Expert View: See your organisation through a new pair of eyes

Keeping in contact with donors and beneficiaries can help fundraisers to understand their work and generate new ideas.

Fundraisers can get so caught up with meetings, managing suppliers, fundraising plans, database analysis and report writing that we forget what is really important in fundraising: understanding what it is like to be a donor, listening to what donors think and feel and seeing the charity through the eyes of a beneficiary.

I have been as guilty of this as anyone, but during last summer's floods I was given a real wake-up call. WRVS had launched its first emergency fundraising appeal, using national and regional press ads and direct mail. The response was huge. To ensure that we maintained our high level of donor care, we opened a new office in Cardiff. I joined our in-house supporter care team to help staff the emergency appeal donation line. Suddenly, I was moved out of my cosy office environment and back onto the front line, dealing with real live donors.

This experience was hugely valuable. I spoke to more donors on the telephone over that weekend than I had done for many years. This dialogue gave me a real insight into what motivated them and how they felt about WRVS. Many people simply felt a strong empathy with our work with the flood victims, but others also had strong links with WRVS's heritage and remembered the work we did in the Blitz during the Second World War.

After hearing this feedback, I decided to test a new 'heritage' direct mail proposition on both our warm donor base and selected cold lists. The results were impressive. The mailout achieved a 13 per cent response rate from the warm donors and beat the existing pack we've been sending to cold contacts by 10 percentage points.

But it's not just meeting the donors that can be insightful. Meeting your beneficiaries can also inspire you. Our former chief executive often told a story about the time he tried to deliver a meals-on-wheels service to a flat in a tower block. He knocked on the door of the lady who was to receive the meal but there was no reply. He knocked again and eventually a frail lady came to the door. It turned out to be the wrong door and as he apologised for his mistake, the lady kept thanking him. He didn't understand why until she told him he was the first person she had spoken to in a month.

I was so moved when he told me this that I used it as a case study on a flyer in our regular direct mail pack. In a split test, in which half the packs contained the flyer and half did not, those with the flyer saw a 50 per cent higher response rate.

The moral of the story is that we need to get out from behind our desks, speak to donors and meet service users. Experience the charity through their eyes and you will gain hugely valuable insights that can really help improve your fundraising success.

- Michael Dent is relationship development manager at WRVS.

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