Supporter Relationship Management

New Australian Donor Numbers Fall for First Time in Two Decades

The latest Pareto Benchmarking figures show that the number of new donors acquired by the 82 participating charities in 2016, was less than in 2015.

These charities include a majority of charities raising over $20m in 2016, and a good selection of medium sized fundraising organisations as well.


With more than 65% of all regular givers and appeal donors acquired by face to face or direct mail, whatever happens to these two channels influences the big picture more than anything else.



Direct mail grew solidly until last year despite postage costs increasing dramatically, the Australian dollar falling from 1:1 to 1:0.75 and Australians falling from being ‘the wealthiest people in the world’ to just pretty rich (on average!)

By the end of 2015, intense acquisition strategies from many charities, large budgets and our small population of people aged over 65 (the average age of a direct mail donor is around 73) led to many charities simply running out of new people to ask.

Unless charities have great mid, major and bequest donor strategies in place, direct mail has slipped from being a great acquisition tool to just an OK one.  Annoyingly we haven’t a ‘replacement’ channel working at scale to bring in the older demographic.


However, direct mail can’t be looked at on its own as its about the donors not the channel in isolation. The long term benefit is really in bequests.  Despite taking many years, the potential of direct mail with a good bequest program in place is extraordinary.

Just 5,000 new direct mail donors could be worth $5m with a good legacy marketing program.*

Unless you are an animal charity or responding to intense media covered disasters, my advice is to only invest in direct mail acquisition if you have plans in place for donor retention, upgrade (of mid value donors) and especially that bequest fundraising plan.

The other dominant channel is face to face, I have been predicting a peak in face to face volumes for about three years. I guess if you predict your football team will win every year, people forget all but the year you got it right!

Unfortunately I hung in there, and this time I was right. Fewer new monthly givers signed up through face to face in 2016 than 2015.

Despite all this, face to face is still miles ahead of any other channel for acquiring large volumes of monthly givers, and beats direct mail without bequest follow up on five year return on investment.



We have had good growth in online lead generation and phone calls, but the volumes are still comparatively small.  TV, radio, press ads and other channels are just a blip on total volumes, but very important to the few charities getting it right.

New monthly givers signed up by non face to face channels usually have better retention, but there simply aren’t that many of them.


So what does this mean for Australian charities?

We have a small population, our costs are higher than most other markets and our average donations much higher.

We have to really look after the donors we get.  I have mentioned mid value, major donors and bequests already – and they are key – but critically we need to increase our focus on donor love (donor care, supporter service, whatever you call it in your organization).

Here are my tips for all charities fundraising through individual gifts:

  • Be on top of your data.  Measuring campaigns is fine but you really need to be on top of tracking key indicator numbers, key performance indicators and running ongoing analysis to identify trends. And this is for your whole program, individual programs, donor segments and even some individual donors. Produce monthly reports, or even better dashboards, and make sure they are understood and the information is acted upon. It is important to make sure the quality of your data is managed effectively. It’s all well and good to make ‘fixes’ with an agency or mailhouse, but make sure you apply any fixes in your systems too, otherwise it may not be ‘fixed’ for the donors next interaction.
  • Acquire more donors.  If you are acquiring donors and modeling a break even within two years – don’t stop! In fact, if there is any more capacity you can use (e.g. lists or face to face go for it. Just make sure you check the compliance credentials of any suppliers).
  • Know your donor.  A true donor communication survey is key for donor care, major donor work, bequests and more.  It can even help with future direct campaign results!  Key to good donor care is to understand your donor and use a survey year after year.
  • Thank properly.  This doesn’t mean just send a receipt with a short thank you letter.  Every time we conduct mystery shopping, charities come up badly.  Donors deserve a beautiful thank you letter, telling them how their gift will help.  Then they should get a follow up telling how it DID help.  Hardly anyone does this, so, it is easy for your charity to have the best donor care around.
  • Ask properly.  Personalise copy.  Not just name and address, but donation amount, reflect their support, personalise paragraphs depending on their survey responses and previous donations. It is important any personalisation included relates to the donor, and isn’t just changing an adjective in the copy depending on their giving level. Take time to think about where the donor is in their giving journey, what they’ve told you and ensure your copy reflects this well.
  • Use the Pareto Principle. Donors who give larger than average gifts will likely give you more larger gifts.  You don’t have resources to spread equally, so prioritise those with the best potential to give more.  About half your donations will come from just five per cent of your donors.  Use the survey and look at previous giving to work out who they are.
  • Meet donors. The best fundraising happens face to face, but any full time major donor fundraiser who spends more time NOT meeting donors is either under supported or in the wrong job.  There are usually around 220 working days for a full time person.  A full time bequest or major donor fundraiser should be spending 180-200 of those visiting donors.  ALL fundraisers would be speaking to donors. Making thank you calls, checking in on how the fundraising you do feels for your donors. Aiming to understand more and more about your donors. If you have not spoken to a single donor in the last month, pick up the phone now
  • Hold staff and suppliers accountable.  Make sure they know what is expected and make sure good KPIs are in place and understood. Ensure suppliers are compliant with regulations.
  • Try some new stuff. Finally, and only if you have made sure you are doing all the above!  Budget for R&D with no income expected. And please – on behalf of the whole sector – let us know how you get on!

