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#74 We want marriage, they want a fling

When pasted into a budget, face-to-face fundraising is thought of as a high-volume low-value fundraising channel. A tap to turn on and off to refill your donor base.

We know that fifteen-to-twenty percent of new donors will never successfully debit, and we make very little effort, if any, to save these lost souls. This is not an insult, just a fact. We then go on to lose around fifty percent of our newly acquired donors in the first year of their pledge. We make some effort to keep these by entering them into a declines cycle and eventually a reactivations program.

No matter, we can always pump in more donors to keep filling up the tank [to be read with a disappointed tone].

Here’s a controversial thought, maybe the donors who drop-off in the first twelve months have done so because they don’t really want to give long term. They are looking for a fling whilst we assume marriage and kids.

Our new f2f donors were approached by a stranger in the street, sweet nothings were whispered into their ears and they were invited on a date. However, as soon as we get their phone number, we call the registrar and arrange the wedding! They may have responded positively to the initial impulse but why do we think they are ready to settle-down and create a future with us after this brief conversation? In the volumes we acquire, we surely cannot expect all our new recruits to self-identify with our cause on a level that will maintain and sustain a long-term relationship?

On our validation/verification calls, we confirm with our donor that they are willing and able to give for the next two years, but I cannot imagine being asked that in any other non-essential/luxury procurement, and see every day that although verification success is one of our best indicators of future giving it is far from perfect. We ask more of our donors than the utility companies do, but without the product to fulfill a need, without the teeth or nerve to ensure payment, without the same budgets to retain them, and most importantly, they didn’t come to find us, we went out hunting for them!

We know that the CPA of regular givers is high, and that any donor who gives for less than a year is likely to cost our charities money, so we would be better-off without them.

The problem is that most organisations do not know how to recruit better donors or accurately budget for the ones they receive. We cannot turn to our f2f suppliers after eight months and ask for money back on the donor who just cancelled, and other than the honesty of the fundraiser and their interpretation of the communication there is no way to tell at acquisition whether the donors intend to give long term or just eight months.

Verification calling and commitment surveys for those with accurate phone numbers and email addresses can get rid of the worst ten percent, but they are probably a sub-set of those who were never going to debit anyway, and hopefully you’re already contractually protected against that.

As more ex-face-to-face fundraisers enter charity management, we may be forced to betray our heritage and start to look at our channel in a different way. A whole generation of ex-frontliners are now managing regular giving programs for causes around the planet using the knowledge and attitudes we learned from the streets of our communities.

We were taught by our managers that volume is king. We were primarily targeted on our sign-up rates and average gift. We were incentivised to convince a certain number of people to donate each day. Sure, some suppliers also mentioned quality occasionally when things got bad, but we were raised on the notion of ‘more is better’.

Volume is king for most agencies because most of them are paid per donor, not for the amount the donor gives over their lifetime. Until recently, we used outdated stats to justify the fees stating confidently that the average donor gives for five years without presenting evidence of this. We cannot afford to take that mindset into our charity-side careers.

A charity will blossom with donors who are committed and share a connection to the cause they wish to support. Face-to-face fundraising has a place at the table for the foreseeable future as long as it can connect good causes with great people, but we need to remember that the retention starts at acquisition and we must continue to talk to the hearts and souls of our donors to inspire them to keep giving and fall more deeply in love with us.

Does this mean that we should ask for fewer donors from our agencies? Well, not necessarily. We need to work hand-in-hand with our agencies to ensure that they are recruiting the donors we need. Whilst being realistic with your targets, working on the proposition, the materials, the channels and locations, and the training can mean that you can recruit the volumes you need. When I write ‘whilst being realistic’ I mean that a high visibility cancer, generic animal welfare or national child protection charity will have no problem finding a higher percentage of the population who are passionate and able to give than one that focuses on niche market like a very rare disability.

Our niche charities should not threat. Smaller volumes may enable you to have a closer and more personal relationship with these ideal donors and move them up the donor pyramid in greater numbers, but they will have trouble keeping an agency engaged when they get a low sign-up rate. Niche charities might also find it useful to remember that an industry benchmarked average gift or volume has nothing to do with your program or your cause. You may have any one of the variations of tiny or large volumes and huge or small gifts. Find the one that works for you and move forward with it.

So next time you’re budgeting the f2f contribution, take a breath and reconsider whether pouring high volumes of uncommitted one-night stands into your database is the best thing for your cause, or whether you should spend your time searching for the ‘one’.

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