In Times of Need: Revisiting the Basics
No one needs to tell you that the pressure is now on! And it is clear that everyone has heard the message about taking more time to track things on a more regular basis using as much analysis as possible to understand what is really happening. The challenge is; what do you do with the answers? And, more importantly, do you have the knowledge, the skills, the ideas and the resources to make the appropriate response?
In difficult times we need a wider view of the world and to draw on skills we may not have used for a while. Over the last fifteen years we have seen unprecedented learning, refinement and results from regular and committed giving programmes. Strategically most organisations have set ambitious growth targets against in regular and committed giving and these are at the heart of their ability to grow support from individuals.
Most charities moved quite quickly to address the stewardship of their existing donors and as a result do their best to prevent or halt attrition, but the key crisis that is now dawning is the real inability to persuade new donors to support the charity on a committed basis through an automated payment; who wants to add another direct debit to their account in difficult times when consumers are managing on a more cautious basis, not knowing what is around the corner!
We keep talking in a general way about how difficult recruitment is and how so few channels are now even remotely cost effective, but we need to look more closely and be specific about the fact that it is recruitment of new regular or committed givers that is drying up. Many charities are still blindly holding onto budgets set months ago believing that they can hit projections, perhaps with small adjustments, but a more realistic view may be of more help to the charity in the medium term.
So what are the alternatives? No miracle cure I’m afraid, but perhaps a challenge in which it’s worth investing some brain power. From several charities I have spoken to, both large and small, there appears to be an increase in cash giving, even when approached for a regular gift people are responding with a single cash gift. Direct marketers in our sector are trained to focus on regular and committed giving at all costs and until recently shunned the very thought of proactively targeting cash gifts, unless in emergencies. Our materials and propositions make it more and more difficult for a donor to respond with a single gift, in some cases almost to the exclusion of a one off gift responses! Quite simply, I wonder whether we have lost the art of soliciting cash gifts and thinking strategically about how these can be repeated by the same donor in a short time frame, keeping the donor in control and still firmly connected to our charity.
Looking at other countries, many have struggled to understand our growth and focus on regular giving, simply because their banking systems have been slow to provide the opportunity for automated payment, so often they have a firm grip on cash asking and making sure that ‘one-off’ gifts become regular gifts, but simply not on an automated basis. Yes, you have to work harder and, yes, you have to watch the ROI, but now is the time to re-engage our skills and thinking in this area. I have not seen any thorough data yet, but anecdotally cash recruitment is holding up and doing well in other European countries.
In an unpredictable market you need to listen to the market. I believe it is telling us that it is still committed to charities as part of life and budgets, but it wants more control at a difficult point in time. Fundraisers are paid to perform in difficult times as well as good times and now we should be driving that little bit harder to put 75% of our energy into existing donors, looking at possible cash programmes for recruitment, keeping our regular and committed programmes fresh for when the market recovers and above all continually testing, learning and looking; nobody said it was easy!