Episode 40: Craig Linton – FIVE ideas to boost Individual Giving results

Episode Notes

As other income streams are decimated by the effects of the pandemic and varying levels of lockdown, income through individual donors is more important than ever for many charities.

In this episode, I was delighted to talk to the wise and ever-practical Craig Linton (aka The Fundraising Detective). In the Autumn of this turbulent year, I particularly wanted Craig’s advice for things charities can be doing now with and for individual supporters.

We explore several important approaches that Craig has been applying recently on behalf of his charity clients including: ways to acknowledge how challenging these times are for our supporters; the importance of continuing to ask for donations, albeit with an appropriate tone – they still care – ; things you can do now to increase the results of future (eg Christmas) appeals; ideas to help you engage in more real conversations with supporters; and ideas to increase the average size of gifts by tweaking the offer of what their gift could achieve.

If you want to share this episode with your colleagues or social media contacts because you think it will help other charities and non-profit organisations at this difficult time, I’d be very grateful! We are both on Linked In and on twitter Craig is @frdetective and I am @woods_rob.

Further Resources

If you’d like to find out more about all the powerful strategies and helpful support that Craig and I deliver through the virtual Individual Giving Mastery Programme, at the time of publishing this episode there are TWO PLACES LEFT. You can find out more here.

Check out Craig’s excellent book Donors for Life

Quotes

‘The response form is often the thing we think about last, but I’d encourage you to think creatively about how to build stronger offers, really concrete asks for your supporters this year.’

Craig Linton

‘Some charities have been doing really well with their individual giving, even this year, but the thing they’ve all got in common is they’ve continued to ask.’

Craig Linton

Full transcript

Rob:

Hello, and welcome to Episode 40 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast. My name is Rob Woods, and this is the show for anyone who works in charity fundraising and who wants ideas for how to raise more money, enjoy their job, and make a bigger difference, even and especially during the pandemic. And in today’s episode, if you’re an individual giving fundraiser, or if this is one of the income streams that you’re responsible for, I hope you’re going to find today’s session really helpful, because today we’re going to look at ideas to maximize the chances that your fundraising efforts will succeed this autumn and winter.

Rob:

This is an interview I conducted in mid-October 2020, with a hugely experienced individual giving expert and trainer named Craig Linton. Craig has worked in fundraising for more than 20 years. He’s got an incredibly successful blog called The Fundraising Detective. He’s the co-author of an excellent book called Donors For Life. He’s a successful consultant, and he’s also the lead trainer with me on the Individual Giving Mastery Program that we run at Bright Spot. In this conversation, I was especially keen to hear some concrete ideas that Craig feels individual giving fundraisers can be putting into practice right now during this extraordinarily difficult year.

Rob:

And just before we start the interview, I wanted to let you know that at the time of publishing, there are just two places left on the virtual Individual Giving Mastery Program that we’re about to start in November. So if you’re curious about how all the master classes, the individual coaching, and the online training resources fit together to give you that valuable and sustained boost, you can find out more at our Bright Spot website. And if you’ve still got questions, please do get in touch. Good morning, Craig Linton.

Craig:

Hi, Rob, how are you doing?

Rob:

Really well, thank you ever so much. Are you all right?

Craig:

Yeah, good, thanks. Good, thanks. And just getting ready for the half-term madness coming up, so I need to get all my work done this week and then into that for the October half-term.

Rob:

Yes. The key theme in our household is, what’s going to happen at our Halloween party?

Craig:

Absolutely.

Rob:

Might not be quite as expensive as my children want it to be, but I need to jump in to some things that charities or fundraisers could be thinking about right now. So it’s mid/late October now, and maybe some of the prep or activities to do with Christmas bills have already happened, but if you were an individual giving officer, individual giving fundraiser for a charity right now, what are some of the things that you think are especially important to think about and some details that you think sometimes don’t get done, but which are important?

Craig:

Yeah. I think it’s going to be a very interesting Christmas for us all. We’re in an unprecedented time. We’ve got COVID still hovering and dominating all our lives. We’ve got then Brexit coming up. So I think this year even more than ever is around that authenticity, and it’s about being open and trustworthy with our supporters. And acknowledging the situation, I think one of the biggest mistakes at times I’ve seen this year from individual givers is sometimes almost burying their head in the sand and not recognizing what’s going on in our supporters’ lives.

