Episode 82: How to upgrade gift size and reactivate cancellations, with Jenny Crabtree

Episode Notes

An important element of successful individual giving programmes is growing income from those who currently support. To achieve this, being organised about asking people to give more, and re-start once they’ve stopped, is key.

Rob recently worked with the very experienced individual giving expert, Jenny Crabtree, to create a new video learning bundle for the Bright Spot Members Club, on How to Improve Upgrade and Reactivation Results. Today’s episode is an excerpt from that session.

Jenny explores a range of ideas that she has found grow results, including: mind-set; cross-selling; finding opportunities for growth in your data; testing; and engaging supporters long before you come to ask again.

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

Further Resources

Want to go deeper and get 24/7 access to LOTS more inspiring training content?

Our training and inspiration club for fundraisers, the Bright Spot Members Club, has an extensive library of Rob’s best training films, a supportive community, and access to live masterclasses and problem-solving sessions with Rob and other experienced fundraising / leadership trainers, including Jenny Crabtree, EVERY WEEK. To find out more about how to get access to all these resources, go to www.brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join/

Would you like training, inspiration and support to increase fundraising income? You can find out more about our flagship 6 month programmes: the Major Gifts Mastery Programme; the Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme or the Individual Giving Mastery Programme by following these links.


‘In my experience the best forming channel for upgrade or reactivation, is telephone… I think the key is it is a two-way conversation with a real human being.’

Jenny Crabtree

Full transcript of Episode 82


Hey there folks, and welcome to Episode 82 of the Fundraising Bright Spots Podcast. My name is Rob Woods. This is the podcast for anyone who works in fundraising, who wants ideas and maybe a dash of inspiration to help you raise more money and enjoy your job, especially during the COVID crisis. And if you work in individual giving, or you are a fundraising leader and you’d like to better understand some key ideas that help make individual giving programs successful, I hope you’re going to find today’s episode really helpful, because today we are looking at how you can encourage regular donors to donate more per month, and what you can do if they stop giving. In other words, the concepts of upgrade and reactivation.

I recently spoke to a brilliant fundraiser named Jenny Crabtree from Navigate Fundraising to create a new video learning bundle for our Bright Spot Members Club, on the valuable topic of how to improve results in terms of upgrades and reactivation. And I found Jenny’s advice and clear thinking on these topics so helpful that I was determined to share it as a podcast episode two, not least because it’s a topic that several of our listeners have been asking me about recently. So let’s get straight to it. Here’s the excerpt from my chat with Jenny Crabtree.


Hello, Jenny, how are you?


I’m good thanks, Rob. Good. Thank you very much for having me today.


You’re very welcome. And here we are then at the tail end of 2021, and thank you very much for making time to chat about this new topic, avid listeners to this podcast might remember that you created another really helpful interview for me. If they want to check it out, it’s episode 52, where you were talking about various things people can deliberately do to set up an individual giving program for the first time. And we received some lovely feedback about your ideas on that topic. But this time, I want to do something maybe a little more advanced in particular for charities that have already got an IG program established, but this idea of how do we look at upgrading or reactivating where people they are ongoingly giving, for instance, five pounds a month. And we would love it if they would give a little more, or they were giving, but they’ve stopped. And you and I were chatting the other day and you had some really interesting ideas, principles and, but also some tactics for how charities can quite deliberately approach those two topics.

Before we get going into it, what would you say about that as a challenge? What can happen from the point of view of the supportive, from the point of view of the charity that clearly values the money that they can spend on the good cause?


Yeah, regular giving is the cornerstone of so many individual giving programs. And as a sector, it is worth so much money to us. I think the last stats I read were around, it’s worth around three billion pounds a year. So this is huge. And some charities will have a very tiny fledgling individual giving program with perhaps a hundred or so regular givers, other listeners I’m sure will have a much bigger program where they might have a hundred thousand regular givers, but regardless of whether you’ve got a tiny program, or a big program, you need to make sure you’ve got the basics covered, because you are going to be working your socks off to acquire people and get them to give a regular gift, which is wonderful, and that’s a whole other podcast on itself.


