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7 things I would do differently if I were an appeals director now

7 things I would do differently if I were an appeals director now

During the thirty years that I was appeals director at NSPCC I tried very hard to introduce a donor-centred view of fundraising. Now, five years since stepping down from that role as head of one of Britain’s largest and most innovative fundraising teams, on reflection I can see a lot that I should have done differently. This is not so much about leadership or as it is about fundamentally changing our approach to fundraising.

1. Create and implement a clear vision for fundraising leadership

Looking ahead

This is one thing I would fundamentally do differently. As a leader, it is my job to create, with appropriate consultation, the vision for fundraising. Not the fundraising strategy, which is necessary but not sitting on everyone’s desk, but the vision. It should be donor centred and fill just one side of A4.

Then, my main job would be to embed that vision throughout fundraising.

2. Improve the donor experience

When Mercedes market a new car, they focus on the car, the Mercedes experience, not the need for Mercedes to make money. What we are marketing is all the communications that make up the donor experience and how that permits and shapes the work we do. Those who focus on marketing the charity, the cause or even the good work being done miss this simple truth. That donor experience would be the core of my vision.

The donor experience

The idea of the donor experience emerged from a lunch I had with Ken Burnett. I had often said that what we are ‘selling’ to donors was the good feeling that donors get when they have given to a charity. Ken re-labelled that as ‘the donor experience’, the total experience of all the communications and interactions that a donor receives from the charity. We will be hearing a lot more about the donor experience in the future (Ken’s series of articles on the theme can be seen here.)

So, I would immerse myself in the charity’s fundraising. Spending time with all those who have contact with donors, not just meeting people, but seeing and doing their work. Working with the teams responsible for outbound telephone, inbound telephone, in-house supporter services, etc. Seeing all the communications that go to donors. Then, doing the same for community fundraising, corporate fundraising, etc.

This of course is a big undertaking that would need to be done properly as it’s crucial to understanding to what extent current activity is consistent with the vision. While doing all of the above, every time I look at a communication with a supporter, I would ask myself how the donor would feel after the experience of that communication; how it would enhance the donor experience.

I am fairly confident that I would find a huge disconnect in many quarters between the vision for fundraising and actual practice. Because we hadn’t made real the 90 degree shift from thinking about the needs of the charity to thinking about the needs of the donor.

3. Make the first ‘‘ perfect

Thank you

The thank you letter/welcome pack is the most important communication we send. Someone who, probably, has seen our recruitment material many times before, has decided to donate. She will wonder if she has made the right decision.

The first thank you is vital in reinforcing the donor’s decision to give and to making her feel special. But it takes some organisations a fortnight or more to send a response and some charities don’t send a response at all. The thank you needs to be special and quick.

I would chair a cross-departmental working group in our charity to look at how we get the first thank you/welcome pack out within 48 hours. If we can do that, we’ll be four times more likely to deserve a second gift.

4. Measure and reward long-term performance, not just short-term

I became used to, and part of, a culture where each year, department by department, we would set the annual budget. And even a monthly cash flow. Income was monitored monthly, with variances needing to be explained. The very walls of our offices whispered “budgets”. Looking back on it now, it was mad.

I would work to change the culture, throughout the charity, to focus on five/ten year results, as well as monthly/annual results. Charities are acting in the best interests of their beneficiaries if they think with a five/ten year time horizon, as well as one year.

I accept this would be a time-consuming process. Lots of meetings, and in each case the opportunity to reflect and consider. You don’t achieve change like this in a single meeting. I would marshal my facts and work my way through the hierarchy from CFO to the full board of trustees. Some meetings would be difficult. But if I had got my facts right, any reasonable and intelligent person could not fail to buy into the idea. This would fundamentally change the culture, and get everyone seeing fundraising as an investment, not an overhead.

But I wouldn’t suggest seeing five/ten year results as an alternative to keeping tight control on cash within the year, because that is vital to keeping the charity afloat.

All easier said than done, of course. But when I had that job, I can now see that I never systematically went through the process. I would now.

5. Consider satisfaction as the key measure of Lifetime Value

100% satisfaction in a wordcloud

The key driver of LTV is donor satisfaction; how good is the donor experience. And measuring and influencing that can and should be within our control.

