Jonathon Grapsas Blog

Regular giving growth continues in Australia & NZ

By Jonathon Grapsas

Last week we released our latest benchmarking results from Australia and NZ.

Thank you firstly to the 41 organisations involved. Hats off to you all.

Some snippets from the latest report:

– Regular giving continues to be the key driver of income growth from individuals. Income growth of around 12% in 2010.

– 3 out of 4 of the charities involved in the study grew their income from individuals in the two years between 2008 and 2010, despite the recession.

– Investment in new donor acquisition continued as volumes of new supporters continued to grow.

– On average, 0.9% of active cash donors have indicated they have left a bequest to that organisation. The benchmark for one charity was 6.3% of all active donors having confirmed.

– Recency, Frequency, Value, plus tenure all correlate with propensity to indicate leaving a bequest.

– Income from onetime cash gifts grew less than 1% over the two years between 2008 and 2010, in line with the continued shift toward investment in regular, monthly giving.

If you’re interested in knowing more about our benchmarking program please get in touch with our man on the ground, Clarke Vincent.

It’s about the (online) journey, not just the (online) destination

By Jonathon Grapsas

I don’t want to sound like a walking book of jargon, but it really is about the journey.

As much so when we talk about the online world. We as a sector spend far too much time worrying, finessing and getting distracted by the destination.

By the destination I mean your website.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s an important place. And making sure you keep people there, capture data, share stories, and ultimately generate donations is critical.

But getting people there, and finding ways to attract new sources is paramount.

As my colleague Sean Triner says, having a brilliant website (with no traffic) is like having the world’s best department store in the middle of the desert. Useless.

When I talk to fundraisers about developing a digital road-map for raising more money online, I often hear people say “yes, well we’re building a new website” or “our website is rubbish”.

They’re focused on the end result, the destination.

Yes it’s important, but spending a tonne of effort and resources on building the world’s most aesthetically pleasing website is going to be a complete waste of time without any traffic to drive there.

Consider these traffic driving questions:

– Are you looking at ways to re-engage and drive online prospects back to your site? By online prospects I mean previous activists, e-newsletter subscribers or enquirers.

– Are you investing time managing your search activity? See here for an earlier post on Google AdWords for charities. What about your organic listing? Are you spending time to make sure you are ranked as high as possible in search engines, such as Google?

– Are you re-targeting visitors to your site with a different offer? For example, of the 5,000 visitors to your site each month, the majority visit and then bounce away, meaning you haven’t ‘closed the deal’. Re-targeting allows you to present your offer again to these prospects in an effort to re-engage them. It’s relatively inexpensive and is used regularly by those in the commercial world. Yet we seem to be slow on the take up on this. Easier to re-engage than introduce ourselves to those who don’t know us.

– Have you investigated the new frontiers in online advertising? The power of behavioral and contextual advertising, where you can present your offer to people whose online behavior dictates they have some affinity/interest in you. Again the commercial world is leaps and bounds ahead of us here, but the technology exists, it’s about tapping into whats out there to ensure we’re locating real prospects who are showing characteristics that suggest they care. In real time.

Don’t get me wrong, the destination requires time and effort. It requires thought around ways to engage and capture. But remember, that without the traffic it really is like the best department store in the desert.

Downgrading: when asking for less results in getting more

By Jonathon Grapsas

For years some of my colleagues and I have been banging on about the need to seriously consider actively downgrading regular, monthly donors.

Are you going mad, Jonathon?

Possibly, but not on this one. The rationale is simple. There are certain groups of regular givers for whom we know, statistically, they are likely to stop their ongoing giving. Their characteristics have predetermined that they’ll fall out of love with us really quickly and hence cancel their gift.

I’m talking about ‘younger’ face to face recruited donors. By younger I’m talking under say 25 (may vary by client).

We look at data for F2F donors every day. Whenever we run the data through some geeky data modeling, its spits out the same result every time. Younger donors are more likely to stop their giving in the first 3 months than ‘older donors’. There are other criteria that dictate attrition levels, like payment type and housing type, but hands down every time age is the most significant variable.

So for me its always been simple. If we know statistically that a group is likely to cancel, would we not be better off tackling this head on rather than sitting back waiting for the inevitable?

Well, I was incredibly excited a couple of weeks ago when a Canadian client shared they have been doing exactly this. And guess what, it’s working.

