Episode 53: Adapting your approach – with Paula Radley

Episode Notes

All charities have had to pivot their fundraising strategy to some extent during the pandemic.

And there are some determined, creative fundraisers who have found canny ways to defy the difficulties and get great results. I love studying these examples because they reinforce the helpful belief that perseverance pays off.

So in this episode, I was delighted to talk to Paula Radley, Head of Face to Face Supporter Recruitment at Greenpeace UK. She explains the challenges her team has faced, and some innovative ways they adapted. In fact, their campaign in the summer of 2020 raised 20% more than in pre-COVID door to door campaigns.

No matter what kind of fundraising you do, I hope you feel as encouraged by Paula’s examples as I did.

Thank you SO much to everyone who has been sharing this podcast with colleagues and other charities on social media. I really appreciate your help, so that we can get these ideas to as many charities as possible during the pandemic.

And if you want to get in touch or share this episode, Paula and I would love to hear from you – we’re both on linked in, and on twitter I’m @woods_rob.

If you find this episode helpful, please subscribe to the podcast today, so you don’t miss out on all the other episodes we have planned to help charities raise funds successfully during the pandemic.

Further Resources

Want training, inspiration and support to increase fundraising income? You can find out more about the Major Gifts Mastery Programme; the Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme or the Individual Giving Mastery Programme by following these links.

Free E-book. If you’d like to know powerful strategies to help you raise funds during the pandemic, then do check out my new free E-book: Power Through The Pandemic – Seven ways to raise money with major donors, corporates and trusts, even now. You can download it for FREE here: brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power

Ongoing training and inspiration

Are you tired of one-off conference sessions and training days, where any info you learn fades away within a week or two of the event?

Our Bright Spot Members Club is a training and inspiration site for fundraisers who want to access practical learning on an ongoing basis. All the learning bundles are available 24/7 and there are inspiring live masterclasses and problem-solving sessions every week, on a broad range of fundraising subjects, as well as a supportive community. To find out more, go to www.brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join/

Quote from this episode

On the mats we had a picture of an orangutan with its arms open. So it was kind of an icebreaker when people opened the door. They’re like, “What the hell is this?” But it made people smile and it gave reassurance that we weren’t going to come any closer.’

Paula Radley

Full Transcript of Episode 53

Rob:

Hello, fundraisers. I really hope you’re doing okay. And welcome to episode 53 of The Fundraising Bright Spots Podcast. This is the podcast for fundraisers who want ideas and a dose of inspiration to help you raise more money and make a bigger difference, especially during the pandemic.

And if you’d like to hear an encouraging story of a charity finding a way to pivot the way they do their fundraising activity against the odds, I think you’re going to find today’s episode really interesting. Because today, I’m talking to Paula Radley who is head of Face-To-Face Supporter Recruitment for Greenpeace in the UK. Paula and her team have had to deal with so many challenges during the COVID crisis and I was so impressed to hear how they’ve not only adapted, but also got such impressive results in spite of all the difficulties. No matter what kind of fundraising you work in, I think you’re going to enjoy this story of some committed creative fundraisers overcoming adversity and I hope you might see some parallels in how you continue to approach your own fundraising challenges this year.

Hello Paula Radley.

Paula:

Hi.

Rob:

How are you today? It’s the end of a week during this third lockdown. How’s life treating you at the moment?

Paula:

Not too bad. Same old, same old. I feel like every week is the same at the moment. So, it’s all right so far.

Rob:

Yeah. Good. And thank you so much for making time to talk to me for the podcast. I heard just some really interesting things that you and your team at Greenpeace have been doing during the pandemic and I wanted to set up an interview to find out more. Before we get into that, what’s your job title at Greenpeace?

Paula:

So I’m the Head of Face-To-Face Supporter Recruitment.

Rob:

Okay. And am I right to think that different charities, if they have some kind of face-to-face or door-to-door type fundraising stream, they’d have different ways of resourcing it, but how is it structured at your organization?

