Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Why funding cuts won't cut it with your donors

A report just published by the Institute of Fundraising and YouGov has found that only 8% of donors think that a reduction in government funding to charities would prompt them to make a donation.

This is a sobering fact for those tasked with creating a compelling case for support to encourage donations in a time of austerity.

Charities that have relied on state funding for much of their income are looking with renewed interest at their voluntary fundraising strategies.

But it's clear from this report that simply saying "Please help us keep this service open!" won't be enough to convince donors to give.

Instead, donors want to see charities keeping within the law, properly publicising their cause and telling donors how they spend their money and the impact it has.

This isn't rocket science, but donors' preferences can sometimes be overlooked in the face of urgent organisational priorities.

And for any charity looking to make a solid case to the Board about the need to invest in fundraisers, well, this finding from the report might help:

38% of people surveyed who had donated in the last three months said they would not have donated at all if they hadn't been asked to by a fundraiser.

In a time of unprecedented cuts, fierce competition between charities, and a public concerned about the affordability of donating at all (61% said it's the main obstacle to giving to charity) fundraising has seldom been tougher.

The charities that fare best will be those who listen to their donors, spend time getting their case for support right, and above all else, invest in people who know how to inspire donors to give.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

How to make sure your donors aren't daunted by the scale of your mission

Ask anyone what's important to them when considering making a donation to a charity and they'll tell you they want their hard earned cash to make a difference. We think carefully about where we spend our money in other areas of life - a washing machine, that pair of shoes, a holdiay - and deciding which charity to give to is no different.

Competition for donors is fierce, and as fundraisers, we have to be able to make a compelling case why someone should choose you over any other charity or cause.

The temptation is to dazzle people with the sheer scale of the task you have undertaken: "xxx,000 children in peril", "x million diagnosed with a fatal disease" "£xxx,xxxx needed to build research centre", and so on.

Or, to impress donors with the full range of services you provide for a variety of stakeholders: "We do this, and this, and this and this, and it's all vitally important!"

The voluntary sector tackles some pretty huge issues, and charities don't tend to settle for anything less than an ambitious mission.  So it's no surprise that we fundraisers often also think big when telling our stories.

But for a donor with, perhaps, £10 to spare, their contribution can feel like a very small drop in a vast ocean, and that's not a compelling proposition.

Thinking about this yesterday, I remembered a wise Fundraising Director I once worked for at a huge international development charity.

He told us the story of a man walking on to a long beach and seeing at the other end specks on the sand, and a small figure darting from the sea back up the beach and then down again, over and over again.

As he got close, he saw that the beach was covered in stranded starfish and the figure was a boy, picking them up and taking them down to the sea.

Curious, he asked the boy what he was doing. "I'm rescuing these starfish." he said. "If I don't get them back in the water they'll die!"

"But there are thousands of them," said the man "you can't possibly hope to make a difference." 

The boy looked at him, then picked up a starfish, ran to the sea with it, and came back to the man.  "Made a pretty big difference to that one" he said.

And there you have it.  By all means, tell your donors the size of the problem. But be very clear about the difference their donation will make, and the importance of that contribution, no matter how modest.

Get it right, and they'll be picking up starfish for you for years to come. 

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The hosepipe ban, leaks and sexual health.

Chatting to the lovely man in my local coffee shop this morning, he told me that building works on the next street had been held up for weeks because of a leak flooding the basement. They're pumping 60 gallons of water out every day and, despite repeated calls to the water authority, nothing has been done to stop the leak.

This is the same water authority that has recently announced a hosepipe ban because of water shortages in the south east, though they cite a lack of rain rather than an abundance of leaks as the reason. And although they fix 1,000 leaks per week and meet their targets for doing so their leak rate still tops 25%. The hosepipe ban will save 5%.

It's rather like sexual health.  Campaigns to prompt individuals to use condoms or take STI tests can be effective if done well. Community efforts to make healthy choices the norm are vital in any public health drive.  Look at the walloping difference gay men have made and continue to make around their awareness and action on HIV prevention compared to the rest of the population and you'll see what I mean.

