Canadian Fundraising and Philanthropy

Excuses don’t help fundraising

By Jonathon Grapsas, This article was first published in Canadian Fundraising and Philanthropy in February 2011.

Excuses don’t help fundraising It’s been a horrible start to the year for Australia, in particular the state of Queensland. We’ve been hit with some of the worst floods in our history and one of the more brutal cyclones; all while other parts of the country suffer through bushfires and heat waves.

With the impact of the floods likely to be in the billions of dollars, the federal government has introduced a 12 month flood levy, which increases personal income tax by 0.75% for a year. The levy is designed to help rebuild Queensland’s infrastructure ruined by the floods.

In the aftermath of the announcement, a friend asked me what I thought, and whether I expected charitable support to be impacted by the levy? Did I believe that by the government ‘forcing’ people to support would be to the detriment of Aussie charities?

I really don’t think so. For two reasons:

People tend to give above and beyond what they normally would in emergency situations

Last year we had a Canadian client due to lodge an appeal the day after the Haiti earthquake. My client rang me in a panic wondering whether in fact we should post the appeal, or delay it.

My response was a categorical ‘yes, post it’. The Haiti situation was horrendous, beyond belief. But the kids we were appealing on behalf of needed help. Their situation hadn’t changed one bit. It couldn’t wait.

So the pack went out, net income increased 25% from the previous year’s appeal. It was a strong appeal. No doubt some of those donors also reached into their pockets to support organizations working in Haiti. But they didn’t forget the kids that also needed help locally in Canada.

I believe the same will ring true after the floods. But a word of warning, the next time this happens (and it will happen, disasters are occurring more frequently) don’t offer an excuse as to why donors shouldn’t or don’t need to respond. Good appeals for support are about clarity and need, not easy ‘get outs’. So avoid wording that mentions conditional support, like “I know you’re probably helping in the aftermath of X, but we also need your help”. That provides an excuse to switch off.

We saw a similar situation as part of the economic meltdown a couple of years back. All of the direct response testing I saw showed what we intuitively thought – mentioning the recession suppressed response.

People give when they see that something needs support, not when they’re presented a raft of excuses why they shouldn’t.

This was about infrastructure, not people

The flood levy is about rebuilding a state’s resources. Roads, buildings, technology. Decimated by a natural disaster.

Whilst that indirectly helps individuals, the levy isn’t about handouts to those affected.

Hence why I believe it won’t affect charitable support, assuming of course it’s backed up with damn good fundraising.

My advice to those fundraising post emergencies is to continue doing what you were planning on doing. Good results follow good practice.

And that’s what I told my mate.

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Fundraising Resolutions: version 20.11

By Jonathon Grapsas This article was first published in Canadian Fundraising & Philanthropy in January 2011

Many spend New Year’s Eve discussing plans to shed a few kilos or spend more time with their family. I’m not a big one for forlorn new year’s promises, but thought it would be a bit of fun (and a good checklist to look back on) to pen some fundraising resolutions for 2011.

Here goes. My eight point plan to become a better fundraiser this year.

1 Increase my thirst for knowledge. Read more (blogs, articles, papers), absorb as much as I can from the thought leaders in our sector, be a bigger sponge for learning.

2 Stop putting things off. As a wise school teacher once told me, ‘procrastination is the thief of time’. Smart man he was. I need to just get on with things.

3 Listen more. To those who I agree with, to those who think differently. Pause more often and simply hear what others have to say.

4 Be tenacious about testing. Challenge conventional thinking, test more than ever. That includes debunking more ‘commonly held’ fundraising myths. We talk about testing daily, myself included. Yet the conversion rate of tests we talk about to tests we deliver is low. Far too low.

5 Take my blinkers off and look outside. Not just outside the walls of the agency, but outside the sector. Most of the new stuff I learnt in 2010 was from the commercial sector. Not because they’re smarter, but because I looked more than I normally would outside our own world.

6 Empower others to do even better. My job is about changing the mindset and actions of others as well as my own. Spend more time on changing behaviour than I did in 2010.

7 Continue to search for ‘pacesetters’ in our sector. People and organisations doing great stuff. That includes mystery shopping charities around the globe. To learn for myself, and to share with others. Helping make others better fundraisers means I’m doing a better job too.

8 Get the balance right between learning from what worked and learning from what didn’t. Not too much back slapping (remember, the road to failure is paved with success), but not too much castigating your own work either.

When I think I’ve done what I said I would do, read the list again from start to finish. Then in December check back in and let you know how I did.

