International man of charity mystery shopping, Stephen Mally, reveals that there’s still much room for improvement in the marketing and recognition practices of Australian and New Zealand nonprofits.

Mystery shopping a vast selection of the region’s nonprofits and seeing improvements to procedures and practices made as a result has been a rewarding experience. As the mystery shopping project enters its fourth phase, with another round of Christmas and tax appeals behind us, there are still several key areas where fundraising and marketing practice can be improved.

Desired outcomes lead to disappointing results

Organisations have performed poorly when it comes to using the giving experience to recognise past support and welcome me as a new donor. Not one single organisation in the phone portion of the study took time to examine their database to see if I was an existing donor or to use the experience to welcome me as a new donor.

Likewise, only three organisations across all channels have sent me a new donor welcome piece. Those organisations appear to have sent me everything in their storage cabinet and the postage, alone, amounted to a large percentage of my gift! For the organisations where I have given a second time, they have not recognised this continued commitment to the organisation.

Thank and turn it around quickly

I don’t know about you, but I expect to be thanked for my contribution to any organisation. All donors should receive this communication within 72 hours of the gift being made. In fact, industry best practice suggests the thank you should be sent to the donor 48 hours after their gift hits the organisation’s doorstep.

Organisations in phase three of the study included schools and universities only. Despite a variance in the number of weeks, all schools and universities sent a receipt and thank you compared with three organisations in both phases one and two of the study who never bothered to thank me for my gift.

Nonprofits in phase two of the study, which was an expansion of the number of organisations and geographic areas from the first phase, sent the receipt and/or acknowledgement faster than in the previous phase. Why? The gifts in phase two were given near the Christmas holiday and I suspect these organisations are better staffed and have more of a focus on procedures during this period.

Of blemishes and shining examples

The study continues to show that 25% of the organisations being mystery shopped lack acceptable attention to detail. Whether it is the spelling of my name, the spelling of my street address or some other issue, these organisations stand out because of data integrity issues.

These data issues pop up no matter the channel. Whether I sent a letter with my name spelled correctly for them to use against data entry, I spelled it on the telephone, or, worst of all, I keyed my name correctly on their online forms, they all returned a receipt or acknowledgement with my name spelt incorrectly. One organisation – a large Australian hospital – illustrates this case in point.

The following interactions occurred:
• Sent original gift by post on a letter using my personal letterhead (name spelt correctly)
• Received acknowledgment (name spelt incorrectly)
• Called the hospital’s development department to have the spelling corrected
• Received Christmas appeal (name spelt incorrectly)
• Made a gift to the Christmas appeal (corrected name spelling on response device)
• Received acknowledgement (name spelt incorrectly)

A few organisations have sent some shining examples of donor care: hand written thank you notes after the first gift was made, birthday cards and hand written stewardship notes from recipients of their services like a scholarship student or a client.

Please sir, would you give again?

Not one single school has asked me for a repeat gift and only one out of six cultural institutions has asked me to give a second time. Regrettably, this cultural institution has made up for their counterparts by marketing to me more than 30 times since the first gift.

Like this cultural institution, some other organisations – mostly in the religious space – appear to have large marketing budgets and have repeatedly asked me to give a multitude of times.

More mystery in study’s future

Like the Undercover Boss episodes on television, I am going undercover as part of this study to add more mystery to the mystery shopping exercise. From now on, the shopper’s name will be known only to me. I will also start adding some twists to the study by measuring components not previously part of the study, like opt-out processes, giving a second ‘out of the blue’ gift and regular giving.

About the mystery shopping project

Reported on for the first time in the April/May 2012 issue of Fundraising and Philanthropy Magazine, this is an independent and self-funded study by Stephen Mally. Personally donating $20 to numerous organisations, he then measures, monitors and reports the results of the gift giving transactions, donor care, and following solicitations. The study crosses a variety of causes including cultural, education, environmental, health, international relief and medical research organisations. Commencing in March 2011, the study also crosses a number of giving channels – online, post, and phone – and it is now in its third phase.

Stephen Mally CFRE
Stephen Mally (CFRE) is a 26 year nonprofit veteran, having worked as a healthcare fundraiser in a variety of marquis organisations in the United States of America prior to joining Blackbaud in 2006. Contact Stephen at [email protected]


Already a subscriber? LOGIN HERE

F&P brings you all the latest in fundraising including case studies, best practice, strategy, trends and benchmarks, thought leadership & industry insights.


subscribe now

  • Latest print and digital magazine edition delivered to your door, computer, tablet and mobile
  • Multi-user subscription packages at a nice price so all your staff can enjoy F&P
  • Online access to all our archived magazine articles
  • Fortnightly enewsletter
  • 20% discount off F&P conferences (save hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars a year)