Tom Duggan says in-house face-to-face teams, although presenting their own set of challenges, will play a much greater role in the future of fundraising.
Oh, it’s easy, you think. When you are looking at a gap between the numbers of regular donors you need to acquire and the number you can get from suppliers then the answer may seem obvious: start your own face-to-face team.
Several Australian nonprofits have seen this as the solution, perhaps thinking it would mean an end to their capacity worries and they could perhaps save some money as well. However, only a small number remain an ongoing concern.
Plan International’s in-house team is one of the few that has made it, and as it enters its sixth year of operation we want to share some of the things we believe have made
it a success:
Know your objectives and make sure they’re realistic Plan International started its in-house face-to-face team to deliver capacity. At the time its strategy was to deliver ambitious significant growth in the number of our child sponsors. The in-house team has certainly helped with this, delivering 4,511 child sponsors since 2011 (about 10% of our total acquisition).
We hoped to reduce our cost per acquisition but it took quite some time for this to become competitive. It still sits higher than many of our suppliers. We remain prepared to take a reasonable hit on cost, however, because we are confident in our longer-term strategy of delivering quality volume.
Get the right people on board Many organisations underestimate the knowledge and skill needed to make a face-to-face team successful. Plan International was lucky enough to find Nicola Garrard, who had over six years’ experience running face-to-face teams, both with an agency and in-house. She brought on Imran Karim, who had experience as a successful team leader, and these two have run our program ever since. Without this level of expertise, we wouldn’t have lasted.
Make sure you’re paying fundraisers well With the market so stretched in terms of capacity, its perhaps not surprising that experienced fundraisers are hard to come by. It’s important to regularly benchmark the wages against agencies and other in-house teams. However, financial rewards are never the whole story. Creating an engaging and motivating work environment is equally important for recruitment and retention of staff. Speaking of which…
Bring your fundraisers fully into the organisation This is important for internal PR to show they are passionate advocates who are doing a difficult job. Don’t sit them on the sidelines: make them part of planning, office parties and any other opportunities you can get them involved in. This proximity to the cause can’t be replicated by agencies and should baked into any in-house team.
Ensure you are compliant Membership of the PFRA should be non-negotiable for organisations taking part in face-to-face fundraising, but ensuring your team meets the PFRA standard is only one element of compliance. Local councils decide on their own permitting legislation and you will need to go through a different approval process for almost every location your fundraisers work in. The temporary and transient nature of face-to-face fundraisers means your human resources team will need to be familiar with practices that are not part of their usual remit.
Into the future
The in-house face-to-face team is a vital part of Plan International’s recruitment mix. It will provide about 2,000 child sponsors this year and around 20% of our face-to-face acquisition. Moreover, trends within the industry mean it’s likely more charities will start and succeed with in-house teams in the future. It is essential to note, however, that:
• Recent industrial relations issues have dissolved some of the trust between charities and suppliers. Operating a team in-house gives charities a chance to have greater visibility of their supply chain. However, running the team as employees can make the situation more complicated, adding human resources obligations to the nonprofit.
• Having an in-house team does not guarantee you will hit all your acquisition targets; its performance fluctuates just as much as a supplier, if not more. It does mean you have greater visibility of any supply issues and their causes. There can be a surprising amount of comfort knowing why something is going wrong, even if there isn’t much you can do about it.
• Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the long-term imbalance between supply and demand has driven both suppliers and charities to focus on volume of sign-ups rather than long-term quality.
The economics of the industry need to be reframed to emphasise long-term value, even if this is at the expense of increased cost per acquisition and decreased volume. In-house teams offer the greatest opportunity for charities to shift the goal posts.
Running an in-house team isn’t appropriate for all nonprofits and certainly not the easy option. However, as we’re all working in a fractured market where capacity is scarce and return on investment is dropping, in-house teams will most likely play a much greater role in the future.
Tom is the Fundraising Manager for Regular Giving & Community at Plan International Australia. He has worked in face-to-face fundraising for 13 years for both agencies and charities.