If you want to be part of Pareto Benchmarking next year please email Jesse Zarb.

* 5,000 direct mail donors, average age 73, average bequest in Australia $59,273.  Benchmarking shows 0.4% of all such donors have become bequestors, with more advanced bequest programs achieving 2%. $1.2m-$5.9m.

Should Australian fundraisers be worried about UK style meltdown?

The UK is reeling from regulations and rules hammering charities’ ability to raise funds. Some are fearing revenue losses of over thirty per cent. The reason, according to long standing donor care expert Ken Burnett, is that charity fundraisers have been complacent about their relationship (or lack of relationship) with donors.

Pareto Benchmarking shows that the two decades of great growth in fundraising income and numbers of new donors has come to an end. So, we asked Ken whether Australian fundraisers should be worried about a UK style meltdown.

Thanks Ken! (And yes, he knows he mixed his Ps and Fs up – watch the video to see what we mean!)

Seven steps to generating donor response

By Jan Chisholm This article was first published in Charity Funding Report in November 2010

Being a fundraiser means being a storyteller. We tell stories with an important purpose: motivating another human being to take action on behalf of someone (or something) they care about.

For more than 20 years I’ve been trying to work out what makes a fundraising appeal connect with the donor and deliver the best response on behalf of my beneficiaries. Today, I’m sharing with you the seven steps I believe the best fundraising approaches (whether direct marketing or face to face) include. Does your next appeal have them all?

1. Express the need

I know this sounds really obvious, doesn’t it? But unfortunately I’ve lost count of the number of direct marketing approaches I’ve received that neglect to tell me exactly what my gift will make happen for the beneficiary group I care about. The need you must express to your donor isn’t about the stuff your organisation needs (more research, tents, homes.) It’s about what impact getting those things will have on the people, places or things the donor cares about. If your appeal doesn’t express this clearly; go back to the drawing board.

2. Tell compelling stories

If fundraisers are storytellers then it’s our job to find powerful stories to tell. Talking simply about someone you met on your most recent trip to the field will connect with the donor far more powerfully than impersonal statistics and facts. Give the donor a person, place or thing to connect with. Draw them a picture with words of who, what or where they are helping. Using personal stories will help you create a genuine connection between donors who care and those you are there to help.

3. Have a clear call to action

What exactly do you want the donor to do? Don’t assume they know. It’s your job to tell them exactly how they can help. Do it in the body of your appeal. Repeat it on the donation form. What is the single most important thing the donor can do to meet the needs of the beneficiary group you’re telling them about? Be clear, be upfront and be consistent.

4. Create a personal link

Step two is about telling real people’s stories with dignity and passion. Here I’m talking about the other important person in the equation. The donor. Does your appeal copy make your donor feel valued and respected? How much do you know about each donor? When did they begin to support your work? Have they supported similar projects in the past? Have they told you though conversations or surveys, just why they think your organisation’s work is so important? All this information, and more, should be on your records. If it isn’t, start finding it out. If it is, then use it cleverly to create personal conversations that acknowledge who the donor is and why you’ve chosen to ask them for their help again at this time.

5. Urgency

If you can’t tell the donor exactly why you’re telling them this story now and what you want to happen as result (and by when), then you’re probably wasting their time. I’m not talking about creating false urgency or raising the alarm unnecessarily. Urgency is about respecting the donor by only asking for help when there is a clear need that they can help us meet. Now. Not next week. Or next month.

6. Talk to the right audience

Data analysis shows me that the best people to ask for help are those who just helped you. Sounds counter-intuitive? But let’s think about it. Someone who has recently responded to a request from you (and has been promptly, warmly and informatively thanked) should be in a supportive frame of mind the next time you contact them. RFV – recency, frequency and value – is your friend here. Put simply, recency and frequency of past giving you allow you to find those most likely to respond next time you ask. Value of past giving simply allows you to work out how much you should ask for this time.

