Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Getting the basics right #2: a direct marketing rant.

Twitter can be a great thing you know. It can be irritating, it can be ugly, but it can also be inspiring and it can also make conversations happen.

Last night I responded to a tweet from @damianobroin which asked: if you could do just one thing to improve a direct marketing programme, what would it be?

There were a number of replies and they really got me thinking (another thing I like about twitter).

There was a lot of focus on thank you's and feedback – making donors feel awesome, speed of thank you, quality comms, great thank you letters etc.

Yes, I agree – these things are all important. And should be done without a doubt.

But really? Are these the one thing that will improve a direct marketing programme? I humbly think not. And I have to admit to getting a little riled when they are presented as such.

What is direct marketing? There are lots of definitions, but they all boil down to this: Direct marketing is a targeted communication that seeks a response from an individual. It’s one to one marketing, that is measurable, whose aim is to develop a profitable & personal relationship

It is marketing that is targeted, marketing that creates a response. A response that is measurable and designed to be ‘repeatable.’ A response that builds a database of supporters to whom ongoing communications are personalised. It builds long term & profitable relationships and its cost effectiveness can be projected & analysed.

Now, I am a direct marketer at heart so I, naturally, think that direct marketing is one of the most important forms of fundraising. And as with other types of fundraising, if “you don’t ask you don’t get.”

The data really is key, to ensure you communicate with the right people, at the right time & with the right message - and testing & continuous learning is the cornerstone of direct marketing.  

And if I was looking for just one thing to improve a direct marketing programme? It wouldn’t be sending a nice thank you letter. Sorry. It would be establishing controls, testing and learning and running results. And then rolling out what I’ve learned so we can get better and better.

Too many times I’ve spoken to direct marketing teams who don’t operate under these basic principles. And they can’t work out why their results aren’t the same (or better) year on year. They don’t know what it is that has made this happen. Invariably they are doing something different every time, so they don’t know what works.

How can they create that ‘personal and profitable relationship’ without this knowledge? Direct marketing is as much (if not more) about science and technique. Not pretty creative.

People will argue that a small database means they can’t introduce controls. Put bluntly, in my experience this is rubbish. Direct marketing works if you do it properly. It’s as simple as that. If you don’t, then all the nice thank you’s, mid donor programmes, 'onboarding' journeys etc mean diddly squat.

So, please. Get the basics right. If you want to do one thing that will improve a direct marketing programme it is this – get it right.

Of course do the donor care, get the thank you letter right and out quickly. These will all help improve performance further.

But forget the basic rules of direct marketing and you won’t see performance improve in the first place.

Obviously, these are only my humble opinions and I’m happy to discuss these whenever you’d like. That’s what the comments section is for – so please contribute.



P.S. You can read the Storify of the twitter chat here

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

What does the National Convention mean to me?

Once again the Institute of Fundraising have pulled together a smorgasbord of fundraising wisdom for our delectation in July at the National Convention. We can’t underestimate the amount of work that goes into this for the IOF and their trusty band of Convention Board volunteers *

But with so much choice available to fundraisers it can be hard to know what to attend. I’m already planning what I’m attending (with the caveat that I might sneak away on Monday afternoon to catch some of the Tour de France as it finishes its Grand Départ).

One of the ‘rules’ I’ve set myself every time I’ve attended the Convention is to go to sessions that give me the best chance to learn something new. 

Whether that’s about fundraising, or about myself, that’s what I try to do. For me, this now means not attending all the sessions within my comfort zone i.e. digital and individual Giving.

At the beginning of my fundraising career I hoovered up anything individual giving related and what I learned is still with me. I still have the notes I wrote at these early conventions. (And I still look at them and share them with my team).

Obviously I’m not saying I can’t learn anything new about digital or individual giving, but I enjoy being challenged in a different way. And I want to develop into as well-rounded a fundraiser as possible. 

So, over the years I’ve attended many of the major donor, corporate, trust and community fundraising sessions. And I’ve learned a lot about other areas of fundraising – the principles, the technique, the donors.

Importantly I learned a lot about what makes my colleagues tick and gained an understanding of their work, why they need the information they do, and how different personality types can work together.

Attending these sessions helped me grow as a fundraiser and a person. Rather than 'fighting' every (perceived) battle with other teams they helped me see where they were coming from and how we could work better together. And how I could be more persuasive so that we could achieve a beneficial outcome.

After all, isn’t why we work in fundraising to raise money for the charity we work for? Not ‘fight’ internal battles.

