Recruiting new donors for a charity has never been harder, or costlier. We’re seeing charities we work with paying hundreds of pounds per new regular donor and not expecting to get their money back for many years, as many as ten. Many nonprofits simply can’t find enough new donors to replace attrition and are seeing remorseless decline in their individual giving programmes.
I’ve been banging on for a while about the causes of the donor recruitment crisis and what charities need to do about it. Digested read, the answer is an integrated, supporter-centric approach at a whole organisation level. The changes necessary are fundamental and won’t be easy. But in the long term those who don’t transform themselves have a pretty bleak future.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t stuff you can do now that will produce improvements in your performance..
There’s seven areas where all of the programmes we look at could improve fairly easily. That will bring in new supporters or keep existing ones. That can be done now.
Optimise the website. In the programmes we review the proportion of unique web visits that result in a donation varies from 2% to 0.02%. That’s a hundred to one Even small charities often have quite respectable numbers of web visitors, thousands per month. Imagine what you could do if you converted a hundred times as many, or even ten times.
Why do results differ so much? It comes down to who’s in charge of the website and what’s the objective.
So how about putting fundraising in charge of the website? Or rather have a three month optimisation project where someone with the right skills and expertise is dedicated to optimising the website for fundraising. They have the right to change absolutely everything (non-legal). All tests and learning are captured and then the results implemented. You will still have the organisational arguments about what goes on the homepage but you will have the data to make the right decision.
Make social pay
There are exactly the same issues with social. Again charities usually have a reasonable social footprint but that can radically differ in the proportion of individuals going on to any fundraising activity. Often paid social and the organic accounts are big run by different people, separately . So have a project where one person looks to systematically optimise all social for fundraising outcomes in an integrated way for a time-limited period. Again, you can change anything but capture the learning.
Use email properly.
I don’t know what it is about UK charities and email but the typical charity’s email programme remains embarrassingly bad. It is, astonishing, frankly that in 2018 there are people who run email programmes that literally consist of a completely untailored “e-newsletter” sent to a list without any segmentation at all. Plus some random asks when someone thinks of them.
Email is at the heart of US nonprofit marketing. The vast sums raised by US political campaigns are raised by emails generally (and UK political parties have copied this). Just go to ActBlue’s site to see just how impressive US political fundraising is at the moment. US nonprofits have typically robust email programmes with effective methods of list building and rigorous testing to drive engagement and money. But many UK charities are still lagging behind.
One basic problem is that charities think you can only send a few emails to a supporter a year. You can send loads actually, as long as they are relevant.
So put someone in charge of your email programme, give them some reasonable tools. Let them build a list building strategy and develop a rigorous segmentation and testing programme. Change anything they like. Bin the e-newsletter. And turn your email list into donors.
Ask new contacts
Every charity has people who contact you. Whether asking for information, support or with some other enquiry. Do you ask them for money, systematically? If not, why not?
The approach which looks at how and when you ask on the website should inform how you ask at other contact points. Look at every point people are contacting the charity and think about how relevant asks can be made. If your charity has helpline do you train callers to ask? Can you? Think about the simple propositions that could turn an enquirer to a donor. Even at a low level.
It’s surprising how little emphasis most charities give to reactivating lapsed supporters. A typical approach is maybe one “re-activation” campaign each year, something that is becoming less common with telephone volumes falling due to permission issues. A donor saved is one you don’t have to replace.
We know that the sooner a cancelling donor is asked to re-instate the payment, the more likely this is to happen. So why don’t you task one person in the organisation to call everyone who cancels straightaway? Or send an email if you don’t have a number but a call will work better. A big charity can set up a process with an agency but for most charities you could do it yourselves.
Make payment painless
Payment processes are boring and get little attention. But poor conversion funnels leak donors. Rapid changes in payment technology mean that charities can implement 1 click payments fairly simply (an example is OMG’s “Mobilise” product). Frictionless payments have the potential to increase conversion rates significantly, by perhaps two or three times.
Volunteer get donor
Improvements in payment systems mean that it’s never been easier to sign up a new supporter. It’s so easy in fact, why can’t you get volunteers to do it? I’m not saying trying to turn volunteers into street fundraisers but could you give each volunteer a target to sign up five or ten people? They’d need a specific, simple proposition, maybe if your charity has local services, community volunteers could raise money for that (A friends of the local service scheme). If you have shops can you get shop staff to ask? Or other staff for that matter.
None of these ideas will solve your charity’s new donor acquisition challenge. But they can all add worthwhile numbers of new or re-activated supporters at limited cost. Without fundamental organisational change.
You still need the fundamental change but these steps are at least progress on the journey.