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Book Review: Storytellng in the Digital Age. A guide for non-profits by Julia Campbell

Everyone is not your social media audience … but everyone has a story

This book was not what I expected. Having snapped it up after seeing its title, I wanted this book to help me to get on board in the digital age.

Just because I am a user of social media in my personal life does not make me a successful digital marketer in my professional life.

As author Julia Campbell writes “if just reading the word social media gives you anxiety, I am here to assure you that you are not alone … nonprofit professionals tend to be very uncomfortable and lack confidence in their abilities to use social media on behalf of their organisations.”

Terrific – this is the book for me! But 7 chapters in and 100 pages of reading later, I was still reading about the importance of storytelling.

Don’t get me wrong. As a fundraiser, I am committed to becoming a better storyteller and to helping my charity develop a culture of storytelling.

I know that great storytelling is the best way to capture the attention, as well as the hearts and minds of my supporters.

And as part of my library of books on how to become a better storyteller, the first seven chapters of this book are well worth the read.

But this is not what I wanted from this book. But, as with many things, you need to have persistence.

From Chapter 8 onwards, the book offers us practical guidelines to find a social media strategy that is right for your charity. From determining which social media platforms your target audience uses to encouraging your donors to post their own stories, you will find step-by-step instructions and real-world examples that will get you inspired to dive in.

Why did it take so long to get to the reason that I purchased the book in the first place. It’s because as Julia Campbell writes …

‘it’s all about the message you convey and the relationship you build, not the tool you use to do it!”

And that message comes from great storytelling. Without the great stories, you have no content for any of your fundraising channels, social media included.

Social media is just another tool – and should work together with all your fundraising channels, like a well-oiled machine, to deepen your connection with current donors and to expose your great work to new ones.

‘Only after you have a clear idea about the stories you are going to collect and tell, only after you know your audience inside and out, only after you have created a workable plan to move forward, then – and only then – should you dive in the shark-infested waters of social media.

‘You need to know who you are and where you want to go before you begin.’

From Chapter 8 on, its all about moulding your storytelling gold, to promote your stories across your website, email, blog and social media channels.

For me, one of the most important chapters in this book is Chapter 13 – which focuses on how to measure the success of your storytelling campaign across your digital channels.

This chapter is important as it helps to bridge the gap between the complex metrics that define more traditional fundraising channels and what often appears to be the loose metrics that define social media communication.

In social media, something as simple as “we have 1,000 fans and followers” can be a challenging metric for a fundraiser to really understand and define the success and failure of a donor relationship program.

But in Chapter 13, you’ll be given much more succinct set of goals that can define the success of failure of using social media.

At the end of the day, what I really liked about this book when I finally made it to Chapter 8 and beyond – was that Julia successfully helps me to understand that developing a social media strategy is actually no different to preparing the strategies in the more traditional fundraising channels that I am more familiar and comfortable with.

And for that reason alone, it is well worth the read.

Retention Is The New Aquisition

With acquisition costs rising and retention rates falling, retaining the donors you have is one of the most important things your charity can do. Dearne Cameron explores why you should steward first, ask second.


Back in the good old days of fundraising, donor acquisition seemed easy – the more people a charity could get to give, the better. Right? Those days appear to be behind us. Today we are experiencing a different environment, with finding new donors to replace those we have lost becoming increasingly expensive. Charities are asking Pareto Fundraising, “What’s the ‘next big thing’?” Those charities that are investing in their existing donors and providing an amazing donor experience are the ones that are more likely to gain donor loyalty.

The figures from Pareto’s 2017 Benchmarking Report confirm the importance of lifting the second gift rate: the average second gift rates within 12 months for direct mail acquired donors is 42%. It’s also important to note that if a new donor gives a second time, they are much more likely to make the third gift. And then they are likely to give again and again.

To make new donor acquisition pay off, it takes some serious effort on the part of the charity to get that second gift. Research on donor loyalty indicates that as little as a 10% increase in donor retention can increase the lifetime value of your donor database by 200%. Imagine what an impact that can have on your charity’s fundraising program.