Have you written your 2011 fundraising resolutions?

Where do online donors go once you’ve got them?

By Jonathan Grapsas This article was first published in Canadian Fundraiser Magazine

As part of our recent benchmarking at Pareto Fundraising, we were asked to look at the subsequent behavior of new onetime cash recruits. In other words, of donors that are recruited online, where do they go once ‘on board’? What about DM donors? Do they follow the same stream or veer off into other vehicles.

Here’s what we found

Direct Mail recruited cash donors tended to keep doing what they did originally. 90% subsequently kept giving through the mail. No surprises there.

The same mostly rang true for telephone recruits, 85% continuing to give via the phone and almost 15% through the mail.

For online recruits, slightly more varying (and perhaps surprising) results. Around 75% continued giving through the method of recruitment, around 15% then gave through the mail, and the remainder through a combination of other channels.

What’s the upshot of this?

Whilst some of this may appear on face value a little startling, all is not what is seems at first. In other words, the reason a large chunk of ‘online’ recruited donors moved across to donate offline is not necessarily indicating too much about their giving behavior.

It’s telling us more about their giving requests and cultivation. The fact is many of us have much more sophisticated and coherent offline fundraising streams. Therefore if the numbers are small (ish) we tend to include donors in the bucket that allows the most flexibility, largest volumes, has the most frequent communications.

And often that’s the mail.

I’m not suggesting it isn’t noteworthy – it dispels somewhat the myth that online recruits won’t give offline, but contextually I think it says more about programs than behavior.

So what should you do

Test. If you have, or are planning to recruit a significant stream of donors from one particular channel (let’s take online for a moment), then you need to be looking at how best that group responds when treated in different ways.

As suggested above, it appears that the behavior of various groups is dictated by our treatment. In other words what and where we send them.

At the moment we’re undertaking a head to head split test looking at whether a group of ‘online’ recruited donors responds better to an online solicitation (in this case a survey) than to an offline (mail) solicitation (again, a survey).

What we’re looking for is being able to find the optimum way to treat this group. Initially we want to determine for a survey ask (that includes a cash request), what generates the best overall net return. Down the track we’ll measure the optimum suite of communications for this constituency, which could actually be a mixture of offline and online pieces.

Regardless of method of recruitment, always look for the best way to move onetime cash donors across to monthly giving. Monthly giving for our clients grew 9% in 2009, at the height of the recession.

Always look deeper. The data shared above could easily be misunderstood. It certainly wasn’t suggesting that online donors are necessarily ripe to move offline.

Remember that the decisions we make are more impactful than environmental factors outside our control.

Finding the emotional triggers to increase net income

By Jonathan Grapsas This article was first published in Canadian Fundraiser Magazine and is the final part of a four part series

Let’s face it, the best relationships you have usually are those with the people you know most about, right? Knowing that your friend really likes a certain football team or particular style of music opens up conversations and dialogue much easier than not knowing this.

There are two main types of personal data, the first is transactional.

Transactional data is the information pertaining to how individuals have actually behaved in the past. How much they have given, how often, what they have responded to. And as mentioned previously, the biggest driver of how someone will behave in the future is what they have done in the past.

So, how do I use this information?

Let’s take a direct mail appeal as an example. How recently and how frequently someone has donated dictates how likely they are to respond. The value of a donor’s previous gift indicates how much they will give in the future.

Really simple but important stuff. Knowing this allows you to then determine not only who you should target for a specific ask, but how much you should ask them for.

If executed correctly, the targeting and ask is the biggest driver for a direct response activity. Yes, telling brilliant and compelling stories is crucial, but ask the wrong people for the right thing or the right people for the wrong thing and your campaign falls over. This is a science, not an art.

The second type of personal data is finding out the real nuggets of information about why people support you. The reason they first supported you, what they think about your work, even if they have had a personal affliction with your cause.

To illustrate the power of getting really personal, contrast these two pieces of copy. Then think about which one you’d prefer to send to your donors and which one you’d prefer to receive for that matter.

“… As someone who has been touched personally by cancer, Jonathon, I’m sure you will agree that we desperately need to find a cure in our lifetime. In fact I know you are particularly interested in the work we are doing looking into the causes of lung cancer which is why I am reaching out to you today with an appeal for $50. I know this is more than you given in the past, but a gift of this size will help provide an hour of world class research which could help find a cure into one of Canada’s biggest killers…”


“… We really need to look further into the causes of lung cancer to help us find a cure, so please would you consider a gift at this time…”

I know which one I’d prefer.

