NEWSMAKER: The professional touch - Philomena Robson, Direct marketing and database manager, The Salvation Army

LUCY MAGGS

Philomena Robson is one of two professional fundraisers who have turned around the income of The Salvation Army in the past three years.

In 1997, the Army took on its first professional fundraiser, Julius Wolff-Ingham, an ex-colleague of Robson. Within a few months, he had brought Robson in to join him. Salvation Army officers had previously done all the fundraising. "We still have a donor services team of eight Salvation Army officers. They are dedicated, hard working and committed, but not professionals,

says Robson.

The charity had watched its income decline and was being kept afloat by legacy income that it knew could fall at anytime. It had a guaranteed income of only £900,000, which was immediately swallowed up by service provision with no space for expansion or development. But its guaranteed income for the last year has leapt up to £9 million by focusing on committed givers, who have increased from 12,000 to more than 20,000.

When Robson was recruited to the Salvation Army there were 700,000 people on the organisation's database, but it was not categorised in any way and some donors had not given to the organisation for some time. She had been offered another job but found the idea of getting her hands on a huge unsorted database a challenge she couldn't resist. "I have always worked with databases. I'm an analyst with 14 years of database marketing experience,

she says.

Robson was also keen to work with Wolff-Ingham, who is head of marketing and fundraising - the most senior non-Salvationist post in the organisation.

"The Army has a huge workforce of supporters but very few professionals,

says Robson. She adds that the charity had experienced problems attracting specialists. But this has improved and recent advertising for trust and community fundraisers has returned high-quality applicants. "The Army is finding its place in the sector as a serious player,

says Robson.

A pivotal year for the organisation was 1998. Appointing non-Salvationist fundraising staff helped managers to get a clear vision of where to take the organisation. Four aims were put in place for the fundraising strategy.

The organisation needed more income, from more robust sources, with greater predictability and at a greater margin. Mary Wilson, a consultant at direct marketing specialist Calibre, was brought in to help with the strategic plan but it was up to Robson and her database to make it happen.

The Salvation Army is the biggest provider of social services outside the Government, and the demand on income is growing as the Government and local authorities call more on the Army's services. "We needed a stable income base and realised we had to grow committed giving through direct debit, or covenants,

says Robson.

Although the Army's database comprised 700,000 names, Robson established that only 170,000 were active supporters. Her first step was straightforward and successful. She identified 70,000 people who were committed givers and whose pledges were either about to expire or had expired in the past three years, and mailed them to renew their commitment. Within four months, the Army had 40,000 new committed givers. This achievement was made greater by the fact that there were so few people in the team and all the work was done in-house. "I was printing out letters until midnight and the team were here stuffing envelopes,

she says.

One great breakthrough in recruiting committed givers happened by accident, Robson admits. An error following a direct marketing Christmas appeal in 1999 meant that a letter went out to one-off donors containing standing order forms and thanking them for becoming committed givers. "We got a great response,

says Robson. "We built on this idea scientifically in winter 2000 and mailed approximately 70,000 donors. We got a 23 per cent return rate, or 16,000 committed givers over a four-week period."

Another problem for the Army was a lack of public understanding of what it does. Research showed that people associated the Salvation Army with bands and homeless people, and were unaware of the range of services it provided, including research into drink and drugs, and prison programmes. "We were still perceived as a Victorian organisation with officers in bonnets,

Robson says. "People tend to think we are a missionary organisation. This is a total misconception - the Army is not about converting people.

The Army is, however, a church but the fundraising department works for the charity, which is involved in social work.

One way of getting the Army's message out was by strengthening the brand.

Previous campaigns had been about causes and the Army didn't feature.

So the organisation was moved to the forefront. "We now have branded appeals and the Salvation Army is right in there,

says Robson.

An rise in guaranteed income has allowed the Army to plan future campaigns.

The organisation is developing research into drug and homelessness outreach programmes. "We have had four good years,

says Robson. "The public and media are starting to have more respect for the charity."

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