Craig:

And I think actually when I worked with a couple of charities recently and we’ve talked about giving people permission to say no, and it’s okay if your circumstances don’t allow people, actually responding really well to that and appreciating that. And then those who haven’t necessarily been as affected actually responding more generously to almost make up for those people who can’t give. I don’t know if … I think you might have been at IFC a couple of years ago with me when Amanda Palmer spoke and she talked about great relationships to build around this permission to say no. It’s okay to say no, and you don’t fail about … If you’ve got a good relationship with someone saying no is not a bad thing. And actually, if our supporters need to say no to us this year because of COVID, that’s okay.

Craig:

But don’t ignore that. Still mention it. Be authentic, be real, have some empathy for the situation many people are in, but also give people who are doing okay, whose health might be good, who saved a bit of money because the holidays have been cancelled and they’re not socializing as much and going trips to the theater or whatever they may do, actually, they might actually have a few more pounds available. And I think nudging people and reminding people of that is no bad thing. So I think that’s one of the first things for all the appeals that I’m certainly involved in is making sure that there’s that authentic recognition of where people could be.

Craig:

And one client earlier in the year, they called all their regular givers. They asked how they were doing, asked about payment holidays. They had a really great response to that, and actually giving from that cohort has increased. A number of people give gifts their net, cause they just appreciate being asked how are you doing, but we’ve looked at it since and those people who got those phone calls have given to the next appeal and support the charity and very generously throughout the remainder of the year.

Craig:

And the small number of people who said, “You know what? I’m on furlough, I need to tighten my belt,” they sent them a lovely card to say, “Sorry about your situation. We put your donation on hold. Whenever you’re ready, come back to us.” And a couple of people have come back now, and again, increased. And it’s all because of this being open, honest, authentic. And I think those are really important principles.

Rob:

Yes. And I can completely see how you can get that confidence to ask and see if people can help, but also leave them the space to say no if that’s appropriate. I can see how that’s easier to convey that clearly in a real conversation. Have you got any tips for how clients have been phrasing that within an email or an appeal letter?

Craig:

Yeah, there’s a really powerful phrase, and salespeople use it relentlessly. And I think Roger Dooley, on his excellent neuroscience blog, talks about this idea of saying, real powerful phrase is, “feel free to say no.” Because that gives you almost that permission and that perceived control to actually, “Well, that’s okay. I can say no.” But, if you are able, et cetera. So I think that’s a powerful phrase that I use time and time again in emails.

Craig:

And I think the other way is to recognize that, look, we know some people are having a hard time. We know you may be on furlough or maybe you’ve lost jobs. If that’s you, just send us a message this Christmas or send us a message. We’d just love to hear from you and how you’re doing. But if your circumstances are okay, then please do consider making a gift as well. And so I think some of the asks are a bit softer this year I think than would be Christmas, the Big Give, Giving Tuesday, all those things. Typically, we tend to go quite hard. And I think it’s just softened a little bit and it’s been a little bit more empathetic, I think, to how people are doing at the minute.

Craig:

So I think talk about it in a genuine way, in a way that … how we would explain it to each other, how would you say to your friends, if we were allowed down at the pub, how you doing and hope it’s all right. Is there anything I can do to help? I think it’s using that real authentic language is really important. So we’ve just done a door drop for a hospital charity up in Yorkshire.

Craig:

And again, what we put in the door drop was the chief exec said, “We hope this finds you well. We hope you’re okay. We’ve got this project in this incubator. If you are able to, then please do give. And if not, then we understand and please pass this on to someone else.” So again, try and not make people feel bad or guilty about not being able to give, but giving them an alternative they can do to do it. And that back door drop is phenomenally well. It’s already raised £50,000. It’s making a sizable return on investment, on acquisition, which for me is incredible, that we’re probably going to return one and a half or two to one on the actual acquisition of the door drop, which is a fantastic result.

Craig:

And that comes on, I guess, to another really general point is don’t stop asking. So have that empathy, have that understanding of where your supporters are, but keep asking. And if you’ve got a need and you’re short of income and you can’t do these important things because you’ve lost income in community events, don’t be afraid to say that and share, problem shared and all that. And people are still responding very generously, those who can. There are some charities are having some of their best years ever for individual giving, but the key thing is they continue to ask. A lot of charities have pulled back budgets or they’ve stopped an appeal, and actually that is such a false economy.