But once you’ve got them, you need to make sure you’ve got the plans in place to, as you say, either upgrade them and increase the value of that gift to you, or for those donors who choose to stop giving for whatever reason, it might be their own personal choice, or it might be something that you have, or haven’t done. Then there is an opportunity there to reactivate those donors onto a regular gift, or potentially something else. It’s important part of the program and that you should have plans in place to deal with all of those situations, so you are making the most of that money that you’ve invested in acquiring those donors, because it’s expensive. So make sure your program is working as hard as it possibly can for you and your charity.


Yes. That makes sense. And if we were to be proactive and organized about this, what do you think is a first key idea in actually solving it?


I think the first thing is about putting yourself in your supporters’ shoes. And this is actually where it might be a bit easier if you work for a smaller charity and have a smaller program, because it’s really easy to just get a bit siloed. We’ve all got targets for fundraisers. We have pound signs in our day-to-day life, but sometimes just because you’ve got a target sitting in a regular giving line of your budget, doesn’t mean that, that’s the right thing for your supporters to restart regular giving. We’ve all been through times when money is really, really tight and we genuinely cannot afford to give money to a charity, no matter how much we care about it, because we’ve all got bills to pay and other things sometimes do have to come first, but that’s no reason to say that that supporter doesn’t want to help what it is that you do, you just need to offer them a different way.

So it might mean that you don’t hit the income sign above your regular giving budget, but that supporter could become a really passionate advocate for your charity. They could sign your campaigning ask to your MP if you’ve got a campaigning element that allows them to keep that relationship with your charity, they’re doing a slightly different thing for a little bit, but as their financial situation may change in future, hopefully because you’ve kept them engaged with what it is that you do, because you’ve enabled them to make a difference, albeit in a different way, then when the time is right, they will be able to come back and restart a regular gift to you and help those pound signs in that budget spreadsheet that you have to report on every month. But put yourself in that donor’s shoes, don’t fall down the trap of, well, I work in regular giving and I just need to look at this bit of the spreadsheet. Think like your donor, not like the finance director, and I will now get shot by all finance directors from across the sector. I’m very sorry.


And some of this, it comes down to our philosophy, doesn’t it? Our beliefs about what our charity is there to do, and how we should be interacting with our supporters. If we think it’s our job to get money to pay for stuff, then that’s one thing. If we think there are some people out there who really care about this important cause, and it’s my job to help them follow through on that, and make the world a better place, then I think it’s easier for us to be more relaxed and enlightened and to value time and effort to elegantly give them the opportunity to get involved in some other way, even if it’s currently not financially, it’s much easier to do that latter thing. So, I guess that’s one part of it. I’m guessing some of our listeners are totally with us on that, but their challenge is, yeah, but Rob, what about my colleagues? I’ve still got this budget to solve. So how do we go about helping our colleagues value those other kind of activities that we might encourage a supporter to do?

And I guess another bit of it though is tuning into the truth that, as long as you are helping people to do things that further the cause and help solve the problem, be it in non-financial ways, there just is some psychological research that shows that does increase the chances, that in the medium and long-term, the money will come back anyway. I’m thinking, for instance, of Professor Robert Cialdini’s six principles of influence, and one of them being about the law of commitment and consistency, interesting studies aren’t there? People being encouraged to sign a petition, or put a sign on their lawn promoting a cause, for instance, an environmental cause. And when people do, even just a small step, a relatively easy step that signals what their values are, in due course, if, and when they’re given the opportunity to sign up to take another step, for instance, a financial one, the chances that they will definitely go up.


So my view is for both those reasons, be it your philosophy and, or a real pragmatism of, yeah, but I do need to get some money in at some point, Rob, for both those reasons, seeing “reactivation” in a more holistic way rather, so that there’s more than one way someone could stay involved, either way, I think that’s helpful, isn’t it?