7. Make it easy for people to respond

Oh… the times I’ve been moved to action by an appeal, only to be flummoxed by a dense or confusing response form. Keep it simple. You know what you asked for in the letter or email. Make sure the donation form mirrors that. Give me boxes to tick. Give me enough space to fill in my details – particularly my email address, which is very long. Keep reminding me what impact my gift will have on the beneficiaries I care about (see step one). Importantly, try to fill in the form yourself before it’s published and if your pen hovers over the page or your fingers pause on the keyboard as you have to think about what you’re being asked for – redesign your form.

Next time you have a fundraising story to tell your donors, I sincerely hope my seven step checklist will help you create an appeal that delivers a positive outcome for both you and your donors.

Your Perfect Donor Communications Plan

By Sean Triner. This article is Part one in a two part series

Part I: The Big Picture

Traditional Communications

In the olden days it was easy. A typical donor communications calendar may have seen you send out a quarterly newsletter, a special appeal at Christmas and another at another special time, for example Chinese New Year in Hong Kong and tax time in Australia.

Such letters were relatively easy to get out and your donors were treated as being of one particular type, so everyone could get the same letter. There were few fundraising trained professionals in the industry – most people had ended up in fundraising by accident, or because they wanted to change the world; not by training.

Phone calls to donors were rare – maybe in response to a complaint or for some other unplanned purpose.

A good communications plan should consider many factors including external data, different audiences, brand and tone, resources, and much more.

Pulling together a donor communications plan

Most donor communication plans are pretty simple and revolve around ‘What we did last year.’

More advanced plans may include the line ‘But a bit better.’

Simple is good, but this is too simple. Donor communications are key – if you rely on individual donations they are your lifeblood. What you did last year, is probably what you did the year before and so on. At what point did someone work out what should be done?

In an article, it is hard to suggest what a perfect donor communications plan should be with so many diverse organisations, with different resources and donors but I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest some key aspects for pulling together comms plans for all organisations.

1. Audience

Audience can be split into various groups by channel of acquisition i.e. was this donor recruited by mail, phone, face-to-face or online and type of support i.e. are they a classic donor, regular giver, bequest or events donor.

The modern charity has diverse donors.

The ‘traditional’ donor (female, 55+, middle class suburb etc) still dominates for most, but those who have sensibly invested in face-to-face street and door-to-door recruitment of regular givers have a whole new audience of 30-50 year olds to deal with. Clearly these two groups should not get all of the same communications, all of the time – but they do share enough in common to get some of the same communications some of the time.

The essence of the communications are the same though. Thank the donor, ask them to please help more or keep giving. And deliver stories demonstrating the impact their donation is having.

2. Content

This is not rocket science. We call our approach to fundraising communications ‘The Pareto Way’ which really is another way of saying ‘making sure that we do everything that has been developed, tested and written about by marketing and fundraising experts from David Ogilvy to Mal Warwick’. Of course, we have tested and developed some tweaks and tactics, but the basics still work.

It is amazing what I see arrive in my letterbox and what I observe online from charities. Statistics, facts, ‘we are the largest blah blah’, ‘we have been around since 1982…’, ‘Australia’s leading blah blah’ etc which all the experts say not to do. Every good training course or book will tell you this.

Each and all of your communications should be story driven. Stories are what all marketers use to sell a product be it soap poweder, a new car or an ipod. One advantage we charities have over soap powder is that we have a plethora of stories at hand.

Content should be driven by stories about beneficiaries and enhanced with, ahem, more stories. All the material in a direct mail pack or newsletter, additional pieces (lifts), your response coupon – even reply envelopes should follow a theme and revolve around stories.

3. Tactics.

The old fashioned tactics still tend to work better. For appeals, Johnson boxes (the leader text above the ‘Dear Sean’ bit) still tend to lift response. Letters that look like letters, stories with a beginning, a middle and an end – just like direct mail from years ago tend to work. For newsletters, websites and emails, features linking donor and beneficiary (not pictures of CEOs getting big cheques) is what works best.

The key formula for appeal success is a letter, from one individual to another individual in first person singular that tells a story and makes a clear proposition. For non-ask communications like surveys, the same applies.

