on

This time last week I sat riveted in front of the live-stream of Greenpeace’s IceClimb. Much has been written about what a fantastic campaign it was. And it certainly was.

Greenpeace celebrates six climbers scaling The Shard

Greenpeace celebrates six climbers scaling The Shard

The Shard is the tallest building in Western Europe and had never been climbed, guaranteeing coverage. It was also designed and named after a shard of ice and sits right in the middle of Shell’s London offices – so perfect for Greenpeace’s core message of the need to protect the Arctic from Shell.

It captured the news around the world and it captivated individuals like me. At its peak, 13,000 people were viewing the live stream; over 65,000 signed to show their support; an estimated 3 million people engaged with it through social media.

And I was one of them. I watched the live-stream for hours, on my laptop and even on my phone as I walked the kids to school. I signed the list to show my support, I tweeted about it and I told people that I spoke to.

I got no work done!

It was, I believe, Greenpeace’s best campaign in many years. In fact, maybe the best campaign anyone has done in many years!

But… now what?

To be honest, I haven’t given it much thought since then. I’ve been working in London, preparing for a big workshop yesterday, I’ve been running the kids to tennis, cricket, cubs, scouts, guides etc, I’ve been out with friends and much more. A typical week, and the IceClimb hasn’t been my highest priority. It was a moment in time that, for me, has been overtaken by many more moments.

But that’s the point isn’t it? The challenge Greenpeace, and others, have is to keep me and everyone else engaged – with the issue and with the organisation. To turn that moment when I am completely connected to Greenpeace into long term support and long term value.

And on that score, Greenpeace has failed miserably.

  • Greenpeace has my postal address, but I haven’t received anything through the post.
  • They have my mobile number but I haven’t had a text since last Friday morning (by which time I’d already been watching it for nearly two hours). And no phone call at all.
  • They have my email address from when I signed up last Friday (and opted in to communications) but I haven’t had an email (apart from the one confirming my sign-up).
  • They know that I’ve tweeted about them, but nothing there either.

Last week I was really warm – I’d have said yes to anything they asked. Today… well I’m a bit warmer than I was before the IceClimb, but not much. Life has moved on.

Campaigning and fundraising

Many of you will know that I am passionate about how charities integrate their fundraising and their campaigning and that I’ve written about this, spoken about it and worked with many organisations to achieve it. So I am frustrated that Greenpeace, who really should be the best of the best at this, can get it so wrong and miss this amazing opportunity.

A simple supporter journey that updated me on the six climbers since their arrest, on Shell’s attitudes since the campaign or on the other work that Greenpeace is doing to protect the Arctic would have maintained my interest and my enthusiasm.

And a simple ask for money to support more of their work in the Arctic (Greenpeace has great fundraising asks related to the IceClimb – from becoming a ‘Life Supporter’ to save the Arctic to helping buy a Survival Pod to stop the drilling) could not have failed.

Greenpeace ask for donations to protect the Arctic from Shell...

Greenpeace ask for donations to protect the Arctic from Shell…

Greenpeace ask for donations for a survival pod to stop drilling in the Arctic

… or to fund a Survival Pod

Instead nothing. Even the website hasn’t been updated with the latest news having been posted before the IceClimb and not even a mention of it on Greenpeace’s ‘Save the Arctic’ pages.

What a waste. Yes I’ll continue to support Greenpeace, and I’ll feel a bit better about it after last week than before. But I’m sorry guys, you missed a real chance last week.

PS Come back next week and I’ll blog about two organisations that I think have done this really well in recent years.

Is it time to ditch the newsletter?


Think about it. When was the last time you received a charity newsletter that really excited you? One that you couldn’t wait to open; one that you read from cover to cover; or one that you showed to someone else?

No, I can’t remember that far back either.

Now I want you to be really honest. Does your charity’s newsletter make you want to open it and to read it? Will it really inspire a donor and make them feel great? Does it send shivers down the back of your neck? Or does it simply bring you out in a cold sweat?

You’re not alone!

