Opt in anxiety? Then give a great donor experience.

Can you sense the growing anxiety over the issue of opt in?

There have been several articles and blogs expressing concerns and I recently had a debate with several peers. The challenge posed was “how will people know at the point of giving for the first time whether to opt in?“. And if they don’t opt in how can we target them? So I can understand the concern. I can see that it could have drastic impact on income based on the fundraising model many charities currently use.

A customers perspective

Then I had a day which gave me another perspective. It was my birthday. So I took the day off.

In the morning I returned to a new cafe I had tried out at the start of the week. The cafe was just finishing a mums session with various art activities splayed out on the tables. What a great idea – providing an activity for pre school kids whilst mums could meet over a coffee. The cafe is a specialist bakery too and was advertising a course on learning how to make sour dough (I couldn’t go on the next date – but ‘note to self’ for another time). Next I treated myself to a massage with the chiropractor (it was my birthday after all!). When they figured out it was my birthday Laura, who runs the practice with her husband, nipped out and handed me a helium balloon as I left with my age in bold (it was a milestone birthday) along with a card signed by all the staff. I felt special. That afternoon at Majestic a member of staff helped me taste some wines I wanted to buy for a house party. They also offered to provide glasses for free and would deliver on whatever day I needed them. Later I was on the phone to a local shop which is part of a chain called Cook that provides frozen meals having initially looked at their website. Even though by placing an order online I wouldn’t be buying direct from their shop they gave me great advice on how to prepare for a large dinner party. That evening we went for a meal at our local pub who had sent me a discount because it was my birthday.

None of these pushed to get me on their mailing list by default of doing business with them.

Yet with all of these I’ll be back for more. I’ve signed up for the newsletter from the local cafe to get news of events and any further baking courses, and I already get the newsletter from my local chiropractor because they send out useful tips and advice (and to remind me to look after myself!), and I’ll happily get emails for the local pub as they provide the occasional discounts (but more importantly we so enjoyed the experience of going there for a family meal we went back again just over a week later). The frozen food service by Cook I’ll recommend to friends and definitely use again (although I haven’t signed up for a newsletter). As I left Majestic dropping off the glasses we hired (for free), and the wine we didn’t drink on sale and return, I picked up a leaflet on a series of wine tastings they are holding at the shop. I’ll be back. All these offer added value through the content and the service they provide.

It just feels miles apart from the pervading experience in our world.

Donors are already opting in

As for our world? Donors are already opting in – the mail I don’t really want from charities and other organisations whose database I am on I just bin straight away. Yes I could send them back with “return to sender” and “please remove from mailing list” scribbled on and put back in a post box, but that’s a pain and requires effort and thought. The emails I haven’t got around to unsubscribing I just junk, and I find my mail software increasingly automates unread email to junk (and some even make ‘unsubscribe’ an easy tap).

Maybe the battle to prevent opt ins being enforced is worth fighting. See Ken Burnett’s thought piece and do read his constructive second letter to the Information Commission.

But what harm is there in investing resources in delivering such a wonderful donor experience people will want to be back for more? They will gladly opt in. It needs a fraction of the amount piled into donor acquisition or appeals. You will soon see indicators such as surprise feedback from donors, and unsolicited donations as a result of recommendations – maybe from other sources too, such as corporates that people work for, and trusts that they are connected to, or simply through people they know they speak to.

Whether opt in is enforced or not this makes sense.

Yet what do I see?

  • online transactions that are just dull, or worse, painful
  • poor, predictable thankyous
  • content which is not engaging and often ‘shouty’ all about us and asking donors to give again
  • no clear purpose or mission, and an obsession on the ‘what we do’, i.e. us again, not why we do what we do.

Sadly, it’s not surprising. I would say the majority don’t invest in how to give an amazing experience that people will remember and recall. The focus is on response driven communications, on how to get money out of me based on an outdated model, of target the many to get a response from a few. This just turns people off and no longer works in a world where attention is scarce due to the abundance of information. It may even put them off giving because their growing belief based on their experience is that they will be targeted from then on.

