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Gaining a single view of the donor in Not for Profits

Nick Churchill-EvansMay 9th 2018

“Charities need to view and approach fundraising no longer as just a money-raising technique, but as a way in which they can provide a connection between the donor and the cause.” Sir Stuart Etherington.

Pressure at the source

According to a survey undertaken by Harris Interactive, two-thirds of people feel more negatively about charities following extensive media coverage of cases involving malpractice. Shocking examples of harassment and pressure put on donors to contribute, even if they have opted out (or not opted in at all) of communications, has led to some appalling, yet avoidable, consequences. In the majority of cases, lack of ownership and control over data has been the primary culprit for the issues being brought to bear.

The result has been a significant drop in the public’s opinion of charities, with 44% of people surveyed stating that they were now less likely to share personal information such as bank details or addresses with charitable organisations.

When you consider 29% (£19 billion) of charity income came in the form of Direct Debits in 2014, one can image the detrimental impact this could have on future income. Whether the knock-on effect will lead to a reduction of Direct Debits and income will only come to light once the 2016 charity income figures are published at the end of the year.

Charity sector consideration score

Crucially, the decline in brand health has also fed through into people’s willingness to donate to charities in general. A look back between May and July 2015 showed that people are now significantly less likely to consider donating to charity than they were before. This blog looks at how, with the implementation of a donor-centric technology that enables the journey to reflect the individual interests and donation history of supporters, charities can engage in transparent fundraising activities and avoid the publicised issues.

A financial aftershock

The challenge of effective data management could be in part due to a hangover from the 2008 credit crunch where Direct Debit cancellations from individual donors reached 4.33%, the largest average fall at any time between 2003 and 2013, resulting in a smaller pool of donors. This would have resulted in growing pressure on charities to ramp up their efforts to find new ways of engaging and generating income. But does this ring true? Initially, records would suggest yes: between 2008 and 2009, just under 8,000 charities ceased operating; but this trend was bucked as income continued to rise.

In fact, that increase in gross income has maintained an upward trajectory ever since, with 2015’s filed annual income reaching £70.07 billion, an increase of 31% in just seven short years. This would suggest it’s ‘business’ as usual, or is it?

Think like a business, act like a business

I asked my wife what makes her consider donating to a particular charity, her response was simple and telling: “It has to be a cause that has the potential to in some way assist our children, or our children’s children, now or in the future.” For her there has to be a connection. Not everyone’s drivers are the same, but it does bring up a good point: how can you connect the needs of charities with the emotions (goodwill) of donors?

Research from Harris Interactive1 found that:

84% of respondents disapproved of “cold call” telephone fundraising

77% disapproved of door-to-door fundraising,

64% disapproved of receiving addressed mail from charities with which they had no prior connection.

This isn’t anything new, but these are tactics that have been used, frowned upon, and used again for many years. In 2014 most complaints about fundraising methods were about direct mail and telephone calls (more than 8,000 people complained about being called at home, and about the tone of the calls).

Successful businesses can engage with their customers on a personal level. Using relationship management technology solutions, savvy companies are centralising incoming data, then using the insights to drive targeted sales and marketing activities. The key word here is targeted.

The objective for charities is to go about donor engagement in a more business-like and socially acceptable manor. Technology just might provide the capability to achieve that. 

The Etherington review

In September 2015, Chief Executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) (the largest umbrella body for the voluntary and community sector in England) led a review into the self-regulation of charity fundraising.

“Charities need to view and approach fundraising no longer as just a money-raising technique, but as a way in which they can provide a connection between the donor and the cause.” Sir Stuart Etherington.

The review took evidence from stakeholders to identify what changes are required to rebuild public trust in charity fundraising, with the resulting report titled: ‘Regulating fundraising for the future. Trust in charities, confidence in fundraising regulation’. The main recommendation of the Etherington review was that a new single regulator should be established to replace the current Fundraising Standards Board and to take over the role of setting the code from the Institute of Fundraising. It also recommended that the Charity Commission should oversee the new regulator.

Change is coming

Currently at Committee stage in the House of Commons, the Draft Protection of Charities Bill includes sweeping new powers for the Charity Commission to give direction for charities to discontinue a course of action, remove trustees or close the charity entirely.

The Minister for Civil Society, Rob Wilson, commented: “We are building a new regulatory structure to make sure the right safeguards exist to protect those people at risk of exploitation. This should help the charities to draw a line under previous bad practice.”