There’s lots of research about why donors give. There’s even more research about why they stop giving. The most common reason provided by donors is that they can’t afford to donate any more. That’s fair. Donating to your favourite charity is discretionary – and it can’t compete with paying a mortgage or rent, purchasing food, paying utility bills etc.

A lot of the research also tells us that donors stop giving to charities because they:
• were never thanked
• didn’t know how their donation was being used by the charity
• thought the organisation no longer needed their donation
• couldn’t remember donating (happens more than you imagine)
• received poor service from the charitable organisation.

What’s most interesting about why donors stop giving is that most of the reasons are the responsibility of the charity itself. But the good news is that at Pareto Fundraising we are seeing many charities taking decisive, effective action to stem donor attrition, and we’re proud to be working with them to build stewardship programs that will cultivate longterm donor loyalty.

Getting donor retention right is a worthy challenge for all fundraisers. But there’s a lot to get done. It takes commitment and focus to understand and put this one key formula to work: retention plus commitment equals increased lifetime value.

To make the change, start with your data. You’ve already got a great base to work from – a group of loyal supporters. You may have thousands of potential donors from the data you are gathering from your various fundraising and communications channels. Capturing the right data is important and making sure you are communicating with your donors via the channels that appeal to them makes a difference.

In its simplest form, four steps underpin a successful donor stewardship strategy:
Ask your donors for their help.
Thank them for their help.
Report back to your donor on what you did with their donation.
Repeat this process.

Do these four things and you have a much greater chance of seeing a substantial lift in loyalty and financial support.

Fundraisers who are committed to building their donor stewardship process do the following well:

There can be no question about this. Saying thank you to your donors is the most important part of your donor stewardship plan. Not only is it the right and polite thing to do but a thank you sets the stage for all communications to follow.

The faster a thank you is received, the more likely the donor is to give again. So make it a priority to thank your donors within 48 hours of making their donation. And a telephone call thank you is likely to give you greater returns in the long run.

Keep in touch with your donors constantly – not just when you need a donation. It’s very rarely the case that they will give more if they hear from you less. In fact, the more donors hear from you, the more they’ll like it.

The key to this is to work hard at creating personalised, compelling content that reflects the donor’s interests and aspirations. Target all your communications to reflect your charity’s breakthroughs in the areas that your donors have supported.

Make sure your communication is genuine and engaging:
• send only intelligent communications
• design it right and make it look good
• get the grammar and punctuation right – you’d be surprised at just how many of your donors notice this!

If you want real loyalty from your donors, tell the stories that show them the difference they are making; stories that connect the donor and the cause.

These could be stories about individual donors and what their help accomplished or stories about beneficiaries and how their lives have been changed for the better because of a donor’s generosity. Empower your donors through your communication:

You did this amazing thing because of your donation, Thanks to you…, Because of you… or Your help did this…. At the end of the day, no donor just wants to make a donation. They want to make the world a better place.

It’s not always about just sending a donation. Ask your donors for non-financial involvement or to complete your donor survey to find out about their interests in your organisation or to boost their commitment.

Continually offer opportunities for your donor to have more personal engagement. Invite them to face-to-face gatherings or use teleconferencing technologies for donor briefings. Where possible, invite donors to volunteer or take direct action to campaign for a change in laws, for example.

A donor who takes the time to become involved in some other way is far more likely to make another financial donation.

Don’t forget to ask for another donation. And make your second ask quickly. Don’t spend your time building the relationship and then just assume your donors will donate again. And be confident about making that ask. If you have put the time and effort into your donor stewardship program then the donor:
• already feels part of your charity
• has already said yes to something else
• knows your charity uses their gift to make real and lasting change
• feels comfortable if they can’t afford to donate right now – keep up the relationship building and hopefully a donation will come soon.
But the only way to know how your donor stewardship program is going… is to ask!