I think one reason that first person singular (I not we) makes for better reading is that it implies an acceptance of responsibility. Taking the time to explain the reason for why a gift is needed and what impact it will have, helps establish respect – I don’t expect you to give me money because I say so; I am willing to take the time to explain. This could go some way to explaining why longer copy and more inserts tend to lift response rates (despite donor focus groups leaning more towards ‘short and to the point’.

All the way through, I say ‘tend’. This is because it depends.

It depends on having a great, clear proposition, argument and case study. Sometimes these things are short, sometimes not. Sometimes they need lots of information, sometimes they do not. What is clear is that a good, personal communication linking donor and beneficiary always works better.

5. Media.

Whilst I have mostly spoken about mail examples, some rules apply across the board. Honesty, first person singular, one to one personal communication applies to email, phone and even face-to-face.

Deciding what media to use is important. It is easy to send only email appeals to donors recruited online, yet we see that emailing and mailing them will keep them closer, and get them giving more. Donors who generally respond to mail, should be emailed too. With phone recruited donors, we should generally also use mail and email. Basically, all forms of communication should be used with careful testing working out the optimum expenditure.

The final aspects when looking at a donor communications plan are timing and the number of communications sent.

There are some things that are a given for example a Christmas appeal tends to work better towards the end of the year. But many things are not as straightforward. When do you send your survey? What emails should go out? When do we talk about bequests? And the big one, how many communications should we send? How many is too many?

Part two in this series will look specifically at these areas in greater depth.

ADMA Forum 2010

Sean Triner along with guest presenters Chris Washington-Sare of Greenpeace, Trudi Mitchell of Cancer Council NSW and Cameron Watson formerly of World Vision will present a pre-forum workshop titled ‘Fundraiser’s Guide to the Ideal Comms Plan: How to Make Direct Marketing Raise More’ at ADMA Forum 2010. This exclusive workshop is all about pulling together a great communications strategy that takes into account your cause, your resources, your brand and your goals. Using real case studies and evidence Sean will show some counter-intuitive ideas, how to integrate new media, reduce time on newsletters and make donor communications ever more effective. The workshop will also help you develop the right measures for a good communications plan so you can easily demonstrate your successes to the board. Learning Outcomes Include:

  • Leave the session with a sketch of your revised communications plan
  • Understand budget and HR implications of your plan
  • Take away a communications checklist and examples of good communications

For more information about ADMA Forum 2010 visit

A personal fundraiser

By Sean Triner, Co Founder of Pareto Fundraising and Pareto Phone

For my 40th birthday I decided to forego presents, and reduce stress on my friends wondering what to get me. So I decided to fundraise for Women’s health charity – my birthday is on International Women’s Day.

Since I am a fundraiser for a living, I wanted to do this right and also work with a charity who would ring-fence the money raised for fundraising purposes, and follow up the donations with good donor care.

My Plan:

1) Choose a charity 2) Create an EveryDay Hero page 3) Use my blog, Facebook and Twitter to market it 4) Market direct to my personal contacts 5) Thank donations 6) Charity to follow up

Choosing a charity

A while back I had done some work with the Marie Stopes Foundation. A great charity, working in women’s health – especially sexual and reproductive health. I love the work they do and visited a project in Fiji. I also knew my $4,000 target would have a big impact and that it can be a difficult area for fundraising.

Creating an EveryDay Hero page

An easy process. It took about 20 minutes including uploading a couple of photos and it is all self explanatory. There are other fundraising websites like this such as Just Giving in the UK and Artez in North American and Australia.

Not that keen on the fact that there is no space to summarise the appeal, nor the fact that they don’t take AMEX (AMEX holders tend to be more generous – they are good customers and they like to use their AMEX cards. Many people don’t accept them because of higher charges – this is bad donor care. I didn’t realise until too late or I would have used another provider).

Check out the page here. Fundraisers need to remember that EveryDay Hero is the mechanism for donating. It will raise $0 if it is not marketed properly.

Posting on social media

I put up a simple blog, then a better one when I got a case-study. Also Twittered about it and put on Facebook.

The simple blog got in $220 within a couple of days, then nothing.

The more advanced blog has just gone up.

Direct Marketing

Over 95% of the income was generated through email and phone calls. I remembered my old events fundraising days, and that with sponsor forms it is really important to get the top contributors first.

So I went approached the people that I thought would donate a higher level ie over $100. These were people close to me, and earners. Nine have given so far averaging $152 each.

After that I sent emails to about twenty other friends and fundraising gurus.