These powers build on the recommendations from the Etherington review of charity fundraising and aim to bolster changes in the Charities Bill to provide the Charity Commission with more teeth to regulate the third sector. The objective: to create a socially acceptable approach to charitable engagement. This will involve charities becoming increasingly structured and organised.

So where does technology fit in? With technology, particularly Customer Relationship Management (CRM) focused solutions, comes control, stability, and a functional operating environment that allows charities to evolve and conduct themselves in a more business-like way. The reality is that these changes are happening now. Risk running out of donor support and sink or leverage technology to adapt and thrive.

Building the bridge between now and then

These sweeping changes are designed to eliminate unethical practices, a move aimed at improving flagging public sentiment. Embracing the changes may mean structuring existing approaches to income generation; making it more engaging and personalised. Technology will play a significant role in audience segmentation and engagement from CRM platforms that define, to applications that shine – this is where the biggest hurdle to operating like a grown-up business is overcome.

Donator Relationship Management

With effective data management, innovative use of mobile giving, social media channels, and email, together with traditional print media, charities can communicate quickly and easily with their supporter base. Effective relationship management tools can also help manage compliance, by maintaining detailed insight of current and historical engagements. Today, many charities are drowning in fundraising data and failing to realise its potential.

A 2014 survey by consultancy nfpSynergy, found that only 30% of charities surveyed felt they were doing a good job in utilising their data, so there’s clearly a gap. But before you start searching for the most appropriate solution, asking yourself some of the following may help to determine if you need, and can benefit from, CRM technology:

  • Do you have data on donors and stakeholders you need to share internally?
  • If audited, could you provide sight of all Gift Aid declarations and donor audit trails?
  • Do you have data on donors or clients spread across multiple documents, spreadsheets, files, and systems?
  • Can you link a donor who is also a fundraiser?
  • Is it easy for team members to get access to data from wherever they are or do they need to physically travel to the office or rely on emails from colleagues to view it?
  • Do you have all of your information on the services you provide a single client in the same place or are they listed in several databases held by individual service teams?
  • Are your funders demanding reports that are difficult to produce in a short timescale?

It’s time to take action

The tragic case of Olive Cooke, one of Britain’s longest-serving poppy sellers taking her own life will live long in the memory, and serve as one of the catalysts behind the evolution of the third sector. It’s no longer a question of if, but when.

These changes present an opportunity to get ahead before the changes are enforced. CRM such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM can help charitable organisations create that single view of the customer, enabling them to better understand donor relationships and improve customer retention, which is imperative in the current climate.

Take a lead from commercial organisations who are successfully using CRM to profile clients and extract greater value from the relationships by building trust and exceeding expectations. Ultimately donors operate in the same way; if they feel valued, if they believe they are getting value, then they will be more likely to spend more. Don’t forget, part of the problem is that donors are flooded with choice of who to support; if you can give them a great experience by intelligent use of the data available you are more likely to engage and keep them. CRM technology can help connect the engagement dots and unlock routes to new income streams by using existing data to better understand and communicate with donors.


The third sector is having a crisis of confidence, regulation, and trust. It’s possible that things will get worse before they get better. Don’t get me wrong, there are a host of charities out there who are using captured data to form insightful campaigns; a revenue increase of over 6% and £4.35 billion between 2014 and 2015 is testament to that. But for those who are lagging behind when it comes to effective data management, it is time to break the mould. There is a technological light at the end of the tunnel and it involves creating a single view of the customer.

But there isn’t much time left

A committee of MPs has warned in a report that UK charities’ fundraising activities could be controlled by law unless a new voluntary regulator succeeds in cleaning up the sector.

The cornerstone of a single customer view is the ability to identify all interactions with a donor. Everyone wants to be treated as an individual and not as a piggybank that can be shaken every once in a while. A single customer view also allows for more targeted campaigning, whilst supporting responsible lending and ensuring customers are managed in a fair and compliant way.

In a literal sense, put in place a technology plan, approach and strategy to maximise the change – adopt, embrace, and succeed. A mantra that many charities (not all) would do well to heed. It means harnessing technology and connecting with donors and stakeholders in ways that they can relate to, but more than that, in a way that feels personal and relevant to them.

The donor is the heart of any charity organisation; all focus should be on keeping them there, and technology is the key.

© Nick Churchill-EvansMay 9th 2018



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