Value versus Values

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.