A few months ago, my fellow Senior Consultant, Tess Nixon, wrote an excellent article on how to prepare your potential donor so that your head of house/CEO can meet with them and make a successful ask.  It struck me that a lot of Tess’s advice is also increasingly relevant for mass solicitations in light of the Etherington review.  Charities will not only have to put together an excellent case for support in order to solicit donations; they will also have to put together an excellent case as to why they would like to contact their (potential) supporters in the first place.

Perhaps we should ask ourselves if the following typical “subscribe” statement really enthuses anyone to sign up to a charity’s cause.

“Please tick this box if you wish to receive news about our work and requests for your continued support.”

Now consider that statement in conjunction with the fact that the Institute of Fundraising has recently changed its guidance to state that every fundraising communication sent by a charity has to include details of how the recipient can opt out from further communications.  In addition, this statement has to be presented in the same size font as the statement asking for personal information or containing the ask amount [3].

Will a simple tick-box sentence suffice under these new conditions?  Maybe at first, but after the recipient has had their third ask within a three-month period?  Perhaps not…

The Etherington review and the Institute of Fundraising are actually trying to convey that we should be treating our potential supporters and donors as real people with preferences that we need to understand and different perceptions as to what supporting a charity means.  It will therefore become increasingly difficult to treat large groups of people the same when asking for their support.

In order to survive these changes, charities need to be clear as to why their supporters would want to hear from them.  As part of this exercise, supporters will need a voice, too.  Although industry insiders may feel that recent press coverage and the Etherington review are perhaps too biased against charities, such coverage and documents would not exist without at least a little bit of truth behind them.  This is often enough to sway public opinion into that direction, and we need to work harder to gain back the trust of supporters.

Just as retailers listen to their customers to survive, it is important that charities improve their ability to listen to their supporters about how they would like to be handled.  Listen to your supporters to find out what they like and don’t like and record the findings.  Then, you need to increase the role of data segmentation to reflect those findings to ensure that each supporter is approached appropriately.

By all means, undertake some trial and error with smaller data sets to find out how often a group of people can be asked before they unsubscribe, and then apply those findings to larger data sets.  As a data analyst, I feel this is a valid way to gain some empirical data, but it is probably not the healthiest proposition for your valuable data asset.

I would suggest that each charity seriously considers some internal standards on the number of times they feel comfortable contacting prospects, and then hold focus groups to discuss your findings.  Some of those findings may be hard to hear, but in the long term, you should find that you are able to hold onto your supporters much more successfully.  Finally, data analytics should definitely be applied to monitor the situation and ensure that the solutions you have come to are actually working.

-Christian Propper, Senior Consultant

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