Mystery shopping exercise looks at charity responses to Haiti earthquake

Fundraising agencies Pareto Fundraising and Pell & Bales have published the findings of their charity ‘mystery shopping’ exercise into the responses to donations to various charities’ appeals in the wake of the Haiti earthquake of January 2010. They made an online donation for the equivalent of US $25 to 52 organisations in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and Spain about two weeks after the disaster.
Over the next two months they analysed the charities’ responses based on the initial experience of giving, the charity’s response time, the quality of the ‘thank you’, whether the charity was proactive in communicating with the donor, and how effective any follow-up was.
The agencies found that the initial response was very good, with most charities responding immediately and well to the donations. However, few charities sought to feature individuals’ stories in their updates, and very few asked the donor to consider changing the way they supported, moving perhaps from a one-off gift to a regular, monthly gift.
Based on analysis to the end of April, the exercise found that:
• 83% of charities responded to the donation the same day with an email confirmation. Every organisation donated to in the USA, Canada and Australia responded on the same day, whereas in the UK 85% managed that. Only 30% of Spanish charities responded the same day: indeed, four of the 10 charities in Spain did not actually process the donation at all!
• Ninety two per cent of charities processed the donations. All but three included the words ‘thank you’ within the first acknowledgement email but 10 organisations did not personalize the thank you email at all. It did not mention the donor’s name in the salutation or the body of the email.
• Only 29% of charities initially promoted regular/monthly giving, with US nonprofits being the most likely (55% of them) to do so.
• Only two charities (both in the UK), used a combination of email, mail and telephone to keep in touch with the donor. Only 21% of organisations used channels other than email to communicate. Nearly a third (31%) of all the charities surveyed did not send any further communication to the donor after the initial thank you.
Based on this analysis Pareto Fundraising and Pell & Bales offer the following recommendations for organisations responding to disasters.

Initial contact

• Charities need to ensure that initial donations receive a speedy response either by auto response or within a short space of time (response in hours, not days).
• Initial responses should be personalised and should contain the words ’thank you’.
• When landing on a charities website, the disaster should be prominently displayed, with its own separate landing page. All email communications should provide a link straight to that landing page (or microsite).
• If the organisation is strategically focusing on regular/monthly gifts, the initial response should promote this and keep it singularly focused.

Subsequent contact

• Subsequent communications need to be relevant and timely, providing useful and important updates and information demonstrating the impact the donor’s money is having on the ground. That means telling real, human stories.
• Real feedback from the field should be provided on a regular basis, in a coherent manner. We should foster opportunities for deeper engagement and understanding of the issues at hand.
• Stand out from the crowd. Some of the best examples from this exercise on how to feedback involved inviting donors to teleconferences and webinars to share stories from the field.


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Conversion to regular/monthly giving

• Charities should develop and execute a follow up communication plan as part of an integrated strategy to convert one-time cash supporters onto regular/monthly giving.
• All communications should focus on capturing details to make conversion to monthly giving easier e.g. Name, address, phone number and email. Offer opt outs rather than opt in to follow up contact.
• Constant reinforcement in all communications of the importance and need for regular/monthly giving (linked to the need for long term, sustainable support to the people affected).
• Develop integrated channel plan for conversion to monthly giving including email promotion/reinforcement, telephone conversion and mail mop up activity.
• Aim to make direct approach to conversion onto regular/monthly giving within 2 months of first cash gift. Speed is key. We know that 2 months is better than 4 months, and so on.
• Evaluate the impact of developing a specific regular/monthly giving product for the emergency situation (I.e. sign up for 365 days) along with a well thought out plan for future relationship management and donor care.
• Once signed up to a regular/monthly gift, focus on the honeymoon period: the first 30 days after sign up. This is critical to arresting attrition.

Long term Strategy

• Develop a plan for communicating with non-responders to your regular/monthly giving conversion efforts. Consider how to feed these individuals into the ongoing cash program and look at ways to engage with non financial support. Test using as a prospect file for future conversion activity.
• Ensure your organization is well equipped to for the next emergency response. For example, mail and email templates in place, thanking and conversion process agreed.
The organisations donated to were:


ActionAid UK
British Red Cross
Care UK
Christian Aid UK
Médecins Sans Frontières UK
Oxfam UK
Plan UK
Save the Children UK
Unicef UK
World Vision UK


American Red Cross
Care USA
Food for the Poor
Mercy Corps
Médecins Sans Frontières USA
Oxfam USA
Save the ChildrenUSA
Unicef USA
World Food Program
World Vision USA


ActionAid Spain
Christian Aid
Cruz Roja
Médecins Sans Frontières Spain
Médicos del Mundo
Oxfam Spain
Plan Spain
Save the Children Spain
Unicef Spain


Australian Red Cross
Care Australia
ChildFund Australia
Médecins Sans Frontières Australia
Oxfam Australia
Plan Australia
Save the Children Australia
Unicef Australia
World Vision Australia


Canadian Feed The Children
Canadian Red Cross
Care Canada
cbm Canada
Free the Children
Médecins Sans Frontières Canada
Oxfam Canada
Plan Canada
Save the Children Canada
Unicef Canada
World Vision Canada
Photo: United Nations Development Programme on