When a decent average, and high ‘spread’ of donations were on the form to act as prompts, I then emailed all Pareto staff (60 emails – mail merged and emailed separately with slightly different version for senior managers).It is worth learning how to mail-merge to email rather than putting everyone in the To: box, or emailing yourself and putting them in the BCC: box.


An automated thank you goes from EveryDay Hero, but in addition I recommend that you drop people a personal note as well, when the notification comes in.

Charity to follow up

Donors can choose whether the charity is notified of their details. If they supplied them, they would have wondered about what happens next. What should happen next is the charity also thank.

Donors should be thanked by the charity as their donations come in.

Also, just before the end of the campaign they should thank again – updating the donor on where we are up to with the campaign, telling them another story and asking if they would encourage friends to donate. In my case, around 1 March would be ideal.

Immediately after the campaign – in my case around the 9 March – another email should go to donors thanking them, telling them the result of the campaign, asking donors to sign up to a regular gift. You should ask for between 20% and 30% per month of whatever they donated. So a $250 donor should be asked for between $50 and $75 per month.


Don’t forget the donors and the fundraiser. Ask the fundraiser themselves to become a regular monthly donor and make sure you stay in touch with the donors.


Visit this site, have a look around and please make a donation.

© Pareto Fundraising

Bequest fundraising, pure and simple

By Christiana Stergiou

Think of the money your organisation won’t be raising in the future because, for whatever reason, you’ve put off your investment in bequest marketing for another day, another year or even another decade.

That’s the simple concept of ‘Opportunity Cost’ when applied to bequest fundraising. Imagine what those funds would help you achieve for your cause in the years ahead.

It’s time to get on with your bequest fundraising, pure and simple.

Why? Quite simply: it’s a huge source of income from individual donors across the nonprofit sector, yet too many organisations are underperforming in this major area of fundraising.

Pareto Fundraising’s benchmarking cooperative consists of 21 charities operating in Australia and New Zealand that pool together their data to gain insights into fundraising and inform their strategic decisions. Consistently, bequest income is the single largest source of income received from individuals for this group of charities.

In 2008, the 21 charities combined received almost $73.5 million dollars in bequest income, representing 27 per cent of all individual giving. By comparison, cash gifts (including appeal income) accounted for almost $65 million and regular giving (monthly gifts) accounted for just over $40 million.

Yet when you think of how much effort and investment many charities put into different areas of fundraising, bequest fundraising often comes in last, or is left out of the mix completely.

Why? Many charities want bequests, and occasionally are fortunate enough to receive unsolicited bequests, but just don’t know where to start. And many are, quite simply, scared about asking for this type of gift because they feel it is too sensitive a subject and to ask makes them feel uncomfortable.

Furthermore, those organisations that have a ‘traditional’ bequest programme – based on home visitation and/or Wills days – are not sure how to take their programme to the next level. Their traditional approach to bequest fundraising limits their potential in two main ways.

Firstly, human resources are limited: there are only so many people a bequest officer can visit in a day, week or year. Secondly, effective bequest staff are hard to find: bequest officers tend to visit older donors in their home, have cups of tea and maybe, eventually, after many visits, ask for a bequest, if they feel that the donor is receptive.

One organisation that consistently comes top of the pops when it comes to bequest fundraising is Melbourne’s The Lost Dogs’ Home. They’ve eschewed the traditional home visitation model, opting for a modern, direct marketing-based approach, while still building strong and meaningful relationships with their donors through the mail, telephone and donor tours of the Home.

Over seven per cent of active donors (those who have made a donation in the past 12 months) have said they’ve included the Home in their Will. And three per cent of all supporters, including lapsed donors have committed to a bequest. Few charities in the world could claim a more effective bequest programme.

Most nonprofits should aim high with a target of at least three per cent of active (non-face to face) donors committing to a bequest. This can be achieved through a simple three-step plan, driven predominantly by direct marketing:

1. Proactively identify leads; 2. Work hard to close the deal; and 3. Build life-long relationships.

The first step involves taking control of the leads generation process by proactively identifying bequest leads from your supporter base – identifying those who intend to bequest, or would consider that type of gift. This can be done by including a question about bequests in your supporter survey, or through a dedicated communication that directly asks donors to bequest.

However, you can’t leave it at that. You must move on to step two and actively follow up those leads and work hard to close the deal.

Immediately send your ‘leads’ a great letter about how important bequests are to your cause – including testimonials by donors who have committed to a bequest, as well as moving stories about your beneficiaries and the impact that the donor’s bequest will have on your cause. This could be the most important letter you will ever write to this donor, but far too many I’ve seen are dreadful.