Paula:

Yeah, so some charities, they’ll use just agency or just in-house, we do a combination of both. We use one agency for events fundraising, but we mainly do our fundraising in-house. So we manage it, the fundraisers are managed by Greenpeace. We actually use a recruitment agency for their payroll and things, which is called Inspired People, but we consider them all an in-house team.

Rob:

Yeah. Okay. And goodness me, various kinds of fundraising have been thrown many curve balls since March, 2020, but I can totally see how your kind of fundraising has really had some challenges, to put it very mildly. Could you tell us the story then briefly in terms of, I imagine March, 2020, you weren’t able to do much, but then where you went from there in hearing the new government guidelines on lockdown and social distancing and so on and what you then proceeded to do?

Paula:

Yeah. So obviously we do mainly door-to-door and also festival fundraising in-house. So we had to completely stop all of that and we stopped that a little bit earlier than the government advised because we were getting feedback from the fundraisers that they weren’t that comfortable. So we stopped all fundraising, I think it was about mid-March, just for public health and fundraiser health. And at the time, furlough hadn’t been announced, but we were really lucky that we’ve got a really supportive senior management team who had guaranteed fundraisers some financial stability, at least in the short term.

And then quite soon after that, furlough was announced, which was obviously quite a relief, but we also wanted to explore different ways of bringing in supporters into Greenpeace and still connecting with the public, despite lockdown. Face-to-face is obviously really important for generating income, but more than that, we speak to thousands of people a week and let them know about our work and answer questions and things. So we wanted to keep that connection with the public. So we looked into Zoom fundraising and that was something that we started up in that early stage in lockdown.

Rob:

And how did that work? What was the basic premise?

Paula:

It’s quite a small campaign, but it was at the time, it seems ages ago now, where Zoom, everyone was just starting to use Zoom and doing family quizzes and things on a Friday night. So we wanted to take advantage of this kind of new medium that everyone in the country was starting to use. So we started inviting people on our database who had maybe signed petitions and things. We invited them to book appointments with us to have a chat on Zoom and we gave people about a half an hour slot and they’d come in and speak to one of our more senior face-to-face fundraisers.

Rob:

And then, did that lead to some of those people who might not have signed up previously to give a regular gift, some of them were signing up?

Paula:

Yeah. We had a really great response. Because of our database, we can’t always include or exclude everybody that would necessarily be able to do a direct debit. So we had people who were maybe too young to do a direct debit, but they were just really interested in the environment. And then we had other people that were really generous and signed up with really great ongoing gifts. We had a really good response, but I think every conversation we had was a really quality interaction. And we were speaking to people who we just wouldn’t have met otherwise in places in Ireland, and Scotland, which we just don’t go door to door in. So it was actually an opportunity to reach out to people who you wouldn’t do otherwise.

Rob:

And are you still doing some version of that and/or because of those various advantages to that medium reaching people further afield? Might that still be one of the activities you do even after social distancing and so on is no longer such an issue?

Paula:

I think we do. Yeah. I think it’s been really great for, as I say, not just for fundraising, but we’ve had loads of people joining the cause because they want to join as volunteers or maybe they have a business that they want to get involved with Greenpeace somehow. So we’re getting loads of those kind of calls, which yeah, I think it would be a shame not to have them. As I say, it is small, we only have a couple of people doing these calls at any one time, but yeah, I think it’s a really great thing and I’m really glad we’re doing it.

Rob:

So that’s continued for a lot of the pandemic so far?

Paula:

Yep. We’ve done it pretty much full time since, I don’t know, it was about mid-summer, sort of June I think we started. So yeah, we have quite a few calls every week. We send an email out every two weeks, so we get a flurry of calls and then it quietens down and then we send another one.

Rob:

And I sense, in addition to the fact that some people are signing up to some kind of regular gift, I sense a key strength of it, and maybe this has helped because your team is in-house, so they have got that bit more knowledge of other fundraising teams and what they’re trying to do. I sense a key strength of this, is it genuinely is about, it’s supporter-led in its engagement and depending on what the person you’re talking to wants to do, or is interested in, your colleague then signposts them on either to be in touch with the corporate fundraiser or someone who looks after legacies or whatever. So it’s feeding these other ways of supporting Greenpeace because your colleague is quite deliberately that first port of call, but they’re knowledgeable about the other streams?

