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With a change in thinking, higher expectations and closer monitoring, your fundraisers can deliver the right message every time, argues Matt Gilbert.

With a change in thinking, higher expectations and closer monitoring, your fundraisers can deliver the right message every time, argues Matt Gilbert.


Do we overthink things when it comes to face-to-face fundraising?

Geographical heat maps, experiential displays, innovative donor journeys and expert training programs are all important. And you’d be crazy not to analyse all that data you generate. But on a simpler note: Do you actually know what your fundraisers are saying to prospective donors? And the effect these conversations have on your results?

The beauty of face-to-face fundraising is its simplicity. An individual with an important message that requires action, standing in front of another individual who can help. Simple – not easy, but simple. But I’m not sure we focus enough attention and resources on ensuring this interaction is upfront, honest and inspiring.

Most organisations have a welcome call process and provide training, but is this enough? And what action should be taken if you find the message from your fundraisers isn’t right or, even worse, plain negligent?

I’ve worked in face-to-face fundraising for close to a decade – from managing programs delivering thousands of supporters each week, to founding and directing a boutique quality-driven agency and more recently as an advisor. From what I hear when I’m stopped by fundraisers in shopping centres, on the streets and when they knock on my door (and as a part of our Mystery Shop Program), a fair bit of work is required for donor quality and public perception to improve.

And I’m not talking about fundraisers who freestyle when it comes to your message, or can’t get through one day without causing a major complaint (that’s a conversation for another day). I’m talking about the messaging around long-term giving.

We all agree that a F2F fundraiser’s job is to inspire and empower people to support the cause financially on a long-term basis (two years plus), as well as enhance the image of the charity and build awareness. So why do so many fundraisers say to me: “Donate for as long as you can” (with no transparency about a minimum expectation); “Cancel whenever you like.”; “Just do it for a month and see how you go”; or worse?

Essentially, every donor has the power to do all of the above, but is this the message you want them to hear? What effect is this having on your campaigns?

Look, I know there are claw-backs, bonds, strict bonus structures and discounts in place to ensure your programs are as financially viable as possible, and obviously getting the balance right between volume and quality is imperative. But are you getting the results you want consistently, year on year?

There’s a notion that high staff turnover, poor fundraiser behaviour and increasing levels of attrition go hand-in-hand with F2F, and that higher volumes equate to lower quality (and vice versa). And that with a higher salary employment model comes a higher cost per acquisition (CPA), or reduced profits. But that’s not necessarily the case.

When I was running our agency, on average we retained our F2F fundraisers for over 10 months (an eternity in F2F). We received zero major complaints. And we performed well commercially, which translates to a low CPA for an internal program. How did we do it?

By hiring and supporting the right people, providing an environment where fundraisers were paid well, taken care of and 100% certain of what was expected of them and why. “Cancel whenever you like” didn’t cut it. Neither did complaints.

By retaining our fundraisers for such a long time and having such high expectations, we could follow each fundraiser’s donor retention results month-to-month, rather than attempting to identify skill gaps and patterns across a group of individuals with an average working lifespan of a few weeks. We also mystery shopped each fundraiser regularly.

Here’s the kicker. When it came to the retention of donors, we found that average ages, donor values, locations, gender ratios, regions, etc, meant far less to our results than you’d expect. The biggest factor? Consistent, long-term messaging.

The fundraisers who had the best mystery shop reports, who told every potential donor that it was their job to find individuals who could give for 24 months or more, and who turned potential donors away who couldn’t (which I know terrifies some, but is for the best), had donor retention numbers of up to 70% at 12 months and the group as a whole retained over 60%. This was across multiple causes and clients with varying donor journeys. Volumes weren’t affected but were consistently high at a 2.9 daily average, worked out annually.

I absolutely love F2F fundraising, and the donor volumes and income it has generated over the past few decades in Australia and abroad is unparalleled. But can we improve quality as well as public perception and volumes with some different thinking, higher expectations and increased monitoring?

Damn straight we can!


Matt Gilbert

Matt is a face-to-face fundraising expert and the Director of Smooth Transitions Advisory. He’s passionate about helping charities and agencies build and/or maintain high-quality face-to-face programs. Over the past decade he has worked on more than 30 campaigns.

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