How Sightsavers used data strategy to enhance its fundraising programmes

Third Sector Promotion Woods Valldata

At Third Sector’s Fundraising Conference 2022, Helen Halahan, head of marketing at Woods Valldata, spoke with Ella Pierce, director of fundraising and marketing at Sightsavers, about how data strategy has informed the charity’s individual giving programme

'Unlock the value of data' illustration

The value of data strategy

Each charity has a mission. To achieve it, objectives, goals, plans and budgets will have been set. Fundraising, in turn, will have its own strategy, goals and objectives to enable income generation to support the wider charity mission. 

Once you know where you’re heading, you can work back from there to decide the best way to achieve your aims – and this is where data strategy comes in. It can be a long-term plan or a more agile approach that is reviewed and updated on an ongoing basis. The main point is that it will help you determine what data and insights you need to achieve your objectives and how you’re going to use it and learn from it.

The fundamental areas to consider as part of your data strategy are:

  1. Understand your objectives so you know where you’re headed.

  2. Understand the information, data and analysis needed so that you can identify patterns and create a strategy based on fact. This might include contact history, transactional history, behaviours and motivations, bought-in data or additional market research.

  3. Data collection, storage and management is essential. The system you use needs to be fit for purpose so that you can record, log, append, update and refresh data, process, report on and analyse that data and document your data storage and governance.

  4. The above will go a long way to helping you understand your supporters. What motivations or behaviours unite them? Can you create a pen portrait? 

  5. Segment your supporters based on solid insight and sustainable criteria over time so that you can apply product, ask, channel and creative strategies that are relevant to that audience.

  6. Use data to help build relationships with your supporters. Think about the supporter journey – how do we communicate with them to encourage them to stay and further engage with us?

  7. Use all this to inform your strategic approach to your programmes and campaigns around creative, content, channel and ask. Personalise, target, make it relevant to who you’re talking to and where you’re talking to them.

  8. Finally, testing and analysis should be happening all the time. Build the test results back into your programmes and keep learning to build stronger, more robust approaches.

Ultimately, it’s about using your data strategy to elevate your fundraising programmes.

Data strategy cycle

Sightsavers data strategy insights

Sightsavers, a charity working in more than 30 countries to prevent avoidable blindness and fight for the rights of people with disabilities, has a dedicated fundraising analysis team. The role of this team is to focus on the reporting, analysis and the data selections for all the charity’s individual giving. There are many segments that its audience can fall into and that changes over time so it’s something that’s constantly changing and evolving. 

The charity is always looking to refine its data segments to work out who the best people are to speak to at different points of the year, with different messaging. 

Its dedication to data analysis and selection delivers tangible results. Last year, because of its data selections, Sightsavers actually sent out 51 per cent fewer pieces of direct mail than if it had sent every appeal to all of its supporters. And this didn’t impact income at all. In fact, it saved the charity money as well as having a positive impact on its environmental footprint.

Working together

The process at Sightsavers to define the right data segments involves the data experts in the fundraising analysis team and the campaign managers who manage the campaign activity, as well as third-party experts such as Woods Valldata to help inform the bigger picture. 

  1. There is an initial conversation around the objectives of the campaign and what sort of data is needed, and then a briefing document is sent to the fundraising analysis team. Getting the data selections right is crucial to the success of the campaign, so having conversations at the start is really important. 

  2. The team is given enough time to discuss the brief, and challenge and review the selection, so that it’s as refined as possible. It’s also important that any testing that needs to happen is built in from the beginning to deliver the best possible result. 

  3. A thorough post-campaign analysis, to understand what worked and what didn’t, helps to inform future campaigns. Sightsavers has built into its post-campaign analysis year-on-year KPIs so it can see seasonality and factor that in when it evaluates the results. 

Building solid supporter relationships

When it comes to supporter journeys, it’s important to get the balance right. Personalisation and tailoring can really help with retention and response rates, but you need to be realistic about how many supporter journeys you can create and resource. 

Sightsavers is very mindful of this and has developed a core supporter journey with a few variations. All new supporters receive a welcome pack through the post that explains who the charity is and what it does. There are then four core appeals throughout the year and two loyalty magazines. Those are the key parts of the supporter journey when it comes to engagement and retention.  Those who have opted in to email communications then receive emails throughout the year based on their interests, to complement the direct mail. 

Test-and-learn approach

As an organisation, Sightsavers believes in being data- and evidence-led, so testing is an important part of its strategy. As well as testing tactical parts of campaigns, the charity is also testing the bigger picture. 

It is currently testing a fundamental part of its strategy: supporter journeys. To do this, you need a long time frame to get the test results as you’re testing what happens to retention rates and lifetime value, for example, three or five years from the initial test. So Sightsavers is just at the start of its findings.

The charity did a year-long test of its supporter journeys for new cash supporters to find out more about them. This included a control group (of supporters who received the normal journey), a ‘light’ group (who received a slimmed-down version of the welcome pack and appeals) and a ‘more comms’ group, who received an additional postcard after the welcome pack, before receiving and appeals. 

The results showed that the control group had the better second gift rates and that the postcard, which the charity thought would have encouraged higher second gift rates, didn’t have the desired effect and was more expensive. The test therefore saved significant expenditure in the future than if Sightsavers had just run with its hypothesis.

The results of another year-long test the charity ran a few years ago, about donation prompts, still very much informs its strategy today. 

Benchmarking for success

As well as benchmarking against your own campaigns, it’s important to benchmark yourself against the wider sector. Woods Valldata runs a number of webinars throughout the year and publishes reports that can help with sector-wide benchmarking as well as identifying trends. 

It’s worth looking outside of your charity for data, to understand how you’re performing against sector averages and/or other charities like yours.

Having a data strategy is hugely important to helping your charity achieve its mission, as well as understanding your supporters better. Your data strategy defines how you will unlock the value of your data and insights to ultimately reach your fundraising goals.

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