How universities and charities should be changing – 3/3

July 20, 2016 News, News & Opinion

So far in this series we’ve considered what charities and universities can learn from each other when it comes to fundraising. We’ve discussed how charities could learn a lesson in engagement from universities – maintaining relationships with alumni until they are ready to give. We’ve also looked at how universities could do more to diversify their current programmes, and how data can drive a fundraising strategy. The focus of this third and final blog is to look at the challenges that both types of organisation face when fundraising in the current environment.

Measure all engagement

In our work across the sector at Wood for Trees, we often see charities focusing on financial gifts more than other forms of engagement with their supporters – and there are natural reasons for this. But times are changing and donors’ attitudes to giving are changing too. It’s more important than ever to think in terms of ‘supporters’ rather than ‘donors’, and to engage them in different and appropriate ways. What organisations need to do is measure that specific engagement better.

And don’t just measure it – assign a value to it. We find that charities rarely put a value on how supporters contribute to a cause if it isn’t in the form of a monetary gift. If it’s not recorded that an alumnus or supporter has read an email or liked your Facebook page, it’s more difficult to identify them as a prospect. There is also an opportunity cost to the work that your supporters do. How much easier does your campaigning team’s job become when they have 10,000 emails also fighting their corner? What about those volunteers who, as well as giving their time, also save you time?

The quickest way to get the attention that engagement deserves is to assign a value to it. Find out what an action could be worth and shout about it.

Create a value, then use it

Moreover, there is an opportunity to use the knowledge that this engagement provides, perhaps taking alumni on a journey from graduation to first gift, or a supporter from a charity shop visit to regular giver. Knowing more about the ways in which supporters are engaging could help to expand prospect research, or improve the timing of the right ask. However, in order to be able to do these things it’s vital to collect as much data as you can. The more knowledge of engagement you have, the greater depth of insight you’ll add to your growing pool of names. Naturally, supporters of all organisations will be at different points on the journey of giving and engagement – the important thing is to know where they are at any given point and how to act on it.

The impending power of consent

Leaving aside Brexit, we can’t discuss sector challenges without mentioning consent. Data protection legislation looms for all third sector organisations, as does the Fundraising Preference Service. Universities are lobbying to be exempt from certain rules but, along with charities, they still need to prepare. We are all working hard to understand what the impact of those changes will be. But whatever happens, organisations need to be sure they have the right systems in place to deal with the new requirements. And as a matter of urgency, assess what the impact of the incoming changes will be (if they haven’t already). Obviously it would be wise to avoid making rash decisions when guidance on the issues is still unclear, but start making a plan. The organisations that are already thinking about their strategy to deal with this ‘new world’ are likely to be the ones that come out on top. Start to pose yourself some questions. For example: is consent given by a student still valid when they become an alumnus? What’s the status of regular givers when they cancel their DD?

The new landscape is a challenging one for the sector. Traditional channels aren’t as reliable as they once were and the new ones just aren’t proven yet. Now, on top of all that, comes more extensive and tighter legislation. Yet most organisations still have strategic goals to increase their fundraising income. It’s going to be tough, but some will succeed. The ones that do will be planning for the changes and accepting long term approaches to fundraising. They’ll look to calculate value against new interactions, measure what that new success looks like and use it to keep improving the new supporter experience.

Andrew Sargent     Consultant Analyst, Wood for Trees