Yeah, absolutely. And there’s loads of examples of precisely those principles in action, it’s nothing to do with me, but the Friends of the Earth bee campaign, which then, of course, lots of charities did similar things, that one tiny step of requesting your seeds so you could plant them in your garden and help the bees. Then you went on and became, or got asked to become a financial supporter. And I think that’s a great example of the law you just mentioned of taking that tiny, easy step because it’d be quite nice to go and plant some flowers in my garden. Oh look, but now I know because I’ve read all the pack around how this will help the bees. And when I get that phone call to become a bee supporter, I will consider giving however many pounds a month to Friends of the Earth to help the bees.

So yeah, it’s very much around thinking beyond just your financial income lines, but having that longer term perspective, because we are fundraisers, we do need to raise money, and I know as well as you do that you can’t just sit there and be like, oh, the money will come in at some point, but I don’t know when. We do have to ask people for money because we’re charities, and that’s the way that a lot of us are either fully or partly funded by the generosity of people who choose to give us a financial donation, but it is a choice. They don’t have to give it. We have to ask them in the right way, we have to make them feel like they’re a really valued part of our organization and understand the real and tangible difference that their donation can and does make, and particularly in individual giving where often we raise unrestricted income, that can be a bit harder.

I sometimes look at my colleagues in major donor teams and they’ve got a capital campaign and they’ve got a really strong and tangible ask and then they can bring their donors in and say, hey, come and look round the building site. This is going to be some kennels one day, or this is going to be a new wing of our hospital. That’s harder for us to do as individual givers, because the money is unrestricted. It could be contributing towards the new wing of the hospital. It could also be paying the electricity bill, which is much less interesting for anybody to see, sadly still needs doing, but just being able to show the difference to a donor that their money makes to the cause that they care about is a really crucial part of reactivation or upgrade of making them see and feel the different that their gift is making to your charity and to the cause that they want to help is crucial. And we can chat more about that later on, but keeping that engagement there is really front and centre of any successful upgrade, or reactivation program, it’s got to be.


Yes, Jenny, that makes sense. And if we are planning our approach then, what would be the next key concept we need to get our heads around?


The first thing I would look at would be around data. I love data. Being very mindful of what levels of consent, or opt in, or legitimate interest, whichever route your charity has gone down, but that is going to be quite a practical consideration in terms of what channels are open to you to communicate and engage with your supporters. Ideally, you’ll have a really strong and engaged relationship with your donors. And for some of us that might mean we’ve got a multitude of data channels available to us, for example, you might have legitimate interest, so you are mailing them, but then you’ve all also got their consent to email them. So why not use both channels? It doesn’t have to be a single thing because, again, think about your supporter. They’ll see something through the letter box from your charity and also something in their inbox from your charity.

But in my experience, I found the single best forming channel for upgrade, or reactivation, is telephone. And again, you’ve got to have the right consents and permissions around it, but it is a really, really strongly performing channel for this kind of ask, because I think the secret is it is a two-way conversation with a real human being, it’s not just a piece of paper. It allows you to explore the reasons and the nuances for that person to support you, if it’s an upgrade campaign, why do you support my charity? And then that can give the fundraiser on the phone a range of different things to talk about, or if you’re interested in, if you’re an animal charity and that supporter is really passionate about dogs, because they’ve got their own dog, then carry on talking to them about your dog work and then use that as a reason to upgrade them, because although you might also have some really interesting work that you do with cats, if they don’t like cats, that’s not going to engage with them, that’s not going to motivate them to upgrade or reactivate.

So it’s around the lovely thing about a two way human conversation that you can find these things out there and then, and adjust your ask accordingly is really important. The other thing that I think is also very important and a great thing around having a conversation is being able to make the most of that phone call, because at the end of the day, you’re paying probably an agency to make those telephone calls for you. So use it as an opportunity to make sure you’ve got things like the contact preferences, like gift aid declarations, like the basics.

If you’ve got gaps in your data and you know that for me, you’ve just got Mrs. J Crabtree and you’re talking to me on the phone. There is a great opportunity to ask me what the J stands for, so that next time you talk to me instead of getting a very formal, dear, Mrs. Crabtree, I can get a lovely letter saying, dear, Jenny, which feels so much more personal and we’ve got a closer relationship, and it sounds really, really simple, but there’s been a lot of research done into this, getting the basics right, spell their name correctly, send it to the right address, if their house has got a name, use it.

