RNLI's first opt-in appeal trebles response rate

Tim Willett, head of funding strategy at the charity, says the summer fundraiser had a response rate of 32.8 per cent, compared with 10.4 per cent in 2015

The RNLI trebled its response rate and average donation from supporters when it experimented with its first fundraising appeal in which it marketed only to people who had opted to receive communications, according to Tim Willett, head of funding strategy at the charity.

In an interview with Third Sector, Willett said the RNLI, which has spent the past year moving to an opt-in system of communications, wanted to test the theory that marketing to a smaller pool of highly engaged donors would generate better results than fundraising from all of the charity’s supporters.

When it did this with its annual summer fundraising appeal, the response rate was 32.8 per cent – more than triple the 10.4 per cent rate the charity achieved in 2015.

The average donation was £8.39, almost triple the £2.94 average donation for the previous year’s appeal.

Willett said the RNLI had approached about 900,000 of the two million people on its supporter database in March and July to ask whether they wished to opt in to receive communications from it, as part of a three-stage marketing campaign aimed at encouraging the charity’s most engaged supporters to opt in.

More than 223,000 opted in during the first wave of the campaign in March.

Of these, the RNLI approached 66,000 people to ask if they wanted to donate to its summer appeal, which was launched in August.

The appeal, to raise money for lifesaving training for the charity’s crew and lifeguards, brought in £554,000.

The charity’s equivalent appeal in 2015, which had a similar theme and focus, raised £910,000 from about 310,000 people – more than four and a half times the number who were asked this year.

"We used the Pareto principle, the 80:20 rule that says you get 80 per cent of your income from 20 per cent of your supporter base," Willett told Third Sector. "We didn’t quite manage that this time, but 21 per cent of our supporters brought in 61 per cent of the amount we would normally have raised, so we’re spending significantly less in going to a smaller group of people who are significantly more engaged."

Willett said he was delighted by the results.

The charity recently disclosed that it had significantly exceeded its estimate for the number of supporters that would opt in by more than 150,000.

The RNLI believed that about 225,000 people would opt in but – as of last week – more than 382,000 people had done so.

The figure represents just 19 per cent of the RNLI’s two million-strong supporter base, but Willett told Third Sector the charity had deliberately sent marketing communications to only 900,000 of its supporters to ask them to opt in in order to save money.

The 382,000 who have so far opted in represent 42 per cent of the 900,000 who have been asked.

For the full interview with Tim Willett, see tomorrow’s fundraising bulletin or the January edition of Third Sector.

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