Of course, by working you need to ensure that the drop off in income from either doing nothing and the lower average gifts is offset by more supporters staying on board.

Let’s do the math.

Scenario A. I have 1,000 donors giving me $20 a month ($240 a year). The data shows me that I’ll likely lose (because of the make up of the data) 300 in the first 3 months. So my $240k in annual income is, in crass terms likely to be around $168k if we do nothing.

Situation B. What if we took the 300 “likely” cancellations and asked them to consider dropping down to $10 a month? Assume of those 300 two thirds of them say yes, the other 100 we can’t reach of decide to cancel anyway. We now have 700 donors @ $20 per month and 200 donors @ $10 per month. That means my annual income is now $192k, a far better result than sitting on our hands and doing nothing.

There are a few things to consider here:

– Do it on the phone. Make sure the call is intended as a donor care one, not an administrative one. Thank, check in, share, acknowledge. Then discuss their giving level and how comfortable they are.

– Test the timing of this. Likely done best around month 1 after sign up, but play around with this. See what works for you.

– Just because someone may agree to lower their financial commitment, don’t forget them. F2F recruited donors need to feel the love, albeit in a slightly different manner. They don’t behave like donors from ‘traditional’ media. Long letters and dry newsletters are a waste of time. Punchy, shareable and relevant content all the way.

If you do this, let me know how you get on.

When asking for less means getting more. Sometimes direct response just doesn’t make sense.

The mobile movement

By Jonathon Grapsas

Stumbled across this brilliant schematic yesterday which encapsulates perfectly the incredible shift in the mobile world.

It’s time we accepted (granted, I know many of you have long ago) that our use of technology and the way we share content, communicate and transfer information has changed forever.

Consider some of these pieces of data, and alongside them ‘thoughts’ about what they mean for fundraisers:

– 1 in 4 mobile users have smart-phones globally (in Australia it’s close to 1 in 2). Does your online approach consider the way people are viewing your content? Are you mobile enabled? If not, consider the barriers you’re placing in front of your constituents.

– 86% of mobile internet users are using their devices while watching TV. Your supporters and prospects are becoming more and more distracted. Are you working specifically on ‘sticky’ material and messaging that cuts through? The ‘traditional’ way to evoke emotion and capture someone’s attention may not have the same impact when American Idol is blaring in the background.

– Within three years mobile internet usage will overtake desktop internet usage. The 17 inch monitor is becoming less and less relevant. It isn’t simply about adjusting our creative for smaller screens or tablets, but thinking through how our shift in mobile behavior is impacting when and how we’re viewing stuff. “I’ll go online during my lunch break” is a far less used term. A shift in our online behavior dictates a shift in our online thinking and approach. The when, where and how has changed.

QR codes are cool, but pointless unless used properly

By Jonathon Grapsas


There’s been a heap written over the past few months about the use of those funny little barcode looking things we know as QR codes in marketing and fundraising.

For those who are not sure what they are, QR codes are a matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code), readable by QR barcode readers and camera phones. In essence, they speed up the response process, removing the need to “get online” or “send that letter” later. They potentially remove one of the biggest barriers to response: shortage of time.

Unfortunately as fundraisers the take-up of this technology (seems) to have been slow. I’ve found it difficult to locate examples of where they have been used, and if so, were they effective?

My colleague Paul De Gregorio peaked my interest on this a few weeks back over at his blog. Similarly Katya Anderson provided some insights on their potential value via a guest post from Blase Ciabaton.

Last week I attended the AdTech digital marketing conference in Sydney. Google revealed some startling data snippets about mobile usage in Australia, most noteworthy that by the end of 2011 more than 50% of Australians will own a smartphone.

I’m often cynical about statistics like this, because whilst it’s an interesting insight, it doesn’t alone suggest people will change their buying/giving habits. Just because you build it, does not mean they will simply come.

That being said they do provide an exciting opportunity. And if used properly they have the potential to lift marketing and fundraising effectiveness.

We’re about to test them with some of our clients in upcoming DM appeals. However instead of using the same, generic QR code sending donors to a general landing page to donate, we will be sending QR codes embedded with a personalised URL.