And I know Adrian and Sergeant and Jen Shang have done a lot of research into the relationship between loyalty and the key drivers, and this very basic admin on the surface of it is surprisingly important when you look at it, and it might not be something that you are directly responsible for, you might outsource the data capture of that initial gift to an external party, or you may have a colleague who deals with handling all the inbound responses that you get, but it really does, again, come back to the data of working with whoever it is that opens that initial gift to make sure you’ve got really good quality data going on to your database. That if someone’s told you they are Mrs. Jenny Crabtree, you caption Mrs. Jenny Crabtree, not Mrs. J Crabtree. And it just, I was really shocked when I first read the research that it could make such a difference, but it really can.

So make sure that you are thinking about that as well, and checking on your data quality, how many titles are missing? Am I just J Crabtree? That it go and have a look and see what your data is telling you and use those phone calls to fill in the missing gaps, because it’s a great opportunity whilst you’re on the phone.


Hi, it’s Rob. And before we move on to Jenny’s next idea, I wanted to let you know that if you wanted to see the full film that I made with Jenny on how to improve your results with upgrades and reactivation, we’re just putting the finishing touches to it and we’ll soon be adding it to the 45 learning bundles and the weekly live workshops that are available to the fundraisers in our Bright Spot Members Club. Now, if you’re listening to this in the first few days of December 2021, and you’ve been finding my podcast episodes helpful, and you’ve wondered about dipping your toe in the water to learn at a deeper level, there is still time just to make use of our special offer before we close the doors to the Bright Spot Club from midnight on Monday the 6th of December. To give you a quick sense of the impact that ongoing access to these resources can have, here’s what one community fundraising manager, Dan McNally, shared about how the club has helped his results.

Dan McNally:

Hi, my name’s Dan McNally, and I’ve been at Bright Spots Members Club for over a year now. And what I absolutely love about the club is the practical ability to translate Rob’s amazing sessions out into real life field fundraising results. When I was at the British Heart Foundation, we created a workshop based on Rob’s corporate fundraising bundles and within six months, every single person who had gone on this workshop that we’d developed had managed to secure one of their dream 10 corporate organizations.


So if you’d like to give it a try, and I appreciate you will need to be quick to take advantage of this flash sale, but if you can, the good news is you’ll be able to get a full 12 months access to the club for the price of nine, or if you’d rather pay monthly, and again, if you join before midnight on the 6th of December 2021, you’ll take advantage of a 15% saving. To find out more, go to brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join. For now though, back to the interview, as I ask Jenny for another insight she has about how you can use data to unlock new ways to improve results.


So interesting Jenny, and in a way too, reminds me of hygiene factors in various areas of fundraising, where we are tempted to move on to the exciting scene creative stuff. And actually there’s some really fundamental things that unless you take steps to get them right, it’s really unlikely that those more advanced or creative things are likely to really make much difference. But I wonder if there’s anything beyond that way of looking at data that could be relevant to this particular question we are looking at today?


Yeah, absolutely. There was an example I heard of where there was a particular charity who had been running an upgrade campaign and started to actually ask the question of, are we really contacting everyone that we could be? And it was only when they sat down with their database manager and looked at their data, they realized that there were pockets of people that were being inadvertently missed out. And this was quite a large charity. So for them, it did add up to quite a lot of extra people that they could have, but hadn’t been putting into their upgrade activity.

So for example, if you’ve got a thousand active regular givers, just sit down and map it out with your database manager, or yourself, if you are the database manager in a small charity as well. Start with, if I have a pool of a thousand regular givers who I know are active, when I add in things like, have I got the right consent? When did I ask it? Just see how that pool whittles down and then compare that to the number of people that went into your upgrade campaign and work out, has something gone slightly array in your database query? Has somebody been coded ever so slightly incorrectly? There’s always these little bits that look tiny and inconsequential that can actually release a whole pool of new data for you to go and talk to and fundraise.

