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Regular customised communications reduce face-to-face donor attrition

Regular customised communications reduce face-to-face donor attrition

Additional analysis of last year’s Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA) Attrition Survey has yielded two clear lessons for charities keen to reduce attrition rates for donors recruited through street, door-to-door or fundraising.

According to the first survey of charities engaged in these fundraising methods, those that customise at least one part of their communications with donors will see significantly lower attrition, or cancellation rates, than charities that do not.

In addition, charities that communicate with their donors between three and eight times each year will benefit from enhanced retention rates than those that communicate just once or twice per year.

The analysis is based on the donations of over 377,000 regular giving donors.

The Attrition Survey 2008 was devised and set up by Morag Fleming, Head of Fundraising at the charity Quarriers and Rupert Tappin, MD of professional fundraising organisation Future Fundraising. It succeeded in establishing the first set of benchmarks for attrition from face-to-face fundraising.

Towards the end of 2008, at the suggestion of Fleming and Tappin, the PFRA funded additional in-depth research of the data contained within the survey, to analyse how various forms of donor development might impact on subsequent levels of donor loyalty.

The research was carried out by Adrian Sargeant, Professor of Fundraising at the Center on Philanthropy, Indiana University.

Charities were asked to specify which methods of donor development they used for each of the campaigns they submitted to the PFRA Attrition Survey last year.

These included:

• Welcome calls, texts or e-mails

• Standard or customised newsletters or e-newsletters, with or without appeals

• Engaging donor in non-financial activities, such as surveys, campaigning or volunteering

• Frequency with which they communicated with their donors

• When they first attempted to upgrade their donors, if at all.

Adrian Sargeant said: "the issue of whether or not to customise communications received by donors is key here. We found that those who received a customised newsletter with appeals exhibited a higher degree of loyalty than those who did not receive this form of communication.

"When designing a donor development strategy, we would encourage all charities to consider customising at least one aspect of their communications for face-to-face donors – doing so will impact positively on loyalty."

Morag Fleming said: "Our findings have demonstrated in the clearest possible manner that how charities communicate with their donors can dictate the amount of money they raise across the short, medium and long-term." 

Mick Aldridge, CEO of the PFRA, said: "Face-to-face fundraising is breaking new ground in terms of transparency and accountability to the charity sector, through the funding of robust pieces of research such as this."

Rupert Tappin, MD of Future FundraisingRupert Tappin commented: "The myth that regular giving donors should be left alone, for fear of prompting them to cancel, has been exploded once and for all."

The survey will be re-run later this Spring, and all charity members of the PFRA, past and present, are being invited once again to take part.

Donor payment patterns from face-to-face campaigns run in 2007 and 2008 will be sought, and it is expected that an insight into the effect of the current economic climate on regular giving retention behaviour will result.

Full details of the donor communications report, together with the updated attrition benchmarks for face-to-face campaigns, will be presented by Morag Fleming and Rupert Tappin at this year’s Institute of Fundraising National Convention 2009 on 6 July.

The results of the survey will also be made available free of charge to all participants.

7,344 total views, 3 views today

Howard Lake is a digital fundraising entrepreneur. Publisher of UK Fundraising, the world's first web resource for professional fundraisers, since 1994. Trainer and consultant in digital fundraising. Founder of Fundraising Camp.

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  • Alastair Irons

    What next, dog bites man?

    Alastair Irons
    Executive Creative Director,
    Chairman of Trustees,

  • admin

    It does read like common sense, I agree, but to be fair to Rupert Tappin, he did say “much of what is coming out from this enhanced analysis of the PFRA Attrition Survey reflects common sense”, but I didn’t quote that bit in the article.

  • adriansargeant

    Common sense. Well maybe…

    To me it is intuitive that customization would make
    some kind of difference – but what kind of
    difference? What exactly is the optimal approach?
    Is this a welcome call followed by either:

    a) Standardised newsletters with no appeals
    b) Standardised newsletters with appeals
    c) Customised newsletters with appeals
    d) Customised newsletters with no appeals.

