I'm going to share with you, figures, that, if you take them seriously, will radically change your fundraising strategy. They are, without a doubt, the stuff of revolution and because of that, you’ll need to win the support of your chief executive and trustees.

These are grown-ups’ figures., Figures which should stop your trustees playing the games so many seem to play on the boards of the charities they have bestowed with their largesse. Forgive me, I’m being cynical. But I am so bored of trying to support fundraisers who have been told by their trustees to increase the income in the new budget by ten percent. How? Why ten percent? Because it’s a nice round figure and most are unable to think more than one year ahead. Put these figures in front of them and let them choke and splutter when you present a genuine five-year strategy, not just a series of five, one-year strategies squashed together to impress!

That five-year strategy will revolve around a genuine legacy strategy.

The figures below come to you courtesy of The Royal British Legion, the UK’s principle services charity and guardian of the iconic Poppy. My thanks must go to Guy Upward for his agreement to release them. The Legion has been incredibly successful, growing its database of support from around 8,000 in 1998 to a figure close to 900,000 now. We did that entirely by traditional cold recruitment; direct mail, door-drops and inserts; the ‘we’ in this case is my old agency and visionary colleagues at the Legion.

These figures show the legacies left by supporters who were recruited in the twelve years 2002 to 2014. They were recruited at break-even cost and gave wonderful, profitable, life-changing support during their lifetime. The Legion has a strategy to ask for a legacy as soon as the supporter has indicated that their gifts are more than just a flash in the pan. And the results of this strategy are clear because already, some of those recruited have died and left legacies. Not many yet, the big numbers are still to come over the next twenty or so years.

Supporters recruited since 2002 who have died, have left over £14 million. It’s a bonus yet it is just a small percentage of what is still to come.

Think through with me the implications of the phenomenon I’ve just shown you. Do you need a legacy strategy? Sure as hell you do. And, as legacies in New Zealand will increasingly come from the donor database, building a database of support is a clear priority. After that your job is, literally, to ‘love your donors to death’! And in a shameless piece of self-publicity, that is the name of my new book published at the end of January.

What might feature in a programme of ‘loving supporters to death’? Persistent over-mailing with appeals and other demands has to stop. It upsets people and you shouldn’t do that any more. Your database will show you who is responding and who is not, so reduce mailings to those who consistently don’t and do something else to engage them. It is worth the investment, look at the figures.! Spend much more time feeding back information on the impact of their support. And that’s not an invitation to send out more boring newsletters, you know my views on them!

I’ve spoken in the past of simple techniques to show your donors how much you appreciate and rely on their support. Many of these are dead easy to implement. But actually, it is a change of attitude in trustees, senior staff and fundraisers alike that is needed. The figures show the fundraising stupidity of short-term thinking. Screwing money out of supporters simply by bludgeoning them with demands is ineffective long-term.

At the International Fundraising Congress a few weeks ago, I heard someone proudly claiming that the fifth phone call asking the supporter to leave a legacy was still producing more pledges. I have no idea if that is right or wrong, it sounds appalling. But sadly, not did he. Had he been to see those supporters to check why they had refused to pledge a legacy after receiving a mailing and four telephone calls, yet gave their pledge on the fifth? Of course he hadn’t. He was a bright, youthful fundraiser who had been told by trustees to deliver pledgers. And the good folk on his donor base were his cannon fodder.

I say again, I have no idea if phoning five times is right or wrong, but by goodness we need the research to show whether what we do is perceived by our donors as our deep appreciation for their wonderful support. I suspect it isn’t!

Stephen Pidgeon for FINZ

Loving Supporters to Death the Right Way, a Long Term Strategy



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