CDE project 13 section 2: the introduction

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 30, 2017

Part One: Introduction

Most of us buy things every day. Multiple transactions, most of them functional.  

Some of our purchases carry some brand associations: we trust Waitrose for quality or Tesco for value. Shopping at the same place can be convenient and comfortable.  

Sometimes our purchases bring with them the values we associate with the brand, and the emotions start to run deeper. We love Apple products and would never go with anything other than an iPhone; you might go to John Lewis because you trust that you will get good information, helpful service, reasonable value (never knowingly undersold) and reliable after-care if  it goes wrong.  

These are the sorts of brands which become a part of our lives: we love the product, or enjoy and trust the experience of shopping there and so absorb them into our life’s habits.

A different sort of engagement

Giving to causes is altogether different. We are asked to make a payment but not come back with a purchase; we freely give our hard-earned money to people we’ve never met and expect very little in return. At worst, we are distrustful of  the experience that may follow.  

Yet, supporting a cause you care about can bring benefits and pleasures that can far exceed the satisfaction of a good buy. Charities are the vehicles through which we can help achieve change. We can do something to help stop someone else suffering from a terrible disease that has touched a loved one. We can give someone in a bad situation the chance to lift themselves out of it. We can support a much-loved local nature reserve where we’ve spent many a happy Sunday afternoon. We can make a stand against human rights abuses, or show we care about refugees when so many others seem to see them as a threat.  

Helping to create change can touch us deeply. Help us to live out our values, and express the best parts of ourselves. Give something back or create some good out of hard and painful experiences.  

In turn, the rewards can be rich. Supporting causes we care about can be enjoyable, rewarding, informative, challenging, mind-broadening, can bring new experiences, or be just plain fun. Become more involved and you can end up feeling that you are gaining far more than you are giving.  

This is the opportunity. To help people give freely and get pleasure from their giving. It’s a special and humbling opportunity, because we are asking for people’s trust and their belief in us to do the work and make the change on their behalf.  

There is an opportunity to get it right. To nurture this bond, respect this generous individual who is choosing to give. To find out more about them, why they are interested and what they want to do. To say thank you, and show them what progress you have made. To bring them close to the people they are helping. To communicate with them in a way and at a time that suits them. To give them choices about how they would like to stay in touch, and how often, if  at all.  

Done well, each donor should go on a journey: from reassurance, to trust, to growing value (for them and you) to loyalty.

Recent history: a past we need to move on from

As we all know, too often charities have got it wrong. We have huge needs and ambitious goals we must reach to make possible the work we want to do this year. We need to meet targets and achieve value in terms of one-year ROI. We need to recruit more donors and upgrade the ones we have. We have databases of donor details and this is the resource that we can mine into with mass campaigns to achieve what we need to achieve.

At one level, this is all completely understandable. Individually we are probably doing things with the best of intentions, committing only the smallest aggravations. Collectively, the generous British public is beginning to complain about what it actually feels like from their end. The numerous approaches; no gift seeming to be quite enough; the sheer volume of need arriving on our doormats. Words like ‘pestered’, ‘bombarded’, ‘angry’ and ‘guilty’ have now become commonplace.  

Too often, we are not really engaging with the generous individual behind each donor record. At worst, we are damaging their goodwill. Making them feel suspicious, used and put upon.  

Yet the bond between a donor and a cause they’ve chosen to give to is a pledge of trust: a bond which potentially has immense and important value, but one which we are too often damaging beyond repair. Collectively we have been shamed into sitting up and taking notice. The Etherington Review and subsequent development of new bodies, structures and guidance will bring updated standards of practice and tighter regulation. Designed to protect donors, the equal concern for fundraisers is that it remains practically workable and does not also bring unintended consequences which hamper the ability of fundraisers to build relationships with every donor who can.

Offering choice and control

Offering donors choices and managing their preferences – finding out what supporters want and listening to what they say – is a vital part of getting it right. Put the control back into the hands of the donor and they won’t need to worry that one gift will lead to an onslaught of mail. Send good communications, sharing real and current needs that bring them closer to the cause, show them what you are achieving together and they will start to trust you. Invite them closer, matching their interests and experience with your opportunities, and they will start to gain real value from the relationship (as will you). Keep developing the relationship and you may well develop a lifetime of loyalty followed by a legacy that allows them to make their greatest impact after their own life has ended.

