CDE project 23: part 1 — project 1 — 6

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

Small charities don’t tend to have the budgets to bring in external agencies and so this report is a useful and practical guide to how language can be used and the difference language can make. There are a lot of recommendations within this report that small charities can apply.

Three things to consider/prioritise:

  • Review the language that you are using in all of your communications, but be mindful that a complete change of tone can be disconcerting for supporters. Try testing language change by drip feeding and inviting feedback from a small group of known supporters. Consider having a supporter panel of volunteers who might review language. (Strategy 1)

  • Talking less about the charity and more about the cause, the work, the beneficiaries and supporters will work well for most charities including smaller organisations, but as a small charity just be mindful that the people who are carrying out the work may well be known to the supporter, so in some cases talking about the organisation may well be appropriate and welcomed. (Strategy 2)

  • Small charities have a big advantage in talking authentically and honestly as they often have a team that is closer to the work. However if a charity is going to adopt authentic language, this needs to be something that is accepted and used by all staff, not just fundraisers, and as such should be led by trustees and senior management to gain consistency across the organisation. (Strategy 3)

Whilst at first glance, this project may not seem as relevant to small charities who do not carry out face-to-face fundraising/telephone/door to door fundraising, the content of this project is highly relevant to all charities. Small charities often have an advantage of knowing donors personally, and so often have a greater understanding of personal circumstances, however vulnerability can be temporary and/or less immediately obvious - e.g. bereavement that should be considered. 

Three things to consider/prioritise:

  • Explore what you and your organisation understand by the term ‘vulnerable’ as a starting point. Engage relevant stakeholders and staff and get to a definition within your organisation that is agreed and accepted at trustee level and agree how your organisation will ensure guidance is in place. (Action 1/8)
  • Ensure all fundraisers, volunteers and suppliers are aware of the guidance for refusing and refunding donations. Everyone in the organisation should be aware of this and so regular training should be established after induction to ensure that anyone who could potentially be accepting donations is aware of the guidance and knows what to do. (Action 9)
  • Make sure it is really easy for anyone concerned to contact you. This might sound very simple, but can be surprisingly overlooked. Have regular reviews to ensure that contact forms are directed correctly, phone numbers, names etc are accurate. Make sure your donors know that you welcome their questions and concerns over vulnerable people. (Action 7).

Satisfaction of experience is one of the single most important measures, yet with an increased pressure on short term income, it  can be a difficult thing for small charities to prioritise. In addition, monitoring satisfaction properly can take time and investment. That said, there is much that a small charity can do to start taking simple steps towards measuring donor satisfaction. The five step actions can be applied easily within a small charity with little cost. 

Three things to consider/prioritise:

  • The report suggests that the first step is to find out what is most important to your donors. Understand what it is that you do that makes donors feel good about donating to you. This can be done in a fairly cost-effective way within a small charity by using free online survey tools and existing newsletter communications. (Action 1)
  • Encourage trustees and senior management to put a value on measurements that are about donor satisfaction as well as the financial measurements. Decide what you will measure and keep it simple. Report on it and make changes. (Action 4) 
  • Small charities can use their existing communications to include an ongoing specific feedback question relating to the donor satisfaction measure you have chosen. E.g if the most important thing to your donors is to hear about success stories, ask them if they feel they are hearing enough success stories and adapt accordingly. (Action 5)

Thanking is an area where small charities often get it right a lot of the time, but where they do not, there is a big opportunity. Those charities who are locally based are able to be far more personal in their approach. The recommendations of this report will work just as well for small charities as large ones, but there are some things that may be more pertinent to smaller charities. 

Three things to consider/prioritise:

  • Take thanking seriously and review across the whole of your fundraising mix. Consider the size of your charity and make sure the right procedures are in place. Consider the process for thanking donations that are given indirectly e.g. to programme/service staff or at events that volunteers have organised. Consider how online donations are thanked. The quality of thanking should be the same regardless of how that donation was given or what you are thanking for. (Principle 1)
  • Think imaginatively and personally about thanking. Don’t underestimate hand written cards and don’t rely on automated thank you’s. Smaller and locally based charities can use that connection of being local to thank in a more personal way and even the smallest of charities can use the phone to thank donors, volunteers and fundraisers.  (Principle 6)
  • Be consistent and consider quality as well as speed. Identify what you can realistically achieve and set measures accordingly. Don’t sacrifice quality of thank you for speed of thank you. (Principle 10)

The supporter journey can be daunting for small charities with limited resource, however a good supporter journey does not need to be complicated, it simply needs to be relevant. Sometimes the best paths occur organically, and the best journeys are ones that take into account donor preferences and motivation, not the ones that cost the most or deliver the biggest ‘wow’ factor. 

Three things to consider/prioritise:

  • Involve the whole organization and think of the journey as a way to connect beneficiaries and programme staff to donors. Often programme and service staff have access to the best stories, information and expertise that will make a really engaging journey for a new or existing donor. This should be something that is much easier for a smaller charity with a smaller, flatter structure. (Principle 5)
  • Make the question of ‘how do I want to make my donor feel?’ as a starting point to creating any journey piece. We know that non-ask communications should be included, but for smaller charities a great way of justifying the cost of engaging with a non-financial ask is to ask your donors to contribute an opinion. It’s both a great way to find out more about them and gives really valuable insight into decision making. Feeling listened to is an effective way to make the donor feel involved and valued. (Principle 2)
  • Don’t be afraid of offering your donors a ‘lighter touch’ journey. Often this can be more effective than sending lots of pieces in the early stages. A good journey doesn’t need to be a heavy journey. A few well thought out pieces can be just as, if not more effective for some donors and more cost effective for smaller charities. (Principle 7).

Small charities have a great advantage here as fundraisers are more likely to be closer to the work and able to use more genuine emotion in an authentic way. That said, whilst it’s important to empower fundraising it’s as important to ensure some boundaries and guidance of how to use that emotion, especially when dealing with volunteer fundraisers or people with direct connection to the cause.  

Three things to consider/prioritise:

  • The fundamentals of emotional fundraising can offer some great starting points –be yourself, be true, feel it and mean it - is especially relevant for fundraisers working in a smaller charity. The closer you are to the work, the more integrity there is behind the truth being told. You will often be communicating something you have a much greater proximity to than colleagues in larger charities.  ‘When you find it in yourself and express it passionately, people will feel it.’ (Recommendation 1& 3)
  • Responsible use of emotions and beneficiary stories is essential. The donor should never feel manipulated and the beneficiary should never come across or feel exploited. Always consider how both the donor and the beneficiary would see the story that you are telling. (Principle 6)
  • As a small charity, it’s impossible to consider employing experts such as behavioral scientists, but there are things that can be learnt from material in the public domain and how other charities are using the findings of behavioural science. Follow the work of experts, listen to webinars, conference sessions and read white papers. Often the experts appreciate and will respond to direct questions – don’t be afraid to ask! (Recommendation 4).

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.

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