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What do we do now to reassure our donors?

What do we do now to reassure our donors?

The sum of all interactions with donors and all communications to and from them is ‘the donor experience’. Good fundraising ensures that each contact with a donor should leave the donor happier after the experience than before it.

It’s not rocket science.

We should look at fundraisers and fundraising through the eyes of the donor, to ask the questions; what do donors want, and what is most likely to inspire them to give? Radically different from other initiatives designed to regulate and protect charity income, we have a chance to put donors at the centre of charity fundraising.

Donations to the UK’s top 4129 charities contributed £12,500,000,000 in 2013. This is an enormous sector and it needs big thinking and bold investment to protect and secure income on such a scale.

Is it really different to an automobile manufacturer might do for its customers – to ask what they want from their driving experience; what kind of a car will they want to drive and what overall experience that should give them. Nobody gives money to Mercedes; they give to enjoy the driving experience. Everyone at Mercedes is working to create a car that will give the best customer experience. Is it different for fundraisers and their customers, donors?

Perhaps we’d find the surest way to increase income would be to compare the marketing of the charity, emphasising the feelings, thoughts and desires of donors, rather than the needs of the charity?

If so we should identify best practice and capture examples of it in order that these should become shared and common practice.


90 degrees (image: Giles Pegram CBE)

Image: Giles Pegram CBE


At the NSPCC a few years ago, when we were trying to become more donor-centric, we developed the concept of the 90-degree shift, the learned ability to see every aspect of our fundraising not from the perspective of our CEO, or head of finance or fundraising, but from the direct viewpoint of our individual donors. Every fundraiser, every appeals director, should make the 90-degree shift and carefully explain it to their FD and then the CEO and trustees. This is not just about being nice to donors, it‘s an investment in the long-term income from donors and supporters.

So don’t think about the needs of your charity. Think instead about the needs of your donors. Then you will meet the needs of the charity. It requires a 90 degree shift in our thinking. Recently Ken Burnett and I have been working together, thinking about and defining all that emerges from that shift in thinking.

What we might achieve

First, it will lead to more income for the causes we exist to serve.

Secondly, we’ll find ways to maintain and build trust and confidence in our donors and prospects.

Thirdly, it will lead to an enhanced reputation for fundraisers and greater fulfilment for all who work in your cause.

Fourthly, it will help to counter negative perceptions of fundraisers.

Fifthly, it will help you to identify, establish, and embed new ways of working.


Defining a new vision for fundraising

It’s clear from public reactions to the recent spate of negative press coverage that fundraisers should address the culture in fundraising.

Fundraising is about inspiring and delighting donors so that they will want to be on the fundraiser’s side. If they are, their generosity will see our causes through.

The result will be more satisfied donors, giving for longer, because they feel fulfilled about their experience as a donor.



At its best fundraising is fabulous. Donors have a great experience, and feel good about themselves. When not at its best, it can be truly awful. Aggressive, insensitive hard-sell tactics from some fundraisers risk permanent damage to Britain’s much loved and valued voluntary sector for the sake of limited short-term growth and the illusion of ‘keeping up the numbers’.

We all know fundraising is becoming more difficult and more competitive. Finding new donors is ever-more challenging and expensive, with ROIs that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago, and pay-back taking even longer.

The culture of fundraising now is too much focused on targets, budgets and ROI, rather than relationships. A culture of donor service needs defining and promoting. This doesn’t mean that fewer communications is the answer.


Amazon parcel boxes - Joe Ravi.

Photo: Joe Ravi.

Amazon write to me on average twice each day. That’s 700 communications a year. These are totally based on my previous purchases and have no hard sell. I like them. I take a quick look. Most times I just press ‘delete’. Occasionally I make a purchase which is delivered next day. They have become my first port of call for many purchases.

We are a £12,500,000,000 sector. We urgently need to innovate.

How would your CEO feel if you told him or her you were intending to send all donors, for whom you have email addresses, 700 messages a year. Each with an opportunity to give, but no pressure. Heart attack? We are currently looking at frequency of communications of around six to 12 times per annum.

We have got it wrong. I’m not advocating more contact per se, that would have the opposite effect to what we want. But we should be making more clever contact, offering more of interest and value and giving our donors real useful choices.

If we do these things, we will give donors a good experience. They will feel good about themselves. I cannot overstate the importance of this.

One test was an email that went to Alaska residents, asking them to donate to a state charitable fund. There were two versions:

1. Make Alaska Better, that is, give because it’s a worthy cause

2. Warm your heart — give because it’ll feel good.

Those who got the Warm your heart message responded more (30% more), and gave a 55% higher average gift.

Though that’s a pretty convincing difference, we should consider it alongside all the other factors that together clearly show that we should change the way we fundraise.



• We need to define donor-centred fundraising as it should be in 2015/16.

• Identify ways to improve public trust and confidence.

• Consider how we might alter the culture of fundraising as it applies to boards, CEOs and senior teams as well as to fundraisers.

• Create a culture within the charity sector as a whole from seeing fundraising costs not as an overhead but as an investment.

• Revisit and redefine the state of our charity’s donor service culture.



Collectively fundraisers should aim to create one sector, united to fundraise in the best possible way.

I hope that our sector will become as donor-focused and donor-friendly as we want it to be and know we can be. A deep and abiding passion for our causes is not optional, it must be mandatory. The great fundraisers learn to get behind and inside those beliefs, to live and breathe them into their stories and communications so as to engage, inspire and provoke positive action to make a difference.


Putting a heart in a collecting tin


Fundraisers for great causes must be seen to be doing the right thing. If they are, the public will flock to support our charities. Undeniably the right thing for fundraisers now is to put donors first and provide for them truly brilliant communications and an impeccable donor experience. The highest standards of best practice should underpin all initiatives. Above all fundraisers must do and be seen to be doing what their donors want. And to stop doing what they evidently don’t want.