Now? It’s important to me that I progress and develop. I’m a firm believer in development and that I need to take control of that. I hear a lot of ‘how can you help me?’ when we should be asking ‘how can I help myself?’

So, this year I’m focusing on the Personal Effectiveness and The Bigger Picture streams. What will I attend? I’ll blog about that soon. But the most important thing for me is to become a better fundraiser, a better manager and a better leader. Anything that can help me do this is A.Good.Thing.

The next best thing about the Convention? The networking. It’s not something we all like doing. I hated it at first. It made me uncomfortable. It made me feel awkward. Doing this was the first thing that really pushed me out of my comfort zone. (I know you’ll find this hard to believe if you know me – but it is true).

The people I have met over the years at the Convention have become friends, mentors, career advisors, support – many things. So, if you come with your colleagues – break away from them! Force yourself to talk to new people. Exchange email addresses and stay in contact. It will make you a better fundraiser.

And the next time you go you will find there is always someone you know.

Danielle Atkinson

*Of which I am one. 

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Impact in Fundraising

Last time it was Innovation; now I found myself at another Institute of Fundraising conference talking about another I word- this time the word was 'Impact.'

I was lucky enough to receive a bursary to attend this event (open to organisations whose raised voluntary income is below £1million) and it definitely made it accessible.

I am becoming increasingly more selective in deciding which conferences and training events are a good investment, but the invigorating feeling of discussing issues with other fundraisers is one that has huge value, as well as it being a topic which is increasingly relevant to all of us in the sector Impact.

When I started in fundraising, 11 years ago now, I worked for a wonderful organisation, Oakhaven Hospice, and impact was not a concept I ever heard discussed. 

Certainly, the medical and care teams were rigorous in assessing their standards of care, but in fundraising the focus seemed much more on emphasising the need for funding the increasing demand, the reasons why the type of palliative care hospices provide was important and made a difference, our work in the community, and how we continued to support families after the loss of a loved one through bereavement counselling.

Perhaps this was because the concept of caring for people who have life limiting illnesses needs less explanation than other causes, therefore people are less likely to demand to know what long term effect the work will have. 

Or perhaps it was because the type of fundraising that at the time we carried out; one of the most interesting point for me from the conference was made several times, by different speakers individual donors are much less interested in investing in impact and having this impact reported to them than other types of funders, particularly grant making trusts. 

This was illustrated memorably by one of the speakers, Tris Lumley of NPC, who explained that the assumption that individual donors cared about impact and wanted to donate money where impact was greatest, resulted in what was initially an unsuccessful business model for NPC. 

When I was at Oakhaven, the vast majority of our fundraising focused on individuals, whereas now the charity has won several substantial grants, and no doubt the concept of impact reporting is very different.

Aside from the pleasing feeling of being a UN delegate or international ambassador type (the event was held at the International Coffee Organisation, in a room where we all had our own individual microphones, and the back wall was festooned with flags), one of the most valuable parts of the event for me was being able to openly acknowledge the pressures that we face as fundraisers to do what we need to in order to get the funding, whilst recognising that this causes tensions around how honest to be with a funder particularly if things are not going well. 

It didn't come up on the day, perhaps because the mix of organisations in the room meant that it had less relevance for some than others, but I wonder what impact payment by results could have on the optimistic spirit of openess that ran through the session. 

Richard Piper, CEO of Roald Dahl's Marvellous Children's Charity represented funders, and admitted that there was room for improvement from their side of the fence, not least actually doing something with the reams of impact data received through faithfully completed project reports. His talk made me, and I am sure many other people in the room, wish he could be cloned and installed at hundreds of other grant making trusts. 

Of particular relevance to this blog, especially with International Women's Day just behind us - Katie Rabone asked the question early on in the event; why, when about 70% of the room was female, was every single speaker male? 

This was no criticism of the men who were there who then all felt the need to apologise for being, well, male - but is a continuing, and to be honest, really quite inexcusable trend. 

There are many dynamic, accomplished, and high achieving women in fundraising, are they not seen at these events  because they are not invited, or because as you move up to the most senior roles, those most likely to be speaking, the gender balance shifts? This needs to be addressed, but please do not mistake this for a pitch; I am an appallingly bad public speaker. 

Finally, for anyone who ready my previous blog about an IOF event, I am please to report that there were biscuits on offer at every refreshment break, the 2014 sugar ban has obviously gone the way of all other resolutions.

Jemma Saunders