See yourself as your donors see you aka a new pair of glasses

walk into wallA guest blog rant by Charlie Hulme.

How many times would you walk into a wall before you decided to have your glasses checked? So why is it that every year we waste resource, time and enormous amounts of money planning and executing donor journeys that don’t deliver short, medium or long term net value?

Aren’t you tired of sitting in yet another strategy meeting with a new agency presenting something remarkably similar to what your old agency sold you? And after what seems like forever you produce yet another white board wonder that ends up being nothing more than a spreadsheet, production schedule and budget rather than an actual strategy.

With performance, lifetime value and retention being so poor does it really seem plausible that adding a couple of loyalty messages will suddenly fix everything? Many well-known charities have invested hundreds of thousands of pounds into anti-attrition programmes only to see attrition get worse!

And doesn’t it frustrate the hell out of you trying to coherently present your ‘new’ journey in a useable format? I’ve seen ‘journeys’ plotted on Excel that are harder to decipher than the Da Vinci code!

We all know the way we strategize is cumbersome, time-consuming and ultimately futile. But at least it’s familiar and no one ever got fired for following ‘best practise’ (even if it’s getting the worst results). The irony is it takes little to no effort or cost to make radical change. The world is as it is; the variable is how you’re looking at it. Your glasses have the wrong lenses; you can make out some shapes, but everything’s blurred.

Our sector’s blind spot is trying to influence donor behaviour by analysing donor behaviour. Both logic and performance bear witness that it doesn’t work. Think about it, the recency, frequency and value of gift modelling we’re so wedded to tells us that our best donors are our best donors because they’re our best donors. We’re working from a model that’s all effect and no cause!

Just to compound the problem we go on to confuse correlation with causation. We overlay our data with the latest ‘insights’; we append socio-economic information and whatever else is being sold and desperately search for patterns:

Agency Guru: “You’ll notice that your best uptake for the upgrade ask occurs in the 3rd month. Now, if we overlay this new data modelling we can see that 26% of donors who refused the upgrade ask did so on a Tuesday. Of those 48% are men, and of those 16% wear boxers on a Tuesday. If we drill down into that segment we find that 19% of those shave three times a week, and 1% of them are called Wilfred”

You: “Fascinating, so what should we do differently?”

Agency Guru: “Ummmmmmmmmmm………………..”

This farcical, expensive Groundhog Day strategizing is a fixable problem. All it takes is a slight shift in focus. By accepting the obvious; that we don’t directly influence behaviour, we can reallocate time, money and spend on the thing we do directly influence; how a donor thinks and feels about us. This can be both measured and influenced. If you know where to look you can identify exactly what does and doesn’t matter to your donors. You can define exactly the messages they will respond to and plan accordingly. And you can map it using custom tools that allow you to easily execute your strategy instead of turning it into another production schedule.

Best of all you don’t need a whiteboard. This is about fixing what you already do, not trying to reinvent the wheel year on year.

Not slightly adjusting focus is as senseless as not changing the lenses in your glasses even though you keep walking into the wall!

Thank you Charlie Hulme for this blog rant. Charlie is MD of Donor Voice. An expert on loyalty, commitment and relationship management, he helps charities drastically improve performance, lifetime value and retention.




It’s not them. It’s you!

Thank you John Lepp for this guest blog rant. 

Direct mail“Our direct mail program is dead.”

“Our email open rates are horrible.”

“Our donors don’t care about monthly giving.”

“My last appeal was horrible. The response rate was horrid.”

“Donors don’t like newsletters.” 

Have you ever thought, maybe, what is wrong with your donors is… well… you?

“They just don’t seem to care.”

We have a saying around AOG Inc., that goes, “Your donors don’t stop caring. You just stop giving them reasons to care.”

It’s not them. It’s you!

If I had a dime for every time I looked at the big stack of direct mail, , that my mother-in-law (a Canadian Jane Donor) shared with me and saw pack after pack that is all about you – , I’d be a rich man indeed. See my blog about what not to do in a direct mail letter for a real life example.

  • You talk and write about how amazing you are.
  • You don’t tell a single story.
  • You ask for 15 things on your teeny 8.5 x 3.5 coupon.
  • You don’t say thanks for the previous gift.
  • Your thank you letter, (if you send one) even talks about you.
  • And on and on and on…

Boring. Predictable. Self-centered. Indifferent. Uninspired. Vanilla…

The proof is in my mother-in-laws mailbox.

  • How do you delight your donor?
  • What did you do last week to make them feel warm and fuzzy?
  • How did your last annual/gratitude report serve as confirmation that when they gave to you, they absolutely made the right decision?
  • How do you show them the many ways they make a difference?
  • When was the last time you spoke to a donor ? In person? On the phone?
  • When was the last time your hand hurt from signing your letters and adding a personal note to your appeal?
  • Whose voice does your donor hear if they read your letter?
  • When was the last time you shared something inspirational or let your donors help solve a problem?
  • How do you listen to them?
  • Why do they give to you?

When you lose your donors, it hurts. We all know that you can spend money today that will find you new insta-donorsTM* tomorrow, but then what happens?

Ask yourself – is it us?

When you take every moment and opportunity to inspire, to thank, to tell emotional stories, to be clear, to share, to be grateful – you can quickly change your donor’s thoughts on what it means TO BE A DONOR to a charity.

Every time you sit down to craft your next appeal, or discuss a new campaign or start to brainstorm content for your next donor newsletter, the first things you should think of are: How can I make sure my donor feels amazing and unique? How can I make it easy for them to help? What story(ies) can I tell that will move them to take action and what emotions do I want them to feel?

If your donors seem to be disappearing, please, please, please don’t blame it on them. It just might be you.


John Lepp is a fundraiser, designer and donor champion and partner at Agents of Good, a specialist fundraising agency based in Canada.

*insta-donorsTM:donors that you can get instantly but have no real passion for the cause. Eg: Donors acquired by high pressure sales tactics during door to door canvassing or that send in a donation because you sent them a tote bag, a t-shirt with a clever saying on it, a booklet of labels with puppies on them, a notepad with stock images of tulips, pens with your crappy logo printed on them, calendars of kittens, and… I think you get the idea.


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