And you’ll be surprised sometimes you’ll make those phone calls and then you’ll get a, oh, I’ve wondered why I’ve not heard from you for ages from the supporter, because you’d not realized they weren’t being picked up by whichever fundraising activity it was you thought you were doing just because there’s a tiny little bit of code gone ever so slightly astray in your database. It can be really surprising sometimes what’s in there. And also on a data front is get some clues from your data in a, do a really simple crossover table looking at how many products that one supporter holds, or does for you. So is it that you literally map out and say all my regular givers, how many of them just do a regular gift? How many of them do a regular gift and sometimes give us cash? How many of them do a regular gift and have told us they plan to leave us a legacy?

And then you can start to see these little pools and pockets of potential inside your database, which may then help you if you’re doing the reactivation activity of, they don’t want to reactivate onto a regular gift, but you can see from your data that actually your regular givers make really great legacy prospects. So when they say no to your reactivation, don’t despair, don’t give up, be like, oh, well, that’s absolutely fine. And then structure the conversation to be, would they like to have a little bit more information about leaving a gift in their will to your charity? They can be really insightful little pockets that your data can tell you in there. And then I think my final point on data is very much around making sure that you can measure the impact of any reactivation or upgrade activity, because it’s really important and often overlooked that whilst you might get that yes on the telephone and somebody then does restart their gift, or does increase their gift, do they carry on, or do they stop? So before you start, make sure you’ve got attrition report set up, get your results reporting set up.

I know when I was setting up an upgrade campaign, we had it, oh, it was insane, in my head as a fundraiser, I was just like, yeah, and then I want to know, for example, in my results report, if I’ve got a donor giving me five pounds a month and my telephone campaign upgrades them to seven pounds, I want the results report to report that two pound difference, because I was already getting the five pounds and this was absolutely unbelievably difficult for database to tell us. And we spent ages trying to figure out how we could get that two pound in the report and not the full seven and not the five, just the two. And we got there in the end, but it took us ages and it seemed like such a really simple thing, but it wasn’t. So half those conversations before you start your campaign, because otherwise it can be too late once you’ve put the data in and cause database team an awful lot of nightmares. So yes. Make sure you think about that beforehand.


So I guess that comes, that’s still going to be hard, but it’s likely to be easier if you are really precise on what outcome this project, this activation, reactivation, or this upgrade project is all about. The more precise you are there, then you are more likely to somehow find a way to measure the right thing.


Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. And talk to your data people and make sure you’ve got all your coding set up the right way so you can measure the bit that you want to measure, not the bit that the coding enables you to measure. And yeah, come up with a way to work it if it doesn’t work like that.


So Jenny, if we are looking at ways to improve our ability to upgrade and to reactivate, thank you, you’ve given us some interesting ideas about our mindset and our approach to cross selling generally ways of helping our charity and then some various really useful things about data. What would be another key concept you think will help us in solving this problem?


Yeah. As I mentioned earlier, engagement is absolutely critical. You simply can’t expect to contact someone six months after they’ve been giving you their regular gift. Ask them to give you a little bit extra if you haven’t put the effort in to engage with them before then. You need to show them the difference that their donation is making, because good fundraising enables people to help a cause that they care about, and your charity can sometimes just be a vehicle for that help happening. So have you talked to them about what it is that their money is changing, and the difference that that is making to someone, or something, or whatever your cause might be around? And so much has been written about how to build good relationships with donors, that’s there’s oodles of content out there. Some of your podcasts, Rob, and there’s lots of great books that you can read, but you really need to start to make sure that you are really, really confident that your donors have had that engagement work put in there.

And that’s where sometimes, again, it can be really beneficial to be the sole individual giving fundraiser in a charity, because you know what you’ve done, you don’t have to ask anybody. Whereas if you’re in a big charity and there’s 10 individual giving fundraisers, newsletters and engagement activity can belong to the person that sits three desks down from you, and we all used to go into the office. And so you need to make sure you know what your colleagues are doing if you are in a bigger charity, and it can open up lots of opportunities. So for example, if your colleague has sent a newsletter that has been talking to supporters that you now want to upgrade, were there any great stories in there about upcoming campaigns that your charity wants to do, that you could then weave into the script for their upgrade activity, for example? That’s a really important thing in there.