Paula:

Yeah. I think we are really lucky with Greenpeace is quite different to a lot of charities I’ve worked for before in that pretty much everyone that works for Greenpeace is really passionate about environment and Greenpeace itself. So they don’t just have knowledge that they’ve been trained on in a training day, they live and breathe the things that we do. And so it means that they have really wide knowledge and you have to. The people who come on the calls are often as knowledgeable about the environment and have really specific questions.

And we can’t always answer them at the time. We can always follow up with email and it’s a great medium to use because you can show people pictures, we’ve got interactive maps we can show people things. So it’s got the advantage over something like telephone as well, which it’s good for auditory kind of communication, but you can actually show people things or they bring something up and you can quickly Google a picture of it, of what you’re trying to explain and things. So yeah, it’s a great way to communicate.

Rob:

So, this sounds like a really useful pivot in your approach that has paid off, especially given that you still kept going with it. If you were top line to give us a sense of how you’ve evaluated those results, how is it working?

Paula:

I think it’s constant and qualitative. When it comes to sign up rates, it’s about the same as door to door. So about one in five people that we speak to converts to a long-term director, but it’s a really good average donation, higher than our door-to-door. So it’s probably about 15% higher than door-to-door. For us, it’s just getting people to turn up. It’s about a 65% turn-up rate. So people forget about the calls and reschedule and things. So it is as profitable probably as door-to-door, but it also has all these other benefits of people joining as volunteers and us being able to share information with them via links and things during the call, which we couldn’t do in any other fundraising way very easily. So I think from that perspective, it’s a quality interaction and I think later down the line, we’ll see that in terms of people joining Greenpeace’s volunteers or activists, which at the moment we don’t necessarily have the data for.

Rob:

That’s fantastic. I can absolutely see how it’s really bringing those rewards. And if we now move onto the other key initiative, I gather that you and your team did last summer, I think it might’ve been July. Could you just tell us the bit of the thinking and the problem solving that led up to that and then what challenges you had to overcome and then what you ended up doing in terms of going back out door-to-door, albeit in a slightly different way?

Paula:

Yeah. So, it was quite a long journey, really. I think over the last few years at Greenpeace, we’ve hosted what we call the Charity Collaboration Event. It started off as a few of us in the Greenpeace office just sharing ideas, where we invite face-to-face fundraising managers from different charities and we all come together and sort of network. And I think when the pandemic hit, it was a really good thing to draw onto. So we had these calls with the wider industry and it went from being 10 to 15 people to suddenly having 100 people from over 70 different charities and agencies in the UK. And this is the benefit of putting things online and on Zoom. It worked really well and it meant that we could just share ideas, share concerns, come up with agreed standards and we could all work to the same thing.

The great thing with that as well is that we could invite charities from other countries. And some of those in Italy or the Netherlands were ahead of us in the pandemic. And so we could try and foresee what was likely to happen in the UK. And it was great. We had people being able to do presentations from, for example, Save The Children in the Netherlands shared this great idea of having these mats and they’re this rectangular mat that rolled out from the doorway which demonstrated the distance that the fundraiser’s standing at, which was fantastic.

And there was a UK face-to-face agency who looked into using metal hooks to open gates and ring doorbells, so we didn’t have to worry about transmission on doors and things. And it was just this one place where we could all come together every couple of weeks and just share ideas. And it meant that we were all pooling resources, rather than trying to battle through risk assessments on our own and trying to work out what distance droplets, how far back do we stand and can you pitch wearing a mask and what kind of mask is better to be wearing?

And it was hours of conversations with a lot of people in the industry and it was only people’s willingness to share and just being really open and agencies that would normally be in competition with each other just being really nice and sharing all of this really hard work they’d done with everyone else. It meant that we were all confident that each other was going out and doing door-to-door or street or private sites well and the entire industry would be seen to be doing that well, which was really important.

