Category Archives: Fundraising

Posts about fundraising of any kind

Parent, Adult, Child – what can the insights of psychotherapy bring to alumni relations and fundraising?

Alumni fundraising is a bit different. Of course with any kind of fundraising you’re going to get angry responses, it goes with the territory. But sometimes those of us who work in the fundraising offices of universities get responses so out of proportion to the nature of our appeals, that it does make us sit and wonder what on earth is going on?

Before I became a fundraiser, I was a couple of other things. I was a semi-professional singer, but also, when I realised I wasn’t on track to become the next Peter Pears, I started training as a counsellor and psychotherapist.

In the course of my training I came across the ideas of Eric Berne, and Transactional Analysis, or TA for short. And so, many years later, as I started reading these appeal responses full of anger and a personal sense of grievance that we had dared to ask for a donation it began to occur to me, “Oh, these are classic crossed transactions!”

So, what’s Berne’s insight, and how can it help us understand our alumni better?

Well, Berne’s hypothesis is that there are three ego-states which we all move between, more or less fluidly, moment to moment in our daily lives:

The Parent, which is the internalisation of ideas, beliefs and values we have taken from our parents, families and other authority figures in our lives.

The Child, which is the internalisation of our own childhood self as we processed the input from our parents, families and other authority figures

The Adult, a more neutral ego-state, that corresponds to our more rational decision-making persona

Each of these ego-states affects the others, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on our own personal histories.

For example, someone who has experienced love, affection and prizing of themselves in their childhood is likely to have internalised a Nurturing Parent ego-state, and a corresponding Free Child.

Someone who has experienced the opposite is more likely to have internalised a Criticising Parent and Adapted Child.

The Parent and Child ego-states can have profound effects on the ability of the Adult ego-state to function freely, or even at all.

The nature of our ego-states lead to 4 basic ‘life-positions’ that Berne suggests underpin all our subsequent transactions with others:

  1. I’m OK and you are OK.
  2. I’m OK and you are not OK.
  3. I’m not OK and you are OK.
  4. I’m not OK and you are not OK.

We may hold one of these positions consistently in all our dealings with the world, or we may switch between them in different circumstances.

I hope it’s starting to become clear how the university – alumni relationship may be a bit more psychologically loaded than donor – charity relationships in the wider sector?

Because if we accept Berne’s hypotheses, it would seem to naturally place us and our alumni in a Parent – Child ego-state relationship, dating back to their time as students.

Have we been perceived as Nurturing parents – or Criticising, even Abandoning, parents by our alumni?

Because, if Berne’s structure is valid, this may govern whether, when we subsequently attempt to reconnect, we receive a joyful Free Child response in return, or a sullen and angry Adapted Child jab.

And how could we work with this better in the way we communicate with our alumni?



Filed under Fundraising, Life and big stuff, Universities, University fundraising

A ‘Power Index’ for fundraising channels?

OK, hold onto your hats – because this post contains stats! But I’ll try to make them as simple as possible.

If you’re a direct marketing fundraiser like me, you probably juggle a wide variety of channels – direct mail, online, phone, etc. etc. And I want to make sure I use the right ones, in the right order, to get the best results. And sometimes the ‘common sense’ answer isn’t the right one.

For example. Let’s say I have a lot of people who have given me cash gifts and I want to find the most cost-effective way to encourage as many of them as possible to give again, or go onto regular giving.

The ‘common sense’ way might say:

  • An email costs 6p
  • A mail pack costs roughly £1 – £1.50
  • A phone contact costs £7 – £9

So I should email first, follow up with mail, and then phone those who don’t respond to either of the first two approaches. That way I am being smart and getting the ‘cheapest’ results quickest. Right?

Not necessarily! What we have done here is mistake cost per appeal for cost per donor.

Because each of those channels has very different response rates. Cost per donor, as I’m sure you know, is obtained by dividing the cost of your appeal by the number of donors who give as a result of it.

When I look at my own appeal responses and costs and work out the costs per donor for email, mail and phone for existing cash donors I get the following:

  • Email – £3.50
  • Mail – £26
  • Phone – £26

Interesting. Email is still cheapest, but phone and mail are now tied. Will Return On Investment help us break them apart?

So I look at my ROI figures (on a 5 year basis) and I get the following:

  • Email – 36:1
  • Mail – 5:1
  • Phone – 4:1

OK, that would seem to settle it. Email beats mail, beats phone. But something is still niggling away at me.

Net income levels.

You see, I know email and mail have much lower response rates than phone, and I know I get much more net income per phone contact than per mail pack or email. It might be at a lower ROI but it will still be a lot more income for 1000 phone contacts, say, than for 1000 mail packs or 1000 emails. And I haven’t taken that into account in my workings yet.