I am grateful to Ken Burnett for his help in planning and crafting this blog.


© Giles Pegram CBE 2015


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Giles Pegram has been involved in fundraising since, aged 10, at his primary school, he edited, with two sub-editors, a school newspaper, sold in the playground for 1d a copy. He set up an increasingly successful Oxfam group in his secondary school, and aged 18, led a team of school friends to organise ‘Oxfam Walk ’69 ‘, the biggest-ever sponsored walk. On leaving university with a degree in logic, he joined Help the Aged, leading a special department to raise funds in secondary schools. Giles joined the NSPCC as Appeals Director at 29, and subsequently set up the highly successful 1984 Centenary Appeal, which raised £15 million, a record at the time in the UK.  Additionally, Giles grew the NSPCC’s annual income from donors and supporters from £3 million to £185 million. He grew the NSPCC from No. 15 in the fundraising charities league table, to No. 3. The ground-breaking FULL STOP Appeal raised £274,000,000 (against an ambitious £250,000,000 target) to kick-start the Society's campaign to end cruelty to children. This sum remains a record.   Giles continued as Appeals Director until 2010. He then became a consultant. Currently, Giles is vice-chair of the Commission on the Donor Experience, an initiative aimed at transforming fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. He is also a trustee of the Institute of Fundraising. Giles Pegram was made ‘UK Professional Fundraiser of the Year 1994’ and received the Institute of Fundraising/Professional Fundraising Awards ‘Lifetime Achievement in Fundraising’ award in 2002.  He is a fellow of the Institute of Fundraising. His interests include food, Burgundy and music. He was appointed a CBE in 2011.
  • Tim Kitchin at Copper has responded to Giles’ post here:

    Responsive Experiences: “Stop doing dumb things to donors!”

  • Thanks Tim. Of course I agree with you. “The start point is to describe the donor-responsive experiences we wish to create”. I would then ask what do we need to change the culture to make this happen. Only then do you look at how technology can make our dream happen. For example seeing every every one of a million communications go to ‘segments of one’. Et al. Then we can address your last two sentences.

    Too often, I have been in meetings where people ask “What can technology do for us?”, without asking the first two questions. Do we really need digital departments, other than to help make managers more aware of what digital can do to help them do their jobs?

    What do you think?

    Best, Giles

    • TimKitchin

      If this were Facebook, I would press ‘like’. In short, I agree too. Culture change is complex thing of course. It’s driven through inspirational leadership but also empowered action from the bottom up. And through intelligent process plumbing. I’ve been thinking about this too and have a white paper in the works together with Brani Milosevic. The gist of it is here though

      • Hi Tim, This is a great blog and people should read it. I love the concept of “Intelligent process plumbing”. Best, Giles

  • Laura Croudace

    £12,500,000,000 in 2013 Is astonishing! I agree about more useful and choice based communications. I have been cataloging all of the communications I receive from the 12 charities I support and they’re not great…

    I’d love to hear more about what you and Ken have been working on… Sounds like it could be the start of a best selling book?

    Thank you for being so passionate Giles- a true role model and hero of mine.

    Your voice gives me energy- I’m grateful to you for sharing your thoughts with us so freely.

    Laura (Croudace)

    • And your responses make it worthwhile. Kn and I are working on something much biggr than a best selling book. We’ll keep in touch. Giles

  • Claire Arthurs

    I completely agree that everything we do as fundraisers should be supporter-centric and we’re often too inward facing or focused on short-term gains as charities/fundraisers. I’d be interested to understand how you see this in real terms and particularly for finding new supporters? Many of my friends and family would argue a cold dm isn’t a supporter focused communication as they never asked for it in the first place! I’m a proud and passionate fundraiser and put great efforts into making our appeals feel honest, real and rewarding but is there still something missing?! Does it mean a cold dm isn’t a viable option anymore?
    I really enjoy your thought and insight- thank you!

    • Hi Claire, Sorry to be so long in responding. First, there is a significant proportion of the public who don’t give to charity. They criticise charities as their way of justifying to themselves why they don’t give. I wish they could be removed from the surveys of ‘what do the public think about….” I don’t care what they think. I care about what donors to charity, or potential donors think.

      So our approach to a mailing to new donors should be the same as existing donors. “Good fundraising ensures that each contact with a donor should leave the donor happier after the experience than before it” This apples equally to new donors. When they fill in the form and post it off, the new donor should feel really good about the experience. They have made a new relationship.

      The mailing to new potential donors needs to start with a powerful articulation of the need. Without shame, we should engage their emotions. “This is awful, what can I do?” Then you need to articulate the solution, and why your charity is the best one to achieve it. Then you need to talk about what they can do to help, normally focussing on an individual beneficiary who has been helped, and others who need help. You make a clear link between the need, and what the donor can do. (You don’t ask for £2 a month to help raise £250,000,000 to help end child cruelty. You ask for £2 a month to help change the life of a girl like Ellie.

      If you do all of this well,you don’t need to ‘ask’ seventeen times on the first page of a letter.

      The one emotion you should avoid at all costs is ‘guilt’. You don’t want people to give because you have shown them an awful scenario, and someone gives because they hope it will make the problem go away. Such a donor is not going to be a lifelong supporter.

      You “put great efforts into making our appeals feel honest, real and rewarding” That is the same for donors and potential donors. Please don’t talk about “cold dm”. That is not what it’s about.

      I didn’t respond to your first question. ” I’d be interested to understand how you see this in real terms” You might find the following two blogs helpful: .


      And this third one about wow-ing new donors:

      Many thanks for your post. I might turn my answer into a blog on its own.

      Best, Giles

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