Tuesday, 17 November 2015

So Fundraisers oppose the Fundraising Preference Service? There's a surprise!

Adrian Sergeant and Ian MacQuillin have published an interesting report which is around the replies of more than 500 fundraisers to the their questions about the acceptability of a new regulator and the proposed FPS.

However whilst fundraisers are split on the acceptability of a new regulator to replace the FRSB it is claimed that 75% are opposed to the introduction of the proposed FPS. However if you look at the detail only 46% actively oppose it and 35% say we should accept it! (whilst trying to influence it). I'm not convinced that makes 75% actively opposed. Au contraire a lot of us answered that we have just got to get used to it as it is going to happen. So is that really opposing it? I suppose intellectually I feel it is unnecessary but I think that is reading too much into the answers, don't you?

In reality, of course, most fundraisers probably do feel that it is going to be an unnecessary burden but that we'll have to learn to live with it and make the most of a bad job because, we (and the Daily Mail) have brought this upon ourselves.

I'm doing a session at the DSC Fundraising Fair this week about the 10 most common errors that fundraisers make and what to do to avoid them. What shall I say about regulation I wonder? Do come along and see.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Are you for or against the "Fundraising Preference Service"?

The arguments are hotting up. Adrian Sargeant has, once again, offered some very helpful research amongst, he says, one million lapsed donors, so quite a sample to say that they are generally content with the communications they received from the respective charities. He uses this to justify a powerful attack on the proposed FPS.

He says, "The fundraising sector’s response to the proposed Fundraising Preference service has been ‘pathetically’ limp and that all those who are endorsing it without any evidence that it is needed should feel ashamed." Adrian also challenges Stuart Etherington to come up with the evidence to support the various NCVO report recommendations.

Ian MacQuillin agrees and has started his "say no" campaign.

I fear we're too late. We've missed the boat. The Commons Select Committee won't even ask for any fundraisers' opinions or evidence.

Whilst I completely agree that we didn't, a year ago, need a specific FPS we have, I believe, brought this down on our own heads. As I've been grumping about for months the transactional approach we've been trying to use doesn't work very well. Inappropriate, repetitive asks to upgrade one-off single donations to regular monthly gifts does piss people off. This is where the dissatisfaction lies and by doing nothing about it till now, it is hard to argue that an opt out service isn't a good idea. It doesn't stop us advertising, campaigning, asking for donations. But it will give one-off givers the opportunity to avoid automated, repetitive, inappropriate, upgrade asks.

We're going to have to work much harder at communicating effectively, asking for permission and, most important of all, taking time to develop relationships that the givers want - not what we want to saddle them with. It might well reduce response rates, we are going to have to work harder and smarter. And about bloody time too!

Wednesday, 21 October 2015


When are we going to stop over egging it?

An imploring ad that your donation of £3 will provide a life saving kit for a dog, cat or child is simply not credible. It is only vaguely true if the gift is converted quickly at low cost into a regular donation. But that's not what people sign up to. My children (35 and 38!) are fed up with texting £3 and then being bombarded with texts emails and calls. And they, like a lot of their friends, actually want to help. They do believe their donations make a difference.Sadly they are becoming cynical, disillusioned, and less likely to give again.

This summer's debacle has largely been around the reversion to transactional fundraising (text £3 to save the dog or whatever) and the then formulaic,bullying tactics employed to "persuade" those givers to convert to monthly gifts. At least street canvassers are honest. They ask, up front, for a monthly donation - gift aided. That means your £10 becomes £750 over five years. That might change the world, for the better, in a tiny way.

I continue to be gob smacked that many charities who ought to know better are ignoring all the red flags (Sir Stuart's report is to be implemented). When are we going to start being transparent? When are we going to start trying to build a relationship by ensuring that givers understand where the money is going (the whole pound)? And treat givers with respect.

As Charlie Brown used to say, "I weep for my generation"

Tell me, please, that I don't need to worry.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Crap fundraising practices

Well the s**t has hit the fan.Hasn't it?