Rob:

And I guess, anyway, the right thing to do is your first point, which is to be understanding that some people are really struggling out there and may care deeply about your cause, but now at the moment, they can’t give. It’s the right thing anyway to acknowledge that if you’re communicating a generously kindly authentically to those people.

Rob:

But also the paradox is if you’re sure that that’s your mindset and you include that message, it makes it easier for you to continue to ask because you’ve included that that clear message, that it may not be appropriate for everyone. And in doing so, you can confidently keep going, and in so doing, you can take advantage of the situation in the country, which is some people are struggling deeply financially, but others aren’t too badly off for interesting reasons. And the worst thing we could do is just pull our horns in and not ask at all in case we offend some people who are struggling.

Craig:

Yes. Yeah, yeah. I think that’s really nicely summed up. And I think the other thing, again, with budgets being cut and being shot is people aren’t necessarily doing that feedback piece and that’s impact, what difference has your previous gifts made? Because I’ve got £5-10,000 in the budget and actually, oh, well, we’ll just get rid of that stewardship mailing, which again is really short-sighted. There’s couple of bits of research that showed sending a thank-you or sending an impact sort of four to six weeks before your next appeal goes really boosts income.

Craig:

There’s a great experiment from Oxfam in Spain and the group who got this extra additional thank-you sort of a month before the next appeal. I can’t remember the exact figures off the top of my head, but it’s sort of 20, 30% uplift just by sending this thank-you compared to the control group increase in gifts. And Rachel Honeybun told a great story that you and I reference occasionally about you taking that time to acknowledge people who’ve done something extra special issue this year and go back to them in your … Now time’s running out a little bit, but in the next two, three weeks, if you can get something out to those top supporters this year just to recognize how much they’ve meant to you and how they’ve put you through this difficult period. Not only is it a nice, lovely thing to do, but it will pay dividends when that end of year appeal lands as well. No doubt.

Rob:

Yes. So in case anyone listening hasn’t heard that example. I can’t remember if it was episode four or episode five of this podcast, but too many months ago, I interviewed the excellent fundraiser, Rachel Honeybun. And the gist of the story is that after an appeal had elicited unusual generosity for many donors, she deliberately sat down and wrote a very quick thank-you note, she and her team did, to all of those who’s gifted stretched. Now, not just to major donors, but it could be someone who normally gives 20 pounds, they had given 30 pounds. Anyone who’d given more generously in the normal, she did a control group as well. Half of those have been extra generous got a thank-you note acknowledging that extra generosity, half the group didn’t.

Rob:

And what was powerful about the fact that she has a control group is the following year she could look back and see what difference this … just a extra handwritten thank-you note that took 30 seconds to do, but when she looked back, those who had received this extra thank-you acknowledging the extra generosity, When she crunched all the numbers giving had gone up by 174% in the group that had received the extra thank-you. So if right now the listener works for a charity and some people are not giving, but some people are being more generous than normal, then a key thing you could be doing in late October, early November is some kind of extra thank-you to those who’ve been more generous this year. And according to your experience, Craig, that will pay you back for the effort you put in.

Rob:

And I guess what you’re saying, Greg, if we’re listening to this in late October, early November, if we can just hustle a bit and get some kind of extra, even not just that high-touch thank-you card, but some extra information which is about you are making a difference rather than an extra ask to do that. Now, before, for instance, a Christmas appeal drops in December, you’re saying, according to your experience, that will cause an uplift in the results in the Christmas appeal that are well worth the effort now.

Craig:

Yeah, absolutely. And if you haven’t got time to write or to send a letter or don’t have the budget for it, an email can do the job here as well. Giving Tuesday at the end of November as well is an opportunity to do that, probably a little bit late for your Christmas appeal, but it’s a great opportunity and excuse to go out and thank people. So one of my clients, Doctors of the World, and their team this year, we’ve been putting in some extra thank-yous and we’ve got basically this mid-value group of supporters, and some of them who gave in 2018, some have given 2019. And through the year we’ve been tracking how much they’ve given in comparison, and they’ve more than doubled how much they’ve given this year.

Craig:

Now, some of that’s COVID, so we can’t take all the credit for it, because it’s very unusual times. But in January, we purposely made the decision, we’re going to spend some extra time, we’re going to put in some more personal touches to this high-value sort of hundred-pound-plus group. And last time we checked, income had more than doubled by the end of sort of August. And I suspect it’s going even further because they’ve had a couple of appeals in September. So it really is worth doing and spending this time where you can.