    Or would it be better to drop the welcome call and
    just opt for one of the four alternatives above?
    This research tells us that the customized
    newsletter with appeals is the optimal approach.
    The effect of this on loyalty is most pronounced
    in the absence of a welcome call, where the impact
    of the customized newsletter is markedly higher.
    Some degree of customization appears essential.

    It should be stressed that this is a customized
    newsletter WITH appeals. Thus, while many charities
    fight shy of sending regular donors additional
    appeals for fear of antagonising them and impacting
    negatively on loyalty, our research provides no
    evidence that this is in fact the case. The
    inclusion of additional appeals does not detract
    from loyalty.

    Now of course you could say – well it’s just common
    sense that customized newsletters with appeals would
    be the optimal approach. After all, keeping people
    in touch with the ongoing need and having them think
    through their relationship with the organization at
    regular intervals must be a good thing. The enhanced
    level of cognitive processing (where people reflect
    on the nature of their relationship) would tend to
    build loyalty. This is just obvious isn’t it? Well,
    it is ‘obvious’ when the behaviour is explained.
    But was it from the outset? Somehow I doubt it.

    The role of the welcome call is more complex. Some
    charities have tested the impact of welcome calling
    and found that it has no significant impact on
    loyalty. Our results suggest that this may occur
    because of the time horizon over which this analysis
    was conducted. The effect of welcome calls appears
    to be…

    Well, more on that front at the IoF convention !

    If the effects are obvious we can probably decide in
    advance what they might be – and for how long they
    might last.

    If this is perhaps a little less than obvious the
    convention will provide relief. It will also shed
    light on the impact on retention of factors such as
    the level of the initial gift, asking for an upgrade
    and the interaction of some of these factors with
    time. Watch this space…

    Adrian Sargeant
    Robert F Hartsook Professor of Fundraising
    Indiana University/Purdue University, Indianapolis

  • Alastair Irons

    Some of us have been banging on about personalisation for years Adrian – TW CAT was founded after tests showed that the greater the level of personalisation, the greater the success of a direct mail appeal.

    Since then a series of long-term head-to-head donor mailing trials have proven this to be an unbeatable – literally unbeatable – approach. By using all you know about your donors’ actual behaviour – not research or opinion but using the empirical data – you will see that supporters respond best (higher response rate and average gift, greater lifetime value) when treated as the individuals they are. Hence, all TW CAT’s donor appeals are as heavily customised as our charity partners and their budgets allow.

    Equally, tests show that donors subsequently respond more often, at a higher gift level and for longer when mailed personalised donor care letters rather than generic newletters. The hard evidence for authentic and highly peronalised one-to-one communication is further supported by unprompted feedback from donors who write to say how nice it is to be treated as individuals and to receive communications that don’t ask for money …

    Alastair Irons
    Executive Creative Director,
    Chairman of Trustees,

  • catman

    To us mere mortals.

    This research has been done across a wide range of charities large and small and will be shared with everyone who took part and anyone else who wants is interested in reducing their attrition rates.

    Its great to hear you have lots of evidence Alistair. How about sharing it with the sector rather than just your clients?

    And I kind of suspect that your evidence is weighted towards sending targetted appeals to donors recruited through a direct mail pack as oppossed to people recruited on the street or doorstep where the interaction is free flowing and not focussed on one creative.

    I love it when direct mail agencies get all huffy. When, may I ask is the sector going to come to an agreement on how to define attrition for donors recruited through direct mail to a cash gift? Is it 4 years after their last gift? 7 years? Or when Mortise screen tells you they are dead?

    Lets see some sector analysis of the number of direct mail recruited donors who fail to give a second gift and the impact of different types of communication on achieving that second gift. One for the DMA me thinks.


  • Alastair Irons

    Dear Catman,

    I’m sorry you haven’t been able to avail yourself of any of TW CAT’s learning, that of our charity partners, or indeed my own, as we’ve all of us made ourselves and what we know freely available, particularly through the Institute of Fundraising Convention but also directly, through blogs, PR and advertising …

    Catman, you’re right that the majority of charities with whom we work recruit the bulk of their supporters through direct mail but we have also conducted significant analysis of the behaviour of face-to-face supporters, which we also shared at the Convention. Our Joint Managing Director Tim Hopkins will happily talk you through it …

    Of course, some charities like to keep what they know – and indeed pay to learn – to themselves but our partners are usually willing to share their knowledge, if asked.