Professor Adrian Sargeant carried out a satisfaction survey of all our types of donor to get a satisfaction index across all our fundraising. Regrettably we didn’t really do anything with it, except expect it to increase as we became more donor focussed.

Now, I would get all my direct reports to think about specific measures they and their teams could introduce that would be the key indicators of donor satisfaction in their area. There would have been zero resistance to this, I’m sure. People wanted to be more donor centred and would have been delighted to be asked to think about measuring it, if they knew it would be taken seriously.

Adrian Sargeant and Roger Craver have each produced a remarkably similar list of seven drivers of satisfaction. They are all within our control. I would work with my senior team, to agree our own list of drivers from these two lists, and refine one key set of actions we should all take to improve each driver of satisfaction. Each department would create their next annual plans on the basis of what each member was planning to do to make the action list real. This would help to create a culture whereby the donor experience is key.

6. Spend at least as much on retention as we spend on recruitment

We spent a fortune on recruiting new donors. We even had a stewardship department, to try to make stewardship of donors key. Nevertheless, we spent relatively little on retaining donors and accepted attrition as a fact of life. I believe we were wrong.

I would have invested serious money on retention. Some of the changes needed are cultural and systemic and can be made without increasing costs. Some are strategic, structural and organisational. But I would follow the mantra that the more we create a good donor experience, the longer donors would stay and the more they would give.

I would empower all donor-facing staff to improve the donor experience, and resolve most enquiries and complaints. This may involve treating these staff as fully fledged fundraisers, with adjustment of salaries if necessary. This would also involve changing the method of working of telephone fundraising staff. Or I would bring my outbound TFR in-house. Scripted telephone calls take 6 minutes. Unscripted, donor led calls can take 21 minutes. Immediately three times the staff, each now being paid more. In TFR, you don’t buy the cheapest offering.

7. I’d keep my head in the clouds and my feet firmly on the ground

We are led too much by data and spreadsheets and not enough by the donor experience we need to create.

I would get the relevant staff to focus on the content of our communications with vigour. And I would get involved myself. Every communication that didn’t work to enhance the feelings donors had, would be changed. This needs to be fed through to appraisals, which should be as much about the donor experience, using the measures we had identified above, in the section on satisfaction, as about income.

I said at the beginning that this blog is not about leadership and management. But doing all the above would not be about bringing key decisions into the centre, it would be about empowering managers to take the consequent decisions .

Encouraging innovation and encouraging failure as before. But within a different paradigm.


Giles Pegram

Giles Pegram joined the NSPCC as appeals director and subsequently set up the highly successful 1984 Centenary Appeal, which raised £15m, a record at the time in the UK. Additionally, through adopting a donor-centric approach to fundraising, he grew the NSPCC’s income from donors and supporters from £3m pa to £145m pa (of which £85m came from regular givers) whilst the ground-breaking FULL STOP Appeal raised £274m to kick start the Society’s campaign to end cruelty to children. Giles continued as Appeals Director until 2010. He is now a freelance consultant. Giles was awarded the CBE in 2011.

© Giles Pegram 2015.

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  • TimKitchin

    Great article Giles. It’s worth saying, I think, though, that these proposed ‘enhancements’ to fundraising practice do not necessarily reflect mistakes of the past per se, but are a reflection of new realities – more competition; greater social reliance of charities to provide vital public services; and changing financial pressures on older donors.

    They also reflect a new marketing paradigm – a lower base-cost of mass-marketing; ever greater financial pragmatism and search for value; the relentless personalisation of advertising; and higher service-expectations triggered by benchmark-setting experiences from other areas of life – telecoms, technology and financial services.

    Most crucially, though they reflect technological change – in which ‘experiences’ are intrinsically social. They are not done ‘to’ the donor, but done ‘with’ them. The donor experience is increasingly a result of interaction, not information. The push-marketing techniques of the past focused much more on evidence and explanation, because their channels only flowed one way. Today’s techniques are based on empathy and experience, because its ‘channels’ are networks.

    That hints at my only ‘Yes And…” to your article. I would suggest that donor satisfaction may already be too ‘passive’ a metric to assess the health of a charity’s donor community.

