Case study: Keep your distance from the students

Lepra's three-month face-to-face fundraising drive to recruit 700 donors with an average donation of £8 a month by direct debit.

Organisation: Lepra 

Campaign: Recruitment

Agency: Future Fundraising SUMMARY

International medical charity Lepra ran a three-month face-to-face fundraising trial in September 2005, aiming to recruit 700 donors with an average donation of £8 a month by direct debit. In the event, 740 donors were recruited with an average donation of £7.80. The charity then rolled out a larger campaign throughout London and south-east England, using face-to-face fundraising consultancy Future Fundraising. The strategy was revised after 18 months and the campaign is still going on.


The charity had previously used street fundraising and door-to-door campaigns. However, cancelled standing orders, or attrition, had always been a problem and attrition in this campaign was higher than had been expected.

Lepra had planned for the eventuality that 40 per cent of donors would cancel their direct debits within 12 months: 12 per cent would be non-payers and cancel before making any payments, and 28 per cent would cancel before the year ended. The 28 per cent proved to be correct, but there were twice as many non-payers, making a total attrition of 52 per cent.

After 18 months, analysis of attrition rates for each fundraiser, where they worked and how old recruits were showed that a large number of students were signing up. Students are keen to sign up with street fundraisers, but their financial situation means they are more likely to cancel before their first payments are due; so Lepra revised its tactics and stopped recruiting near colleges and universities.


Since the revised strategy was introduced, 4,636 new donors have been recruited, donating a monthly average of £7.26, or £8.74 with Gift Aid. That is slightly lower than for the trial period.

The initial request is for £8, with options for £10 and £12. However, fundraisers can accept lower gifts, which is why the average is lower than the minimum request. Non-payer attrition has fallen by 40 per cent, leaving overall attrition at 42.4 per cent.

Karen Page, fundraising officer at Lepra, said: "We're not obsessed by the cost per recruit, because it is much more important to bring attrition under control. Many charities worry about how much it will cost them to bring in new donors, and not what happens to costs once people cancel standing orders."

Expert view

James Briggs, head of planning, Bluefrog

To be honest, this is a pretty standard face-to-face fundraising campaign. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that - it's a highly effective way to raise money.

It's good to see that Lepra was on top of its attrition rates and found ways to improve them. But what it did is nothing new. Our face-to-face fundraising partner, Gift, has avoided recruiting students for years. And if we do recruit students, we don't charge our clients for them - except for mature students, who can actually make quite good donors.

The area in which innovation really can pay dividends is the communications that Lepra uses to engage these new friends with the charity's cause and its beneficiaries. When you talk to people recruited to support a cause through face-to-face fundraising - and we talk to a lot of them - it becomes obvious that the recruiter is absolutely central to the decision to sign up.

When that contact comes to an end, it is incredibly important to build engagement with the cause and build it quickly.

More and more we're seeing how telephone, email and even social networking sites such as Facebook all have a role to play in cementing these very fragile relationships and turning recruits into active, engaged supporters.

Creativity: 2.5

Delivery: 2.5

Total: 5 out of 10.

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