So I look at net 5 year income (i.e. with costs already subtracted) per appeal for each channel and I get:

  • Email – £2
  • Mail – £7
  • Phone – £26

Ah. As I thought. Phone delivers 13 times as much net income per appeal than email and nearly 4 times as much as mail.

But which wins on the combination of ROI and net income? How can we express this as just one number that will balance the ROI vs the net income per appeal and make it really easy to make these comparisons?

Let’s multiply up to get some nice sized numbers! If we multiply the net 5 year income per appeal by the 5 year ROI for each channel we get:

  • Email – £2 * 36 (low income per appeal, great ROI) = 72
  • Mail – £7 * 5 (moderate income per appeal, good ROI) = 35
  • Phone – £26 * 4 (best net income per appeal, OK ROI) = 104

Aha! This seems to suggest I will get the best balance of ROI and net income by phoning first, then emailing, and then mailing.

It looks like we have come up with a Power Index here. I may be using the term ‘index’ incorrectly, I know! (I’m an English Literature graduate, after all.) I’m just thinking of it as a nice shortcut number.

Please note that of course the index number in and of itself is meaningless, except in relation to the other indices. And it will be different for everyone, depending on your ROI and net income per appeal figures, per channel, per appeal purpose. I’m not saying phone beats email beats mail for everyone – just for me, for this particular purpose.

Do you use a power index like this already to rank your fundraising channels? Over 1 year, 3 years or 5? I would love to know.



Filed under Analytics, Direct mail fundraising, Email fundraising, Fundraising, Online fundraising, Telephone fundraising

I Want To Talk At That? Get On The Floor!

Are you a young, innovative fundraiser? Want a chance to get support from an industry role model and speak at SOFII’s ‘I Wish I’d Thought Of That’ (#IWITOT) event in September?

Well this is your chance. My Twitter friend Paul de Gregorio and his colleagues at Open Fundraising are running ‘I Want To Talk At That’ for SOFII. If you’re a young fundraiser, the scheme gives you the chance to present the fundraising idea you wish you’d thought of to three of the country’s top experts – Paul de Gregorio (Head of Mobile at Open Fundraising), Tanya Steele (Director of Fundraising at Save the Children), and Imogen Ward (CEO at The Lessons for Life Foundation). If you’re a winner, you’ll get one-to-one mentoring, and speak at this year’s ‘I Wish I’d Thought Of That’ event in September.

I Wish I’d Thought Of That is brilliant. 20-odd fundraisers get seven minutes each to talk about the fundraising idea they wish they’d thought of. You can see presentations from the last two years here, including yours truly, dressed up as a 1960s ad man in New York to showcase a rather extraordinary fundraising letter.

So what are you waiting for? As J-Lo might have said (if she’d written On The Floor about IWITOT):

“If you do mail you gotta get on the floor
If you’re a digi freak then step on the floor
If you’re in telephone then tear up the floor
Show what’s great on the floor
Share their work on the floor
Don’t stop keep it moving
Put your slides up
Pick your idea up and drop it on the floor
Let your idea change the world on the floor”

It’s a new generation of SOFII people. So get on the floor!

Get in touch with Ian Lovett at Open Fundraising to find out how to enter. Auditions take place on 14th July. The closing date for entries is 7th July 2014.

Oh, and if you find you need music to inspire you when you work, here’s J-Lo. You gon’ be it on the floor, y’all.

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Filed under Fundraising

Should you scrap the Millennium Falcon?

Docking Bay 94, Mos Eisley Spaceport. Millennium Falcon is parked.
Luke: What a heap of junk!
Han: She’ll make point five past light-speed. She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid. I’ve made a lot of special modifications myself.

A doozie of a Twitter debate last night!
About political email fundraising. Yes, I know, steer clear of politics, right? But this was more about fundraising techniques, and the fraught question of whether, even if a technique works better than anything else, you should use it or not.

Chris Tuttle (@christuttle) posted this tweet about a Democratic Party Congressional Committee fundraising email he’d received:

And yes, horrible design isn’t it? As one tweeter put it, it’s so back to the ’90s that throwing in a couple of flying toasters might improve it! So you might reasonably assume that someone with no knowledge at all about how to design HTML had put together this fundraising email to Chris.

But that would be where you’re wrong. Read this Businessweek article, tweeted and retweeted many times since with high praise for the Obama 2012 campaign’s email fundraising achievements. Pay particular attention to paragraphs 4 and 5 (italics mine):

“We were so bad at predicting what would win that it only reinforced the need to constantly keep testing,” says Showalter.  “Every time something really ugly won, it would shock me: giant-size fonts for links, plain-text links vs. pretty ‘Donate’ buttons. Eventually we got to thinking, ‘How could we make things even less attractive?’ That’s how we arrived at the ugly yellow highlighting on the sections we wanted to draw people’s eye to.”