Four to six weeks later, you need to follow up that letter with a very important phone call that asks the donor more about her bequest plans. This could be the most important call you ever make to a donor, yet it is a call that most organisations never make.

The key barrier to securing a bequest is inertia! If you don’t follow up the donor’s original intention or bequest enquiry, chances are that she may forget, or simply never get around to it. Through active follow-up, by mail and phone, you can work with your supporters to motivate them, moving them from intention to actually writing your organisation in their Will. You need to work hard to close that deal.

Just last month I conducted a workshop with the National Stroke Foundation who has committed to investing more in bequest marketing to secure a higher percentage of bequestors amongst its supporter base.

The Stroke Foundation understands the importance of closing the deal, and the workshop was about that initial follow-up call and focused on how to close the deal by phone.

For the many bequest officers in the room it was a revelation. Firstly, they would have proactive leads to follow (via a supporter survey they have just mailed), and secondly, they can follow up the calls by phone and know from most calls exactly where donors stand with their bequest plans. This can be complimented by an in-home visit if necessary and by events where donors can come to hear firsthand about the fine work of the Stroke Foundation.

However, it wasn’t just the bequest officers in the room that benefited. There was also staff from the donor services and phone team, including the receptionist. They all learnt how to handle a bequest call with confidence.

At the end of the workshop, all nine staff made calls to real donors (to the bequest leads that had come in over the last few months) asking them whether they were still planning to include the Stroke Foundation in their Will.

And the outcome of the calls? Two callers received the best news. The donors said, ‘Yes, I’ve done that’ – two closed deals! All other callers made equally brilliant calls where the donors were very clear that they were still planning to bequest or are still considering it, and one donor had no recollection of requesting info.

That means that from every call, the Stroke Foundation knows where those donors stand on making a bequest. Two confirmed bequests out of nine calls is terrific, and the Stroke Foundation is well on its way to increasing the number of donors who include the Stroke Foundation in their Will, which will result in more money to fund their stroke research, treatment and prevention programmes.

Oh yes, and that final step, that’s simple. Build strong relationships with your confirmed bequestors. Thank them for their special gift at every opportunity. They are amongst your most important supporters.

That’s bequest fundraising pure and simple. A three step approach. And remember, delaying your bequest fundraising will inflict an opportunity cost on your organisation: that’s money you won’t be raising for your cause in the future. So don’t delay. Invest in your bequest programme today.

About Christiana Stergiou

With her revolutionary and practical approach to bequests, Christiana has inspired hundreds of fundraisers from Australia, and across the world to think differently about the way they approach bequest fundraising. Christiana can be contacted by sending an email to

Learn more about bequest fundraising at Christiana’s Melbourne and Sydney Workshops

Christiana will be presenting a workshop in Melbourne on 18 August 2009 and Brisbane 14 October 2009 about how to develop and implement the ultimate bequest plan. She’ll also be presenting a workshop in Sydney on 20 August 2009 about how to effectively follow up your bequest leads. Click here to register now, or to find out more.

Is your privacy statement standing in the way of new donors?

In the February 09 edition of Pareto Talk, Sean Triner wrote about the important financial benefits of trading your donor lists with other charities. It’s a very simple and extremely cost-effective way of gaining access to potential new supporters.

Yet many charities are simply not in a position to take advantage of the lucrative reciprocal mailing services we offer. Why? Because the wording of their privacy statements stands in the way of them legally passing on their supporters’ details to other charities.

Sean’s article included an example of what a privacy statement that allowed for reciprocal mailing might look like. Here it is again, with a few tweaks that take into account feedback we have since received:

Finding more people such as yourself to help (xxx according to charity) is incredibly important. Occasionally we’d like to work with other charities who are involved in the environment, animal welfare, the arts, human rights, health and welfare, medical research or international aid. We’d like to allow them to write to you in return for them allowing us to write to their supporters. These charities would only keep your contact details if you respond to them. If you are happy for us to do this now but change your mind in the future, you may let us know and we’ll note this on your record. Alternatively, you may choose to tick this box now and we will not pass your information on to any friends of (charity name).

In the previous example Sean gave, it cited that details would be shared with ‘like-minded parties’. We’ve since been made aware this isn’t detailed enough, and the actual types of organisations need to be listed (as per the above example).

As you’ll be aware, it’s important that your mailings comply with the National Privacy Principles, so we recommend that you have your privacy statements checked by a lawyer.