Learn about building a bespoke stewardship program by emailing deane.cameron@


Dearne Cameron

Deane is CEO of Pareto Fundraising. She has more than 18 years’ experience in the not-for-profit sector, extensive experience in the commercial sector and has held a variety of director and advisory board positions.

Outsource on resource

Fundraising leaders often asked, ‘is it better to outsource to an agency, or resource and build a highly skilled team in-house’?

Many years of charity experience has taught me that it is not one or the other, it is a fluid working relationship that builds on a foundation of best practice, resources and returns.

It is important to have a highly skilled team that can align fundraising with the organisation’s strategy while managing fundraising plans and engaging key stakeholders for fundraising purposes.

Whereas, working with an agency provides new ideas, trend insights, the skills of a multifaceted team and subject matter expertise, and the benefits of scalability and resourcing.

Although in-house staff might seem cheaper, outsourcing delivers minimum operational costs and provides specialisation that is not always readily available in-house.  By using an agency, I had access to the range of skilled specialists that could deliver high-quality output, much faster than the thinly spread in-house resources.

Outsourcing is not a substitute for competent fundraising staff within an organisation; in-house teams still need to have the skills to be able to work with an agency to get the best results. An agency, like Pareto, lets your organisation tap into a wealth of knowledge and talent and provides an opportunity to harness the experience of agency teams, who work across multiple clients, testing, analysing and adapting tactics to maximise results.

The secret to working effectively with an agency is a collaborative partnership, developing a clear strategy, planning effectively and harnessing the knowledge both in-house and outsourced staff bring to the table.

Dearne Cameron CEO, Pareto Fundraising

Is Your House In Order?

If you saw the recent “Show Me the Money” story on Channel 7’s Sunday Night or heard influential 2GB radio journalist Ray Hadley a few days later, then you know the spotlight is once again on Australian fundraising – and not in a good way.

Pareto’s Benchmarking Report 2017 clearly shows that two decades of great growth in fundraising income has contracted.  And that the dependency on Face to Face Fundraising needs to be considered with the trends.

Our team have been working with both the FIA and PFRA to supply them with figures that show the value of long term donor relationships and the multiplication effect of the initial investment in fundraising that can be realised if we look beyond the first 12 months.

Lessons learned from Britain’s not-for-profit sector, tells us to prepare for the change and ensure Australian Charities have their house in order.

You may remember that 2015 was called the summer of charity discontent in Britain.

Months of fundraising criticism by the media, politicians and the public, including donors, resulted in a devastating loss of trust and public confidence in Britain’s charities.

Shocked by this national outrage, the UK government demanded an investigation.  Sir Stuart Etherington, chair of the review panel, said ‘… charity fundraising has never been more important … this is why it is particularly crucial that we get fundraising right.’

Part of getting fundraising right was the formation of the Commission on the Donor Experience. Their role? To produce an authoritative report on the fundamental ideas and strategies that will put the donor at the heart of fundraising – not fundraising targets.

Almost two years on, the Commission has released the first of its summaries.

The 6Ps: a blueprint for transforming fundraising for good is the first in a series of planned reports that aims to change forever the donor experience and the way that fundraising is done in Britain.

I urge you to download this report – with thanks to SOFII – and share it with everyone in your organisation.

The CDE’s first findings show you practical ways to help fundraisers everywhere deliver happy, satisfying and effective experiences for donors.

Please do contact me or your Pareto Account Director with any questions you may have.

Dearne Cameron

CEO Pareto Fundraising +61 (0)2 8823 5800

Thank you: Say it often, say it right

Next to your fundraising appeal, your thank-you letter is the most important piece of communication that your donor receives.

Great thank you letters are the hallmark of great fundraising programs. They make a donor feel appreciated and important … that their gift will make a true difference.

When donors are thanked properly for their gift, they are far more likely to give again.

So how do you write a great thank you letter?

