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Deep breath. Remember last year.

Posted on by Jonathon Grapsas

It’s tax appeal time in Australia.

For those outside of Oz, our financial year ends on 30 June. As such most charities run “tax” appeals throughout May and June, and for many it’s their biggest time of individual giving for the year. Even bigger than Christmas for some.

Deep breath

I’ve probably asked 25+ fundraisers in the last two weeks how their tax appeals are travelling. I couldn’t tell you how many of those conversations have sounded like this.

Me: How’s your tax appeal going?

Fundraiser: Not very well.

Me: Oh really?

Fundraiser: Yep. Target was $200k gross, we’re at $60k so far.

Me: How does that compare to this time last year?

Fundraiser: Umm.. this time last year we were at $45k, ended up raising $120k.

A couple of problems here. Your first aim should be to beat last year. The figures above were in gross terms for the sake of the comparison. But fundamentally you want to make more net income than the previous years appeal.

Come on, be realistic

Secondly, was your target realistic? Nothing wrong with stretch goals, but what if the conversation continued like this…

Me: OK, so you’re ahead of last year. Good start.

Fundraiser: Yep, but we need to raise $200k, thats what I promised the board.

Me: So an $80k increase in income. What are you doing differently from last year?

Fundraiser: Not much. Pretty standard stuff. Increased the ask a little, thats about it. 4 page letter, 2 lift pieces.

No doubt a personalised ask based on previous giving history with a stretch component to it could (and likely would) increase income, as long as the appeal attached it was strong. But a 65% increase on that alone? Unlikely.

Iteration. Testing. New stuff

We’re working on around half a dozen tax appeals. We’re trying lots of new stuff. Use of voice broadcast as a final reminder in the days leading up to 30 June. Plain looking response forms, rather than designed ones. Different stock, different envelopes. Follow up telephone calls. much more authentic looking lift pieces. Testing ask levels. Increasing the number of supporting emails. Spending more on high value packs. I could go on.

The point is if you keep doing what you did last year you won’t revolutionise your appeal and your appeal income.

And finally, take a deep breath. Remember last year.


PS It’s not too late to implement some last minute changes to your tax appeal if you are down on last year.


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Value versus Values

Posted on by Jonathon Grapsas

In my first fundraising gig in the UK, I worked for a telephone fundraising agency. It’s there I learnt the art of asking and having real conversations with supporters.

But there was one piece of work that irked me then that still irks me today.

We’d been working with this charity for some time; they had a large and mature telephone program. They had been approached by a company who had got them excited about a new way to talk to their supporters.

In short it worked like this.

You provide your database to said company. They then append profiles to each record based on geography. The idea being that where someone physically lives determines the type of person they are, their values, what they believe in etc.

Let me qualify by saying postcodes in the UK are different to some countries in that they cover a fairly small area meaning you can target quite narrowly as a result.

That being said, I couldn’t for the life of me understand why we’d made some broad inferences about someone because of where their house was.

Here I was, an Aussie in his mid 20’s, living in West London, pretty naive about the world. My neighbors included West Indians, Indians, Eastern Europeans, people from all over the world. We’d meet and drink with some of the British locals at the pub across the road and talk about football, maybe argue about politics. The point is this, like any London neighborhood, we were a disparate group of individuals from every walk of the globe, with varying backgrounds, beliefs, religious views, thoughts on the world.

And in any cases, very different values about the way we looked at, and lived life.

But a large chunk of us lived at W6 8JA. So that was ok, the planets were aligned. We ‘all’ (according to said company) shared similar beliefs and values.

And that’s the way this particular telephone test was was run. Supporter A, B and C lived in the same postcode. That meant they were socially conscious, politically left wing, with an average level of affluence. When talking to them about upgrading their monthly gift we should use the following words…

And so it went.

What became paramount was their ‘supposed’ shared values. What was less important was their value to the organisation.

I remember sitting there listening to the original briefing and thinking, I don’t know a lot about fundraising, but surely we should spend more time talking about how to engage the supporter based on what they’ve done in the past, what they’ve told us they’re interested in (not what some profiling dictates), how much they’ve given previously, their passions etc.).

But I was the new kid on the block, and I didn’t challenge it. At that point in time apparently values were more important than someone’s value to the charity.

Want to guess what happened? Insert drum roll…

The charity spent a lot of money on, well, nothing. The values based profiling did, well, nothing. The control group where we spoke to supporters like we previously had (acknowledging their previous financial history, interests, desires, reason for supporting) raised, well, lots.

And I went to the pub and had a pint with my English mate Charlie. Served by our Eastern European barmaid. We argued about cricket. Welcomed our Irish mate over for a beer. Chatted to one of Charlie’s football friends from Jamaica. We had a really good night, the disparate bunch that we were.

It was from that experience I realised the true value of supporters.

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Why something is better than nothing

Posted on by Jonathon Grapsas

Retaining donors recruited on the street (face-to-face) is hard work.

In many respects its the elephant in the room, or has been for many years. Generally accepted that you’ll lose almost half of those regular givers recruited within the first 12 months.

I’m pleased to say that two years into an intensive effort to rebuke this, our clients are having some success in keeping far more donors.

One of the key aspects to the success of these programs (which I’ve talked about in the past, including here) is the regularity of communicating, especially early days.

This flies in the face of one of the myths thats been permeating the sector (particularly here in Australia) for many years: leave em’ alone. The more contact, the higher the cancellations. Don’t give them an excuse to leave you.