    While I don’t think that propensity measures like “net promoter” scores should become the be all and end all of what drives donor management, they do hint at a deeper truth – that increasing what matters is not the experience that donors ‘receive’, but the experience to which they contribute. The goal increasingly, is not just satisfaction, but satisfaction AND involvement. Together they contribute to that sense of positive participation which REALLY drives success.

    • Hi Tim,

      I couldn’t agree more.

      Two points:

      People talk about younger donors, and then talk about people in their 20s and 30s. Our current donors are in their 60s. Younger donors are those in their 50s. They are the baby boomers who, since they participated in ‘sit-ins’ at university, want to be involved in changing the world, even if only for one child. And they want to know what we have done with their money. “The donor experience is increasingly a result of interaction, not information.” So true.

      My second point is that you are way ahead of the curve. If we start to measure ‘donor satisfaction’, and measure that, and put into place a fundraising philosophy that implements the ides in my blog, you would be making a great leap from where we are at present.

      “The donor experience is increasingly a result of interaction, not information.They are not done ‘to’ the donor, but done ‘with’ them.” Absolutely.

      • TimKitchin

        Really glad we’re on the same page Giles. I completely accept that donor satisfaction – i.e. Any relationship metric, is already a big step on from the transactional thinking of “campaigns and revenues”. The danger, I think, is that this could translate in some boardrooms into attrition-management thinking, which manifests as ‘say nothing; do nothing; risk nothing’. Whereas the ‘prize’ of long-term committed relationships and multiple, diversified ‘product’ sales is out there to be grabbed. C-suites and Trustee boards – and young digital turks – all have a responsibility to invest sensibly in their greatest asset – their donor community – to ensure future cause delivery. And this means taking calculated risks, especially in their digital strategy. Digital Stewardship, not digital adventurism. best, Tim

        • Hi Tim,

          I am not afraid of ‘attrition management thinking’ that leads to ‘say nothing; do nothing; risk nothing’..If we can get SMTs and trustees to think about the long term, rather than the monthly cash flow, then that leads to a whole new way of thinking. For example, if telephone fundraisers were paid as much as fundraisers, threw away their scripts, and had donor led conversations that lasted twenty minutes not six, you would transform the telephone fundraising overnight, but, as I’ve said before, this would require three times the number of calls, from telephone fundraisers paid considerably more. That requires a shift in mindset, and an investment in longer term fundraising.

          If fundraising SMTs spent time thinking about how this could manifest itself in the whole of fundraising, they would come up with ideas that we have not conidered.

          I’m afraid I can’t comment on the digital side of things, being a technological luddite.

          But I do believe all this demands a 90 degree shift in mindset from the organisational needs to the donors needs,.and get everyone involved in fundraising

          By the way, I hate the idea of ‘products’ and prefer the idea of donor involvement. Have everyone to have above their desk your seven drivers:

          1. You know me; and remember me
          2. You give me choices
          3. You make things easy for me
          4. You value me and listen to me
          5. You trust me
          6. You surprise me
          7. You make me better/help me do more



          • TimKitchin

            Giles, Probably time to call halt on a public back and forth. I take the point on products, both emotionally and in relation to the pragmatic need for (some) unrestricted funding.
            However I still think that contributions (and relationships) attach more easily to clear, specific social outcomes (a homeless person into a shelter), change pathways (a nurse at a hospice bedside), or a donor opportunity (sponsoring a child’s success). These are all relational outcomes, and require relational inputs. Of course it’s tougher if your ‘theory’ of change is more nebulous, and the proposition of charities cannot always be boiled down to these sort of simplicities. But that is, I think, the challenge – to achieve the level of involvement that’s implied by the 7 principles you quote from ‘Your Customer Rules’ Ultimately, in our line of work, the donor rules. The sooner we accord them their due status, the better. We’re on the same page. Tim

          • Hi Tim,

            Agreed on all points.



  • Donna Knotek

    This was a great article Giles. I enjoyed your good ideas. Particularly rewarding for long term performance in addition to short term performance. So often your major gift is forgotten as soon as the next one comes through the door. Why not continue to celebrate successes and reward the hardworking development directors who get them? Lots of good thoughts!

    • Thanks Donna. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Now all we have to do is start the process of persuading our trustees.

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  • James

    Interesting article, having had a range of employers I would like to think this is being done in most charities already as it reflects a lot of the best practice I have learnt.

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