  • Thank you letters should be written as part of your fundraising appeal. They are not an afterthought but are a significant, integral component.
  • They should be as beautifully crafted and well thought out as your appeal letter.
  • They should be personal – a real letter that speaks directly to the donor.
  • Your letter should tell a story; ideally, a story in which the donor is the hero (because of their gift.)
  • It should reinforce just how the donor’s gift will be used – and the difference it will make.
  • If you don’t have any immediate results that you can send back in response to a donor’s gift, let your donor know when they will next receive an update on the program being funded. And follow through!
  • There should be no grammatical or spelling errors.
  • Most importantly, the letter should be sent out quickly.

Thanking matters! If you aren’t spending as much thought and energy on thanking donors as you do asking them, you aren’t doing your job.

Need some help? There are some great resources out there to help you get started.

Visit Lisa Sargeant’s ‘Thank you Letter Clinic’ on SOFII.  There are eight examples of thank you letters to help inspire you to write your next one.

There are five thank you letters donors will love at ‘the balance’




Tax time: opportunity versus obligation

Your donors are the driving force behind all that your charity achieves. So, as the end of financial year approaches, don’t get caught and send an uninspiring, ‘anonymous’ tax receipt to your donors.

Approach this year’s tax receipt letter as if it were the most important communication of the year – because when it comes to donor retention, this letter and/or email is one of the most important.

Yes, saying “Thank You” – and doing it well – will help to keep your regular givers donating. Let your donors know how important they are.

(See our article Thank You: say it often, say it right.)

A couple of pointers:

Keep your message consistent. Only talk about the programs that your donors have contributed directly to. Otherwise they’ll be confused as to where their donation dollar went.

Come from an attitude of gratitude. People love to be flattered. Make your donor the hero. Assume they are going to keep making that regular gift and thank them in advance. Tell them how their gifts in the coming year will make a critical difference.

Pack in those emotional triggers. Remember, heart trumps mind. People love to read stories, not data. Engage your donor in a story; make it about a single person.

Make sure your letter or email contains clear contact details for the donor. Don’t hide them away in the fear that a donor may call to cancel. And make sure you have exceptional donor service in place at every potential point of contact.

And a final comment. Have a box on your home page that lets donors know when they can expect to receive their tax receipts. But like your letter/email to come, make the message shine and make your donor the hero.

“Your tax receipt for the 2016/17 financial year will be sent to you mid July. The children that you have helped this year think you’re amazing … And so do we!”

So let’s make this year’s letter a winner. Start now on your tax receipt mailing and let your donors know loud and clear that their gifts are making the world a better place.

Book Review: Retention Fundraising, The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors For Life, Roger M. Craver (2015)


We’re never going to return to the good old days … Days when donors could be acquired at a profit … Days when little attention was paid to the loss of donors … That was then!

Today, we’re bleeding donors. We’re losing support as fast as we find it, seemingly condemned forever to pay a fortune to stand still.

As Ken Burnett writes in his foreward, “fundraisers routinely put up with it, as if attrition were a fundraising fact of life. It isn’t. The leaking bucket is a sign of monumental failure in our profession.”

But we can stem the flow and Roger Craver knows how to do it.

In this short and easy-to-read fundraising book, Roger gives you the tools you need to help your organisation think differently and set the stage for improved retention.

From advice on longer-term investment right through to easy retention wins you can do right now, use this book as your guide to take decisive, effective action to stem donor attrition.

Plus just to double make sure that you have no excuses not to get started, there’s also a dedicated website for retention discussion and updates.

The good news is that there is a proven process for increasing donor retention:

  • Switch the focus from past transactions to ongoing commitment
  •  Find out what matters most to donors
  •  Remove the retention barriers in your charity
  •  Identify committed donors. Delight them regularly.
  •  Do everything more quickly.
  •  Give great feedback.
  •  Invest in retention.

If you’re a fundraiser serious about keeping your donors, then this book should go to the top of your current reading list. Keep it on your desk and never file it.

