Expert view: Engaging donors the visual way

The recent report from marketing agencies DMS and Whitewater, Boom or Bust (Third Sector, 26 March), had more than a touch of teaching grandmother to suck eggs - which is appropriate, because it stereotyped the average giver as an 80-something 'Dorothy Donor'.

If charities still relied on Dorothy to keep them afloat, many would already have gone out of business. 

But it was still refreshing to read research that wasn't obsessed with engaging those aged between 16 and 30. The themes identified in the report are important for all of us, no matter what age: trust, integrity and choice. The report also emphasised a bugbear of mine: consistent messaging. How many times do you argue about what your core purpose is and then struggle to communicate it simply to your donors?

There were also some lessons about evidence and feedback. Are you gathering information that would inspire more giving? What have you told your donors recently? Do they know about your success?

Email databases create opportunities for instant engagement that are far better than an envelope sitting guiltily unopened by the front door. Get and give feedback online and engage people at their desks or home computers. Then give them a film, a game, a quiz - something engaging - once they have landed on your home page. Plan your strategy to get people to return to the site using further information, new evidence, new films or celebrity endorsement. Dry, unchanging websites do no more for you than last year's mailshots. Even modest amounts of refreshment will keep people interested.

The research also showed that baby boomers are increasingly resentful of adverts that plead for money. I'd add to that my own personal dislike of advertising campaigns that spell out the obvious. One respondent in the research said "I want documentaries, not adverts". Nothing beats the power of seeing the exact issues you are campaigning for, the specific project that you were asked to donate to and the results that donation has brought.

Short films are not luxuries, but essential tools. Point donors to your website, video-sharing website YouTube or your pages on social networking sites Facebook, Bebo and a dozen others so they can see for themselves how effective your work is.

If you are sending a postal mailshot, why not add a DVD to it? Simple films featuring your clients, supporters and beneficiaries will tell the story better than almost anything else.

- Nick Ware is a broadcasting consultant.

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