    Equally, you or any reader who wants FREE benchmarking of their donor appeals has only to ask and we’ll run the figures through our proprietary tool, BenchMach®.

    Btw I have no idea when the sector is going to agree on the definition of donor attrition … most charities seem to set their own criteria.

    Alastair Irons
    Executive Creative Director,
    Chairman of Trustees,

  • catman

    Dear Alastair,

    I may have seen one of TWs presentations at the IoF conference or one of your advertisments, clearly it didn’t make too much of an impression on me.

    And I’m sure that you are quite happy that charities who recruit via direct mail haven’t agreed a definition of attrition. We wouldn’t want them benchmark agency work to measure its effectiveness now would we?



  • adriansargeant

    Hi Alistair

    We’re on the same page about arguing for
    customization – I’ve been doing this since the mid
    1990s when I was focused on the drivers of donor
    loyalty. That said – I don’t buy the dog bites man
    argument. Should we stay silent when we uncover more
    evidence that customization works and under what
    circumstances? No – we should be shouting about
    such findings at every opportunity – just as
    you have clearly been doing yourselves. Each time we
    do a few more people will take the message on board –
    and each time we do we make it just a little easier
    for a fundraiser somewhere to justify the
    additional expenditure they might need to make this
    a reality.

    As an aside if TWCAT or anyone else reading this
    note has great client data on this
    issue it would make a big difference to fundraising
    education if you could share it – perhaps working up
    a case study that could be used for teaching
    purposes. Students of the IoF Certificate would
    derive a LOT of benefit from this. Marketing cases
    are two a penny – fundraising cases are almost

    Adrian Sargeant
    Robert F Hartsook Professor of Fundraising
    Indiana University/Purdue University, Indianapolis

  • Alastair Irons

    Dear Catman,

    Benchmarking holds no fear for TW CAT as we are judged by our results, which have proven to be unbeatable – literally – in long term head-to-head tests against competitor agencies.

    Equally, our effectiveness is being measured every single day and we stand or fall by it, like all fundraisers.

    No need for the slur btw – inappropriate given your anonymity.

    Alastair Irons
    Executive Creative Director,
    Chairman of Trustees,

  • Alastair Irons

    My original post was a tongue-in-cheek comment on Howard’s headline Adrian – see his reply.

    In all seriousness it’s great that you’ve been able to add more empirical proof to what you and I already agree upon – that customisation works.

    This is something we and our charity partners have shared through the Institute of Fundraising Convention at every available opportunity so we’d be happy to provide any data that would further support your research, of course.



    Alastair Irons
    Executive Creative Director,
    Chairman of Trustees,

  • catman

    Apologies Alastair, if I my feline antics cast any shadows on your organisation.

    A key point to note is that the Morag (charity) and Rupert (agency) worked with the PFRA membership to pool together data and then paid Adrian from PFRA coffers (Users levy payments to be precise) to normalise and interrogate the data.

    This gives the sector useful information, not only to enhance the effectiveness of fundraising, but also to counter half-arsed research that is devised to damage rather than support best practise in fundraising.

    I imagine that Adrian would love the opportunity to see your results, but our sector needs to lead by setting the agenda and collating sector wide data that Adrian can then be paid to shed light on.

    a bientot


  • johnthompson

    It’s Alastair not Alistair. I’ve worked with people named both and another named Alasdair. Neither were related to Alice in Wonderland. One would get very angry if his name was spelt incorrectly…crumpling up memos and letters and chucking them in the bin without reading them.

    Indeed, I often bin letters addressed to me as Mr Timpson, Mr Topsom, Mr Thomas or Mr Thumpson!

    John Thompson
    Change today for a better tomorrow

  • Alastair Irons

    Arthur Miller’s The Crucible says everything anybody needs to know about what’s in name.

    He was married to Marilyn Monroe y’know 🙂

    Alastair Irons
    Executive Creative Director,
    Chairman of Trustees,

  • johnthompson

    …that addressed you as Alistair, darling.

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