Rob:

Yeah. So what a wonderful initiative and I know that there’s lots of other groups like that for different types of charity or types of fundraising. And clearly there are so many benefits and you’ve outlined several of those. And so, what did you glean from that? What did you decide to go ahead with and why?

Paula:

So we decided to go with the mat idea, as I say, it wasn’t ours, but we borrowed it enthusiastically from other people. We went with a lightweight material, which we actually use normally for banners at our actions and protests. And we went with a picture of an orangutan with its arms open. So it was kind of an icebreaker when people open the door. They’re like, “What the hell is this?” But it made people smile and it gave reassurance that we weren’t going to come any closer, but also was not too heavy for fundraisers to carry around and that kind of thing.

We also used the metal hooks to open gates and we had the ability to sign people up remotely on the tablets that we use. And we trialed using visors, but then as more information came out, we were actually advised by our own science unit at Greenpeace to move to masks. So it was a little bit trial and error and we were getting feedback from the fundraisers.

There’s obviously inclusion issues with wearing masks for people who are hard of hearing and things, if they can’t lip read. So it wasn’t without its issues, despite all of that. And we sort of just had to see how it went and get feedback. Equally, the mats were wonderful up until the end of the summer where it started raining and then they just get really dirty and the fundraisers get really sick of carrying around something that’s disgusting. So we then went for this kind of telescopic pole. We did use a measuring tape at one point, but we were getting complaints from the public. They thought we were measuring parts of their house, which obviously wasn’t what we were doing. Or just confusion, I think, rather than complaint.

So, we worked away around these different things and I think all the way through, we put any ideas that we had to the fundraisers themselves. At the end of the day, they’re the ones that have to use it and they gave feedback on what they wanted and what they’d prefer to have. Yeah. And our managers went out and trialed everything before we went back out. Yeah.

I think, when it came to the end of the lockdown, we wanted to go out as early as it was safe to do so. And we had been topping up our fundraisers to 100% of their average wages, which is obviously quite a cost implication. So we had to get this balance of getting people back out when it was safe, but also wanting to take advantage of this gap that we knew was going to happen before the second wave to get that balance of being safe and making use of the time. And yeah, I think it was hopefully, I think we timed it about right which was great.

Rob:

And presumably a lot of the benefit to this, clearly it’s truly important to send the signal to the public that you’re respectful of them and the great importance of safety and going above and beyond in terms of safety and so on. But if it’d have been me, I would have been really nervous in March, April, May, just about the idea of going back out again, given how the world was feeling at that time. So presumably, one of the key benefits to this was being able to reassure them that if we go back out at all, we’re going to do it as safely as possible from the point of view of the person you’re going to talk to.

Paula:

Yeah, definitely. I think, quite rightly, there was a lot of apprehension about, when do we go back out? And in the industry, everyone was saying, “We don’t want to be first.” Everyone kept saying it, “We don’t want to be first. We don’t want to be first.” Well, somebody has got to go first. I think with our fundraisers, we’re very lucky with the fundraisers that we have at Greenpeace, they’re all really lovely, they’re very committed to Greenpeace. And a lot of them have been with us for quite a long time. And what I found was really nice, we had this huge amount of trust from them that we were going to get it right.

Equally, quite a lot of responsibility when we realized that there was this trust there. And so it was really important that we did get that right. We spoke to every fundraiser individually to check how they were throughout the lockdown. And we surveyed everybody to check what their concerns were, to check that what we had thought they were, that was actually correct. And I think when we showed them the mitigations and we gave them options to feed into it, I think most were pretty happy as much as they were going to be to go back out.

And we did everything we could in terms of area, the fundraisers couldn’t use public transport to start with, a lot of them cycle anyway. Being Greenpeace, we don’t drive much. So, I think we did everything that we could and I think it was felt that, yeah, there was a lot of trust from them that we were doing everything we could in terms of risk assessments.