Whilst I’ve always thought this was BS, we are now seeing some conclusive data to prove it. We’ve tested two different approaches. A control group where donors receive nothing but a welcome pack (and an annual update), versus a test group with regular communication (up to 25 touch points a year).

The result? Much lower attrition when we keep in touch regularly. What a surprise.

Of course there’s no point sending stuff for the sake of it and granted if we sent loads of rubbish we’d probably see rubbish attrition.

But it’s not. The program’s filled with beautiful stories of lives touched and saved. Shared in different ways; by video, via podcasts, the written word.

More on the execution at a later date. For now, I wanted to share why, when it comes to keeping F2F recruited regular givers, something is a hell of a letter better than nothing.


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Beyond the water cooler

Posted on by Jonathon Grapsas

I know very little about Marrissa Mayer, but I certainly think she got it wrong when she recently ordered staff back into the office, banning working from home arrangements.

I’m not going to take pot shots at her, many already have.

I do however think we need to move past our obsession with bricks and mortar. Monday mornings hovering around the water cooler. Big boardroom meetings.

I can hear the naysayers. Yes, but we generate better ideas when we’re in person. Sure, so meet up when you need to. But I question in 2013 why we still have such a fixation on physically turning up to a space for meetings, to sit at a desk and tap away at the keyboard.

Of course there are exceptions, businesses that need a physical location. I’m zoning in here on professional services. Organisations that have employees plastered to a desk.

Consider the source. I run an agency predicated on the idea that “we created an agency that brings you the best people, not the closest.” That means staff, freelancers, partners. Scattered all over the place. A tangled web of fundraisers from Brisbane, Australia to Brighton, UK.

And it works pretty well. It’s not perfect, but whose business model is?

We meet up in person regularly, travel interstate, meet for coffee, for client meetings, hold staff conferences.

In between that we Skype, Hangout, we share stuff in the cloud, run virtual meetings. We connect really well, regularly.

I must admit I had a bit of an advantage. When I set up I had no office (except the one downstairs in my house). No security blanket to hang onto. No paralysing five year lease.

So it made it easier, no doubt. But having offices for the sake of having them is really old news.

For me having offices is like wearing suits. Does the suit really make you do a better job? Seriously?


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The power of video storytelling: part deux

Posted on by Jonathon Grapsas

This post below has just been published on 101fundraising – Crowdblog on Fundraising

We all love watching a good video clip. In the last couple of years we’ve been captivated by the likes of charity:water, Kony, and now the zillion versions of the Harlem Shake.

Lots of views, tonnes of excitement, all bringing something a little unique.

Video presents both an opportunity and a threat for fundraisers.

Video untapped

Here are some ways I believe video can help you even more effectively share your story.

When you want to take someone to the coalface. You’re an animal welfare organisation employing inspectors to rid the state of illegal and cruel puppy farms. It’s near impossible to recreate ‘that’ moment when those hapless puppies were seized. Short of being there, recapturing those rancid conditions and mistreatment can only be shown visually. Here’s an example.

When you want to tell a complex story. You work in medical research and you’re tackling a big problem: finding a cure and prevention for cerebral palsy. The problem is not only do most people don’t really know was CP is, most consider it a condition acquired at birth and assume it’s a hapless case. How do you dispel that myth and provide hope that something can be done? Here’s an example (this video was also posted in last week’s blog).

When words simply won’t do. Watching a young child’s cochlear implant being ‘switched on’ for the first time can’t be done justice through the written word. Sometimes words simply won’t do. See for yourself.

And remember, it should be as long as it needs to be. Here’s proof that in just 66 seconds you can illustrate how one persons life can be changed.

Conversely it might take 66 minutes. If it keeps my attention and moves me to act, so be it.

Video: beware

As always, some words of caution. It’s easy to get caught up in the mystique and beauty of creating video content. It’s much more fun than writing. It gets you away from your desk, and let’s face it: we’re all budding videographers now with video technology in the palm of our hands. But that doesn’t mean using video is always right.

Don’t use video…

To replace stuff that works. You’ve got some great footage of a trauma patient walking for the first time since their accident. Let’s ditch the mail appeal for those who have an email address? And for those who don’t, we’ll send a URL in the body of the letter and direct them to you tube?


DM responsive donors won’t respond at the same levels online as they do offline. Distracting those who get the letter with a link draws them away from the thing we know they respond to, the mail. And by sending people to you tube you have no way to capture their gifts (of the few people who get to this point).

You’ve just cost yourself thousands of dollars. Instead, ‘support’ the appeal with the video. Send an eDM in addition to the letter (not instead of) for those you can. Embed the you tube clip within a landing page so you keep them on your site. Perhaps even send the video on a DVD to your top 100 donors.

Continue doing what works, support with (rather than replacing with) video.

To make you look cool/professional

Authenticity is king. Your supporters don’t care how funky it looks. They care about how their support can or has made a difference. Footage shot from you iPhone can and should be used. Imagine arriving on the scene of that puppy farm raid, smartphone in hand…

Just because you have some great footage

Let me clarify by saying if you have some great footage and you can share as a donor care exercise, then do it.

But when appealing to supporters, the goalposts shift a little. It may be the wrong audience. You may have a great story, but it conflicts, rather than supports, the offline appeal. It may confuse rather than compel me to act. Don’t do it for the sake of doing it, do it if/because it helps you more effectively tell your story. Which ultimately helps you help more beneficiaries,

The final word

Video is great, when used properly.


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