Using face-to-face, Life Education Queensland grew its regular givers from zero to 9,000 in only two years. Its CEO, Michael Fawsitt, explains how.
Embarking on a regular giving program, and especially acquiring supporters through face-to-face fundraising, can’t be undertaken half-heartedly. The upfront investment is so significant that total commitment is needed, particularly from the board and executive.
As CEO of Life Education Queensland, which empowers children to make safer and healthier choices through education, my engagement with the board was critical, and if I were to offer one piece of advice to those considering starting up a regular giving program, it is this: focus on the long term. Predicate your planning not on three years or five years, but work with your board to understand the returns over seven to 10 years, with milestones in between.
It’s also wise to budget conservatively and present a variety of scenarios that includes a worst case, so the board understands both the upside and the potential risks. This makes managing expectations so much easier.
My second piece of advice is to not even think about commencing face-to-face unless you are prepared to put the back-end systems in place to support it. This goes far beyond the creative process. It involves developing an ongoing communications plan and donor retention/donor stewardship model, as well as sourcing a database and integrating your financial systems, and finally having the staff in place to manage the program effectively.
Life Education Queensland began working with Redstone Marketing on the development of our regular giving program in early 2014, and the product was launched via a face-to-face agency in October of that year. In just two years, I’m pleased to say the program has grown from zero to almost 9,000 active regular givers, almost all acquired through face-to-face fundraising.
It has been a phenomenal journey for our charity in such a short space of time. Along the way, we changed the external agency we were working with and since then we’ve seen a significant improvement in the quality of donor acquisition, and hence a large reduction in cancellations and delinquencies.
A donor stewardship program can only do so much at the back end if an agency is not acquiring committed supporters at the front end. So, partnering with an agency that represents your brand professionally, and is invested in helping you to grow your donor base sustainably, is crucial. We also learned it is important to work with the agency to structure the contract so it helps to drive better quality acquisition. The greatest strength of face-to-face recruitment can also be its biggest weakness. The ability to achieve high volume acquisition in a short timeframe is great, but if the quality is poor and the systems aren’t in place to retain donors, a charity can quickly run into trouble.
We have also streamlined our internal processes and are continuing to tweak and improve on what we do. We now put significant emphasis on saving donors who call with the intention to cancel, offering them alternatives such as a reduction in their monthly gift, or placing their payment on hold if they are experiencing temporary difficulty.
We’re also focusing a lot on qualifying our donors initially. We use an external telemarketing agency to follow up with donors soon after they are acquired to make sure supporters understand the commitment they are making and the need for an ongoing commitment. This is also helping to drive down cancellations in the first three to six months, which is always the most likely time to lose a supporter.
Sometimes the simplest things can make the greatest difference. Just increasing the number of credit card and direct debit attempts that we make each month has made a massive difference to reducing our delinquency rates to the point where approximately 92% of our active donors are transacting monthly.
We have also recently worked with Redstone Marketing to review our supporter communications to identify where these can be strengthened and where each touch point should be timed. We use a mix of email, direct mail, telemarketing and SMS as part of our communications plan to try to maximise our reach and impact.
Face-to-face was necessary for us to be able to develop a large donor base relatively quickly, but we are gradually looking at other channels to add to the mix, including telemarketing and digital acquisition.
Of course, we are now considering how we can engage our donors even more meaningfully in our work. I believe this will open opportunities for our fundraising as we diversify beyond regular giving. However, as a relatively small but growing charity, it’s still important to keep ourselves focused, so I expect regular giving will continue to be our main source of revenue for years to come.
It is humbling for us to suddenly have this large group of committed donors who share in our vision and mission, and upon whom we rely for support, and it is fundamentally changing how we think of ourselves.
Life Education is the charity of choice for almost 9,000 Queenslanders. We need to respect and honour that as best we can, and try as hard as possible to deliver on what we promise. We’re on an exciting journey, which I’m glad we have had the courage to take. After all, fundraising is only a means to an end. What excites me most is that regular giving is transforming our capability to impact the lives of children across the state, and to support them to live a safe and healthy life. That’s great fundraising!