Rob:

Hey, it’s Rob, and I just want to jump in really quickly just in case you’re a corporate fundraiser or a trusts or a major donor fundraiser to let you know that we’ve just launched new dates for our Mastery Programs in Major Gifts and in Corporate Partnerships Fundraising. We’ve found that these in-depth programs which include master classes and individual coaching and access to all of the courses and support in the Bright Spot Members Club, are proving more helpful than ever to fundraisers during the pandemic.

In fact, if you were at our virtual Breakfast Clubs last year, you may remember one wonderful fundraiser named Leanne who attended our Corporate Mastery Programme, share how she used things she learned in that program to raise four large gifts and partnerships, totaling more than £90,000 as the pandemic unfolded, which made a huge difference to her small international literacy charity.

So if you’re curious about how the Corporate Mastery Program or the Major Gifts Mastery Program would help you to improve high-value fundraising results, you can find out more by visiting our website, which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk and then clicking on the services section to find out more about either the Corporate one or the Major Gifts Mastery Program. For now though, back to the interview as Paula and I go on to talk about the results that the adapted approach achieved.

And broadly, it sounded to me like it paid off, you were able to get out there, respecting both the concerns of the fundraisers and the potential concerns of people who might be opening the door, and you got out at all, which must’ve paid great dividends for the morale of your team. And it seemed to work. I mean, how were the results in terms of people signing up because of that initiative?

Paula:

Yeah. So, one thing I’ve missed is that, so one of the biggest apprehensions the fundraisers had was the response from the public. And it was something that nobody knew, what are the public going to think about us coming back out? And so to mitigate that, we did this stickering trial. So we got the fundraisers to drop these letters through everyone’s doors. The letters explained what precautions we were taking, why we were there, and it gave people a chance to opt out of us knocking on their door. So they could put a sticker on the outside of their door, like an easily removable sticker, of a little orangutan face and so when we were coming around, if people were shielding or they just didn’t want us to knock, we’d respect that and we’d just take the sticker and go.

And I think it didn’t actually have a massive uptake from the public. Either people wanted to speak to us or they didn’t engage with the letter very well, but it was actually a big confidence boost for the fundraisers to know that everyone had had the chance to opt out and it’s even more reassuring when there wasn’t loads of stickers. It was always a risk that everyone would put up a sticker and no one would want to talk to us at all, but it was only about just under 2% of doors that we dropped these stickers into actually put them up on the door. It was so few that we ended up stopping the trial after a few weeks, but for me, it was the most important thing was the fundraisers were really confident going back out because other countries had told us that that was the biggest determiner of success was how confident the fundraisers were.

And when they did go back out, we had a higher contact rate with the public because more people are working from home. We didn’t have any new fundraisers because it was difficult to train them, so it meant that our team leaders were a little bit freer than normal. And we ended up seeing results being about 20% higher than they were before COVID, partly due to no new people, but also because just more people were home and more people had time to talk. Everyone used to be so busy, they didn’t have time, but now they did. Yeah. Donation was about the same, sign up rate was 20% higher.

Rob:

So congratulations, Paula, to you and to everyone involved in this bold and creative decision. Seems like, financially, it really paid off for Greenpeace’s fundraising. And how was the experience for your fundraisers in terms of how they were received on most doorsteps?

Paula:

I’m sure they could probably give you a more succinct answer than me, but I think on the whole, the public responded incredibly well. We had fewer complaints than we’ve ever had. We don’t get many anyway, to be honest, but had very, very few complaints. And the only ones that ever mentioned anything to do with us being out during the pandemic was a side note on just the fact they didn’t really like door-to-door and that’s fine.

I think a lot of people think that face-to-face often has a bad reputation, I think in the fundraising industry sometimes. And I think what most people don’t get to see, if they haven’t done the job, is that most people are nice and they like to talk. And even if they don’t donate, most people are nice and people actually really appreciated having someone coming around and talking to them when they’ve been locked up for several months. People are quite nice, it’s quite nice to have a human connection and those are one of the benefits of face-to-face and I think it was nice to see that wasn’t lost over the pandemic.

Rob:

Yeah. And in a time when so many people are in more trouble financially or their health is suffering or they may even be dealing with grief or whatever, to be able to talk to someone else who shares your values is a thing that can be good for the spirit, can’t it? I’m sure many people are having a good chat, whether they signed up or not, their day will have been lifted.