Read it, learn from it and action it. Do what Roger says and your charity – and your donors – will reap the rewards.

Other seminal retention books that we’re still talking about – and reading – 25 years later!

Relationship Fundraising A donor-based approach to the business of raising money Ken Burnett (2002, second edition)

Building Donor Loyalty The fundraiser’s guide to increasing lifetime value Adrian Sargeant and Elaine Jay (2004)

Pareto benchmarking 2017: COMPETING PRIORITIES

With its charity membership continuing to grow – Pareto Fundraising had 28 members in 2010 and now has 82 – the organisation’s benchmarking is becoming increasingly relevant. Lise Taylor, Fundraising and Philanthropy, reports on its 2017 results.

Australia is the third most generous country in the world and it has experienced some of the most cost effective acquisition globally, but although the sector has experienced 0.3% growth in individual giving overall during 2016, almost 20 of the benchmarked charities saw a decline in income over the past two years,” Pareto Co-founder, Sean Triner, told the packed room at the International Convention Centre Sydney on Tuesday 4 April at the halfday launch of the 2017 Pareto Fundraising Benchmarking Program.

He added, “Many charities are running out of traditional donor prospects – much of the low hanging fruit has been gathered. This means we need to change as a sector.” Prior to delving into the report’s details, Triner revealed that overall there had been some big bequests, regular giving continued to grow, and that although child sponsorship had been flat for a decade it was still the best-ever regular giving product.

He also recommended that charities utilise two-year forward planning at a minimum, not one year. “Rolling 12-month income is important, especially in relation to retention, but charities are doing too much short-term thinking. In fact, even five years is too short for planning, for example a bequest plan requires at least 10 years before any payoff can be expected. Charities also need to change the way they budget: lifetime value modelling is required,” he emphasised.

Regular giving Representing almost 50% of income, regular giving is now a key focus for charities with both long and recent fundraising histories. Although most regular giving recruitment was from face-to-face fundraising followed by phone then online, face-to-face recruitment peaked in 2015 and was down 11% in 2016.

It was speculated during audience discussion that face-to-face volumes were down because of supplier capacity issues, increasing prices and other problems in the sector such as industrial action and increased compliance requirements.

Fiona McPhee, Head of Insights & Strategy at Pareto, noted that it isn’t possible any more to have a combination of low price, high volume and high quality of face-to-face recruitment. Even so, this form of fundraising is still the channel driving a large volume of new donors into the market and many charities continue to see growth here. With its charity membership continuing to grow – Pareto Fundraising had 28 members in 2010 and now has 82 – the organisation’s benchmarking is becoming increasingly relevant. Lise Taylor reports on its 2017 results.

“The expectation of achieving high volume, good quality, low-cost recruits needs to be adjusted. The charities leading the way are those looking for quality over volume and channel diversification because of their focus on long-term value rather than short-term volume impact,” she added.

This is affecting most channels for regular giving recruitment and the more robust programs are using a variety of channels to diversify risk. Two-step regular giving recruitment has increased in volume with charities generating their own leads via digital programs and converting on the phone. This is delivering promising, quality regular givers. Overall, during 2016, average monthly donations for regular giving included: • face-to-face at $31 per month • non face-to-face at $25 per month • telephone/online lead conversion at $21 per month • overall range from $25 to $35 per month.

McPhee suggested attrition is tracking OK, with little change in year-one attrition over the past five years, but overall can be reduced via good declines management (with a need to monitor non-starter rates) along with a call for more attention to upgrade strategies.

Cash giving Cash income represented 24% of total individual giving income in 2016 but it was down a little on 2015, which Triner says is worrying because most bequest and high value giving is developed from cash donors. “There has also been a big decline in new cash recruits (direct mail is at -25.98%),” he says.

After several years of high volumes of direct mail cash donor acquisition, increasing production and postage costs and market saturation for high volume recruiters has seen the economics of direct mail acquisition challenged. However, charities new to the method and some individual programs are bucking the trend.

