You know the setting. You’re studying literature at school. You have set texts. You groan and moan. And then you read one that blows your mind. This, for me, was ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee.
As a young teenager in a small, southern seaside town, getting an insight into another world – a world so different, yet so similar – to mine was eye-opening. As I read - horrified, yet engrossed - I could imagine very clearly the same things happening where I lived, cocooned in my white, middle class safety. (And, on a lighter note, Atticus Finch was my first true literary crush).
It’s a book I return to regularly. When I can’t decide what to read, I open it up. When I need inspiring I open it up. The other day when I did this, the following quote jumped out at me, as it so often does:
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
And my mind turned to fundraising, as it often does. We talk a lot about our audiences and how we are, most of the time, not them. So, we bring them to life with data profiling, pen portraits and fancy names. We might have many of them. At Merlin we have three groups (for your interest: Graham and Carol, Ben and Sophie, and Fiona Donor), reflecting our different fundraising methods and using various insights to bring them to life.
We talk about this at work, at conferences, on social media, in the pub. We all say that we seem to understand this basic principle. Yet, we still continue to produce fundraising that isn’t relevant for our audience. Or we try to shoe-horn multiple audiences into one communication.
So, why? Why do we do this? I have a few theories.
1. The scourge of the next big thing: When I get asked the question “What do you think is the next big thing in fundraising?” - my response is ‘going back to basics.’ The best performing fundraising is simple, emotive – and relevant to the audience. Search for the method/channel that will raise money – but always, always, always have the target audience at the heart of what you’re doing.
2. Ticking the boxes: We talk about keeping it simple, so why don’t we? If we’re asking for money, let’s ask for money! Don’t dilute it with lots of asks that keep other people happy. Why promote ‘Tough Mudder’ in a newsletter that goes to ‘Dorothy Donor’? I’m sure 80-year old Dorothy would love to do that rather than get a pack with some Humanity Rose cards in that she can actually use – because, guess what!, she still writes real letters.
3. We try to be cool: Your digital team are launching an app that means your smart phone will walk itself downstairs in the morning and make a cup of tea; your communications team are launching a hard hitting campaign that some Guardian journalist tweeted about; and you want to break boundaries, bring in new technology and shock the world.
Stop and think though – does Dorothy want to be shocked? Does she want to download an app? Does she want to see the appeal she supported being chatted about by the Guardian? Does she even read the Guardian? If your target audience does, then go for it! But don’t be cool for the sake of being cool. Make sure the boundary you’re breaking is your fundraising income.
4. You refuse to believe your idea won’t work: We have all done this. Come up with the best idea ever for an appeal. And it flops – totally and utterly flops. Let it go. Don’t convince yourself with a little tweak here or a slight change of tone there, or different images on the outer it would all be different.
If it properly flops your audience does not like it. And audience is the most important variable. Creative is near the bottom. Sometimes we need to spend money to try new things and test. I am all for this (if it’s planned, targeted, and has the audience as the reason for doing it). But spending money on something you have tried and failed miserably at is irresponsible.
5.You want to like your work*: I love my job and I love being a fundraiser. And I am proud of the fundraising we produce. But do I as Danielle (Atticus Finch loving, wine drinking, Diagnosis Murder watching person), love our appeals? Not always. Do I Danielle (Head of Digital & Individual Giving at Merlin) love our appeals? Yes - because our donors will love them. And if they don’t love them then I check if anything we have done falls into one of these five groups.
*This one is a particularly easy trap to fall into when picking your Christmas cards......be warned!