The upshot of this is again decreasing the amount of work a donor will have to do. If they scan the QR code they’ll bounce through to their own, unique donation page. They’ll simply need to fill in their credit card details and presto, a gift is made.

A couple of things to consider:

– If you’re testing the impact of QR codes, don’t just include income raised from the QR code mobile landing page. The key consideration is, has the advent of the QR code increased income overall from the group who received them?

– Despite the prevalence of smartphones, the usage of QR codes is reportedly quite low. Therefore, education and assurance is going to be key. I’d suggest any effort to push people to using them should include simple instructions explaining how to download the app and how to use the QR code reader. Put people at ease. Provide guidance.

Remember, these aren’t going to revolutionize your fundraising. At the end of the day they are merely a response device. But well executed, and used for the right purposes, they may help you bring the online and offline world just that little bit closer.

Facebook fundraising that works

By Jonathon Grapsas

We were fortunate this week to have Leonard Coyne from the Soi Dog Foundation spend a couple of hours with myself and my colleagues at Pareto Fundraising, sharing how they have successfully managed to recruit hundreds of regular, monthly donors directly from facebook.

Yes you read that correctly, recruited monthly donors from facebook. An organisation that generates around $300,000 AUD a year has managed to find more than 500 ongoing, monthly supporters (giving $20 a month) in the last year. That’s over $100,000 a year (over one third of their income) coming from facebook recruits.

Incredible. And all very doable.

So here are the secrets to their success, and what Leonard candidly explained to us that they have put into practice over the past few months. It isn’t rocket science, but it bloody works.

Perspiration. They were patient. One of the mistakes organisations make is falling out of love with social media as quickly as they fall in love with it. “We need to be on facebook”. The proceed to set up a page, recruit a tonne of ‘fans’, then run of ideas or energy and simply do nothing.

Leonard has invested time and effort into ensuring not only do Soi Dog have a social presence, but that they commit to making it work, from a fundraising perspective. Not everything has worked, they’ve got stuff wrong, it’s been about trial and error. And it’s paying off.

Let go of control. The Soi Dog page now has adaptations in 6 languages, driven purely by advocates who have offered their support, and then run with it. Soi Dog isn’t playing big brother and micro managing, they let their administrators post new comments, interact with fans, suggest new applications.

I once heard someone at a fundraising conference once comment they were afraid to relinquish control because people would ‘talk about them’ and that they weren’t able to control their brand. The reality is people will talk about you anyway, rather than try and sanitise it, encourage it. Soi Dog has.

Advertising and asking. Leonard’s been using facebook advertising for the last year, recruiting regular donors from targeted ads (particularly focusing on individuals with an interest in animals), and also placing ads to their own ‘fans’. As Leonard commented, advertising to their fans seems counter intuitive yet in fact it makes sense. They are essentially what I’d call tepid prospects and we know tepid prospects respond better than those with no affinity at all.

They regularly attach asks (to become regular givers) to stories and photos they share, like the one below. They’re not afraid to show confronting (real) imagery, attached with a dog that needs help. And then ask.

Great, regular content. It needs to be relevant, shareable and regular. It isn’t just about posting a story about an upcoming event or a new blog on your website.

It’s about beneficiaries. Leonard realises they’re fans want to know about the dogs they help, or that need help. So content, whilst shared regularly, is also very focused on imagery and on the work they actually do.

Consistent, real dialogue. Leonard and his colleagues respond to, talk and actually engage with those who have taken the time to comment. They don’t just talk the talk here, they walk it. If you don’t believe me, take a peek yourself.

In fact get on facebook now and check them out. A wonderful example of how to make money from facebook, form someone who’s actually doing it. Hats off to Leonard and Soi Dogs.

Donor: “May Change Mind”

By Jonathon Grapsas

I had a great time in Melbourne at the FIA Conference last week.

I usually figure if I get two pieces of gold dust from a conference it’s a good result. I got tonnes over the three days.

One of things that has stuck in my mind is something Ken Burnett said during one of the wonderful sessions he delivered.

Ken shared a story about a fellow fundraiser’s insights about donor loyalty.

The three words that were forever etched at the top of this persons mind were “may change mind”, referring to the constant battle as fundraisers we face.

May change mind.

Pretty powerful few words.

We probably entertain these words when we study the chasm between good and awful donor care, or on the back of a supporter complaint.