Triner noted, “Taking a long-term view and ensuring you have mid-value, major donor and bequest programs in place will ensure investment in a cash program pays off in the longer term.” Online, however, is OK at 13.85% growth but represents a tiny proportion of new cash donors overall. Growth of cash giving online is seen within warm programs from improving channel integration. “The trouble with this is that most charities are not very good at integrating online – we are not doing it well but it does work if done well!” noted Triner.

He added that charities can work harder at encouraging second gifts – they have been decreasing year on year but some charities are dong 10% to 15% better than others: “The opportunity is there.”

High-value giving and bequests High-value gifts (donors are generally considered to be both those giving one-off donations of over $1,000 and regular givers donating over $1,000 in a year) comprise mid-value donors and major gifts, and represent just 0.5% of the donor pool. These cash donors contributed 13% of total income in 2016 and were the most likely to have confirmed a bequest (an average of 2.8% of all high-value givers have confirmed a bequest to one or more charities in the program).

Some good news is that high-value cash gifts are increasing each year, with June (tax time) being the key period for these gifts, with 88% of these donors already giving, highlighting how critical retention and development of higher value donors is to overall income.

Pareto Fundraising Strategist Andrew Martin points out, however, that for mainstream charities, major donor and mid-value fundraising is under-achieving in Australia. He says, “The big money is going to the arts and education but not mainstream charities and yet the best fundraising return on investment comes from the major gifts group, which is why fundraisers have a clear opportunity to develop their mid-value fundraising strategies as a key feeder to major gifts and bequests.”

Data capture is critical and Martin noted benchmarking bequests remain a challenge due to poor data capture by some charities. When it comes to income, members of the benchmarking program received over $400 million from bequests in 2016. Existing donors were increasingly giving bequests, up from 31% of bequest income seven years ago to 42% in 2016…

Recency of donor engagement is important, and with pledged bequests it was recommended that fundraisers keep in mind that residual bequests (bequests of a set amount) have a larger monetary value than pecuniary bequests (which is a percentage of a will). Martin notes that bequest fundraising is a long game and budgeting for activity and returns beyond the usual 12-month budget cycle is critical to implementing truly successful bequest programs.

Digital giving Basic usage of Google Analytics by participating charities continued to provide an opportunity as some charities do not use the functionality available to them to monitor and track online donor behaviours. For those charities that did tracking in 2016, website visitors continued to grow, up 12% between 2015 and 2016.

Although 25- to 34-year-olds are the biggest users, prospects aged 45 plus were better targets because young people online were not ‘digging into their pockets’ – 52% more income was generated by the over 45s than the under 45s.

Dan Wilson, Insights Manager at Pareto, noted that search is the crux of everything digital and donors are searching for charity brand names. Good sources of traffic are from Facebook (Facebook is the single biggest source of social media traffic with 99% of it coming from the platform), self-referrals (sites that refer to other sites) and email. Twitter, on the other hand, was termed “a blip on the radar”.

“The charities on Facebook that are raising more money are doing so by asking for donations on a frequent basis,” he noted. The best time for posting appears to be from 6pm to 8pm because that’s when most traffic occurs and desktop ranks highest in relation to donation conversions.

Donor retention The benchmarking indicated charities were not retaining donors as well yearon- year, with all numbers down. While the costs of program delivery were increasing, group discussion highlighted the imperative to spend money on supporter service and donor care.

Triner explained that the data shows the first two years of a donor’s relationship are the most critical for ensuring longer-term value but those charities doing the best on value over time appear to have a more integrated approach to acquisition and retention (as opposed to siloed approaches).

McPhee comments, “Retention is not determined by just what is sent out. It is impacted by how your administration is managed (declines management for regular giving was highlighted as being particularly important), your supporter services (customer service auditing and benchmarked mystery shopping were discussed as critical ways to inform improvement) and your donor care strategies (human interaction being a critical component of well-planned donor experience management).”