Paula:

I would like to hope so. I think so, as I say, we have really great fundraisers and I mean, the job has been harder for them. There’s no qualms about that. It’s definitely harder for them, they’ve had to often walk really long distances to get to the area because they’re avoiding public transport to be safer. Often some of them have kids at home who are off school and there’s been childcare issues and they’re having to carry these mats around, they’re having to wear masks all day, which is really hot and uncomfortable and they’ve all just not complained, they’ve all been really great about it.

And they’re used to working in really big teams of people and we’ve had to stop that and many of them are working completely on their own. And so, for them having those conversations with the public is really important as well. It lifts them as well as lifting the public and hopefully every interaction leaves people feeling a little bit happier and yeah. It’s difficult anytime.

Rob:

Yeah. And as an observer of the thing, because I’ve seen the photos of your lovely mats, one of the reason I love this story is it’s a classic example of turning a disadvantage into an advantage. I see that wonderful, colourful mat with an orangutan and it puts a smile on my face and it’s so evocative of what you stand for. And without knowing all the data and all the issues, that’s part of the reason in my head, why lots of these conversations went better because they were primed right from the very start with this extra stimulus and this warm playful stimulus, which is consistent with what you stand for and hopefully it will be consistent with what anyone who wants to sign up stands for as well. So having that ice breaker created so effectively, I love that about it.

Just before we finish, as you reflect on the whole thing, and I know we’ve all got a lot further to go depending on how the pandemic continues to develop, but based on the story so far, there’s so much about this story that I find inspiring, Paula. As you observe it, in terms of the seeking views from others elsewhere and the hunger to learn and/or paying really close attention to the concerns of your team and then the problem-solving element of it, the senior management being supportive and making those decisions. What’s your take on one or two of the bits of this story that you think helped it to work well so far?

Paula:

I think, as I say, that sharing with everyone in the industry, putting aside that competition, which comes very naturally with fundraisers in general I think, putting that aside and everyone working together, it meant that we all ended up with a better set of standards at the end.

So I think that’s very important, getting the buy-in from the fundraisers, but for me I think I was very lucky at Greenpeace because our senior management team, I think they trusted that people like myself and the rest of the operations team in face-to-face, we’ve all done the job for a long time. We’ve been there, we’ve done fundraising, we understand how door to door works. And the key decisions that were made were left to us and that was really fantastic. And I think when you have a senior management team that trusts your face to face manager to make the decisions about face-to-face, I think that’s one of the reasons it worked really well. And yeah, I’d like to see that happen in more places really.

Rob:

Yeah, absolutely. It’s such a crucial element. So Paula, thank you so much for taking us through these examples of what you’ve been doing so far. I hope listeners, whether they work in your kind of fundraising or not, are going to take some encouragement and some ideas from your approach to pivoting and doing things differently to handle the challenges of the pandemic. So, thank you for explaining how it went, your reasoning and those results. Huge congratulations to everyone involved. And thank you for telling that story on the podcast. Thanks Paula. Bye-bye.

Paula:

Thanks very much for having me.

Rob:

Well, I hope you enjoyed hearing how Paula and her team have adapted to meet their challenges. If you found it helpful, please do remember to subscribe to the podcast today so you don’t miss out on any of the other episodes we’ve got coming up. For a full transcript and a summary of this episode, go to the blog and podcast section of our website, which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk. And if you’d like some more ideas to help you succeed during the pandemic, then why not download my ebook? It’s called Power Through the Pandemic and it gives seven key strategies to help you raise money, even now through major donors, through corporates, and through trusts. You can download it for free from brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who’s left us a review on iTunes or on Spotify and to everyone who’s been spreading the word about this show to colleagues and on social media. I really do appreciate your help. And Paula and I would love to hear what you think about this episode, we’re both on LinkedIn. And on Twitter, I am @woods_rob. Thank you for listening today and I wish you the very best of luck as you continue to find ways to succeed in your fundraising, even if that means adapting how you do that.