Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Plenaries, charity budgets and Olympic Gold Medals

This morning I got up just before 5am. It is the final day of the conference in India, and I'm nervous about my closing plenary. Actually, I am more nervous about the opening plenary I am meant to be delivering a few hours later in Sydney.

Following the session today, I run the death-race otherwise known as the 'highway' from Agra to New Delhi (dodging cows, cars, bikes, people and trucks going the wrong way on the dual carriageway) and then flying off to eventually land at 06:30 in Sydney, across town to the conference and open up with my plenary at 09:30.

So, up far too early, I start blogging and thinking about the conference. I have already commented about how similar things are here - the same problems and issues, but another one came up yesterday. Charity staff come to these conferences with real needs. Usually they are desperate for funding. They want to to hear some speakers tell them how to pull a rabbit from a hat.

Nearly all of the delegates I have met have no funds, but strong needs. They often believe that of course people will donate - they are so worthy!

Of course, reality kicks in and people begin to realise there is no magic pill. But still they grasp for miracles. "...surely IBM will sponsor this?..." or "... I know someone who knows Lakshmi Mittal or Mukesh Ambani..." (two of the richest men in the world, who happen to be Indian).

But in the end, success in fundraising is like success in Olympics. The more you spend, the more you make. Australians are gutted at being lower than Britain on the official Olympic table.

My Aussie mates, especially Jonathan Grapsas, have a big gripe. 'Yeah, you won more than us - but look how much you spent!' Inferring that our recent investment in sports, paid for by the National Lottery rather than just the tax payer, is a bad thing. Well, what do you know? The more you spend, the more you win - the more athletes you attract, the better training facilities, better competition opportunities and equipment. No surprise really.

Every now and then, a nation spending little on training athletes wins some medals and does well. But if we look at consistency, and the top nations - they all spend big time.

Same with charities. Some, with reasonable budgets, still moan that they are not growing fast enough. Well, sorry guys but the secret to growth is not that secret - spend more on fundraising. No matter what size you are, make sure you put some money aside every year for fundraising purposes.

Look at the annual reports of the top ten charities (by fundraising income) and you will see they are also very high spenders. In the charity world, you don't grow without spending.

A great example is World Vision in Australia. These guys have done very, very well in growth terms. Their formula for success may include child sponsorship and regular giving but they sustain themselves through clever spending. In their most recent annual report, they show how they raised $350m. This makes them the largest charity (measured by income) in Australia.

At they same time they report that they spent nearly $28m on fundraising, and another $25m on 'administration'. According to a table compiled by Givewell*, the fifth largest charity is the National Heart Foundation, which raises just less than $50m. In other words, only four charities raise more in total than World Vision spend on fundraising and administration.

Just like the Olympics, every now and then a charity does really well for some reason without spending much. But when you look at consistent, stable, safe charities raising the most - they spend the most.

Of course, on the Olympics I was on a winner no matter who won between Australia and Britain - as a Citizen of both countries I can be pretty flexible when scrapping with belligerent Aussies...

*This link will take you to their website, but you will need to subscribe to get the report.

Australia Tops Olympic Medal Chart!

Can you believe it? Well, if you take medals per human rights rating, medals per population, medals per GDP, total number of medals and total number of golds and work out who did best across all of them, then Australia wins. Yaay! Amazing what you can do with statistics really. Check out the superb 'alternative tables' from UK broadcaster, Channel 4.

In the last Olympics, the Aussie Government's Bureau of Statistics put up another alternative table up showing how the Aussies came third. Propaganda alive and well in Australia!

This time around, we had an amazing Government level conflict which now results in an Aussie Minister wearing an England shirt next time the nations meet, and the Aussie Olympic Association Chairman having to buy five bottles of Champagne for his British counterpart.

A bit of healthy banter? And what does it have to do with fundraising? Nothing, but the next blog does...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Fundraising in India - the value of logic and reason

Today sees me in Agra, India, about 5km away for the Taj Mahal. Cool.

I am here for the 'International South Asian Fundraising Workshop', where two colleagues and I are doing a few sessions training fundraisers from the region.