Advice from the UK The session ended with a video call to UK fundraising expert Ken Burnett, who works with UK charities to address the adverse publicity received by the charity sector there. Burnett said it was critical to understand that giving should be a pleasure for donors and their experience must take centre stage. He advised fundraisers to have responsible data policies (he was emphatic in his desire that Australian charities not end up in an opt-in situation like that faced by UK charities today) and to give donors practical choices in relation to how they are communicated with: “The donor should control the relationship.” Most importantly he encouraged fundraisers to focus on providing fast, frequent and fabulous feedback to donors.

Competing priorities The overarching message was that donor love that offers great experiences is what will make the difference for charities. Triner highlighted that because warm retention programs are based on ‘facts’ they should be non-negotiable, but too often are negotiable. He added, “Acquisition is critical to maintain and gain ground but the market is changing faster than ever and ‘set and forget’ strategies are not working. Critically, the whole sector needs to invest in research and development or it will go backwards.”

The big questions that need answering are: How can we juggle competing priorities on a tight budget? How can resources be split?

Suicide gets the action it deserves

James Herlihy, who worked with Lifeline on its two-step suicide prevention campaign, reveals the secrets to its success – and its great fundraising outcomes.

While suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15 to 44, it hasn’t always received the attention it needs – either in policy or in public discourse. Times, however, are slowly changing, with media and governments focusing more on the need for mental health and suicide prevention programs.

Lifeline’s suicide prevention two-step campaign, which was launched in March 2016 with Pareto Fundraising, has played a role in pushing for that change – and it’s delivered some pretty good fundraising outcomes too.
Thirteen months later, with the campaign wrapping up, we want to share some results and insights.

How it worked

Step 1
This comprised an online petition calling on the Australian government to increase funding for suicide prevention. The petition was promoted to new audiences via a mix of paid and organic social media communications with a focus on Facebook, the winning channel for lead acquisition, and Instagram.

Step 2
Those petition signers who opted in were taken on an integrated fundraising conversion journey involving telephone conversion, an automated email stream and remarketed advertising.

At the beginning of May, with phone calling still going, Lifeline had acquired just under a thousand regular givers, at a cost of $344 per regular giver, plus 724 cash gifts totalling almost $50,000. Early attrition rates for the two-step acquired donors are proving to be lower than those from other channels like face-to-face.

Crucially, on top of this, Lifeline acquired tens of thousands of new supporters who are engaged with its mission. We know from previous experience that so long as these people are kept engaged and given compelling opportunities to donate, many more will become donors in subsequent months and years, so there’s also future income here.

But the results aren’t just financial. Public support through this campaign has helped achieve the recent announcement of the development of Australia’s first suicide prevention plan and several new government-funded suicide prevention trial sites across New South Wales. It has also helped Lifeline to secure $2.5 million for a new crisis SMS support service.

“The campaign helped to deliver a spike in Lifeline volunteer interest, and broad, active exposure for the Lifeline brand and new CEO Peter Shmigel,” says Julie Kirby, Lifeline’s Individual Giving Manager. “We James Herlihy, who worked with Lifeline on its two-step suicide prevention campaign, reveals the secrets to its success – and its great fundraising outcomes. also uncovered new leads for case studies that will support our fundraising and communications efforts far into the future. And we gained a lot of valuable, personal information about supporters through their online engagement.”

Shmigel says the campaign momentum and subsequent government attention helped to develop some key ministerial relationships and further Lifeline’s public policy agenda. These were great results from a viable new acquisition channel for Lifeline. So what made it work?

Factors for success

Strong proposition and motivators
The calls on the Australian government to increase suicide prevention funding in line with other funding areas presents a strong theory of change. The government can solve the problem and is accountable to constituents (the campaign audience). Funding allocation is also an ‘easy get’ for the audience, and so they feel that taking this action really will help solve the problem. Underlying this, important motivators are at play: relevance, self-interest and agitation for change.

