How do you improve response rates in Individual Giving?

I’m excited to share another guest blog this week from Craig Linton (aka The Fundraising Detective). Craig is the author of Donors for Life as well as numerous blogs, and is the Co-trainer on Bright Spot’s Individual Giving Mastery Programme.

Why do expert performers like pilots and doctors sometimes make mistakes? And what can anyone who performs a complex skill, including fundraisers, do to ensure they deliver at a consistently high standard?

These are questions that the surgeon and author Atul Gawande asked as he carried out the research that formed the basis for his excellent book The Checklist Manifesto.

A key thing he found was that even experts in a particular field can miss opportunities and make mistakes, especially because of the busy, distracting environments they operate in. (Note any parallels with the imperfect cultures fundraisers often operate in?)

In the book, Gawande shows how the airline industry has dramatically reduced accidents by the rigorous use of checklists for key procedures. One reason checklists are so powerful is that even when (especially when) you are relatively skilful, the human brain can easily get distracted from successfully executing all the elements of that skill. But it’s also human nature to sometimes be very reluctant to embrace the truth that this could happen.

Importantly, however skilful you may be, Gawande’s research shows that using checklists reduces mistakes and improves performance. Most tellingly, though many surgeons felt they themselves did not actually want checklists…they all said that if they were a patient undergoing an operation, they would definitely want their surgeon to ALWAYS use a checklist.

The RESPOND model for improving results

The use of checklists is now something I now habitually use to help fundraisers improve their results and to make sure projects run smoothly.

The most powerful one I’ve developed is the RESPOND model. I use this to assess every element of any direct marketing fundraising campaign. This makes sure everything is in place to maximise the chances that your reader will respond.

In fact, when we asked for feedback on previous Individual Giving Mastery Programme, more than half the fundraisers mentioned the RESPOND checklist and how it had improved their fundraising. Louise Skinner told the group she had found it really valuable for helping her colleagues in her health charity to systematically evaluate and improve their appeals. Indeed, two graduates from the 2019/20 programme used the model to evaluate their Covid-19 emergency appeals. Jax Jones, individual giving manager at Mountbatten Hospice, shared that the checklist had helped their appeal raise a record amount, including an email that raised over £30,000. ( )

The RESPOND mnemonic stands for:

  • Response mechanism – how easy is it to respond? Have we reduced friction and hassle to the minimum for donors?
  • Emotion – what emotions is your campaign trying to inspire in the donor? How does this link to their personal reasons for giving?
  • Story – what is the best story to convey the emotion(s) you want to convey? For example, stories with a single identifiable victim can be particularly effective in the right circumstances.
  • Pictures and layout – do the pictures you use support the story? Is your campaign easy to read and comprehend?
  • Offer – what is the call to action? Is the need clear and urgent?
  • Narrative and copy – is the story well written and easy to comprehend?
  • Data and media channel – what is the best way to get your campaign to the right people? What channels can you use?

In practice I’ve found there are dozens of ways these questions can help you improve your results, but for now, here’s one quick example. It’s about which PICTURES you use. Many charities often debate the pros and cons of using negative or positive images. Whilst this debate is important, it often misses the point.

Often, the most important question to ask is…

Does the image support the story and message you’re sharing in the copy? 

For example, if you’re telling a sad story, but show pictures of smiling faces, then the reader may not only find it confusing at a conscious level. At the important subconscious level, the message you are sending will be incongruent and therefore far less persuasive.

In a series of tests I did at a charity for a train-ad campaign, using a photo which conflicted with the message seriously reduced response rates. In fact, in the worst case using a positive image with a negative message reduced SMS response rates by over 75% – which would obviously be huge loss of income that could be avoided.

Beware, if this concept appears obvious to you, remember that the doctors and pilots that Gawande studied felt they ‘knew’ (intellectually) how to do their jobs, but nevertheless their results dramatically improved when they implemented tools to systematically improve their ability to make better decisions.

So I’ve found that even experienced fundraisers often improve their results by using the RESPOND system and asking themselves the fundamental questions which it prompts.

Curious? Here’s how to find out more….

If you’re curious about the Individual Giving Mastery Programme, you can find out more by following the link above, or send me a message by replying to this email.

The next programme starts on 3rd November 2020 and runs until March 2021.

Or you can find out more about any of our other training courses, including our in-house training days and our Major Gifts Mastery and Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programmes, by following this link.