Rob:

Yes. And if someone’s listening and they don’t have the budget for that extra mailing or even much time, you’re saying, if we could just get a lovely email out, which is not an ask, but which is in some way helps the donor connect to the difference they have made, for instance, to make it a bit more likely to be opened and digested. If we were to do anything to liven up that email, could we ask our chief exec or … but maybe even better, someone from the front lines who’s been helping the cause right now for them to give a 90-second thank-you or tell a story and a thank-you about the differences made during these chaotic times. Is that a tactic we could use and include a link in that thank-you email?

Craig:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s, again one of the things that we’re doing with that Doctors of the World experiment is trying to get frontline thank-yous. So the people answering the phones, the doctors in the clinics, people in the field in places like Greece and Lebanon and around the world, is that authentic voice. And anything like that, be it like you said, chief exec, or frontline staff, or if you’re not a cause that, if you’re, I don’t know, and a wildlife trust, going out and taking some images or doing something around the environment that you work in or mocking something up from the animals that you were with can be really fantastic.

Craig:

And I think the line that I always use and put in these emails, “it’s because of you.” And it’s because of you, we could do this. Because of you, this person … And it’s that you language and just showing people what they’ve done and remind them that it feels good and you can feel proud when you give. Remind them of those good feelings, those endorphins, that giving gives us and hopefully making them either put a smile on their face or to just get them almost reminiscing about what they’ve helped achieve and do and what the good in the world that that’s happened because of them.

Craig:

We haven’t mentioned telephone yet, Rob, and you and I will both testify, telephone is such a powerful tool. So even if it’s just calling your top 20 donors this month, or your top 30, or get some of the team. You can get your trustees involved or your chief exec, or some service staff. I always love it when people answer the phone, “You don’t want any money? You’re not asking for any?” No, we just want to say thank you. We just looking back, like you said, we’ve noticed you’ve been really generous this year and it’s been a tough year and we just wanted to say we really appreciate it. And tell them a quick story and go. And just use the phone, it’s a really, again, another great tool that we have at our disposal.

Rob:

Yes. And I guess a barrier might be, well, look, there’s 2000 donors, Craig. I’m never going to be able to do that. A key thing I sensed you’re advising your clients is, just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do something. So if you literally start with, can I make six calls this morning? And then they might go well and you get to four of those people, then you might do 10 tomorrow. And if by the end of the week, you’ve made 50 calls and you’ve got through to 15 people, that is, according to your experience, going to not only affect how the donors feel, and then in due course financial results because they want to give more when they are cared about. But also I’ve noticed it can do wonders for your own morale and your own sense of momentum as well.

Craig:

Yeah, absolutely. Again, it’s a feel good. If we’re all stuck at home at the minute and not in the office, having real conversations with supporters just feels good as a fundraiser. It reminds you why you do what you do. But yeah, it starts … Well, it’s like the parable of the starfish. The old man walking on the beach and these thousands of starfish are washed up on the sand and he’s just throwing them in one by one. And then this little boy comes up, “Old man, why are you doing that? You can’t possibly save all these starfish.” And he looks at the boy, he smiles and he says, “Well, yeah, but it matters to that one. I can save that one.” And you’ve got to start somewhere.

Craig:

So you might not be able to do everything. You might not be able to call all the supporters. But the ones you do, it matters to them and they will remember it and they will appreciate it. Maybe all of us should be able to find just 30 minutes a week to do either some phone calls or some extra … It’s about carving out that time. Cutting one of those meetings, reducing those … Instead of having an hour Zoom call, put it to 45 minutes and use that 15 minutes for phone calls. That’s what’s going to raise more money in the long term. And it connects you back to your cause, back to your mission.

Rob:

I agree, Craig. And as I’m looking at my notes, so far, there’s three or four themes I think we’ve talked about: the importance of caring and acknowledging where your supporters are right now and allowing that through in your language as well. But now is not the time to stop asking. If the need is still there, it’s our job to make our supporters aware of that and see if they would like to invest and help, and proactively contacting them through whatever channel to let them know the impact, the difference they’re making. And you give a particular time to reference telephoning as a way to improve relationships.