The first talks to me as an individual, as someone who has been touched by cancer. I’ve been listened to and the information, whilst personal and sensitive, has been played back to me to show they (the organization I support) care. I’ve also been asked to support at a specific level, which has then been tangibly shown to have the potential to make a real difference.

The second makes me feel, well, it doesn’t make me feel anything, other than part of a big group of people who have received this piece.

I want to feel like an individual.

And I can tell you, talking to donors as individuals, be it through using transactional history to ask for an appropriate gift or by replaying back information you have captured on donor’s works.

The transactional history helps boost response, gift levels and income in the short term.

The ‘softer’ data, the ‘emotional triggers’ like why people support you, help in the long run. They help improve retention. Better retention means more active donors to talk to, cultivate and ask. And that means more net income.

Ultimately that means being able to help more of your beneficiaries.

About the writer

Jonathon Grapsas is the Regional Director for Pareto Fundraising in North America. This is the fourth in a series of articles where Jonathon will look in detail at how you can use different sources of data to help grow your fundraising program and raise shed loads more money for your cause

If you would like more information on this please contact Jonathon at or on +1 416 915 4114.

Digging deep to get a true sense of whose really providing the most value

By Jonathan Grapsas This article was first published in Canadian Fundraiser Magazine

It simply isn’t acceptable as a fundraiser to not truly understand where your money really comes from.

I often hear conversations like this.

Freddy Fundraiser – “Hey, we’ve just did a prospect mailing which did really well. We got a two per cent response overall and one of the lists got a five per cent response! One of the lists we trialed however bombed and only got a one per cent response so we’re canning that one”

Fiona Fundraiser – “That’s great. Sounds like a success. Can you tell me which list got the five per cent response as I might just use the same one for my next prospect mailing?”

What’s wrong with this conversation? On face value a five per cent response from a prospect list is darn good, right? Surely that list is better than the 1 per cent one?

Not necessarily.

The problem is response rate is just one in a number of measures we should be looking at. Time after time when I talk to people about this sort of stuff they typically look at three metrics: response rate, average gift level and the cost to acquire.

Which are useful, but they don’t provide the full picture.

You see the problem with what Freddie Fundraiser is doing is looking purely at how someone has behaved in the first instance. What Freddy hasn’t factored in is the subsequent behavior of that group of five per cent of donors who responded.

How many of them go on to make subsequent gifts and what level?

How many of them upgrade their giving and/or donate in other ways (I.e. if they initially gave a onetime cash gift, how many went on to become monthly donors)?

Not to mention was there any rollout potential in this list? If the list has 1,000 records in total then frankly there are bigger fish to fry than going back to the same, tiny pool again.

But the key here is the net value that a group delivers for you. I’d argue that Freddy should look over a period of time, factoring in all costs (recruitment and ongoing), what net value this group delivers.

If only 20 per cent of donors recruited from the so called ‘better’ performing (five per cent) list ever give again and their average gift is just $10 will they actually deliver any net return at all?

And if the ‘poor performing’ one per cent response list delivers a 50 per cent second gift rate (of which half become monthly donors), an average gift of $50 and an average life span of 10 years, surely when you do the math their net value will be higher? Of course it will.

The point is, look at value, not just cost to acquire and the number of people you get through the door. These measures alone will give you a false picture of how you’re doing.

I’ve focused here on an example specific to direct mail, but looking at real value over time works across all channels. And I am working with clients now to dig really deep to get a clear picture of what’s working for them in terms of acquisition.

Right now it’s about smarter, not less, acquisition.

Contact Pareto Fundraising if you would like to commision a data analysis, it will help you prioritise, so that you can make the most of your budget.

About the writer

Jonathon Grapsas heads up Pareto Fundraising’s North American division and is a data geek of sorts. As a leading fundraising practitioner, Jonathon’s particular area of strength is helping charities develop ways to get their donors to take some form of action. His track record in delivering real growth in his clients fundraising programs is outstanding, as is his ability to motivate and inspire fundraisers to make real change.

You can contact Jonathon at or on +1 416 915 4114.

How looking around at others can raise you shed loads more money for your cause

By Jonathan Grapsas This article was first published in Canadian Fundraiser Magazine and is part two of a four part series

I introduced last time the notion of arming yourself with three types of data (environmental, analytical and personal data) to make informed decisions to grow your fundraising programme.

