Focus: Fundraising - VSO gets in the face of fresh support

Francois Le Goff

Summary: VSO launched its first face-to-face campaign in February. The campaign, which has so far recruited 6,000 donors, doubled VSO's committed giver base and enabled the charity to reach a younger audience. It won the Institute of Fundraising award for the best face-to-face fundraising campaign in July.

Background: The charity, which had 5,140 committed givers before the campaign, with an average age of 70, traditionally relies on direct mail, inserts and telemarketing.

It wanted to test whether face-to-face fundraising would work for a charity with limited brand awareness compared with larger development organisations.

The charity aimed to recruit monthly donors to give an average of £8 a month, and to get 77 per cent of recruits signed up to Gift Aid.

How it worked: The test campaign started on 28 February and ran for five weeks, the target being to recruit 750 donors. The charity rolled out the campaign from 4 April to the end of September, the target this time to recruit a further 5,000 regular givers.

Results: By the end of the test, 1,516 supporters had signed up - more than twice the target. The target was achieved in the third week of the campaign.

Each street fundraiser recruited an average of 23 committed donors. The total pledged annually was £164,851, and the average annual gift was £109.

Given that face-to-face recruits usually continue their gifts for five years or more, VSO is expecting the return on investment to increase substantially over time.

After the test, VSO asked DialogueDirect to recruit 5,000 more donors in a roll-out of the campaign. The agency has so far signed up 4,491 donors and expects them to donate an annual total, including Gift Aid, of £284,308.

The face-to-face campaign enabled VSO to recruit individuals who are much younger than its average donor. About 75 per cent of those recruited were under 35, with only 17 per cent 41 or older.

VSO won the award for the best face-to-face fundraising campaign at the Institute of Fundraising awards in July. The charity believes the judging panel was impressed with the campaign because it managed to "relay the complex nature of VSO's work and overcome its limited brand awareness as a smaller charity".

Joel Voysey, head of individual partnership development at VSO, said: "We didn't know how successful the campaign would be when we started, because recruitment campaigns in media such as direct mail have not always generated supporters who then make ongoing commitments to supporting our work." But he said face-to-face fundraising had enabled VSO to recruit a lot of new supporters, even though it was a relatively expensive method.

EXPERT VIEW - ANNE BOLITHO, HEAD OF DONOR DEVELOPMENT, FUNDRAISING INITIATIVES

VSO is justifiably pleased with the results from its first face-to-face campaign. Over the past few years, this form of fundraising has proved to be an excellent method of recruiting regular, long-term, high-value donors. It is particularly effective for a charity with an ageing donor profile and low brand awareness, such as VSO, where other forms of donor recruitment, including direct mail, attract low average donation levels.

The test achieved a good average gift, although it would be useful to see the overall Gift Aid percentage broken down - this can be an indicator of the long-term value of a face-to-face donor.

It is too early in the campaign to comment on the attrition figure, but levels will undoubtedly rise in the next few months. Although face-to-face is a good way to attract a younger donor to a more traditional cause, attrition can be higher. For this reason, charities need to focus on an age-appropriate and integrated communication strategy for these donors.

With 75 per cent of VSO's new donors under 35, developing a multimedia communication strategy using email, text messaging and the web will strengthen the commitment of these donors and increase their long-term value.

In the future, VSO might consider testing other face-to-face techniques.

This could be an excellent way to target potential volunteers on the street, in private sites and at special events.

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