Fundraising news, ideas and inspiration for professional charity fundraisers

Everyone’s looking for the Next Big Thing: but little things mean a lot

Everyone’s looking for the Next Big Thing: but little things mean a lot

Having operated at the forefront of fundraising for over two decades witnessing, and often directly participating in, the ebb and flow of fundraising , one thing appears to remain a constant preoccupation across the fundraising profession. More often than not, the unwritten agenda in client meetings comes back to the answer to the same old question, ‘so what’s the next big thing Jane?’

The question may seem a simple one, but like all killer questions, the answer nearly always defies immediate categorisation. Of course, we all want that simple thing that is going to increase the supporter base and provide much needed funds to further our organisations’ cause, but the trends and innovations of the past two decades show one thing above all else – there is no single, silver bullet to fundraising innovation.

My experience of fundraising success and innovation is to take an alternative approach, one which blends reinterpretation of proven fundraising principles and practice with the challenges and opportunities presented in the contemporary fundraising environment. Here are five examples that work.

1. Innovation does not need to be big

Innovation does not have to be a big thing in order to transform the experience of your supporters or your fundraising performance. Evidence from the commercial sector and from our own experience as fundraisers demonstrates that attempts to large, radical innovation are often the most risky course of action; they fail much more often than they succeed, and more times than not, they are actually not necessary in delivering and innovative and positive supporter experience.

Looking for small, manageable innovations – a focus on aggregating the marginal gains that can be accomplished to time and to budget, across all your donor development programmes. Look at how the Olympic cycling team improved their performance just by adding aiming for 1% improvements in lots of different areas. Fundraisers could take the same approach, for example, by adding alternate asks to you regular giving or cash ask – recognising that donors can’t always give money providing a tick box to register their interest in volunteering; participating in a local group; an area of work that they are particularly interested in; lottery participation or event participation – whatever your organisation can provide to enhance a supporters feeling of ‘making a difference’ and being useful.

In a recent campaign, adding a drop lottery ask to a monthly sponsorship campaign added a 41.5% increase to committed giving rate, representing a 28.4% rise in income in just year one.

In my experience, you will not only experience an uplift in response rates but also increase supporter engagement. You’ll also have the long term benefit of knowing which of your future programmes they may be interested in; it may even inform your choice of programmes.

Individually these gains may look small, even insignificant; but when integrated and delivered in a consistent pattern they have the capacity to transform the experience of your supporters.

2. Smarter analysis of data

The fundraisers’ best friend and potential worst enemy is sitting right in front of you on your database.

Modelling that selects the same prospects over and over again doesn’t do our organisations or our supporters any favours. Recently, analysing a clients’ data base I found a gentleman that had been selected 52 times for a campaign to ask him to convert his donations (regularly made over 17 years of commitment to ‘putting those donations in the post’) to a regular monthly gift by direct debit. My research showed he said no 52 times, don’t you think his behaviour is telling us something?

3. The person behind the supporter number

This is a small but incredibly important point: flags on your data base can give you a really clear picture of who the ‘person’ is behind the supporter number. Supporters who have given by credit card convert in a telephone campaign to paperless direct debit (PDD) at an average of 5 percentile points higher than those who have not.

Equally, those who give by postal order convert to PDD very poorly (on average less than 2% CG) but end up in telephone campaigns over and over again only to have the experience of saying no. The point here is that their behaviour should be telling you that they are already incredibly committed – they went all the way to the post office and stood in the que to give you a donation – find a better way to improve their supporter experience?

4. Let standing orders stand

Don’t, as many have done before, get obsessed with trying to convert you standing order (SO) supporters to DD just because their gifts are not as easy to administer. Analysis of many clients’ data has shown me that a SO flag on a supporters’ record is one of the key indicators in propensity to consider leaving and having left a legacy. Working on a campaign where data analysis sought to identify undiscovered legacy pledgers, of those identified as the right profile (a mixture of different types of supporters) 9.22% were revealed to be already pledging; however, in isolating those who gave by standing order, 22.83% had already pledged to leave a legacy. Of course, it’s ok to ask Standing Order Supporters to convert to direct debit – but it’s probably counter-productive to keep writing to them, and ringing them to tell them what they are doing is not good enough.

5. Personal fundraising at low cost?

Finally, think where your fundraising can be most personal, more highly tailored and at little cost to yourselves? You might be surprised but I’m thinking community fundraising.

A new look at community fundraising offers an ideal opportunity to motivate volunteer and supporters to be advocates for your organisation. Modern technology and traditional methods of fundraising can create the ability for donors to have real choice in how they give, using multiple channels and a variety of ways to get involved. Back this up with regional teams or area organisers and you’d be surprised at the size of the pools of compliantly opted in supporters that can be created, to be stewarded and developed locally or nationally.

Doing these little things differently, integrating them with caring and sensitive approach to your supporters, will allow you to aggregate these small but important marginal gains. Do this well and you will have truly innovative fundraising; after all, as the song says, in relationships ‘little things mean a lot!’


Jane Cunningham has been working in the forefront of fundraising for nearly 25 years. Known for the high quality of her fundraising practice and practical experience in segmentation and analysis, she has pioneered many new fundraising initiatives in the UK, Europe and the US. In everything she develops, she believes that the starting point should be to take the donors perspective, which will ultimately lead to developing the most effective strategic and creative responses; resulting in donor satisfaction and financial success.

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