In sum, make sure your privacy statement is compliant, is working for you and is not standing in your way of acquiring more donors.

For more about the dos and don’ts of list swapping, and how Pareto Fundraising can help you arrange your reciprocal mailings email us at

The most powerful fundraising tool in the world

By Sean Triner, Co-founder and Director, Pareto Fundraising and Pareto Phone

Understanding donors

The most important asset a fundraising organisation has is its database of supporters. But only if it is actually recording useful information.

Luckily, most organisations record main contact details plus transactions. In other words, you know where someone lives, hopefully you have their phone number and email address and you know how much they donated and when.

Basic analysis of this data can help you predict how likely people are to donate to you and how much. If communications that have been sent are also analysed you can even work out what donors are most likely to respond to, too.

This basic data is crucial for making a basic direct marketing program work. But to make charity direct marketing fly we need to build relationships, and we do that through respecting our donors and their wishes. And we do that by using the most powerful fundraising tool ever – the survey.

Achieving many goals

This multi-function device, used well, will also help corporate, major donors, events, donor retention and bequests. It can even be used for PR purposes, and it usually makes a profit on its own.

These are real surveys, getting really useful information, they are not scientific research and shouldn’t pretend to be. Even so, be honest with the donor – you want their opinion and to be able to communicate better with them, but you can also share their views with the public.

I have been using this tool for over a decade, at UK mental health charity, Mind, we used them for fundraising and PR. I use them better now, but even in them olden days we were driving better communications, PR and bequest leads. You can see an old press release with donors attitudes to mental health at the turn of the century here.

Short term benefits

Our tests have shown that, despite running a survey to get data including a direct ask does not suppress response. In other words, using the survey as an actual fundraising appeal subject works. You should aim to break even but what we have found is that when a survey is sent to donors who have responded to a previous appeal through the post, the survey actually makes a profit.

The Australian Conservation Foundation has been using surveys as an integral part of its donor communications strategy for some time now. Their first survey was mailed to over 25,000 donors and nearly one in four responded – half with a gift. They not only received a ton of useful information but made a $50K ‘profit’ as well.Information taken from the surveys is then reflected back to the donors in future communications. For example, if a donor is motivated and interested in climate change, but an appeal is about forests then the letter should be personalised to connect the donors concerns with the subject of the appeal

Medium term

Appeal results and retention can be improved by clever use of survey information, and their completed survey is The Perfect Aide Memoir to take with you with when meeting a major donor. It pretty much tells you what to ask for!

But most charities who use the survey wisely get medium term returns on their regular giving. For example, The Lost Dogs’ Home uses surveys to gather pet names. It has found that this is crucial for building relationships. They include personalisation in appeal letters mentioning the donors pet name:


But they also use it in phone conversations with donors. When asking donors to increase their monthly gifts, known as ‘upgrade calls’ our caller asks after the health of the donor’s pet. The Pareto Phone team compared the upgrade success rate of donors we spoke with where we knew pet name against those where we had no pet name. The results are extraordinary:


And the long term

Already surveys have proven their worth. You can see how using them for donor care, appeals and upgrades can work really well, and make them a useful part of the mix. But the biggest return comes from bequests. Specifically using surveys to generate bequest leads.

Because fundraisers don’t kill people, the best measure a bequest fundraiser has to monitor their performance is a count of people who have mentioned the charity in their Will. We call these ‘confirmed bequestors’.

By asking the right questions, we can identify these and also bequest ‘prospects’ – i.e. those most likely to become confirmed bequestors.

A well thought through approach ‘burying’ the bequest question in a survey obliterates any other method of bequest marketing I have ever seen. For example, Australian National Heart Foundation had seven full time equivalent bequest officers working traditional bequest marketing techniques for seven years to get around 1,500 confirmed bequests. A brilliant achievement and potentially worth $75m, so producing a huge return on investment.

But a year of surveys with follow up mail and phone acquired another 1,500. The charity now uses a combination of both techniques to drive more bequests.

And the surveys keep working. The Lost Dogs’ Home now has over seven percent of active financial supporters having put the charity in their Will (three percent of ALL donors). You would expect the number of bequest leads to decline each year (since you ‘caught’ them the previous year) and it does, but the survey still generates more leads and more money every year as illustrated in the below table.


A word of warning

Don’t rush out and do surveys without ensuring you can follow them up, record the results and actually use the data in communications with your donors.

