Oxfam UK: the £2.00 a month proposition to new donors

Exhibited by
Richard Turner.
Added
August 03, 2013
Medium of Communication
Broadcast and television
Target Audience
Individuals
Type of Charity
International relief / development
Country of Origin
UK
Date of first appearance
1994

SOFII’s view

It is amazing what a throwaway comment can make. Back in the days when television advertising was pretty rare for a charity, Oxfam decided that it was well worth the financial investment. It was a disaster and they very nearly ditched the whole thing. Then at a crisis meeting someone made a suggestion that not only turned a disaster into a monumental success, it added a whole new dimension to recruiting new donors.

Summary / objectives

To recruit new donors using television advertising.

Background

It was the familiar challenge – how to recruit new donors? Oxfam had a concept that was strong – give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day – but teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.

Few charities were doing any television advertising at that time and Oxfam decided to take the plunge and produce their ad for the television. The risks were seen as considerable.

The filming took place with actors in South Africa. It was all carefully storyboarded, scripted and designed before shooting started. It was an excellent ad and beautifully filmed. It was aired on daytime TV because that was all Oxfam could afford because evening advertising was ridiculously expensive.

The response rate was terrible. The cash ask for £20 was lowered not once but twice and it still didn’t make any improvement.

A crisis meeting was held: should they drop the ask again? It had already been tried at down to £15 and haddn’t made any difference. Then someone put forward a throwaway suggestion: what about a regular gift for, say, £2?

There was internal opposition to continuing at all. There were those who wanted to cut Oxfam’s losses. There would be additional hurdles to overcome – for starters a two-stage fulfilment. After the donor rang into pledge, Oxfam still had to send out the forms for them to fulfil and they had to complete them to send back again.

Despite the opposition it was decided to give a £2 month ask as a final test before the ad was pulled for good and TV advertising given up as a bad job.

Did it work?

It was ‘just like someone turned a tap on’. And the rest is history.

Special characteristics

The first use of a low regular giving ask to recruit new donors.

Influence / impact

This was the catalyst for years and years of £2 and £3 per month propositions for literally hundreds of charities – it was the start of a fundraising proposition to attract new donors all of its own, not just for television. And still is to this day.

Details

To begin with a cash ask was used of £20 - this was reduced several times making no difference. The ask of £2 a month was tried as a last gasp attempt before the ad was pulled for good and TV advertising given up as a bad job.

Costs

Trustees had to specially approve the additional investment required of a £100,000. A massive sum back then to risk on a new project.

Results

From the first airing of the £2 a month advert, the pledge rate rocketed. Not only was the response rate great – the fulfilment of standing orders was an enormous improvement on the cash gifts – 65 per cent.

Some bright spark had the idea to change the fulfilment materials to reflect the ad – and the fulfilment rate went up to nearly 70 per cent. This produced a rich vein of new donors who went straight onto to regular giving.

Merits

Whilst committed giving had been around for some time it was often seen as either an upgrade to cash gifts, part of membership, or related to premium products like child sponsorship. Oxfam’s was the first low-level committed giving advert on TV and possibly even the first committed giving ad on TV.

This opened the flood gates to a new demographic of donor – not just for Oxfam but for other charities too – and not just through TV advertising. In time £2 a month came the common parlance for attracting new donors.

A one-off cash gift for the daytime TV audience of the time (housewives, shift workers, unemployed, students etc) was probably too high, where as £2 month was a much more affordable option.

But the reason it merits a place is because its creation reminds us that the line between success and failure is a thin one. Out of failure and desperation came a simple but groundbreaking innovation. It is only by stretching the boundaries at times we are pushed to the limits will we have such breakthroughs.

Other relevant information

Richard Turner was not involved in this project, although he did work at Oxfam at the time. The story has been pieced together from numerous sources who were involved. Special thanks to John Grain.

You can still see the ad on YouTube (as used by Oxfam New Zealand), and here on SOFII, below.

Give a man a fish