The first I’m going to touch on in detail is the use of environmental data, in other words scanning what’s happening in the marketplace and how you can learn from others to raise more money.

There is a lot of environmental data out there to access.

You can look at annual reports from other charities to see how individual organizations are performing or look at information produced from bodies like Imagine Canada to see where money is coming from across the sector.

All free and publically available data, which is incredibly useful to get a sense of what is and isn’t working for different charities across the country.

Then there is benchmarking.

I’m sure that for many, the notion of benchmarking conjures up thoughts of meaningless, dull data and reams of paper full of graphs and charts.

And whilst there is some element of truth to this, I see benchmarking as one of the most powerful fundraising tools in our armory and anything but dull.

The way I look at it benchmarking is about looking at what others are doing and using this information to raise more money for the causes you work for.

Benchmarking studies come in various shapes and sizes. I’m going to focus on what I believe to be the most useful of those, data benchmarking (as opposed to benchmarking surveys that ask you a series of questions rather than look at your real data). In other words, charities looking at the actual data of theirs and other organizations with the intention of learning more about others in order to further their cause.

There are six key reasons why benchmarking is a must for any successful or ambitious fundraising organization.

1. It helps you identify industry trends

When charities share information and look at performance, both on a big picture scale and in minute detail, it arms fundraisers with information about what’s happening in the marketplace.

What’s working, what’s not. What’s driving growth.

This allows you to then make informed decisions about your own efforts, including reaffirming decisions you have made about areas to invest in. Or conversely giving you evidence that an area you have chosen not to bother with was indeed the right call to make.

2. Gives you a sense of your performance vs. the industry

How do you really know whether your fundraising is up to scratch or not? What on earth does 30% retention of cash donors actually mean? Are you sure that having only 0.2% of your file telling you they have left a bequest is low?

Questions we ask ourselves daily.

Benchmarking helps answers these and many other fundraising questions. It gives you a real sense of how you are doing.

The best way to do this is by looking at your data versus the data of other organizations. Of course there is always context. But where the names of the charities are shared and programs, size and budget are put in perspective, this gives fundraisers a true sense of how they are tracking.

3. You share knowledge

As Sara Campbell Mates from WWF Canada says‘… It opens up a dialogue between us as one organization and our colleagues at other organizations about how we can work together to do better and make the sector stronger. The experience in benchmarking has been priceless from that perspective.’

Sara is spot on.

Benchmarking forces fundraisers to talk to each other. Because let’s face it, when we go to conferences and attend workshops, we’re a polite bunch and we also tend to keep to ourselves.

But when you’re looking at Charity A whose retention rate on new monthly giving recruits in miles ahead of yours, you simply HAVE to talk to them. Find out how they’re doing it, what they’re doing differently, what they’ve tested.

This is debatably the most potent feature of any benchmarking project. Really clever people coming together to share not only data, but brilliant ideas. Can only result in great things happening.

4. Provides a better understanding of fundraising

If you’re not using street recruitment to recruit new donors, then how are you going to learn more about the channel? Of course you could talk to an agency; you may even talk to a colleague who did it once, back in 1998.

But what better way of digging deeper and getting the real lowdown on areas you’re not familiar with than to see firsthand organizations who are doing it? And doing it now.

Benchmarking programs, particularly those that are all encompassing and study each area of fundraising allow you to learn, and do so looking at real, live data and not textbooks.

5. Saves you money and helps you get MORE of it

The biggest barrier to measuring yourself is the cost of doing it. The second biggest barrier is a fear or reluctance to share.

Benchmarking is about value, not cost. If you commit to comparing yourselves with others, then you will not only recoup the upfront outlay, but the information it arms you with will allow you to make more informed and strategic decisions. And that can only mean one thing: more dollars raised.

6. Reduces complacency

Often overlooked as a reason to measure one’s self, yet incredibly important. Benchmarking makes us more accountable. And by accountable, I don’t mean justifying “how much of the donors dollar goes to the cause”.

I mean it makes you accountable. It reduces any possible complacency. It pushes you to become a better fundraiser. You sure won’t allow yourself to have the worst monthly giving attrition next year, nor will you allow Charity X (who frankly you find quite smug) to knock you off your bequest perch. Not a chance in hell.

About the writer

Jonathon Grapsas is the Regional Director for Pareto Fundraising in North America. This is the second in a series of articles where Jonathon will look in detail at how you can use different sources of data to help grow your fundraising program and raise shed loads more money for your cause.