The danger of business as usual is that it doesn’t encourage the mindset we now need.

Build an audience

What could we learn from the changing world around us?

  • Ask the question what is the customer experience you could offer? And, of course, that should be an emotional one too.
  • What content could you provide which aligns with your area of expertise?
  • Make people feel part of solving a problem – your communications need to convey the impact a donors gift is having, so much so they will want to hear how you are doing, and perhaps how they can help.

audiencebuild.jpgThis way you will start to build an audience who will gladly return and want to hear what you have to say. And when they are ready to buy (donate) they will come to you. Or at an appropriate time you will have their attention when you need to ask them. And better still, they will talk about you and recommend you to their friends (who by the way don’t need an ‘opt in’ to hear from them!).

Those that fear the consequence of opt ins belong to a traditional mindset of ‘how can we target people so we can ask them?‘. As a result the worry is on maintaining the maximum number you can target. Hence the battle against opt in is key to maintain this approach. Yet this style of marketing is becoming less and less effective. As a result the response is often to do more of it and shout louder!

Opt in is a consequence

Any communications that continually tries to interrupt us to get our attention now doesn’t work as effectively as it used to.  Why? Because we are all now channels and so we are flooded with information. The ability to target people is just going to get less and less effective simply because we don’t like it. The rise, and desire, of opt in is a consequence of this.

It is far better to have people buy into receiving communications from you – i.e. you now need to build an audience. And the best time to establish this is the moment they walk through the door, from the first customer experience.

The donor is buying two things – that initial hit when they give, and a promise from us to fulfil the reason they gave to us in the first place. I think that there is a reasonable expectation to communicate with them to tell them the impact of their support over the course of the coming year. And framed that way I’m sure many new donors will opt in. That’s a different offer than ‘would you like to get our newsletter?‘. You need to think what is the added value you bring? This applies to other businesses as much as it does to charities. So don’t ask “would you like to opt in to our communications?“, ask “would you like to hear about the impact of what you helped achieve as a result of your donation?“. Provide content of value, along with a great experience, and continually give people the opportunity to receive more.

The problem is we haven’t been giving that added value as well as we could, and we haven’t brought supporters along with us. We haven’t built an audience.

build-your-audienceThis is where digital platforms offer a real opportunity. They do not work the same as traditional broadcast media – which are one way and where organisations pay for exposure to communicate a message. To quote Grant Leboff, from his latest book Digital Selling, with digital “everyone has a channel and therefor has a right of response. That is why these platforms are considered ‘social’. They are not simply channels where an individual or company transmits ideas and everyone listens. The opportunity to reply is given”.  So use this opportunity to engage people in conversation when they comment or respond in a positive way. It’s a place where you can engage (you don’t need to ask someone can I reply the Facebook post you put on our page?). They opt in though engagement.

Adopt the right mindset now

Don’t wait. Start adopting a mindset of building an audience whether opt in happens or not. That way you’ll be well prepared if it does and reap the benefits even if it doesn’t go through because that’s what you now need to do – attract and retain customers, not target them.

How to make a start:

  1. Clarify your purpose. What is the big problem you are trying to solve? Why do you matter? That’s not the same as what you do.
  2. Engage your existing donors about your ambition. Make them feel part of solving the problem. Provide valuable content and give them something to talk about.
  3. Start working on improving that customer/donor experience so much that new donors come back for more and talk about the experience they had.

Then you will have supporters who want to hear from you.

2 thoughts on “Opt in anxiety? Then give a great donor experience.

    • Thanks Seeshah – I really appreciate your feedback and encouragement. I agree – focusing on some simple areas can be so powerful if done really well – although I’m reminded of a saying “simple does not equal easy”. I think it requires conscious effort to take the sort of approach I advocate (which is why I stress so much on understanding why as its all to easy to not go to the trouble).


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