The other day my mum called me. As she hadn’t pre-arranged the call by text or email or sent me a message to warn me she would ring, I snatched up the phone with a sense of panic: What could be wrong? Is she sick? Has something happened to my dad?
The answer to this was that she was calling for a chat. My sense of rising fear became one of frustration: why did she worry me like that by calling me without warning?
Reflecting on this, I began to wonder how this situation came about. Why do I view an ‘unscheduled call’ from my mum as an intrusion? I am not a millennial. I was born in the 1970s and grew up with the phone conversation as the core bastion of communication. In my first job in the 1990s we sent stuff via bike couriers and still faxed letters to people.
Communication was largely by conversation – telephone or face-to- face.
Wind forward to today and we now have articles describing how the smartphone has killed conversation. Yet people are bombarded with written communication and attempt to multitask by flitting between activities on screens.
This presents fundraisers with a big challenge. Charities really need to build engagement with supporters. In the UK this is more vital then ever before given the media scrutiny and public backlash since 2015. To build engagement a charity must foster understanding of a problem. And then it must describe how the charity is best placed to solve that problem – and that a donors support is what makes delivery of the solution possible. This is hard to do given the description of modern life above.
What super-sizes this challenge (especially in the UK) is that there is an increasingly sophisticated and sceptical donor public and they experience information overload like never before. As a result they only give small snippets of their attention to anything that looks worthy of it. So faced with all of this, how do we communicate with donors and still ensure supporting a charity is an amazing and rewarding experience?
The answer is not ‘good digital communications’. That is too simplistic. Instead I think the answer lies in getting traditional and digital channels to work coherently together. There are some great bits of innovation that give us new ways to engage people such as virtual reality that enables potential supporters to understand a problem and helps them to feel empathy.
There are some promising uses of technology to give donors control and to have a digital dialogue with them such as the My Oxfam app. But ultimately a great experience comes from combining traditional and digital. We need to know: what should trigger an automatic welcome email? What should trigger a personalised thank you call? Who should get a hardcopy newsletter? How do we use events in in our relationship management?
Only by developing well thought through supporter journeys can we truly map engaging supporter communications across all channels – traditional and digital.
I recently worked on a great supporter journey project and the journeys we created map out how email, social, SMS, hard copy, and face-to-face communications will work together. Supporter preferences are placed front and centre and the focus is on delighting the donor and giving them a sense of reward and satisfaction. It’s too early for full results yet but the first signs are promising and long term we expect the result to be deep and lasting relationships with supporters.
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