So this email that looks really awful – as Chris basically described it, a spammy-looking piece of junk – is actually the result of one of the most sophisticated digital fundraising campaigns ever run.
This is what we’ve all been praising when we have lauded the Obama campaign’s success.

In fact, going by the passage I’ve quoted above, it’s probably the epitome of the process – the Democrats’ ‘banker’, or ‘control’ email. The one all the other emails have been tested against, and failed.

It’s a classic example of the dilemma many charities face with their ‘banker’ mail acquisition packs. They’re embarrassing. They’re corny. Many of them are ugly (although I have to say this is as dramatic a case of the ‘ugly banker’ that I’ve ever seen). But they work. And Jeff Brooks sums this up perfectly in his post here.

Banker packs are like the Millennium Falcon. They may not look like much, but they’ve got it where it counts.

And there are more uncomfortable truths from the Obama campaign as well. See this blog post from Alchemyworx which explains how the Obama team ramped up their send volume as the campaign went on.

Chris’ email was one of 8 he had received in 4 days, and you can see why the Democrats would be using this proven tactic.

They don’t work for Chris. And I’m sure they don’t work for many others. We debated long about the rights and wrongs. As I’m sure many of us do within the charities we work for. Surely we can’t send out something looking like that? Surely we can’t send another email/mailing?

But fundraising from large numbers of people, although we should definitely do our best to speak to each one of them individually, is also definitely a numbers game. By and large, the more we communicate, and the less obviously designed that communication looks, the more successful we are.

So when faced with something so ugly, so flagrantly in breach of our brand guidelines that we couldn’t possibly send it – maybe, just maybe, we should think again. And test.

Because we could be scrapping the Millennium Falcon. Or being like the Imperial soldiers in Mos Eisley Spaceport, shouting, “Stop that ship!”


Filed under Direct mail fundraising, Email fundraising, Fundraising, Online fundraising

Flipping the coin

I took part in two great Twitter chats over this last week or so. One was instigated by Damian O’Broin (@damianobroin) of AskDirect – you can read a Storify of it here:

The other started off the back of the response to it from Danielle Atkinson of Merlin (@roxymartinique) – which you can read here:

Both are about what one thing you should do to improve direct marketing fundraising.

Damian’s chat focused on inspiring people, Danielle insisted on robust testing and measurement of the response of large numbers of people.

Both are right.

Direct marketing fundraising is a double-sided coin. On the one side the individual is writ large, because as the great advertiser Fairfax Cone said, we must

Write to one person, not a million

(Thanks to @jeffbrooks for that)

On the other side of the coin, you have the response of the million, or the ten thousand, or however many people your audience is made up of.

The King or Queen, and the realm, if you like.

And our job is to flip the coin in our minds – from one to many, and from many to one. Every day, every week, every month, and from one year to the next.

It’s challenging, and it’s exhilarating. And when you get it right, there’s no job like it.

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Filed under Direct mail fundraising, Email fundraising, Online fundraising, Telephone fundraising, University fundraising

Donor retention is simple…

Donor retention. It’s all everyone talks about these days – and quite right too. It costs a lot of money to inspire someone to give to your cause, and that’s money wasted if all those donors simply enter stage left and exit stage right.

But it’s talked about as if it’s some big intractable problem, whereas it seems to me that the answer is blindingly obvious.

It’s all about manners.

We must simply remember, at all times, that we do not have an automatic right to receive any single one of our donors’ gifts. Not one. People give to us for a whole array of reasons, of course. But in the end, it all boils down to a rather corny phrase – they give out of the goodness of their hearts. And I know that if I, as a donor, don’t feel that this is in some minimal way acknowledged, I am very, very unlikely to become a ‘loyal supporter’ of a cause.

People give to people. Another true thing, and it’s said so often you are probably sick of it. But we seem to only heed this wisdom in terms of acquisition. If we take that maxim into retention as well, we should know instinctively what we need to do to retain our donors.

We must work terribly hard to remain people to them. Treat them as individuals. Make an effort to get to know them. Help them to feel like an important part of our cause’s family. And yes, let them know, often, that their ongoing support matters, and how best we would like them to continue it.

The problem, of course, is one of scale. And I think it is about your own perceived scale – how ‘big’ as a charity you internally feel yourselves to be, and how your structures are informed by that perception.

If you feel yourself to be a fundraiser in a ‘small’ charity, then you may well struggle with acquisition because of budgetary challenges. Acquisition is expensive. But your donor retention should be excellent, since the fact that your charity looks and feels small, and because you feel it to be so, will be an automatic bonus for donors. Because for small, read personal. It will be much, much easier for them to feel connected to you. If they phone up, the chances are they will reach you, or someone who sits next to you. If they email in, it is most likely to be you that monitors that inbox and ensures a prompt and personal reply to their enquiry.