Offer choices and manage preferences and it’s one important step to valuing our donors as the people who care enough to make our work possible.    

This is borne out in research: research conducted on behalf of the Commission on the Donor Experience by Qualtrics ‘The Donor View’ found that 

‘Having their wishes re contact respected is welcomed by donors and positively affects overall experience; it keeps donors informed on their terms and sometimes increases the likelihood of giving again/more.’  

And yet, for most charities, offering choices is restricted to the donor being given the opportunity to offer their email address or telephone number, and opt in or out of a thank you letter. Further choice, if offered at all, is too often relegated to the small print.  

In research commissioned by NCVO’s working group on how to enable donors to give consent (‘Charities’ relationships with donors: A vision for a better future’ published 27 September 2016) they found that 

‘The ability to opt out of contact, and to choose by what method and how often to be contacted, would increase donors’ willingness to share their personal information.’ 

They also find that 

‘two thirds of respondents said their trust would increase if charities were transparent and gave control over how personal data was held and shared.’  

The NCVO working group set out to ‘consider how donors can take more control of their giving – specifically, how they give consent to the fundraising relationships with the charities that they support.’ It lays out a vision for donors, including that ‘In particular, donors and potential donors will be able to easily express their preferences about whether and how they wish to be contacted by the charities they support, including whether they wish to stop being contacted… Charities will respect individuals’ preferences and ensure they can update or confirm their preferences at regular intervals appropriate to the nature of the contact and channel.’

This report shares the recommendations of the working group on how to enable donors to give consent. At the time of publication (January 2017) the paper is being considered by the Fundraising Regulator, with a view to being incorporated into the Code of Fundraising Practice.

Offering choice is just a part of valuing donors

Of course, giving donors choices and managing their preferences, alone, is not enough. The best fundraising comes from cultures that truly value donors as the people driving the engine at the heart of the organisation, and who put a belief in the rightness of this above all else. This means leadership, culture change, and taking brave decisions that put long-term relationships and lifetime value ahead of one year targets.  

Once a charity is thinking like this, then all sorts of other things follow: sending communications your donors will really want; communications that build their understanding, bring them closer to the people they support, show donors that they are appreciated and share what has been achieved together; communications that share real needs as they arise; invite donors closer and offer them different ways to engage.  

In this project we look at the rationale for giving donors choices and managing their preferences, and examples of charities who are really thinking about how to engage with their donors so that the charity’s approaches never overstep the mark from welcome to unwelcome.  

We have also looked at the commercial world – to find out what we can learn from organisations beyond the charity sector, which we hope will bring ideas, insight and inspiration.  

And we have looked at the behavioural science and psychology of offering choices and managing preferences, to see what that can teach us, and how this backs up a fundraising approach that believes that if you trust in donors, nurture them and treat them well, they will repay that generously through long-term support and value.  

This is just one of many projects you will find best practice and recommendations on complementary aspects of how to make the donor’s experience of being connected to your charity the best it can be.  

In practice all of these project areas are, or should be, interconnected; and the very best fundraising will come from being concerned with each and every one of them. Paying attention to giving your donors choices, for example, will not in itself add up to a good donor experience, it is just one component of a relationship that feels truly good and satisfying. 

Taken together, the outputs of these projects add up to what it means when your charity truly sees its donors as its partners, truly considers what it feels like to be a donor, and makes that experience enjoyable, rewarding and mutually beneficial. Do all of this and you will see huge benefits as your donors stay longer, support more, tell their friends, and make your cause a part of their life.

Click on the image below to see Project 13 in full - PDF format

About the author: The Commission on the Donor Experience

The CDE has one simple ideal – to place donors at the heart of fundraising. The aim of the CDE is to support the transformation of fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is based on evidence drawn from first hand insight of best practice. By identifying best practice and capturing examples, we will enable these to be shared and brought into common use.

Related case studies or articles

CDE project 13 section 1 summary: giving choices and managing preference

This project will look at the systems that have been implemented, how they work and the results they’ve achieved, with the aim of defining an ideal approach that offers donors practical choices and real control over the shape of their relationship with individual causes.

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