Yesterday at 0545 I went along with my Pareto Fundraising colleagues to visit 'the Taj' - one of the seven wonders of the world. And it is pretty amazing.

A great break, then back for breakfast and last minute work on our presentations.

After the visit, I presented a pre-conference workshop. The workshop was all about using data to inform strategy, and not to be reliant upon tradition to dictate your fundraising strategy.

My audience of about 35 people were predominantly Indian, with a few from Pakistan and at least one from Nepal. The session was similar to one presented several times in Australia, Canada, Chile, Thailand, Brasil, Argentina and UK - and not surprisingly the same issues came up again.

Although the session is about using data, and using evidence I always give examples to illustrate how anecdote and gut instinct can be so wrong, and I also have a pop at focus groups (in a constructive manner of course!)

The two examples that always get the best reaction are:

One: I get four people to come to the front and hold up the elements of a direct mail appeal - the pack is huge, with about 13 different elements - 4pp letter, seperate response coupon, diary from the field, a photograph, another mini-letter and of course outer and return envelopes. All eight hands are needed to hold up all the bits.

I then ask for feedback; the audience always say they wouldn't donate. They give lots of reasons - too long, not enough time, too expensive, wouldn't read it.

I then show them results - and they are astonished that, in head to head tests, making a big pack does not put people off. In fact, a recent test resulted in a huge pack beat a 'normal pack' (one page letter with tear-off coupon, outer and return envelopes) by over 4.5 times. Grumblings still abound - despite the evidence I know that people in the audience are never going to test such an approach.

(By the way - I should add that making an appeal big is not going to make it work. A rubbish big appeal is still rubbish. Producing a good appeal rather than a rubbish one needs an understanding of what needs to go into a letter to make someone respond, no matter how long.)

Strike one: Indian audience no different from anywhere else I have presented this.

Two: The next example is where I explain that corporate fundraising is crap and a waste of time for most charities, most of the time - despite the fact that some great charities like WWF and Habitat for Humanity do really well from corporates. There is disbelief and lots of "Ah, but it is different in India". (Reminded me of "Ah, but it is different in Hong Kong/New Zealand/Philippines etc).

I didn't have the data to prove this in India, and was asking the audience what they knew when just at the right moment a guy called Anup Tiwari from UNICEF India pipes up "Look at the biggest Indian charities - you will see that they get 85% of their money from individuals - only 5% at most comes from corporates."

Phew. But still more grumbles and arms folded from people, despite the evidence. Why is it that despite logic, reason, evidence and data our prejudices and assumptions take so much knocking down?

Strike Two: India no different from anywhere else - corporate fundraising enjoys a disproportionate standing in the fundraising mix.

Of course, my point in the session was don't take my word for it. Apply your logic and reason, and most importantly - test it. Find out for yourselves.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Credit card expiry date - Wiki Blog

This blog is a plea for help. Please write comments to help charities overcome credit card expiry issues.

For years charities in Australia, UK, Canada and almost certainly more countries have been able to continue to process donations on a monthly basis from people who have made an ongoing commitment to that charity. Often credit card expiry dates would go by, without the donor's details being updated. Credit card processing companies have just let the donations continue.

A client of ours recently found out their bank is about to stop this practice.

Of course, we all know that charities should take opportunities from phone calls and even appeals to capture up to date expiry dates - every phone call, even a 'failed sale' should update credit card expiry dates.

From the fundraisers out there who read this blog - and from the commerical people who deal with a similar issue, please can you post some comments with some ideas of how to help?

Thank you!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sean is always learning

A few years ago I watched a chap called Gavin Coopey do a training session called 'Innovate or Die' at a fundraising conference. In it, he did tons of interactive exercises and showed us some really cool tools for brainstorming.

I loved it, and shortly after, he began work at Pareto Fundraising as a senior consultant (by the way, there are some pretty rigorous recruitment criteria for jobs in Pareto companies, it is not just a matter of doing a good presentation!)

Gavin has presented this session, to great reviews, through Pareto Fundraising masterclass and training sessions, again receiving great reviews.