But on their own they're not enough. Unless we take care of the leaks - those missed opportunities to diagnose HIV, or spot someone taking repeated risks with their sex lives, or support young people to make healthy choices about relationships and sex, or get better, as a nation, at talking about and using condoms - the underlying problem won't go away.

I'm sure Thames Water would say that, actually, replacing the cracked Victorian pipes that deliver London's water is the real key to sustainable supplies for the future. I'd argue that we have to take a similar look at how we deliver sexual health services today and educate our young people alongside efforts to improve individuals' sexual health.

Of course, there is a difference. We are not generally judged by others for a keen enjoyment of gardening. The same is not always true when it comes to our sex lives. Tempting though it might be to look for simple solutions, let's not kid ourselves that it's all the fault of those hosepipes. And as for the water supply... (insert your own sprinkler joke here)

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Which would you choose?

I called a few of our most creative brains together last want to week to think about our 30th anniversary and what we might do. Some good ideas quickly appeared, and then this question, from our super-talented marketing director:

"Do we want to challenge and surprise, or fulfill expectations?"

What response do we want from the public? "Good old Terrence Higgins Trust, doing what they do so well", or "I wasn't expecting that..."? 

The answer goes to the heart of your brand. Make the wrong call, and the surprise won't be a good one. Do it appropriately, sensitively, and you'll build support, not lose it.

Fulfilling expectations can be a good thing. So can challenge and surprise.  So which did we choose?  Both of course. People expect us to be surprising. So with a brand like ours it makes perfect sense.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The Shoes, and why they're 'it'.

I am walking tall on the shoe world’s equivalent of a mullet. These enchanting babies are all black suede business at the front, and then WOW! There’s a fabulous, guest-list-only, leopard-skin wedge-shaped party going on at the back.
I defy anyone not to wear these and think "Today, I really am it".
These are the shoes that suggest a haughty entrance; a comment delivered, eyebrow raised. They give stature without wobble, and then when you leave, they demand a Cheryl Cole wink be tossed casually over your shoulder. LOVE. THEM.
What they're not is clear cut, and I like to think that I’m rarely ambiguous. As a communications professional it would be somewhat career limiting. But aren’t there days when you bounce out of bed with a twinkle in your eye and jump into an outfit that says "Make of that what you will!"
Days when your diary does not get to decide what you’re going to wear.
Some of you may be saying right now "Genevieve, my diary never gets a say. I’m a confident woman who dresses entirely for her own pleasure or comfort." And I salute you. I wish I were the same, but the truth is, there are days when my schedule is so sartorially conflicted it’s a wonder I get in at all.
Or perhaps you’re worrying that going off piste outfit-wise now and then could be seen as neither seemly nor polite in certain circles. You’d have a point. My advice would be to go for it anyway but stay out of Waitrose.
But, look, these are the shoes, and boy do they put a spring in my step. Far more so than those bouncy flip flops I’ve been tanking round in all summer in the War Against Thighs (we’re all wearing them – can anyone tell if they’re working?).
There can be a thin line, I admit, between confident individuality and an ensemble only really suitable for people spray painted silver and working in street theatre. I speak with some experience, having been persuaded to let go, reluctantly, of a favourite ‘look’ which involved a tails coat and my grandfather’s cavalry spurs. (I was 17. Don’t tell me you weren’t wearing exactly the self same thing at that age.)
But for now the line should always be between you and those baffling trousers that can zip into shorts and back again – presumably ideal for days when you really have to have a paddle at lunchtime. And jumper dresses. I’m sorry, but no amount of witty accessorising can make me look stylish swathed in itchy cable knit. I have tried.
In a world of tribes and this season’s looks, of dressing for your shape, size, age and blood type, who doesn’t cherish that petit quelque chose that doesn’t quite fit? Or that fits perfectly, but… you know what I mean.
When puzzling over advice from fashion editors about how to wear Autumn’s must-have leather leggings (didn’t they tell us a couple of years ago on NO ACCOUNT to wear leather trousers unless we were Elle McPherson?), isn’t it nice to have something indisputably ‘you’ in your closet?
For what it’s worth, they went down a storm at work. I haven’t heard such an emphatic chorus of approval since a colleague’s husband got behind with the ironing and she had to come to work in a cocktail dress.
And so there they are. The shoes. They’re not iconic, fierce or directional – I’m no Daphne Guinness. But they’re mine. *winks*

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Why I'm blogging

I started this blog last autumn because I wanted to write about things that interest me and I wondered if I'd be any good at it. I also wondered if anyone might read it, and let's face it, there's not much point if no-one does.