Let’s face it, newsletters are boring. But they shouldn’t be. We have the most powerful stories, incredible images, we can tell people about lives we’re saving, cruelty we’re stopping and the support we’re giving.

Newsletters that I've never got round to opening

Why do we get it so wrong? Here are the main reasons that I see.

No clear objectives: The point of a newsletter is to inspire your donors. It might have a fundraising target against it, or it may be intended to increase future income – either way, it’s about money. Too often charities want to ‘educate’ the donor or to introduce them to all the other bits of work that the charity thinks is really important, but that the donor won’t.

No targeting: Too many newsletters are corporate mouthpieces, designed for everyone from the Chairman’s wife, to a minister in Westminster, to an employee at one of your corporate partners, to a service user. If you’re lucky your donors might make the list, but they’ll be somewhere towards the bottom.

Produced by your Publications Team: Probably the biggest culprit of all, your newsletter is produced by the Publications Team. You know, the same people who don’t like your appeals because “they’re full of emotional clap-trap and oversimplify what is actually a rather complex problem – wouldn’t it be great if we could educate them”.

They aren’t edited: I know, they will all have an Editor, but a vital part of an Editor’s job is to say no to people who want their bit of the organisation to be included “because it’s really important”. This is the same problem many websites suffer from.

Not topical: the clue is in the name – newsletter. How can it be news if the lead time means it’s got to be produced three months before it goes out? I’m getting newsletters from international aid charities that don’t even mention Syria!

Badly researched: A survey included in a the middle of a newsletter that asks people if they read it isn’t research. If it’s included in a newsletter the people who read it are the only people who’ll respond! And don’t ask people if they read it, they’ll say yes – ask them what they remember.

You’re bored: Another biggy – I’ve seen it so many times. The charity redesigns its newsletter (based on the same research I mentioned above, of course). Everyone is excited about the first issue, there are lots of great stories to select from, it’s fresh and packs a punch. Issue two comes along, and the excitement has worn off. You get some decent stories, and manage to fill the rest. Phew! By issue three it’s a chore. “Oh no, I’ve got to get a newsletter out in September, where will I find a decent story, everyone’s too busy to help me.” If you’re bored and think it’s a chore, what do you think the effect on your donors will be?

You can solve some of this by addressing the above points:

  • Set a clear objective to inspire and excite donors.
  • Write for your donors
  • Let your fundraisers create it – you know, those people that know your donors best, know what interests them and know how to write for them.
  • Edit it. Ruthlessly! As much as you would an appeal letter
  • Cut down the lead times so that you can be topical. Talk about things that are going on today and give real feedback on recent appeals.

But I have a more radical suggestion. Ditch the newsletter.

Look again at the list about – it’s no accident that I started with setting a clear objective. If the objective is to ‘inspire and excite donors’ then think again.

A few years ago I worked with the NSPCC and their Stewardship team. Their budgets looked a little different to most. Oh yes, they had points in the year when they scheduled in to feed back to donors, but the budget line didn’t say ‘newsletter’ it said ‘magic’. At these points of the year, we and they sat down and came up with an idea to use that point in the calendar to send something unique to donors to really inspire them.

They had already created their ‘Little Book of Change’ (which you can see here on SOFII). After that they created a photo album with stories of the children they’d helped. Another time they sent a simple letter from a ChildLine counsellor talking about a call they had taken and the difference they had made all because, she knew, of donations from ‘people like you’.

Some of these were quick and easy, others took a lot of time to put together. All of them were personal, emotive and geared towards exceeding the donors’ expectations. And they all touched the donors in a way that a newsletter never could.

St Dunstan’s (now Blind Veterans UK) did a similar thing by always theming their news around an anniversary. I remember creating a magazine that celebrated the 60th anniversary of D-Day that received more positive comments and more donations than any newsletter I’ve ever been involved with because it was interesting and relevant for their donors and talked about what the donors were interested in rather than what the charity wanted to say.

So please, ditch the dry, corporate mouthpiece that you’re bored of already, and use the time and money to create magic for your donors. Don’t they deserve it?

PS If you have any examples of a great newsletter, I’d love to hear what makes it different.

PPS I’m not holding my breath.