The Institute of Fundraising spends the summer agonising over font sizes, what is a vulnerable adult and how to opt out, gets the report out which goes unnoticed whilst Sir Stuart's review on behaviour (see report) gets him straight onto radio 4. A lot of this is aimed at older people who remain more trusting of charities. How will it affect the attitudes and behaviours of more cynical baby boomers?

So what do we make of the recommendations and how will it affect fundraising?

Clearly, as Stephen Pigeon (chair of the Fundraising Standards Committee until recently) has commented, we took our eyes off the ball and in some cases went right back to transactional fundraising (and worse) in the pursuit of income at any cost.Texting people dozens of times after a single donation is crap fundraising. Phoning people on multiple occasions to upgrade a direct debit is crap fundraising. Why do we never learn from history?

What do you think needs to happen for fundraisers to be able to do their job properly?

Watch this space.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Burning Man - what a fundraising opportunity! Geronto Philanthropy in Action?

Sorry for the long absence. I've been "off grid" for three weeks in the middle of the Nevada Dessert.

It's an annual festival attended by 70,000 mostly white, middle class Californians and demonstrates, some would say, an amazingly philanthropic attitude. Below is a photograph of the artwork I helped to build, funded incidentally by a grant from the organisers - who claim to be one of the biggest US grant makers helping new works of sculptural/architectural merit. The other funding came from a Kickstarter request - crowd funding in operation and working quite well.

The really interesting thing though is that the whole week long festival operates on a "gift economy." That is once you've paid your 800 bucks or whatever, for your ticket, all the camps, cafes, bars and events you visit are completely free. Drinks, food, whatever! What's more it seems to me that the whole thing is run by and (largely) for baby boomers. There are, of course, people of all ages there. However the predominant feature is of grey beards and kaftans (or in the extreme, a naturist garb).

So what's going on? Millions of dollars raised and spent on art and promoting an amazing experience. Yes lot's of reciprocity and some enlightened self interest. I think however there's quite a bit of altruism going on. Take a look at the site and let me know what you think.

Maybe it's just an extravagance but perhaps there is something for fundraisers to learn from?

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Geronto Philanthropy. Why getting it right with older givers is so Fracking important

Theo Schuyt has coined the term "Geronto Philanthropy" to describe the giving of older people and I think it is spot on because, as we all know(?) propensity and capacity to give increases with age. He and Rene Bekkers suggest that academics and fundraisers need to think more carefully about the views and news concerning those approaching their prime. As my friend Peter Maguire, another ageing rock god says, "we're not old, just hugely experienced". Theo was talking at the European Research Network on Philanthropy(ERNOP) conference in Paris this week. Schuyt and Bekkers presented some pretty compelling evidence which fundraisers need to consider carefully. It is something, as a self-obsessed (and confessed) baby boomer I've been banging on about for some time.

There were some other very interesting and important papers at the ERNOP conference. The Institute of Fundraising Convention wasn't bad either but fundraisers interested in what is happening in philanthropy really ought to consider this conference in their research budget. For example, that truism about giving increasing with age up to about 70 needs to be revised to 80 when considering legacy gifts. And if you're not investing more in legacy development, why the hell not?

Seriously, with the fall out from the Olive Cooke furore and the Dail Mail exposee (and even the Guardian is having a pop)we need to get our approaches sorted out right now. The Government is already announcing more legislation and Stuart Etherington is going to chair another enquiry so we have to go way beyond those pontifications and practice what older givers want us to. That's still changing the world and still asking for the money to do it but without the hassle.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Time to say no to fundraisers?

In the wake of the sad Olive Cooke episode the Institute of Fundraising has launched an investigation into standards and codes of practice in the light of recommendations from the FRSB and calls from MPs and Peers to change the law.

