7 month hiatus and video storytelling

It’s close to 7 months since I last blogged.

I could blame the birth of our twin babies in October, or a really busy workload. But that’d be lazy. I just haven’t committed to writing as much as I should.

Getting back here and writing this ‘first’ post is like going for that run you keep putting off. Once the first ones out of the way it should be much easier.

So, back to regular writing it is.

Nice short post today sharing a story we worked on with our fabulous client, Cerebral Palsy Alliance with last year. Told through video.

I won’t spoilt it, take a few minutes to watch it. It’s designed to inspire you to believe we can find a cure and prevention for cerebral palsy one day.



Why taglines suck

I should clarify. Why taglines suck, for fundraising.

In short, taglines are designed to be memorable. Think Different. Just Do It. Don’t leave home without it.

But great fundraising isn’t just about being memorable, it’s about being remarkable. It’s about more than a few words. It isn’t advertising.

It’s not to say a great fundraising campaign doesn’t have a tagline – or some derivation of a tagline, as part of the campaign. The NSPCC’s FULL STOP campaign springs to mind (Cruelty to children must stop. FULL STOP). But having worked with the NSPCC during FULL STOP I know it was about more than a few words.

My point?

Don’t get fixated on encapsulating your next fundraising appeal or project on a few catchy words. It can become distracting and all consuming, putting aside the real issue at hand.

Do fixate on how you translate a real story into a compelling appeal.


Raise the bar, please

Last year I wrote that it was sometimes better to start from scratch when it came to setting yourself fundraising targets.

“Ambitious growth requires solid investment, informed risk taking and organisational commitment. If you’re planning to transform your program, looking at what you’ve done the last ten years and tweaking it isn’t going to help you make that leap.

Starting afresh and asking yourself and your colleagues “what do I need to do to generate $5m a year” is the question you need to be able to answer. Not, “how can I turn $1m into $5m?”

And so I believe the same often applies to improving supporter retention.

Benchmarking our performance against others can be incredibly useful. But I’ve found it can also hinder growth. Consider this..

As you embark on a campaign to acquire new donors, you’re told that the average attrition rate in Year 1 for regular, monthly donors recruited on the street is 45%.

From that point on your benchmark is 45%. In other words 45% is deemed acceptable because that’s what everyone else is experiencing. It’s the norm. The average. Status quo.

My problem with that is that 45% shouldn’t be seen as acceptable, just because that’s what everyone else is doing. What if everyone else’s programs are poor? Boring content, not reaffirming why I originally supported, through the wrong channel, and so on.

If that’s the case the benchmark provides a pessimistic goal. This isn’t always the case, but retaining donors recruited on the street is a good example. I know because we’ve recently witnessed exactly this.

Because we started from scratch and tore up the old rule book, 45% wasn’t the end goal we were after. The end goal was to achieve the lowest possible annual attrition we could. As it turns out that’s now around 30%.

Why? Partly because we raised the bar. In addition to a paradigm shift about the way we communicate and feedback to supporters.

So when looking at external data and what others are doing, don’t assume the standard set is necessarily a high one. Raise the bar, please.


Insight v Instinct

Fundraising ideas are often driven by instinct. Fundraising strategy is driven (or should be) by insights.

So why so often do we see the strategic direction of charities (specifically their fundraising) engineered and determined by uninformed, instinctual decisions?

Sadly I’ve seen many fundraising programs plateau, even flounder, because of poor decision making.

“We’re going to start focusing more on corporate support”.

“Workplace giving is the big area of growth for us”

“Social media is the way forward”.

I hear these statements too often. More disturbingly I see organisations crippled because of too much focus in areas of distraction, rather than areas that are flourishing.

Isn’t there a reason why workplace giving accounts for such a small proportion of charitable giving? Why social media supports fundraising, but rarely drives it.