Yet in reality, they are arguably the three most important words in fundraising. Just as Ken said.

They change the way we think about donor conversations. They keep us forever on our toes. They prove the how volatile the relationship between a supporter and our organisation can be.

Ken also quoted Canadian fundraiser and author Harvey McKinnon who articulated beautifully where the buck stops when it comes to donor relationships by saying, “donor loyalty is about you being loyal to your donors, not the other way around”.

So what should you do?

Keep reminding yourself of those three simple words.

May change mind.

And perhaps consider plastering one of these on your monitor?

A Lesson from Vodafone

By Jonathon Grapsas

It’s not often I’ll draw on something a telecommunications provider has done to inspire fundraising greatness. I’m often the first one to scorn at my phone company.

But I make an exception here.

Last night I got this email from the CEO at Vodafone.

Pretty candid. Quite gutsy. He even put his photo on here so we could visualize him apologizing. The only thing he could have done to expose himself more is done this via a video clip (but then the reach would likely have been lower).

I like the way that Nigel makes no bones about the fact that they haven’t been up to scratch. He doesn’t try and make excuses, simply tells it as it is.

“The simple answer is that we’ve been growing fast, and when problems came, we responded too slowly. ”

He could have given us some garbled response tinged with big words that would have left us flummoxed, but he didn’t. He merely admitted they had tried to run before they crawl.

I love the rawness of this. It reminds me of a client a few years back who had a major internal meltdown days after an appeal lodging. Database crashed, staff shortages, the works.

And what did they do?

Something similar to Nigel Dews. Wrote to their donors, explained what happened and asked for a little patience as it may take longer to get back and thank them if they had indeed already sent a gift.

What happened?

Gifts flowed in. To the apology letter. It wasn’t the point, nor the intention. But it proved that showing their cards, opening themselves up, was absolutely the right thing to do.

Now if this client had done this again, and if Vodafone doesn’t deliver, then people will walk.

But right now, it’s hats off to Nigel Dews and the Vodafone gang.

Never thought I’d say that.


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Charity Merger: Operation Smile Train

By Jonathon Grapsas

I was thrilled to receive a call from a colleague yesterday sharing the brilliant news about the merger, of two wonderful organisations Operation Smile and Smile Train.

Brilliant news because it will, if successful, give smiles to more kids around the world. Plain and simple.

Brilliant also because good, robust and successful charity mergers are few and far between.

There have been a handful of leading case studies over the past decade in the UK. Cancer Research UK is a cancer research organization formed in 2002 by the merger of The Cancer Research Campaign and Imperial Cancer Research Fund.

Before they merged, they generated around £225m between them. They’ve now more than doubled that to over £500m. Not bad in less than 10 years. More than twice as much pioneering research delivered, lives saved. Case in point.

More recently Age UK was formed, the coming together of Age Concern England and Help the Aged.

So what’s the point?

Done correctly, well thought through mergers allow collaborators to further their great work. To quote the leaders at Operation Smile Train they’re mission is simple, believing they can “capitalize on each other’s strengths to:

– Reach more children than either of us could on our own
– Launch more medical missions and train more local doctors
– Operate more efficiently so we can accomplish much more.”

Simple, but inspiring, right?

If it works, yes. The reason I think this coming together is so important is it is the only one I know of (I’m sure there are more) when the organizations have a checkered history. It isn’t any secret that things haven’t been rosy in the past between Operation Smile and Smile Train.

But who cares. They’ve seen through all of the reasons mergers don’t typically happen: ego’s, territorial-ism and inability to see the bigger picture (and long term impact of coming together).

They’ve done it purely and simply because it is the right thing to do, ensuring Operation Smile Train will do what they do better than anyone else. No other reason.

And that means more smiles for kids who otherwise wouldn’t been able to do what we all take for granted. Smile.

My colleague Sean Triner wrote a great piece about charity mergers a couple of years ago, worth a read.

That’s not to say charities should merge merely for the sake it. There are arguments against it. Like losing your ability as independent organizations to be nimble, and as a result becoming less effective. But usually examples like this are hurdles. And hurdles are meant to be overcome.

Those who ignore it because its too hard or will put our own jobs at risk are doing those we’re out to help a disservice.

And that means less of what Operation Smile Train will no doubt so better than anyone else. Create more smiles like the one below.


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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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