I did a TV interview with David Garmston yesterday stressing that whilst fundraisers have a duty to ask for money everybody has the right to say no. It's not difficult in the street - or shouldn't be as pursuing someone after they've said no is crap fundraising and won't work. However when does it become too forceful to ask by letter, email or telephone in the face of donations that stopped months or even years before? We are are loathe to admit that someone is a lapsed giver but if that really is the reality we'd better get over it and let people get on with their lives. It is a few years since I was a director of fundraising but I sense people still think that size is everything. i.e. I've got a bigger database than you(even if half of them never give) and of course how do we know that they are not still legacy prospects?

Well in the age old method, ask them! Let's have a grown up conversation that allows people freely, without pressure or guilt, to say, please no more requests for money. They might then still be willing to get news and genuine updates occasionally, but, it has to be an agreement that we stick to.

I'm increasingly of a mind that some charities really can't take no for an answer. I had a letter from an older lady's daughter in response to my earlier TV "cri de coeur" that we don't need more legislation. She went through numerous episodes of charities continuing to contact her mother despite their agreed, no more please. Again it's crap fundraising and will in time, bite us in the bum! We have to get better at not sharing names and following up ad nausium. Time I believe for more intelligent asking and back to Ken Burnett's idea of relationship fundraising.

I dare you to disagree.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

How do we prevent supporters from stopping their gifts?

The very sad saga around Olive Cooke continues. You and Yours ran a piece on Friday about "hard sell" charity fundraising. Dominic Nutt, a public affairs consultant, suggested that gifts to syndicated events can lead to multiple asks and, in effect, a huge increase in the numbers of asks by the charities involved. Similarly single or occasional donations to a number of charities, as a response to their direct marketing asks, can lead each to an increasingly urgent, even desperate, cycle of fundraising letters, emails, SMS messages and phone calls. I talked to one of their researchers yesterday and "You and Yours" are also planning a follow-up next week, so do watch this space.

Incidentally talking about desperate comms, Peter White once interviewed me at Leonard Cheshire. I vainly tried to list all the sponsors in the middle of a question and got it wrong three times. He patiently repeated the question until the lights went on and I said, "you're not going to use this are you?" Peter simply smiled and asked the question again!

Alistair McLean chief executive of the FSB, reported that complaints have increased and that an investigation is to be conducted. The issue of "vulnerable older people" was aired and it was suggested that more must be done in clarifying and simplifying the communications from charities.

I believe one of the biggest issues is for fundraisers to come clean about "lapsed" supporters. A one-off donation to a charity does not make you a supporter. I have, over the years, tested the responses of a large number of charities and find many continue to mail me despite no response from me for years. Now I know we're terrified of stopping communications with people who might leave us a legacy but these missives are not "communications" or "legacy development" but increasingly urgent and varied attempts to "reactivate" me.

It's simply not good enough.

We have to get cleverer and sorting out who is willing to hear from us and who isn't.
Going right back to Botton Village and Laurence Stroud's revolutionary (at that time) letters, asking supporters how often they would like to hear about the work. It worked then and if, appropriately modified, used today could dramatically improve the relationships with remaining supporters. It would also give improved opportunities to talk about legacies - a vital long term objective.

Who's going to be brave enough to try it?

Friday, 15 May 2015

Why do people stop giving?

So do you really know why people who have been giving you money stop?

Just done four television and radio interviews about whether high pressure telephone, direct mail, digital and canvassing fundraisers are leading more people to say no. The back story is the so very sad story of the suicide of Olive Cooke who's family say she was "bombarded" by charities to give money and felt pressured into giving. In reality she was profoundly upset about £250 going missing in the post but the "incessant" pressure by charities can't have helped.

Whilst I'm the first to defend the right (or even duty) of charities and their fundraisers to ask (appropriately) for money; I equally defend the right (sounding like Voltaire?) of individuals to say no and say it clearly so that we really hear what they are saying. I do think we are, at times, in serious danger of using too much persuasion to put over our case for support. Of particular concern are the older supporters, like Olive, who do have standing orders, direct debits and who do respond to our regular appeals for cash. Some people find it very hard to say no and so find themselves getting asks from dozens of charities. I also suspect that if we sat down with people like Olive we'd find that they have a desire to help everyone but a real interest in, perhaps, half a dozen or so, actual causes.