It is not as easy as just writing a survey – a good survey needs a great cover letter, it asks questions that help you understand what motivates your donors (avoid questions like ‘how many times they like to be mailed?’), a bequest conversion pack and trained people to follow up leads. And remember, a bequest lead from a survey is only ‘hot’ for a few weeks with conversion success dropping off dramatically the longer you leave it.

About Sean Triner

Sean Triner is co-founder and director of the internation Pareto Groups of companies, one of Australia’s most dynamic fundraising and marketing agencies with offices in Australia, New Zealand, North America and Hong Kong. Never afraid to cause controversy, Sean is a popular presenter at some of the world’s best known conferences including IFC in Amsterdam, FIA, IWRM and DMAW.

25 Steps to Great Customer Care

1. Ensure all frontline staff (including receptionists) are fully trained to take inbound calls and handle enquiries (including setting up regular gifts and handling donations)

2. Ensure that frontline staff know about programs in advance – they must know what to expect and they have information for frequently asked questions (faq) sheets.

3. Set service level agreements (SLAs) for response handling and ensure all staff are aware of these i.e. All mail received must be responded to within five working days

4. Set up an automatically generated email for general/donation enquires indicating to supporter how long it may take to get a specific answer

5. If offering regular giving (automatic debits from credit card or bank account – hereafter referred to as RG), ensure all staff are aware of the focus on RG and promote this consistently to all potential supporters – but not at the same time as single donations- see point 6…

6. When sending communication pieces to potential supporters, don’t confuse them with mixed messages, actively promote one way to support (i.e. RG) – not multiple methods to support.

7. Ensure all staff handling supporter calls/queries confirm supporter details, including email and date of birth before ending call (reduce error and supporter dissatisfaction).

8. Ensure all communications (mail, phone, email, Facebook etc) with supporters/potential supporters include the words ‘thank you’ at least once regardless of the nature of the communication, even if it is just acknowledging someone’s interest in the charity

9. If you are experiencing delays with processing, be honest and tell supporters to expect a delay with their receipt/confirmation letter – an example can be found here

10. Where possible, respond to supporter queries in the same way. For example, if a supporter emails your organisation, try and respond by email (unless this is not possible). But when writing proactively (e.g. an appeal) don’t feel restricted with your comms method.

11. Avoid multiple transfers on the phone. Ensure you get the transfer right the first time, not the fourth time.

12. Make sure your staff are aware of current charitable projects. It’s great to have some real life success stories to share with potential donors. Casual anecdotes over the phone mean a warm and memorable experience for the donor.

13. Make the beneficiaries, not your organization, the focus on all communications. Tell supporters how their donation, no matter how small, is going to change the life of your beneficiaries, improve the environment etc.

14. When dealing with bequest enquiries, make sure you promote residuary bequests (percentage of estate, not specified amounts) above all else.

15. Don’t tiptoe around the subject of bequests – tell people why you need the money for your cause, how the funds will be used, and make that ask Emotive case studies always work well for bequests, be it by phone, mail or email.

16. Never ignore an enquiry, no matter how busy you are and how unimportant it seems at the time. Every communication is an opportunity to acquire a new donor for life (and beyond).

17. Be flexible in your approach. Just because your hours are 9 to 5, don’t fob someone off at 5.03pm. They will remember that more than any appeal you ever send them.

18. If things go wrong, make sure you take steps to rectify the situation and then make doubly sure such things can never happen again. Humans make mistakes once, but shoddy customer service means the same mistakes happen again.

19. Get the right staff. If you have a miserable volunteer, make sure they are stuffing envelopes and not answering the phone. Each person who speaks to your donors is an ambassador for not only your charity, but for your beneficiaries. Don’t miss out on additional funds just because you are short-staffed.

20. Find out about your donors. When you get them on the phone, talk to them like a friend. What do they like about your charity? What’s their motivation for leaving a bequest? You’d be amazed at the loyalty you get just from being interested.

21. If you send out a standard letter, handwrite a note or pop a post-it on top. “You’re doing an amazing thing”, “People like you mean the world to us” – something out of the ordinary. Be warm and memorable in all your communications.

22. Follow up, follow up, follow up! If someone asks about leaving you money in their will, call them in a month and ask if they’ve done so. It might mean the difference between a large bequest and a supporter just never getting round to it.

23. Give one senior person ultimate responsibility of the Customer Service function. Make it a top priority. Measure it, report on it, improve it.

24. Ask for what you need, politely but clearly.

25. Say thank you even more.

© Pareto Fundraising