I posted now and then, and one or two people have had a look - a few of you were even kind enough to share your thoughts.

But I know that if I want a blog - REALLY want to do this - then I've got to take it seriously. So here it is. My pledge to this, my blog, and any readers kind enough to visit: I'm going to love this blog, and I hope you do too.  There, I've posted it.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Beware the promise of your brand

When you're responsible for the way an organisation is presented to the public, you probably focus on what it does best rather than the weak points, right? Absolutely. But when the distance between best and weakest is significant, that's a dangerous thing to do as I've just experienced.

It made me think again about how it's not just operational failure that can lead to reputational damage. Your positive promotion can do that too. Here's a tale of how easy it is to fall foul of both.

I've just spent the weekend at a theme park, feeling disappointed, let down, and cross. You might wonder why - our family of four had two days' entry to the park and a night in a hotel on site for £131. From the hotel terrace, we could see zebra and emus grazing on the grass, there was a kids film club, swimming pool AND we got to go into the park before the public on day two so we could snaffle a go on the most popular rides before the queues got going. That's fantastic value, right?

Yes, so what's my problem?  It's simple: their marketing inflates expectations beyond their ability to deliver. Instead of raving about the deal, we felt let down.

Have a look at their website, where they describe the accommodation:

We’ve got 150 very comfortable guest rooms where you can relax in style with snug beds, cosy duvets, safari-themed d├ęcor and a beautifully appointed bathroom. Kids will just love our family rooms with a separate sleeping ‘den’ and their own TV*.
Note the '*' well, dear reader.  Scroll down to the small print, and look!

* Family rooms with separate sleeping area and TV are subject to availability and can not be guaranteed. Family accommodation can also consist of a double room with extra beds or one double sofa bed.

There might not be a separate sleeping 'den'.  You might find yourself trying to put two toddlers to sleep together on a sofa next to your bed. Which makes babysitting very, very dull unless lying in a dark room from 7pm is your idea of a terrific Saturday night. It's not mine.

Staff on reception told us that they only have a few 'den' rooms and they allocated on the day, though they couldn't tell me how. It was the first we'd heard of it. Booking a long time in advance (we booked in February with another family) doesn't help.

It wasn't just the rooms. Service in the hotel was dreadful - inevitably, assets and irritations are inversely proportionate. So the longer you wait for food and drinks (oh, how we waited), the less impressed with the zebras we got.

Our early entrance to the park was great - until ride after ride was not ready, or experiencing technical difficulties, or had been substituted with a ride the young children couldn't go on. Again, a promise broken.

And so it went.  I won't count the ways - you get the idea. It was funny, really, that the one thing I hoped to go on all weekend was the log flume. Just as we were approaching the 'WHOOSH', it ground to a halt and after a nerve-wracking 15 minutes floating above the park, we were evacuated.

So, two lessons here:
  1. It's understandable that  marketing teams want to polish the pearl. But if the reality doesn't match up, it's dangerous. If they'd been clearer about the deal we were buying into in February, we would have had expectations to match. (Though I would expect a company marketing to families to have designed their offering from their customers' perspective.) 
  2. Things don't always work. But organisations should do their level best to make sure they can deliver the services they offer. Think carefully about what you do for the people you let down when you can't.
This matters because most people don't complain, they just tell their friends - your potential customers. And we know it's far more expensive to get new customers than to keep existing ones. Over-promising might give your monthly figures a short term buzz - like whizzing down the log flume. But once the gap between your promise and reality are exposed, your reputation will be left high and dry.