So is there a case for going beyond TPS and MPS (and email opt-out lists) and creating a shared database that charities have to dedupe against before mailing? That database could include all those giving to charities but opting to receive no further unsolicited communications. And I do mean unsolicited. Just because someone gave to us three years ago is not a good reason to treat them as a long lost friend. I think we have to get far more proactive about this especially as so many charities are going back to transactional fundraising with text and dm calls with concerted follow-ups to convert to regular giving.

One of the callers talked about her dad who gives a one-off donation of £200 to nearly every charity who calls him. Of course they all do! However his intent is that the donation is a one-off, go away, gift and we don't like that do we?

Is there a place for the PFRA or the Institute of Fundraising to start a campaign for a proactive opt-out database?

I think there is but I'd love to hear what you think.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Why people don't give

Many practitioners and academics (me included) spend a lot of time thinking about the reasons behind why people give money to charity. It's a fertile and important area of research as insights can help fundraisers dramatically improve their fundraising effectiveness. In that I'm hoping to publish my doctoral research this summer so watch this space.

In the meantime however as I interview charity supporters (and a few non-givers) I'm increasingly intrigued as to when and why people don't give. Claire Axelrad and I have been having an interesting debate in the Major Donor SIG pages about the importance of considering gender issues when crafting communications - written or verbal. I'm convinced that inappropriate messages are turning people off in an alarming manner. It's almost as if some people look for a reason not to give or to reject an ask. Look at the continued furore there is about street canvassing. It's even made it into Wikipedia.

However when you look at the research, as opposed to the urban myths some interesting observations become clearer. CAF report every year that around 60% of the adult population gave money to charity in the month prior to the survey. Cathy Pharaoh, who supervises the research maintains that this conspicuously underreports the actual percentage of people giving. Others consider that the American statistics of around 80% of the adult population as givers, are probably approached by the UK if we could get a more accurate measure. That is still however a very large number of adults not giving when Darwin (as opposed to Dawkins) reckons that we are all fundamentally altruistic animals.

What is not disputed is that giving across the population, as a percentage of GDP, has fallen very considerably over the last 100 years. In the last 20 years that I've been a fundraising practitioner and academic I see more charities asking for more money in more and more inappropriate ways. I still think compassion fatigue is a myth but I'm certain that, by our own poor practices, we are encouraging more people to say no.

Monday, 16 February 2015

So why shouldn't charities pay celebrities?

The Sun, Mirror and the Mail, not to mention Radio 5 (who interviewed me today) have all got very hot under the collar about Barnardo's paying a minor celebrity Binky Felstead (sic) to back a retail campaign. So why all the fuss? Staff get paid, actors and after dinner speakers get paid - you need them under contract to ensure they turn up and do what the say they will. I have intimate knowledge (and the scars) of relying on celebs goodwill when they say they will turn up on a wet Friday night in Shepperton and then get a better offer. By having a contract everyone knows where they are. If the celebrity then choses to donate back their fee that is a win-win but if they don't?

Good practice dictates that we fundraisers ask people to do stuff for free all the time. It's called volunteering. However if that person is the right "face" or has the right skill set and is only mildly committed how much better to be safe than sorry. Or perhaps I really am getting too grumpy even for these pages. Have you ever paid a celebrity? If not why not?

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Do you sit on your heels or step on the gas?

Well which do you tend to do? I was reflecting yesterday that doing nothing, if done as a considered action is often the best management activity you can indulge in, as long as you're sure that is the right thing to do. There's often an imperative to do something and it can be a devastating course of action. Mindfulness is becoming an overused term but when applied to reflection and quiet consideration can be extraordinarily powerful.

