For a few months late last year I was involved with a digital F2F test project with a German NGO. In fact it was the first time tablet computers would be used for street fundraising in Germany and the first time that I personally would have the chance to test how it was to use tablets for face-to-face in real life situations. For the past few years I have heard a lot of excitement about the possibilities offered by tablets but so far the clipboard is still king. In this blog I’ll reveal the pros and cons of using tablets and see whether or not the real life experience lives up to the hype.
After a comparative analysis of various tablet offerings on the market the iPad 2 came out as the best all round tablet for the following reasons:
– Price (not the cheapest tablet but best value)
– Battery Life (had to last a 6 hour shift)
– Usability (quite user friendly from a front and back of house perspective)
– Environment (unfortunately no tablet received top marks for kindness to the planet, but Apple was amongst the ‘least bad’)
A very simple idea was used: the iPad would be used to present a PDF presentation. Embedded in the presentation were images, videos, text and links to web resources. Importantly each slide had a link that would take you instantly to the online supporter sign-up page. Each individual fundraiser had a unique url so their individual KPIs could be evaluated.
From the point of view of a street fundraiser there were some great things about having an iPad:
Now, whenever I got tricky questions I was able to find the answers pretty much instantly. Although it’s not a substitute for being well-informed it is a great resource – and can make new fundraisers feel a bit more secure.
This feature was great. I had previously seen canvassers use smartphones to share inspiring videos with the public but bigger is better when it comes to inspiring would-be-donors. The impact grows exponentially with the size of the screen. (A warning here: make sure you choose videos that give the canvasser a chance to shine. There is no point in simply showing a video of a talking head or with a narrator explain the visuals. Allow the canvasser to be the storyteller who just happens to have a great visual prop – don’t relegate them to simply being an iPad holder).
Because the iPad connects instantly (or in some cases within a few hours) to the membership database it can verify, debit and email the new donor within 24 hours. In some instances account information can be checked instantly and corrected right away. This is the area where the benefit of a connected device is most obvious. There are also wins because the direct data entry cuts out the needs for scanning forms or manual data entry.
I was planning to write that a 6 – 10 hour battery life was a feature to be included in the ‘good’ list above. Then I realized that the clipboard has an even better battery life! I have never used a clipboard that needed to be plugged in.
I found it didn’t really make any difference whether I showed people stationary images on a screen or on a printed page. What matters most is the passion of the canvasser and how they communicate their message with feeling and authenticity. Screen or page makes no difference here.
Tablet devices are not cheap but when they are used to sign up hundreds of donors they have the potential to lower operating costs. Not everyone we meet on the street knows this and they sometimes find it hard to find believe that a fundraiser who carries a €400 piece of kit really needs their €10 per month. Make sure your fundraisers understand the cost benefit of using tablets and can communicate that message effortlessly. If they can’t they’re better off with clipboards (or finding a new job).
Rain and tablets don’t mix so well. Since Germany is not known for it’s year round sunny weather we invested in a rain cover for the iPad. We used and liked the Otter Box (which also served as a protective shell in the event of accidental drops). There wasn’t so much we could do about the screen glare when standing in bright sunshine though – this made the presentation function pretty redundant. Also it’s a good idea to invest in some good quality touch screen gloves when the temperature drops.
It was fun to try something new and people reacted well to some of the videos. More than 95% of people were comfortable putting their personal information into a tablet (for the others we had some old paper forms) and they easily understood the cost and efficiency benefits of using expensive equipment when it was clearly explained to them. There was no discernible increase or decrease in KPIs relating to the number of donors recruited or in the amount they gave. The major benefits are felt in the back of house: increased efficiency in street to database, data quality control and faster debiting.
If you do decide to try using iPads or any other tablet devices please bear in mind that they are not a ‘silver bullet’ which will automatically guarantee better results. The single most important piece of equipment you have is a well-trained, highly motivated canvasser. A human – the most beautiful machine of them all.