Treat your supporters right, go digital


In my previous blog (about the broken charity fundraising model and the potential for Digital
to fix it
) I pointed to models of online engagement (Airbnb, Uber, ebay) which give people flexibility, build brands with their audiences and offer a seamless user experience (one where you don’t really notice what you are doing to get to the end of the process, it just happens!).

A few people noted that the underlying point is that we, as charities, are not treating our donors well: we are too focused on what we need from supporters and not offering them what they want from us. We are not talking to people on their own terms and where they are in the journey with our brand or with our issue.

How do we engage our supporters better?

To engage supporters on their own terms, we need a range of different types of cross-organisational (i.e. not siloed) engagement offers which require more or less effort from a supporter. That way they can engage on the level that suits their lifestyle and personal brand.

Some charities have started looking at improving supporter communications in this way.

Lifeboats (RNLI) has decided to ask people to opt-in to be contacted for different types of comms. What RNLI is doing is brave and brilliant – ask people what they want and then send them exactly that. That really is relationship development and is more engaging long-term.

But this change is going to be felt by the organisation – RNLI did a number of financial projections and the worst case scenario could lead to the loss of up to 60-70% of contacts and £30-35 million (more at the beginning of this programme). This type of change will undoubtedly have a transformational impact on RNLI.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) asked its supporters how they would like to hear from the organisation and let them write their responses in a text box. The feedback has been positive and revealing (you can hear their Director of Engagement talk about it here – relevant bit is at 23m 53s).

There is no time to wait

In 2016 the new EU-wide General Data Protection Regulation kicks in with two years grace for implementation. The focus of the new data rules is on giving people more choice around how they are communicated to and on providing more transparency on what companies and organisations do with people’s data.

The legislation is being negotiated as we speak but some things are already clear:

  • individual needs to opt in into comms (no opt-outs)
  • they should opt-in for each individual channel (SMS, phone, email)
  • organisations need to be able to clearly explain when someone opted in for what (challenge w legacy data, so we’ll have to re-opt in old cont acts)

This might lead to best practice of asking people what kind of content they’d like to receive, enabling easy unsubscribes/management of subscription.

My take on this is that we’ll need preference centres listing a variety of options from types of emails to topics/regions of interest and even frequency which are then used for segmentation. This will be a proper challenge for organisations in terms of user experience design (displaying many options in a form without losing people), technology, comms planning and (real-time) data flows. 

Charities will just have to change, starting with how they engage their supporters.

Change the culture

I see personalisation (segmentation based on behaviour) as the answer to the issue of potential over-contacting of individuals. So changing the thinking on CRM is the most important first step.

Annoyingly, “No tracking data, profiling or segmentation without explicit consent” rule that’s also been part of the negotiations of the new data protection legislation would reduce our ability to personalise supporter journeys and communication in a sophisticated way. Therefore, this rule potentially presents the biggest threat to online marketing.

On the positive note, like with cookies on websites rule, all online industries will be affected by this so a UK-wide solution will eventually emerge and there are user benefits of tracking and profiling (as is the case with cookies). 

Non-for-Profits are struggling to manage and understand online supporter data. We believe an inability to manage data to gain a competitive advantage is the single biggest threat facing NFPs right now.
— Simon Fowler, Managing Director of Advanced Business Solutions

Overall, after the initial dip in the number of contactable records (which will be scary), I think this legislation might lead to really effective communications as people will be receiving what they want, when they want it and will enjoy being asked to do something. So scandals like Olive Cooke* won’t happen again. 

My optimism is based on the mantra of digital marketing that comms based on what people tell us they want (either through their behaviour or choice) produce better results. 

Joe Saxton said in that BBC Radio 4 programme: “We have to make people grow to love fundraising, to enjoy giving again” and I think this approach might help us achieve this.

Change the technology

With the change in the culture of how we do things, the sector will also be faced with the need to change old supporter databases which were developed pre online shopping and social media. This technology is not capable of supporting real-time (two-way) communications based on supporter behaviour and preferences which has become the norm in most markets.

In order to upgrade their supporter database and bring themselves into 21st century CRM, organisations will have to make a huge investment, not just in technology but also in its organisational culture and its people.

The process of new CRM implementation usually reveals everything that is not working in an organisation and in order to fix it, organisations will have to change the way they do things. This is why Digital has been transformational for so many organisations and businesses.

Any charity that continues to resist this change does so at their own peril as in 5 to 10 years those that don’t transform won’t exist. Just remember Kodak.

*  It’s still referred to as the Olive Cooke scandal although her death had nothing to do with charity fundraising. The story was building on the negative feelings about intrusive charity fundraising techniques many people have been harbouring for years. Due to orgs not trying hard enough to align comms with individual preferences.

How digitally mature is your organisation?

Our fundraising model is broken, Digital can fix it