Sometimes it’s easy to feel that the face-to-face recruitment of regular donors has been around forever, but in reality it’s still a teenager.
Born only in 1994 face–to-face fundraising has, in its seventeen years moved from being a new and daring method of finding committed donors to a being a reliable stalwart in the fundraising toolboxes of many non-profits. And, like many teenagers, face-to-face fundraising causes a mixture of reactions ranging from intense loathing from those who hate it to those who herald it as the savior of philanthropy that allowed a new and previously hard to reach demographic to experience the joy of giving.
Some have questioned whether it is not now time for face-to-face fundraising to consider retirement; to gracefully step aside before it is pushed. However, this blogger sees plenty of life in a fundraising form that has not yet hit the grand old age of twenty. Face-to-face will surely undergo transformations in the years ahead but the power of one human looking into the eyes of another and asking them to help is too powerful to consider retiring it just yet. Instead, let’s weigh up the alternatives available to those organisations already involved in face-to-face or for those late starters who are considering how best to go about starting out in a tough and competitive fundraising marketplace.
In or Out?
If you have decided to embrace face-to-face fundraising the single biggest question that faces your organisation is: “Do we do it in-house with a team of fundraisers hired to work for our charity or do we outsource to a face-to-face agency?” Before making your decision there are a number of factors that need to be considered before you decide what is best for your organisation, the most important of these factors are Price and Risk.
Price and Risk
By and large most professional face-to-face fundraising agencies today operate on a fixed price basis. Simply put, if the agency fails to deliver any donors then the charity should pay nothing at all. The exact amount to be paid will vary, but it is usually in the realm of 100% – 200% of a donor’s total contribution over 12 months.
Non-profits that operate ‘in-house’ face-to-face teams are obliged to pay their fundraisers regardless of whether or not they recruit donors. For the charity this means that even if zero donors are signed up then there are still salary costs to be paid (and that is not a ROI that makes fundraisers smile). On the other hand it is possible for a well-trained and highly motivated team of in-house fundraisers to recruit a large number of donors for the same price as it would cost to recruit no donors at all.
To those seeking to avoid the painful scenario of explaining why your face-to-face project has a much lower than forecast ROI it seems the obvious choice is to use an agency. But bear in mind an in-house team, sensibly recruited, well trained, tightly managed and highly motivated can have you basking in the glow of a much higher ROI than anticipated.
And we haven’t even spoken about attrition yet…
It’s sad but true that face-to-face donors are generally less loyal than donors acquired through other channels. Many ex-donors cite their reason for cancelling as a sort of buyers’ remorse – a spur of the moment decision made without thinking through their commitment before signing up. Other claims that they were pressurized into signing up by fundraisers using manipulative tactics. Still others insist they were told they could make a one-time gift by cancelling after the first donation.
Organisations that have experienced both agency and in-house teams working in the same markets have reported a noticeable difference in donor attrition figures. With in-house teams there is a greater ability to motivate and connect recruiters to your cause and to influence them to sign-up quality donors rather than to simply go for quantity. No matter how close you are to your agency you will find it difficult to achieve the same level of commitment from fundraisers that are outsourced than those you have working for your organisation directly.
If you do decide that because of the greater risk involved it is not worth having an in-house project then it is essential to negotiate a fee clawback agreement with your agency. Ideally you will receive a refund or partial refund for each donor that cancels or downgrades during the first six months.
The most difficult part of running an in-house face-to-face team is the initial set up. Advertising for staff, recruiting the right people, training fundraisers to fundraise well and to be passionate about your organisation is time intensive and energy consuming. Developing the leaders within your team that will take it to new growth is not easy in terms of time or energy. Because of this many in-house programmes find it hard to reach the volume of acquisition they would like to have and as a result they remain small.
Agencies tend to be handle volume better. If you are mostly interested in getting a high number of donors recruited as quickly as possible then a well established agency will probably handle the volumes you are craving faster than you can build them in-house.
Your organisations brand is its most valuable asset. Damage it and face the consequences! For most non-profits your face-to-face fundraisers are the public face of the organisation. It is highly unlikely that a face-to-face agency will allow you to decide who is or is not hired to represent you and so you must be aware that your brand is at the mercy of those who make the hiring decisions.
A few years ago an Amnesty International staff member walking around the streets of Vienna just before midnight was disturbed to find a 16-year-old trying to recruit donors. It transpired that the agency recruiter had already worked close to 12 hours that day but was forbidden to leave his post until he had reached his target. For an organisation campaigning against child labour this was a brand disaster.
Similarly, in Los Angeles in 2002 when an agency hired by Greenpeace, began locking out and firing fundraisers who wanted to join a union it was Greenpeace, not the agency, who paid the price in the media storm.
There are agencies out there that will treasure your brand almost as if it were their own, so make sure those are the ones you do business with.
On a sidenote, make sure you spend as much time as possible connecting with your face-to-face fundraisers (whether in-house or outsourced). They are not only the face of your organisation but also its eyes and ears – if you want to know what the public really think of your brand just ask a face-to-facer.
Staff of the Future
Visiting Greenpeace offices around the world it’s amazing how many staff including campaigners, fundraising directors, volunteer coordinators, receptionists, even executive directors began their careers as a face-to-face fundraiser. Some of them began in agencies, but the majority began in-house, having received a taste for campaigning early.
So, if you are fundraising today for increased capacity tomorrow remember that you increased capacity brings staff positions to fill and where better to look to fill them than amongst those who have stood on the frontlines for your organisation come rain or come shine.
So… In or Out? Or something else?
Agencies and In-House both offer certain advantages. A novel approach is the hybrid model where the payroll and most of the legal responsibilities lie with an outside company but the personnel decisions and day-to-day management are retained in-house. It’s adds to the price and it’s not without risk, but it allows you to have your cake and eat it too.