That’s the way it works for me and my colleague Katie at Leeds. We are a big university, for sure. But in terms of numbers of donors, we are still a ‘small’ charity. Yes, we have a number of great colleagues who do database work, gift processing, and stewardship. But as well as planning and running all our direct marketing appeals via phone, mail and online, Katie and I are also front-line supporter services for the majority of our donors. If our alumni like or don’t like what we are doing, we will hear about it, quickly.

And I see that as a big plus. We are lucky to work with a great creative agency to help us plan and write our appeals, and we regularly send them the feedback we have received from the people we have phoned or written to.

This is perceived as unusual. “We don’t get this from most of our clients,” say our account team.

Frankly, this shocks me. Is there really such a glass wall between most ‘direct response’ fundraisers, and the people who are directly responding? How can you really call yourself a direct response fundraiser if you don’t see, respond to,  and if necessary pass on at least some of the direct response?

It would seem to me that if that is how your charity operates, you have become too ‘big’. You have ceased to see donors as individuals and merely in terms of percentage response. Maybe you refer to personal letters from donors as ‘white mail’? Maybe you don’t see or read the majority of it (because it is handled by your supporter services team or an external response-handling agency?), far less respond with anything other than a form letter.

And if this happens in your charity, then you will always struggle to maintain the loyalty of your donors, because there is no person in your charity for them to feel connected with, even to a minimal extent. You will become perceived as impersonal, and maybe even rude.

And the solution to this is simple. Don’t try to change the donors. Change yourselves. Find ways to become people again, that your donors will want to continue to give to. Stop being an organisation. It is very easy for people to say no to an organisation. It is not so easy for people to say no to people.


Filed under Direct mail fundraising, Fundraising

Fundraising, early music, and dissonance

A while ago, I was at a workshop with Aline Reed and Mark Phillips from Bluefrog. We were doing that icebreaker thing, where you say what you do outside work, and I mentioned that I spend a lot of time singing 17th Century music, and that I found a lot of parallels between that, and what I do as a direct marketing fundraiser. Cue raised eyebrows!

Then recently I had a fascinating Twitter chat with Derek Humphries on the links between art and fundraising, and some of what I had been thinking came into focus. So here goes – I know Mark and Al have waited a long time for this one!

What I love about the 16th and 17th century composers – Morley, Tomkins, Byrd, Tallis, Purcell, and many more – is that they didn’t see themselves as Artists with a capital A. They were craftsmen – highly-skilled, journeymen musicians who aspired to the highest standards of their art without overstating their own importance as personalities. In a way, a really good description of fundraisers, too!

The other thing I love about them is, once you tune into it, the level of emotional intensity in their music. No one piece sums this up for me better than Henry Purcell’s amazing masterpiece, Hear My Prayer, O Lord. Go on, have a listen (after the ad):

That’s emotional, isn’t it? Did you feel the hair on the back of your neck start to go up after the first 20 seconds or so? That’s because of Purcell’s masterly use of dissonance (or as we musos call it, a really good scrunch).  A term we more often use nowadays in a cognitive sense, but it has its roots in music – it’s a note or series of notes that doesn’t belong in the harmony, put there deliberately. Hear My Prayer is totally built on dissonance – the musical phrases wind back on themselves tightly, like really strong rope.

Here’s another example – the famous Crucifixus by the Italian composer, Lotti:

It’s just what we’re aiming for when we write a fundraising letter for a really urgent cause. That strength of purpose and feeling, that unexpected jarring note to make our reader really sit up and take notice. Music magnifies that feeling about a hundred-fold, (and that’s probably why the choice of music can make or break a charity TV ad for me). And notice the use of the repetition in the Lotti. Different voices coming in all over the place with the same musical idea. Repetition is really encouraged in music, in a way it isn’t often in writing.

As fundraisers, we should be masters of dissonance too, just like Purcell and Lotti. We should know when to use it and when not, when to give our listeners a break. But unlike the musical masters, we shouldn’t be afraid of leaving our readers and donors on an unresolved chord – for them to supply the final cadence.

Lastly, you’ll notice that a lot of this music is polyphonic – each voice goes its own way, and builds the harmony with the others as it goes. That sums up for me the way we can use our different fundraising channels. If we do it badly, there’s always the risk it will end up a bit like this (not that this isn’t a brilliant 20th century masterpiece, but it’s not what we want):

No, what we are after, when our programme is really working for us – our mail, online, phone and what-have-you all ticking along together – is the miraculous easy complexity of Orlando Gibbons – listen to how this piece just purrs along like a musical Rolls Royce:

So there you go. It may just be me of course, who thinks this all has any relevance to fundraising. If so, thanks for bearing with me, and I hope you enjoyed the music!







Filed under Direct mail fundraising, Fundraising