Rebooting individual giving

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I’ve always had a bias toward towards the individual side of fundraising programmes. Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong believer in balanced income generation portfolios. Areas of major funding will provide more money for less investment of money and effort than mass programmes.  But I am strongly of the view that the bedrock of a fundraising programme should be a solid base of individuals providing regular support. Individual relationships are at the root of the support for any cause and the ability to develop and manage them is fundamental to the long term sustainability of a charity.

How charities attract and retain individual supporters is changing. In recent years we have seen and end to the relentless growth of regular donor programmes in the UK with falling response rates and rising attrition levels driving up costs. Donor dissatisfaction with specific approaches has resulted in increased regulation. Social change has resulted in traditional channels working very differently or not at all. The result in many UK charities is that income from individuals is on a steady downward course.

We all know I think what charities need to do in response. There’s no shortage of advice about how nonprofits need to be donor focused, integrated, engagement led and innovative. What’s been less evident has been specific guidance on how to do this. Turning a channel based individual giving programme within a traditionally structured fundraising department into a fit for purpose 21st century relationship management activity is really hard. And there are plenty of pitfalls along the way.

The core issue is that individual giving programmes need to be rethought at an organisational level.

The future of this activity is not a machine that churns out regular unrestricted income for a charity but a methodology that builds and develops support of all kinds at the level of the individual.  It shouldn’t be an activity carried out by pointy heads in the basement but something that’s at the very heart of the organisation.

The individual giving programme that charities need, requires the following 10 critical elements:

  1. A coherent strategy. Any successful individual giving programme needs to be based on a strategy based on a thorough analysis of the nonprofit’s market and audiences that covers how to attract, retain and develop supporters with clear and realistic targets supported by sufficient investment. 
  2. Really compelling case for support. To expect individuals to support a charity at any level there must be a clear, motivating and urgent proposition for them to give to. Too many charities expect individual giving to provide them with unrestricted funding without them having to work too hard to make their cause motivating to donors. Getting any gift is really hard, getting an unrestricted gift is significantly more difficult. So work hard to make the proposition exceptionally powerful or think about ways to make it more tangible, including restricting some or all of the income if necessary. 
  3. A common doctrine. Every individual who interacts with a charity should be treated as a potential supporter. Whatever the point of entry, beneficiary, information enquirer, campaigner, volunteer, donor, everyone has capacity to support, often in multiple ways,  and the goal should be to maximise it. The whole organisation needs to understand and support this goal and everyone has a role in delivering it. 
  4. Supporter-centric systems. Data is at the heart of individual relationship management and the right data needs to be available at the point decisions are made. All marketing data needs to be brought together at the level of an individual. Charities as a rule don’t have systems that are fit for purpose, there are multiple databases and applications that are linked sporadically if at all. New systems are procured at team or department levels and there isn’t a single view of any activity. Business cracked this problem, years ago. Charities need to as a matter of urgency. 
  5. A single methodology for individual relationships. Most charities don’t have a CRM system that captures all individual relationships, even those who do typically don’t have a common approach across all teams. Every person who comes into contact with a charity should go on a structured communications journey, that is tailored around their interests and needs but which builds support. These journeys develop dynamically based on individual’s actions. Every element is tested and developed iteratively. 
  6. Content from the coalface  All marketers know that great content is what engages individuals. The difficulty in many organisations is getting the right content, the picture, video or story that really inspires individuals to take action. For the great majority of charities this content exists, but is usually in their field programmes and marketing staff don’t have access. So working out how to make the nonprofit’s service users tell their stories directly or upload their own content will be key to successful engagement. 
  7. Focus on conversion. Having lots of people engaged is necessary but not sufficient. Engagement needs to be converted to support. At all parts of the journey there needs to be a specific focus on producing outcomes. 
  8. Integration of giving. Individuals should be asked to give when that makes sense in the context of their relationship. Giving should be fully integrated into a journey, not an add on at the end. Charities should ask openly, and often but relevantly. Giving itself needs to be a smooth, frictionless and fulfilling process. 
  9. Relevant feed back. At every point action needs to be followed by feedback to re-affirm and confirm the reasons for support. The feedback messages are as important as the requests for support and need to developed as rigorously. 
  10. Evidence based approach. Everything in an individual giving programme can be and should be capable of rigorous testing. Decisions must be taken based on objective evidence not supposition or wishful thinking.  Learning from this testing must be captured and maintained. An organisational culture must be created that promotes and values evidence and learning.

No matter the size of your nonprofit, the scale of your programme or the part of the sector you are in, these principles will enable you to build and maintain a successful individual giving programme. But it’s not a menu to choose from, all elements are needed.  The key to successful individual giving is an integrated approach, at an organisational level.

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