Frequent media coverage and public conversation about mental health reflect the issues’ relevance to Australians today. With a highly relevant and ‘present’ issue, people are prepared to respond when presented with a tangible action they can take to help. Of course, the issue of suicide is shockingly relevant to Australian communities directly impacted by it. These communities have a strong interest in solving the problem, and a driving need for their tragic experience to be heard and acted upon by policymakers.

Lastly, dissonance between what the government could do and what it is doing creates a space where we can build agitation for change and mobilise it through our petition.

Awesome creative
We didn’t have a super rich range of visual assets to work with, however a simple focus on real individuals, strong info-graphics and hard-working copy delivered the results. While avoiding disrespect to the government (which funds some Lifeline programs), the messaging pulled no punches and drove home the issue’s importance, with tactics like:
• framing a ‘national suicide emergency’
• key facts (for example, suicide is the leading cause of death for 15- to 44-year-olds and comparisons to other funded program areas) high up in copy with the text emphasised
• highlighting unfulfilled government commitments, and how readers pushing for their fulfilment provides an opportunity for solving the problem.

The first few words of every creative asset need to strike hard in digital campaigns. Toning down impactful language is the enemy of direct response – especially on busy social news feeds and web pages already saturated with marketing messages.

Committed campaigning
Ever feel like other teams aren’t on board with your efforts to fund your organisation’s work? Can’t get space in comms schedules? Communications team blocks your messaging? Your CEO or a board member just doesn’t like something? Not so in this case at Lifeline. Genuine adoption from the CEO to the supporter relations, media and communications teams meant this was a real all-of-organisation effort. It earned more free press, had a solid presence on the organisational website and other channels, and integrated tightly to support direct government advocacy. This is what we call ‘committed campaigning’. It delivers better results and supports a more collaborative culture amongst teams.

Tight channel integration
There are many moving parts to a campaign involving social media, display network advertising, web pages, email campaigns and journeys, phone calling, search and more. Amongst these, there’s ample opportunity for poor user experience if your channels don’t support each other, your creative doesn’t sing from the same book and your supporter journey isn’t mapped out in detail and executed well.

Good integration delivered solid results for this campaign. For example, a tight working relationship and data sharing arrangements between the digital and phone agencies meant that petition signers were called speedily (while still engaged with the campaign), call scripts aligned well with the experience they’d had, and an 8% plus phone conversion rate was maintained throughout the campaign.

Responsiveness and opportunism
Digital campaigns are living things that thrive when kept agile and responsive to real world events and opportunities. One such opportunity occurred on Thursday 16 March 2017, when we discovered Lifeline had secured a meeting between its CEO and Federal Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, on the following Monday.

We were at 135,000 signatures, and wanted to reach the 150,000 target for presentation to Minister Hunt, so we jumped into production, crunching out social content and an email to petition signers asking them to share again. The content focused heavily on the moment – the 150,000 target and the opportunity to present it in discussion with the Federal Health Minister.

Those communications helped us exceed the 150,000 target by Monday, meaning we achieved 10% of the whole 12 months’ worth of signatures in just three days – as illustrated in the graphic above. This is the power of mobilising online communities around a real moment.

You can do it!
All nonprofits can use digital channels to build community, generate leads and develop donor relationships. From surveys and quizzes to petitions, pledges, polls, send-a-message actions, value exchanges etc, the possibilities for action and proposition are endless.

All you need is the organisational buyin, investment and a bit of support. The rewards – in terms of community growth, donor acquisition and funding to advance your goals – can be great.

Sign the petition at Contact to find out more about how a two-step campaign could work for your cause.

James Herlihy
James is the Digital Strategist at Pareto Fundraising. He has spent more than a decade campaigning with nonprofits and is the brains behind groundbreaking digital campaigns for dogs, dolphins, humans, rights, reefs and more.

This article was first published in Fundraising and Philanthropy Magazine 2017

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.