But I’m also aware that if you are in a small charity, you might be thinking, well, how do I know what to talk to people about? I don’t have a big comms team who are telling me this is going to be our next big thing as an organization that we’re going to talk about. And this is where actually you are in a great place, because there’s lots of smaller scale ways that you can find out what it is that really motivates people to give to your charities? And I’ve talked on other podcasts around, where are those opportunities? It is picking up the phone when the supporters ring on the supporter care line and chatting to them, it is reading those letters, it’s helping your major donor colleagues out at their dinner and just finding out what it is that really inspires people to give to your charity.

If you’re in a bigger charity, then by all means commission some research, do a larger scale piece of research around understanding those motivations that can then underpin your fundraising activity because it will increase the relevance to that supporter if you’re talking to them about something that they really, really care about, and our major donor colleagues wouldn’t dream of just chatting to some donors about something that they really like because they’re a fundraiser and they think that’s really interesting. It’s always about what is it that makes that donor tick and that’s what you need to do in your upgrade, or reactivation pieces, it’s just the same because that is what’s going to get you the strong results in there. So before you even start to look at your upgrade or reactivation work, sit down and look at your engagement program. What happens when you are that supporter you start giving that regular gift. Look at the first, thank you letter that gets sent.

Is it a really lovely thank you letter, or is it just very clinical of dear, Jenny, thank you for your direct debit. It will be taken on the first of every month. Here is what it will look like on your bank statement and, oh gosh, it is just so deadly done. And there’s some great resources on Sophie, for example, there’s a really brilliant thank you letter clinic, where there are some of the loveliest thank you letters. And you can see the before and after. So it just helps us know that they’re not disasters that we can’t write thank you letters. It’s like no, other people wrote these. And now look how amazing they are with a little bit of tweaking. So look at those comms, look at the, thank you letter, then what your supporter get? Is it your biannual newsletter? Is it a monthly email e-newsletter that you get out? What happens to them before you put in your upgrades activity over here?

And then once you’ve done that, look at the content. So you know that your supporters are really motivated by one area of your work, how are you going to bring that to life for them? What does that content look like? And there’s some great examples of really honest and authentic messages. And sometimes that can come from beneficiaries. I was watching a video just this morning, actually, for a small homelessness charity. And they had got a five minute video in their, it was in their, about us section of their website actually, nothing to do with engagement comms. But the first person who saw was somebody whose life had been saved by that charity. And it was incredible. He spoke really powerfully from a firsthand experience and was like, I literally would not be standing here talking on this video now if it wasn’t for this charity, let me tell you about the work that they do. And it was great. And so, there’s lots of things you can do to make that story and that content authentic and honest and engaging.


I hope you found our conversation helpful. If so, and you haven’t subscribed to the podcast yet, please take a moment now to hit that subscribe button so that you don’t miss out on any of the juicy episodes we’ve got coming up. And as I mentioned, if you want to see the full film that I made with Jenny on how to improve your results in this area, we’re just tidying it up now, and we’ll soon be adding it to the more than 45 learning bundles and weekly live workshops available to fundraisers in our Bright Spot Members Club. And like I say, if, and I appreciate this is a big, if, if you’re listening to this before midnight on Monday, the 6th of December 2021, and you’ve been finding the ideas and examples we share in these podcast episode helpful, and you’ve wondered about going a step further and trying out our training and inspiration club to see what difference it would make to your confidence and results. There is still time to give it a try before we close the doors to new memberships for the next few months.

So you’ll need to get in there before midnight on Monday the 6th December 2021. But if you do the good news is you’ll get a full 12 months access for the price of nine, or if you’d rather pay monthly, you can take advantage of a 15% saving. To give it a try, go to brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join. Just before I finish, if you enjoyed today’s episode and you’d be willing to share it on social media, or with colleagues, I’d be ever so grateful. Thank you so much for your help. And Jenny and I would love to hear what you think about the episode. We’re both on LinkedIn and on Twitter I am @Woods_Rob. Finally, thank you for listening and I wish you the very best of luck with your fundraising today.