Four Individual Giving Pitfalls this year, (and how to solve them).

As some sources of income for charities have been badly hit by the effects of COVID19, individual giving income is now more important than ever.

But with so much on your plate, what activities are most likely to make a difference to keeping your income from individuals strong (and increasing the chances that it will grow?)

To create Episode 40 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast (which is free from I-tunes, Spotify, Stitcher etc, I recently caught up with the hugely experienced individual giving expert Craig Linton, who is co-trainer on the Individual Giving Mastery Programme, to find out the key activities he’s been advising his charity clients to make time for this Autumn and Winter.

1. Acknowledge their situation.

Craig told me ‘one of the biggest mistakes at times I’ve seen this year from individual giving fundraisers is to almost burying their head in the sand and not recognise what’s going on in our supporters’ lives’. I appreciate this sounds incredibly obvious, but has your charity updated all its communication to speak authentically to supporters in line with the extraordinary events of 2020?

One element of this is to recognise up front that this might be a difficult time. And Craig talks about the importance of explicitly giving people permission to say no. We’ve found that when charities have been up front and understanding in this way, their supporters have responded really well.

Craig went on to reference the excellent advice on asking from the successful musician and record-breaking crowd funder, Amanda Palmer, who explains how important it is to ask for help in such a way that the person you are talking feels no pressure to say ‘yes’.

Clearly if you’re able to have an actual conversation with a supporter, you can get clear on this open, relaxed signal you are sending, as you talk to them. Hopefully they can hear from your tone that you care about them and, when appropriate, you give them the opportunity to choose to help your charity at the moment. But in terms of written communication, what can you do?

Clearly there are lots of options, but one turn of phrase Craig has found helpful is suggested by Roger Dooler in his Neuromarketing blog. Apparently, including a phrase such as ‘…feel free to say no…’ can be extremely helpful in taking the pressure off. We believe you need to mean this when you draft the letter, so that you’re not just paying lip service to the idea.

Another idea is in acknowledging that people may be having a hard time, for instance on furlough or maybe because they’ve lost their job. With this in mind, one charity Craig works with said something like ‘…if that’s you, just send us a message instead (of giving). We’d just love to hear from you and how you’re doing. But if your circumstances are OK, then please do consider making a gift.’ Which leads us on to Craig next piece of advice…

2. Continue to ask for support

The truth is, while some people are obviously having an incredibly difficult year, including in terms of their finances, there are some people who are doing fine, or are even better off than they normally would be. For instance if they may still be working but are spending far less on holidays, travel and hobbies like the theatre, cinema etc than usual. This is one reason why many charities have found that some of their donors are being more generous than in previous years.

But Craig points out that for a range of reasons, many charities have pulled back budgets or stopped an appeal, which we believe is a false economy if it can be avoided.

In contrast, we’ve found that some charities are having their best ever results in terms of individual giving. This is not only in areas obviously connected with health / COVID. The thing these charities have in common is they’ve not stopped explaining the challenges their beneficiaries face and not stopped asking for donations so they can help.

And this is another reason why our first point is so important. It’s much easier to confidently ask for help if you’ve shown an interest in how your supporters are doing and acknowledged that things may not be easy. You’ve been respectful, and you can have the confidence to ask for help.

Craig cites one charity he has been working with that chose to go ahead with a door-drop campaign this year, to pay for an important piece of equipment, an incubator. He says the copy from the Chief Executive was along the lines of “we hope this finds you well. We hope you’re okay. If you are able to, then please do give to help fund this important equipment. And if not, then we understand and please pass this on to someone else.”

The door drop has been phenomenally successful. He said ‘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.’

3. Be proactive in showing the difference they’ve made.

Another short-sighted error Craig has noticed some charities making recently is to fail to make time and budget to give feedback to donors about the difference their gifts are making.

Under pressure, it is all too easy to not quite get round to creating some ‘stewardship’ communication with the objective of showing the difference donors’ gifts have made.

Craig mentioned one charity he works with that has been proactively sending extra thank yous this year to its mid-level supporters, and tracked their giving levels. And the average level of giving from this group has doubled this year.

We also talk about results that the IG expert Rachel Hunnybun described in Episode 5 of my podcast, which may also help you justify effort to be more proactive in the way you thank supporters.

A couple of years ago, after a particularly successful appeal, Rachel decided to send a hand-written thank you card to donors who had been more generous than usual with their gift. Rather than send cards to people who had given over an arbitrary amount, she decided to send a special thank you to the 24% of people who had far exceeded their own typical gift.

She measured the difference in giving from those who had received the extra handwritten thank you note compared to those who had not. The act of sending this extra special thank you led to tens of thousands of pounds in further donations. From the group who had received the extra thank you, giving the next year increased 174%.

So Craig’s third tip is that if you plan to make a request for funds in December, making time now for more thank yous (hand written cards, phone calls, letters etc etc) is likely to make a clear, positive difference to that success.

And if you don’t have the time and budget to do any of the above, at the very least, could you send an extra thank you email now. It will be all the more effective it if you include some an appropriate image and / or a link to a simple thank you film from your CEO / someone in a service delivery team, recorded on zoom or with a smart phone.

4. Make it easier to respond

One of the many themes we explore and offer tactics to improve in the Individual Giving Mastery Programme, is in terms of small but powerful changes you can make to your response form. For instance, where there is a string of levels at which people could choose to give, most charities include one box labelled ‘other’. Craig suggests finding some warmer and more interesting language here, such as ‘Surprise us with an extra special gift this year’ or ‘Help give a little bit more to make up for those who can/t give’ etc. What could you try?

There are several things you can test to increase the effectiveness of your response form, but one of the themes we’ve found to be effective is in terms of making the package you are asking donors to help pay for as concrete as possible, (eg to help buy a meal), and secondly, to offer multiples of this package (eg 10 or 30 meals) rather than to offer different packages which seem un-related (eg one counselling session or one meal.) Of course, as Emily Casson advises in Episode 15 of my podcast, you should test everything, but all things being equal, Craig has found keeping a consistency in terms of your theme, across the offered giving levels, increases the size of the average gift.

Would you like the training, support and coaching to improve you individual giving results in 2020 / 2021?

At the time of publishing, there are just TWO places left for the Individual Giving Mastery Programme that starts in November 2020. To find out more, follow this link, and to set up a quick chat with Craig or Rob, follow this link.