Of course there is. Insights gleaned from other charities that share the truths about what works and what doesn’t. Benchmarking, conferences, annual reports, fundraising publications and forums. All have their place in the strategic fundraisers toolkit.

A year or so ago I met with a fairly well known, large charitable organisation. We had lunch. Chatted about the state of the sector. Their plans for the future.

I almost choked on my Caesar salad when they rattled off their vision for fundraising and how they planned to turnaround flagging income levels. The bones of it consisted of a greater emphasis on support from their corporate friends (a shrinking piece of the pie), more community events (not peer to peer or outsourced, but labour intensive with poor returns per fundraiser) and their online strategy centred solely on Facebook. Gulp.

If my Caesar was a recipe for a healthy heart, this was a recipe for disaster.

Fast forward a year or so and ‘said’ organisation was front and centre of the national media pleading their case for a lifeline as ‘times were tough’, and everything but their misguided fundraising program was to blame. The economy, the political environment and who knows, maybe even global warming.

Cynicism aside, frighteningly this is far too common. And we’re not simply talking about the decisions of those who’ve just joined our sector. Even more worryingly I’ve witnessed many accounts of fundraising programs being guided by gut instinct or personal bias from those embedded in the charity world for big chunks of time.

So what’s the solution?

Follow instincts when testing new campaigns or activities.

Make informed, insight driven, strategic decisions about the health and future direction of your organisations fundraising program. It doesn’t mean we stifle innovation. Allocate a portion of your budget, time and staffing to trying new things.

But be pragmatic, sensible and unemotional about where your program is headed.



Facebook making a fool of me

I’ve been blogging now for just over 4 years. I recently looked back at my very first post entitled, “Social networking: the next big thing for raising lots of money… OR an unwanted distraction?”

In it I pontificated that “right now I would argue that social networking as a way to raise money is an unwanted distraction.”

I went on to say, “In time I may be proved wrong. But the point is, let’s (as fundraisers) stop getting distracted or torn away from the stuff that ‘helps us help our beneficiaries’. Let’s get better at thanking our donors, let’s meet more donors face to face, let’s develop more brilliant stories to be able to tell our donors or others we may reach out to for support.”

The point of the rant was about focus, or lack thereof it. Too many folks seeing social media as the answer to all of their prayers?

So was I right or wrong?

A bit of both. There are still very few organizations making a stack of money here, but conversely we’ve now reached a point where we see the residual impact in using social platforms on other areas of our program.

One area we’re seeing Facebook having a significant impact is in the driving of event registration/participation. Paid Facebook adverts, along with some paid search engine marketing (Google AdWords), can reap great rewards if executed correctly.

We ran a campaign recently with a hospital foundation in Australia looking to drive registrations to an upcoming 5km walk. The main difference from the recruitment drive of 2011 to 2012 was investing in Facebook and Google advertising.

The upshot?

A modest 4-week campaign (spending less than $4k) generated 222 new registrants for the event.

Through Facebook we found 193 new participants at a cost of $17 per recruit. They generated around $55 in fundraising activity per participant at an ROI of 3.2.

Google helped us locate 29 new participants at a cost also around $17 per recruit. They generated around $177 in fundraising activity per participant at an ROI of a staggering 10.0.

Stuff to remember

Facebook and Google are very different beasts. Their advertising has ‘some’ similarities but more differences.

The user experience is completely different. We ‘Google’ because we’re looking for something. Something very specific.

We ‘Facebook’ for many reasons. To chat with friends, reconnect with old school mates, waste time. Or just because we can.

These very different platforms have users in very different mindsets. One is focused, the other is distracted. It’s important to remember that when crafting adverts in both.

So what?

I’d argue that in some respects my views of 4 years have rung true. Fundraisers still do get distracted with stuff that doesn’t help our beneficiaries. We should spend more time working out how to better look alter our supporters.

On the flip side, I got it wrong. There are some ways to make money from Facebook (and other advertising mechanisms like Google).

But the balance needs to be right. So too does the offer.