Do people want to listen to you? And are you listening to them?

OptInSocialMediaIf the way forward for fundraising is not how to get money out of me but how to inspire me to tell your story and engage my network – then we should really be after those ‘opt ins’.

And if someone is feeling so annoyed by charities contacting them they want to opt out of all charity communications how do you think they are feeling? And we are worried about whether we can communicate with them to ask them to donate! What arrogance. We need to recognise that it’s my choice now.

Yet several times I have heard the same challenge recently and concern from fellow fundraisers in the UK about the possible changes to communicating to donors, requiring ‘opt in’ or the impact of a Fundraising Preference Service (FPS), where donors can opt out of all charity communications.

“But how will we contact people?” comes the cry.

Even when they concede that the strategic reasons are evident – that we are all now channels and what we now want are supporters who act as our advocates and engage their networks – the same challenge : “But how will we contact people?”

I think thats the wrong concern. They are missing the point. It’s not that you need the permission of supporters in order to target them – it’s that they want to hear from you. That needs a shift in our mindset. Maybe even the language we use. It’s a shift from thinking “How can we target as many people as possible?” to your supporters thinking “I want to listen to what you have to say”. 

Build layers rather than fill and fix leaky buckets

leaky-bucketI’ve come to realise that many fundraisers don’t see far enough. Telling powerful stories or delivering good supporter care is not enough. It’s window dressing. It has to go deeper. That’s not surprising  when over the last few decades we have been ingrained in a certain way to fundraise using response driven techniques (they used to work very well).  Direct response is about pitching one creative against another – seeing which does best – figuring out which is ‘the banker’? We think of donors as a mass. I’ve even seen buckets used as an analogy (I’ve done it myself in the past), with the leak relating to the ‘attrition’ – those donors you lose each year. That now needs to change.

What I have come to appreciate, particularly from the last 5 years of using an engagement approach at SolarAid, is when you have supporters who genuinely want to hear from you – it layers. It gradually builds and builds. Layer upon layer. Its constant progress. It feels you are always building on what’s already in place. Each time you have a meaningful communication with them you build on what was there before. They are part of that process – spreading your story so more people get involved in your mission through them. And our flexible, unrestricted income has grown steadily and quietly in the background (I say steadily – when we look back it’s grown by 400% in the last 5 years). Moreover it feels solid and something that will continue to grow if we continue to engage our supporters.


This is different to the traditional approach where you need to constantly feel you have to replenish your donor file, pot, bucket. Where we need to use terms like ‘acquisition’, ‘recruitment’, and ‘retention’ and the entire focus is on immediate response.

When you focus on creating ‘I want to listen to what you have say’ – then you’ll start to think of what would be engaging for me – not just how to get money out of me. You start to really listen to me. 

2Create ripples with your stones

And that needs us to think differently and observe differently. It’s no longer about direct response – it’s about you, AND your supporters, creating a ripple. And why? Well, as I’ve said so many times, our supporters are all now channels and have social capital. We need to leverage it. Lots of it. There are almost certainly more supporters than staff working for your charity – so potentially more content that could come from supporters than from the charity itself. This in turn impacts on your entire fundraising programme, not just individual giving – as individual people open doors to foundations, corporates, and major donors.

It will mean different measures. You wouldn’t throw a pebble in the water and expect part of it to come flying back. You need to observe it – and when it hits something the ripple returns. You need to create ripples by engaging people – the better the engagement the stronger the ripple. And in time it’s rebounding echo will return (remember those physics lessons all those years ago?). And you need to be ready to react when it does. That leads to what I call at SolarAid sticky moments, which we have every week – where people come to us, often having heard about our mission through one of our supporters advocating on our behalf. For some examples please read my recent post on 101 Fundraising Is asking the only way to fundraise? 

It’s about them not you

How to get people to want to hear from you? 

  1. imgres-1Start by introducing simple ways of reframing what you offer: instead of asking “Would you like to get our newsletter?” try “Would you like to hear about the impact of your support?“. So not thinking about you – think about them. Of course you then have to deliver on that content you promised! 
  2. Give people such an awesome donor experience they will talk about it and share it. And having experienced it they will come back for more i.e. you don’t need to hound them they will come to you. And ask people why they give to you when they give, even if its online. They will love telling you and you will learn something about them. Try it. We have.

  3. What we want are those people that want to opt in. That look forward to the opportunity to give. And to do that well – to get those opt ins – you’ll need something that people want to be part of – a mission (at SolarAid ours is a BHAG). You’ll need to offer them something of value to them that they wish to be part of – even if its in some small way by making a regular gift. And let’s face it people are genuinely seeking meaning and we, with our myriad of social issues, can provide it.

But how will we contact people?“, comes the retort.

stone-1282347_960_720To build layers takes time so get cracking now is the answer! Ensure your organisation sets a clear mission (ask what’s your purpose – what can you do better than anyone else?) and begin to engage your supporters on what you want to achieve. People will want to be part of that. And listen to them more than ever. Not just what they say – but what they do. Pour your energy (all that creativity that used to go in testing different appeal packs) and resources into delivering an amazing donor experience that donors will talk about (and want more of). Start this now rather than trying to extract what you can out of donors before you can no longer do what you used to do! As those layers build you will see the impact of those returning ripples that your supporters create, and which you initiated, take affect. 


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