Face-to-face fundraising: A word of welcome

By that time, the donor is likely to have forgotten why they signed in the first place.


The NSPCC makes a point of phoning every donor recruited through face to face to welcome them.

John Turner, donor recruitment manager, says: "Having recruited them via face to face, which is quite personal, this seems like a good way to keep up." The main reason for phoning is to thank the donor, but the charity also uses it as an opportunity to get any additional information and make sure they are happy with the way they were recruited.

The NSPCC has a policy of not leaving messages on answering machines.

"If you leave a message saying 'Hi this is the NSPCC', it could be misunderstood." Giving to charity can be personal and people may not want other members of a household to know what organisations they are supporting. "We ask for land line numbers, mobile and email. We also offer the option of only contacting donors by email, if they'd prefer.

The charity uses an in-house team to make phone contact. "We have a very well trained team and they have a very in-depth knowledge of the charity.

When the team speaks to donors they can bring up the contact history of the donor and can acknowledge previous correspondence." Following phone contact, the charity sends out a welcome pack within about two weeks. This contains information about the charity and the work it's doing. These packs are sent out on a regular basis. They do not ask for more money, but update the donor about what has been happening in the organisation.


The Alzheimer's Society gives face-to-face fundraisers printed material to give to donors and those who show interest in the organisation in the street Stephanie Smith, head of fundraising at the Alzheimer's Society says: "It's concertina-shaped and when you open it, a big map falls out. It's too substantial to throw away, but not so big you think you don't want to carry it around. You don't want to give out large packs on the street but want to affirm with the person they are doing something interesting and fun."

The society has used it for the past two months and it has had good response from the recruiters, who like being able to give it to people, not only those who sign up but also those who show an interest.

"It's a way to explain what the Alzheimer's Society does," says Smith.

There are two versions of the leaflet. One is targeted at people who want to support research and the other is for people interested in the general programme. "Those people interested in medical research tend to want more information," says Smith.

Following initial contact, the society writes to donors and sends them a donor newsletter.

Charities lose half of the donors they sign up on the street, not least because many of them fail to follow up people's commitment with communications to maintain their initial interest. Lucy Maggs reports.

The importance of saying thank you may be something we have all had drummed into us as children, but it seems as if charities are forgetting their manners when it comes to thanking and welcoming donors recruited by street fundraisers.

Anyone recruited on the street will have had an intense experience, having been signed up by a young and energetic recruiter armed with an enthusiastic spiel about the charity. If the fundraiser has done their job properly, the donor will leave with a sense that they have done something exciting, and an effective follow up will encourage them to embark on a more long-term relationship with the charity.

But donors recruited through face-to-face fundraising are backing out at a rate of 50 per cent in their first year, according to figures from specialist direct marketing agency DMS. To examine why this is happening, DMS sent a mystery donor out to sign up to nine charities and assessed the experiences they offered.

One of the major problems was in the follow-up to street recruitment.

After the initial sign-up, four out of the nine charities did not call to welcome the new donor, none of them sent an email, and only five sent a welcome by post. Two of the charities have never contacted the donors at all, despite having collected their details. They are, however, taking money on a monthly basis from the donor's bank account.

This lack of contact could be down to a technical slip, rather than policy, but just one or two glitches in the system can cause the cancellation of a direct debit. Bearing in mind that face to face can cost up to £100 per donor, charities really need to build long-term relationships with as many as possible.


The first and most lasting impression a donor has of the charity is at the first point of contact - out on the street. Mark Nohr, managing partner of marketing agency Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw says: "The consumer is meeting the brand, so it is imperative that this experience is true and extends across the rest of the communications they get."

Charities tend to limit themselves to the standard face-to-face format - young person in bib approaches people on the street and tells them about the charity's work in the hope that they will sign a direct debit form.

Nohr says that this approach has become stale and that charities would benefit from a more imaginative approach.

"Charities often tend to be risk-averse. They are inclined to look at what others are doing and if it works they copy it, so they don't have to take the risk of doing it for the first time. As a result, everyone does things the same way and a method becomes saturated," he says.

