The Outlook for Face-to-Face Fundraising
It seems a lot of fundraisers’ time is spent thinking about the future: Will we manage to invest our full budget? Will we reach our targets? What to do if the income is not as planned? Will I have a decent budget next year? Five year plans…
Wouldn’t it be great to have a crystal ball that spelled out at least some of what lay ahead and allowed us to focus just a little more on the present moment? Well, for better or worse, that particular technology hasn’t yet materialized but that doesn’t stop us fundraisers from engaging in a little bit of future gazing. Being prepared for different eventualities is important – it allows us to be able to respond quickly and appropriately and to minimize the damage from inevitable bumps along the way – of course it’s an art, not a science, and with this disclaimer in mind I’d like to offer a few forecasts on how I see the face-to-face method of donor recruitment evolving over the next couple of years.
1. Shrinking public space in traditional markets
Open any news source in (for example) the UK or Austria (or many of the most established face-to-face markets) and it won’t be long before you read about a city or council that is implementing (or considering) a complete ban or enforced reduction of face-to-face activities in the public domain. Search Twitter for the words ‘fundraiser’ or ‘chugger’ (a term I consider to be both offensive and ignorant by the way) and you’ll see that the face-to-face topic evokes plenty of debate from the public – and a majority of those moved to tweet tend to have a negative view of the practice and are quite vocal in calling for restrictions. I forecast that authorities in these markets will continue to impose limitations and the amount of public space open to street and door-to-door fundraisers will continue to shrink.
In this sort of environment non-profits and agencies who serve them will have to think creatively about where they can engage the public. Some face-to-face activity already happens in the workplace, cinemas, swimming pool foyers, cafés – mostly this has been pioneered in developing countries where traditional public sites have always been challenging.
2. Successful Face-to-Face will become an ‘Experience’
When face-to-face was new people were curious and excited to see charities on the high street and in some cases even waited in line to talk to a street fundraiser (oh the days!). Nowadays, with the novelty factor gone, it’s more common to hear of people crossing the street to avoid an encounter with a fundraiser. Non-profits who want to continue to use the method must recapture the novelty element and give people a reason to stop that goes beyond charity. This is already used to some degree by organisations like Greenpeace who sign up new donors at open boats or UNHCR who recruit donors during installations at World Refugee Day. However in order to reach the scale needed by most organisations they will have to create these sort of high-experience events with the express purpose of engaging the public with an ultimate fundraising goal – not simply piggyback on existing events (of which there are too few).
3. Death of the Clipboard
To a degree face-to-face has already taken steps down the digital path. It’s possible to see fundraisers using iPads or smartphones to present information and capture data. This sight will become more common as hardware prices falls and custom built software solutions are created. The dream of real time data verification and instant database integration is close to becoming a reality in many places, which will result in huge cost savings for organisations. It’s also possible that the ‘experience’ demanded by the public in point two can be served by technology – UNHCR in Italy already provide a futuristic looking pair of virtual reality glasses that, when worn, allow the would-be-donor experience the terror of being in a refugee situation. It’s worth pointing out here though that the technology is replacing the clipboard – not the human (though I have heard interesting rumours about robots collecting cash on the streets) because the power of face-to-face has always been the human interaction (it’s much easier to say no to a machine).
4. There Will be Fewer Agencies
There are two reasons for this speculation:
First, the public (prompted by the media) are questioning ever more closely the costs of acquisition and they are reacting against the perceived siphoning off of their donation to a middleman.
Secondly, agencies are less likely than in-house operations to be able to provide the authentic ‘experience’ demanded by the donor and the rising costs associated with providing this sort of experience will mean that organisations will have more reason than ever to bring operations in-house. Some large names (like DialogueDirect and Gift in the UK) have gone in the past years – I think more will follow them.
5. Quality over Quantity
Many organisations have been experiencing zero or only minimal growth despite bringing in large numbers of new donors through face-to-face. With donors historically young and fickle, the attrition rates have read like a bad horror story. With a greater move towards in-house (see point 4) organisations will be in a position to target more stable donors and will accept lower volumes in return for this.
6. Face-to-Face as a Gateway
Facing tighter regulation and with an emphasis on the ‘Experience’ face-to-face will become only the first of a series of steps leading up to an ask for committed giving. Already it is commonplace in the UK for street fundraisers to ask only for a small one time SMS donation (ostensibly to pay for a meal or a mosquito net). With the mobile number thus acquired the donor is contacted by a telefundraiser a few days later who phones to thank the donor and progresses to request a regular donation. My research shows that a good street representative can generate about 7 – 10 of these leads per hour, which should, at least, go a long way towards covering their own labour costs. The follow-up doesn’t have to be by phone, however, it could be by email, sms, a personalized thank you video (like the truly fantastic Swedish TV license ‘Hero’ video I made) if the donor allows their image to be photographed, or any number of other creative techniques.
7. Where’s Next?
Due to the market saturation, tighter regulations and increased costs international NGOs will continue to invest in new markets where, although their brand recognition is lower and there is typically less tradition of charitable giving, the ROIs are much higher. Expect to see an explosion in Latin America (with Brazil leading the charge), Africa and South East Asia and tentative tests in Baltic and Balkan Europe.
Am I completely wrong? Do you agree? I’d love to know your thoughts on the future. Please comment!