I love new ideas, and pushing barriers. We need to be constantly learning, testing and proving (or disproving) concepts. We have a few rules at work:
1) Always give advice that is in the long term interest of our clients' beneficiaries.
2) Always do the work 'The Pareto Way' - which means following our established and proven strategies, tactics and ideas
3) If you want to challenge individual tactics within the Pareto Way, you must test them against your own ideas and prove one way or the other.

(I will do another blog or article about what exactly the Pareto Way is, so come back soon!)

This means we can be cautious and innovative at the same time. New staff are taught 'The Pareto Way' but then given the chance and opportunity to challenge their bosses and the founders of the company. We are effectively telling them to prove us wrong.

As well as staff intelligence, agencies like ours have another resource, which in-house teams can never have: A load of clients, also with great ideas and challenges. Again, we work with our clients to challenge the Pareto Way, most clients work with us on testing tactics, constantly trying to improve and change little bits, ideas and big strategies.

Often the first job with a charity is a mail appeal, and with that first mailing we tend to apply all the Pareto Way tactics. The first 'test' or 'trial' is of course to prove to the charity that these tactics work. (Which they always do; if the charity goes for it, we usually at least double their income - the most recent new client saw income lift from about AU$200k to nearly $1m*, nearly five times as much money from the same donors/customers...)

*Aussie, Canadian and US dollars are all about the same at the moment.

But after that first mailing, where do we get our ideas from?

Over the years clients have asked to try new things, and so have our own staff. However, on top of that we still need inspiration for learning, grabbing new ideas.

One option is seminars and conferences - fundraising ones, but also non-fundraising sessions. I got some great ideas at the last couple of conferences I've attended (to share in a future blog). Another good resource is The Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration. Email Maxine there for a free id and password.

Of course another great source of ideas is to rip them off others. Keep your commercial direct mail and emails, and donate to loads of charities and spot different things they send you.

Remember, no matter what results you get and what successes you have had, you are always learning.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Teachers and apples

Right now our Canadian office is coming to the end of an intensive 'Mystery Shopping' exercise. This is where we make loads of donations to loads of charities, some queries and also set up some ongoing automatic gifts (regular giving). We then see how the charities treat us.

We have been doing this for years, in New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Hong Kong and now Canada, and compare with results our friends Pell & Bales get in the UK.

Some charities do well, but some results are shocking - for example more than 30% of Australian charities that accepted our credit card details to set up a monthly donation never, ever debit it!

The results from the Canadian exercise will be released at the AFP Toronto Congress and a Pareto training event. Details tbc, but click here to view all our events including this one.

Anyway, by a coincidence I had a problem with two products (gadgets) which are great for my travelling - my iTouch and my Sony eReader. I bought the BBC series 'Planets' from iTunes and at the same time tried to find books for my eReader (basically an electronic book).

One of the episodes of Planets caused me grief - it simply wouldn't download. I tried to find a way to complain, and eventually did - the solutions suggested by a chap called James at iTunes simply didn't work. I gave up. 2 quid down the drain, ah well.

But then, a few days later I got another email from James "I notice you haven't downloaded [the file] yet, is it still not working?"

Hang on minute - he checked my record, checked my account, afterwards - well beyond the call of duty. I didn't go back to him, I had given up. But he came back! To cut a long story short, he credited me for 3 episodes of something else and I am a happy customer.

With the problem with Sony, I was told they couldn't help and someone would call me back within the next 48 hours. I pointed out I may be in bed for some of that, but the helpful chap (in Costa Rica, which I thought was cool) told me it would be between 9 and 5. They haven't called yet, but what happens if I am in a meeting!? I am so stressed! Why can't they just help me now!?

Now, back to charities. Unlike Sony and Apple, where I am clearly getting a physical return and a clear expectation from a supplier, and because I own their hardware I have to go back to them. I am trapped (I know, my choice). But with a charity - if they make it hard for me, in anyway, why would I go back?

We go back to our charities and share the results and they are always shocked, and then have 'reasons' (excuses)... "Oh, that was during the office move".

I recommend all you charity fundraisers out there, get your partner, mum, friend - someone - to make a gift (or more) and let you know how they get on. I promise it will be useful.

There are many charities I care about and like many donors I worry that I can't give enough to all of them. But really, charities can make working that out easy for me. For example, by not taking my money from my account.
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