He suggested that charities should draw some inspiration from the kind of activity other sectors have been carrying out. Kitcatt Nohr recently ran a government campaign to promote to the Rail Passengers Council as somewhere aggrieved travellers could take their complaints and suggestions.

Marketers distributed information in bubble wrap envelopes with the slogan 'Don't just have a pop, make sure your voice is heard'. The idea was that passengers then sat on the train popping bubble wrap, which although irritating to other passengers, according to Nohr, successfully raised awareness of the organisation.

"Perhaps field marketers could give people information in the street about bringing up children, or about homelessness and whether you should give money to beggars or not," he suggests.

More times than not, following recruitment by a face-to-face fundraiser, the only information the donor ever receives about the charity is verbal.

But as people only retain a fraction of what they hear in conversation, the positive impressions of the charity need to be reinforced through written material. A number of charities have been experimenting with this approach including the Alzheimer's Society (see case study).

This type of information should take a format large enough that it is not easily 'bin-able', but not so big that it is inconvenient for the donor, who may be in the middle of a shopping trip, to carry around.

There is a debate about whether face-to-face recruits should be treated differently to other donors when it comes to follow-up contacts. The sign-up process is a spontaneous experience, where people sign up to a charity immediately, in contrast to direct mail which counts on a much more planned approach to giving - a potential donor may hold onto a direct-debit form that has arrived through the post for some time before completing it.

Paul Farthing, managing director of Target Direct, says that face to face picks up people who may not have otherwise become donors, because it interrupts their day and plants the seeds of donating to a particular charity.

Manning the phones

Farthing says that because of the one-to-one nature of the initial approach, the phone can be a good follow-up method, as it allows details to be processed and checked quickly. With younger donors, mobile phone numbers are the best, if they are happy to give them out, as they tend to have busy social lives and can be harder to track down on a land line, and text messages and email also work well too.

He also believes that postal follow-ups are not always so effective, as they have a less immediate feel, and research has shown in the past that donors recruited through face to face do not respond to direct mail.

But he says there will always have to be a postal element to catch those donors who are impossible to get hold of on the phone.

Greenpeace is a veteran of face-to-face fundraising and has used the method for years, but its approach contradicts a lot of what Farthing recommends.

Cathy Anderson, director of fundraising and marketing, argues that face-to-face recruits, as with direct-mail respondents, tend to be people who want to give to a particular charity but simply haven't got round to it before.

"It's a myth that you are a different species if you are a donor recruited on the street. We follow the same basic advice we have got from our supporters in the past," she says.

Greenpeace uses a mixture of media in its face-to-face drives, as it does with all campaigns. The charity tends to use printed material. "We're very visual," says Anderson. "People like to see images of the work we do so we have a paper-based welcome service."

The success of one medium over another depends on the nature of the organisation and the individual donor's preference.

Owen Watkins, managing director of face-to-face fundraising agency Dialogue Direct, says: "When recruiting face-to-face donors, the temptation is to treat them all the same but they are all different from each other. You have to find out how they want to receive further communications, and deal with them as individuals. Don't just send every donor four newsletters a year."

The best way of establishing how donors want to be contacted is simply by asking them either at the sign-up or by using a questionnaire afterwards.

Swift response

But whichever method charities choose, it must be delivered quickly.

If a charity fails to follow up, the donor can feel let down and disappointed.

Anderson says that Greenpeace sends a letter and a welcome pack within 10 days of the sign-up. Henderson is a fan of charities using text messages or emails as the follow up can easily be made within the first 24 hours.

The quality of the welcome is also crucial. A garbled message, read from a script with the buzz of a call centre in the background is not nearly as effective as a personalised, warm and welcoming call. "Whether it's a phone message, a text or a DM pack, it's about timing and tone," says Farthing.

With printed material the emphasis must be on feedback and thanks, and it should not be an excuse for another ask. Charities should use it to reinforce to donors why they have started to give via direct debit.

After the payments have started, donors must still be kept up to date and involved with the organisation. This builds a deeper relationship with the charity which will hopefully lead the way to larger donations and even legacies in the future.

But for those charities that don't keep in touch with face-to-face donors, the future can be bleak. In the DMS experiment, the mock donor only received three items of post in the four or five months following the sign up.

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