This is, without doubt or hyperbole, the most dangerous time for face-to-face fundraising. We have recently witnessed the end of a fundraising institution in the UK that has seen more than 600 fundraisers lose their jobs, and, among other things, seen increased regulation throughout the world making it harder for some suppliers to stay competitive – not necessarily a bad thing.
However, this post is not about the wave of troublesome news we are receiving from Europe, but a warning that we must swim between the flags and watch out for sharks.
You and your organisation have the responsibility to your beneficiaries to perform the services, identified as lacking in our society, that will enhance the lives of others. All too often you invite a strategic consulting firm to review your five or ten-year goals and determine how much income you require to realise these. It has been pointed out to you by your consultant that you have a regular giving shaped hole in your donor base and, with face-to-face fundraising as the main driver, it is recommended that you embark on the new channel.
You then work out how much investment is required and, with the correct management, the amount you will receive over the next ten years of these new relationships. These calculations are often idealistic and set-adrift from reality.
We firstly make assumptions based on the costs. We now know that costs are a fluid concept that must now include roughly a 3% increase in pledge fees year-on-year. An extra amount for the rising price of shopping centre locations, travel trips, iPad fees, incentives, training, travel, materials, on-boarding and implementation of software and suppliers, new process development, account management, proposition development - and the acquisition costs list goes on.
We construct, with broad strokes, our best guess at the month-on-month attrition without understanding what attrition really means. We forget that a donor who is still active in twelve months may not have made twelve successful debits. We often have no idea, and no way of measuring, skip rates, gift value fluctuations yet we make assumptions on the future receivable income which directly impacts the break-even month for the campaign.
Finally, we make our best guess at acquisition volumes and fundraising materials for our untested proposition without any donor or fundraiser led research.
For the first time in memory, it is very possible to run a face-to-face fundraising campaign that will never break even.
In the right hands and with the correct management, face-to-face still has a very strong position in our fundraising mix. It can still provide a very lucrative ROI and provides a volume of regular givers that cannot be matched by other channels, but as a sector, we need to invest more in the training and education of our managers in respect to this form of fundraising to ensure its place at the table.
Face-to-face is a far more complex channel than most understand, with far more levers and variables than most know, and we have far less control over the results than we wold like to admit. The FIA do not have any resources dedicated to the channel, and there was only one hour at this year’s conference dedicated to this pursuit (although it was a fantastic hour, if I do say so myself).
If you run a face-to-face program in Australia and are not part of the F2F User Group, you need to get in touch with them ASAP. They are the only collective that can help you free of charge. At the risk of this turning into an advert, you can also contact me or one of my fellow F2F specialists for more specific insights into best practice and campaign management.