Rob:

You and I, in two or three weeks time, we’re going to start the Individual Giving Mastery Program again, which we’re both very excited about it. If there’s one more tip or take-off theme that you’re looking forward to sharing with that group of fundraisers on there, but you might like to just share with the podcast listeners as well, what’s one more thought that you think is important at this point in the autumn and winter?

Craig:

Well, I think one of the neglected areas … One of the things we teach on the IG course and which participants really say helps them, is the respond model. So one of the things in the response model is around the response form, and that’s often overlooked. We concentrate on the copy and polishing that and getting the photos right and everything, and actually making it easy to give. And thinking about what we’re asking for is really important. So I suspect this year more than ever, we need to maybe get away from just that standard ask string of last gift, one and a half times last gift, or double or triple your last gift, and then other. It’s, how can you package things up?

Craig:

So this idea of set completion of, for example, Crisis do near Christmas, you can either buy one meal for a homeless person, or you can buy the whole table of 10. And people, what do people do? Well, let’s go for that as a stretch gift. One charity I’m working for, one of the things they do is the buy beds for children who don’t have beds at home in the UK, or need a new bed or a variety of reasons. And how we package them, you can buy the mattress, the covers, or the whole bed. So you’ve got 10 quid for the pillows, 20 quid for the duvet, or a 100 pound for the bed, or 130 gets a lot. And people like buying the whole thing, they buy the whole set. So you can start thinking about doing that.

Craig:

And I think the other thing this year as well is around this idea of rather than just put other, you could maybe find some language that’s appropriate. Surprise us with an extra special gift this Christmas, or help give a little bit more to make up for those who can’t give. And try and get creative with that other thing rather than just use the standard. Because again, I think people, if you get them at the right time, they may be able to and be willing to give that little bit extra. The response form is often the thing we think about last, but what I would encourage people to do is think creatively about how you can build stronger offers and really clear concrete asks for people this year.

Rob:

Yeah. That’s excellent advice. It might feel a bit trickier and/or, ah, well, I’m sure it’ll be fine. But actually, according to your research, extra effort in this area, even though it might require a tiny bit more effort, extra effort in this area pays dividends in terms of what the donor who does care ends up plumping for.

Craig:

Yeah. And what typically happens, the response rate isn’t effected, but average gift goes up when people get the opportunity for you to package up. The other thing, that that Crisis example, shopping lists. Sometimes we ask people to, say, “You could buy a meal for this amount, or you could buy the Christmas decorations for this amount, or you could buy some counselling for this amount.” And actually what they find is rather than having three very different things on your shopping list, you’re better off asking for buy one mail, 10 meals, a 100 meals, or variance of.

Craig:

So to ask us for multiples of the same thing rather than a disparate mix of different things. And again, people can process that a bit easier, I think. And so they think, “Oh, I’ll buy five of them or 10 of them,” rather than … It’s very hard to compare counselling versus decorations versus a meal, whereas, okay, I can do three of them, or I can do 10 of them, or 12, whatever it is, can work better.

Rob:

Yeah. That’s a really helpful distinction. I’d never thought of it that way, but I completely see how that would, in practice, have an effect. And in terms of time now, I need to wrap up very soon, but Craig Linton, thank you ever so much for joining us on the podcast. I really appreciated your ideas and advice and I look forward to catching up with you very soon. Bye bye.

Craig:

Thanks, Rob. Take care.

Rob:

So there you go. I hope you found Craig’s ideas, tips, and examples were helpful. You could find a summary of the key ideas we discussed in the episode notes on the blog and podcast section of my website, which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk.

Rob:

And as I say, if you’d like to go deeper into these and dozens more strategies to solve the challenges of individual giving this year, Craig and I would love to help you through the Individual Giving Mastery Program, which starts in November. At the time of publishing this, there are just two places left. So if you’re curious about how this program grows your confidence, your skills and your results, do head over to brightspotfundraising.co.uk/service and then scroll down to find out all about the Individual Giving Mastery Program.

Rob:

And if you found my discussion with Craig helpful, I would so appreciate it if you could take a moment to share it on with other fundraisers that you know, so that we can get these ideas out to as many charities as possible during this difficult year. And if you want to get in touch, we’d love to hear from you. Craig and I are both on LinkedIn and on Twitter. Craig is @frdetective and I’m @woods_rob. Lastly, thank you so much for listening today. And until the next time, good luck with all your efforts to make a positive difference.