The Quakers, or the Society of Friends, are an interesting bunch of people. They’ve been hugely influential in social change for the better and the development of charities. They do it silently - you can sit in a meeting for an hour in silence sometimes. They also have a great need to ensure that everyone is heard even if there remains disagreement after discussion has ended (or time is called). There's a great technique they use, very effectively, that I commend if you have to take the minutes or record the actions to be done.

In line with the belief that silence allows a space for reflection, the minute taker calls for silence when the discussion is over (or time is called) and then has the time and opportunity to compose something that genuinely reflects what the meeting has decided, or not, and then reads it back to those present. This allows everyone to agree the mood of the meeting. They may not agree with the decision but have to accept the view of the meeting. It makes for a very slow decision making process but it is very hard to change a course once agreed. As was commented recently on Radio 4 "Ah yes Quakers, very slow to act, but impossible to stop!"

Their attitude to will writing is very much in line with this philosophy. The act of making a will is commended strongly to all. It means you are acting responsibly and thoughtfully. There is no pressure to write your favourite causes into your will but there is a steadfast suggestion that to do so is to continue to act responsibly for the benefit of society and to make the world a better place. So many charities suggest that a legacy will help them but forget that the vision is usually about the bigger picture and a better world.

Incidentally and in my view interestingly, whilst generally seen as a Christian Society there is no creed or set of beliefs. Many Quakers regard themselves as agnostic or even atheist. They do all subscribe however to the five agreed values or testimonies of: peace, honesty, equality, simplicity and sustainability. What's not to like? They're all stem from a mindful point of view!

Monday, 12 January 2015

Carpe Diem

You might have noticed that I've been banging on about death quite a lot lately, though in relation to fundraising and giving, with very good reason.

Many charities pussy foot around the D word and even if they do get round to asking, ever so humbly, for a legacy - tend to do it in an unstructured, ad hoc, sort of way. Mind you asking, is a lot better than not asking! Look at the differences in Legacy Income for Shelter compared to Crisis. Both formed around the same time for similar issues about homelessness. Shelter have asked consistently for legacies, Crisis haven't. Result Shelter's legacy income is 10 times that of Crisis.A strategy is vital to plan the right approach.

Yet there's always a more urgent bit of work to be done isn't there? That'usually the answer I get when I ask why a charity doesn't have a coherent approach to asking for legacy gifts. Well I've got news for you. The fact is you sometimes have to JFDI (just effing do it) and the new year is a great time to "seize the day".

Start to ask some of your long standing supporters if they've made a charitable will and why the have or haven't remembered you. You'll be amazed by some of the insights you gain and which can help you refine your legacy vision. (You've got to have a vision). You're not asking for a gift, yet, but do it now because there are people dying who will never die again!

As George Smith put it, "it's the last great fundraising opportunity". Stephen Pidgeon is even writing a book, "Love your donors to death!" Next time I'll tell you about the Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers. Even though they do it silently, there is a lot we can learn from their approach to wills and will writing.

Friday, 2 January 2015

2015 and still dying to give

The New Year tends to get us reflecting on the past year, decade, century and so on. 2015 promises, I believe, some interesting anniversaries and reflections. 800 years since the Magna Carta, 70 years since the end of the second world war and 50 years since the death of Winston Churchill.

I was talking to an old friend about the death of my wife in August 2014 and she told me a sad story of a mutual friend who, in November, was taken to hospital suffering from severe chest pains. It transpired the next day after tests, that he had experienced an Angina attack. Unfortunately, during the night, his wife suffered a massive stroke - probably brought on by anxiety over his admission - and was already brain dead. It brought it home to me that you can never, ever, know what is just around the corner.

The New Year then? A time not simply for a resolution but positive action. Go and make (or update) your charitable will. We know the statistics, from Richard Radcliffe. You will live longer! On average four years more than someone who has made a will without any charitable bequests. However the biggest benefit is that you can talk knowledgeably and with authority about the process and how life affirming it is to make a will remembering your own favourite charities. Try it and see.

My wife listed four causes, all really close to her heart and I shall, in the fullness of time, experience great joy in fulfilling those bequests.