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A 30 year old version of the Fundraising Preference Service?

A 30 year old version of the Fundraising Preference Service?

The fundraising style and success of North Yorkshire’s Botton Village community over the past 30 years provide some useful lessons for the which is currently being devised.

Many fundraisers, including those who have read Ken Burnett’s 1996 book Friends for Life: relationship fundraising in practice, will be familiar with the unusual approach to fundraising and communicating with donors that was first employed and then refined by the charity in the mid-1980s. If the story is new to you, then Ken Burnett and Jackie Fowler, who, at Burnett Associates (now Burnett Works) both worked with the charity on its fundraising throughout this period, have blogged about why the charity’s approach is particularly significant at this time.

Writing in The donor’s choice: an early fundraising preference service that’s worked brilliantly since 1986, they argue that

“had all fundraisers learned what Botton Village knew 30 years ago our sector would never have got into the pickle we find ourselves in now”.

They add that by “offering their donors relevant, manageable choices for fundraising communication” Botton Village and latterly its parent The Camphill Village Trust have prospered ever since “thanks to delighted, committed donors“.


Key ingredients

Burnett and Fowler list what has been at the heart of the charity’s approach to fundraising:

  • Everyone involved was and continues to be donor focused at heart. Botton’s fundraisers have always been more interested in achieving donor comfort and satisfaction than boosting income or reaching financial targets.
  • Botton’s prototype FPS put donors firmly and always in control…
  • …and gave them practical, appropriate choices.
  • They offered real reciprocity – give and give, not just give and take.
  • From the start every donor has been given regular opportunities to revisit earlier preferences and revise their choices if they wish.
  • There is active support available for anyone who opts out, as much as for anyone who opts in.
  • Invitations to key village events were sent to all donors regularly. Many came, those that didn’t really appreciated being asked.
  • Superb data management has consistently ensured all options are recorded and appropriately honoured.
  • It has always been entirely consensual, no persuasion, coercion or duress of any kind was even entertained.
  • As soon as the scheme was started net income from fundraising rose hugely, seemingly as a direct result.
  • From the outset all the fundraisers have been happy with the scheme, as too have been all donors.

While this might appear as common sense now, doing all of this and doing it consistently over time is a challenge for many.

And it went against the grain for many.

“How could any serious fundraiser actually offer donors the chance to reduce the mailings they received? Suicide, surely?”

suggests Burnett and Fowler.

Of course, donors did reduce their unwanted mail, “but not their giving”. Indeed, giving went up.

The fundraising programme has been so successful and robust that it has been transferred to the Village’s parent charity the Camphill Village Trust, who have gone on to raise money for each Camphill Village Trust community involved. “Respecting its donors as friends has been CVT’s guiding principle ever since”, say Burnett and Fowler.

Does it work?

The ongoing success of this approach is demonstrated by recent figures that Fowler quotes.

• One group of nearly 10,000 Christmas-only donors responded at over 61% with an average gift of over £64.
• 60,000 people raised £1.2 million after costs at Christmas 2014, with an overall response rate of nearly 28% and an average gift of over £60.
• The average donor giving for over nine years, with many giving for much, much longer.

Relevance today

Burnett and Fowler’s blog post contains some valuable reminders of how to treat donors and those who did not like your fundraising approach.

But the lessons of Botton Village are, in their view, especially important currently with the new fundraising regulatory framework being drawn up, including the Fundraising Preference Service. The latter is a response to some degree to those occasions when some charities and their agencies have not embraced the levels of respect for donors exemplified by Botton Village.

Burnett and Fowler conclude:

“It’s the fundraiser’s job to make sure that every donor feels he or she made the right decision in supporting our cause and wants to stay supporting it as long as possible. Botton’s fundraisers have lived and breathed that philosophy for three decades now, believing that if they treat their donors right all the money their community needs will surely come. Their results speak for themselves”.

They add:

“Let’s hope the proposed Fundraising Preference Service 2016 version is as effective”.




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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