In this episode of Bloomerang TV Ben Rymer, Fundraising Research Manager at Age UK, joins us to talk about how research can help you take a retention-based approach to your fundraising campaigns.
Steven: Hey there. Welcome to this week’s episode of Bloomerang TV. Thanks so much for tuning in. It’s our first episode of the new year 2015 and I’m super excited to have Ben Rymer joining us today. Ben is the fundraising research manager over at Age UK. Hey Ben, how’s it going?
Ben: Hey, I’m good, Steven. Thanks for having me on.
Steven: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for being here. Maybe you can tell people a little bit about what you do over there at Age UK and a little bit about what Age UK does.
Ben: Sure. Age UK is the UK’s largest charity working with and for older people. We provide health care services, we work on advocacy, and we have quite a large fundraising department too. We do lots of different things in support of older people. My role is basically a prospect researcher in the fund raising division there. I’m responsible for identifying suitable supporters for particular campaigns and also learning a bit more about them and doing qualitative research as well.
I guess, for this I’ve also been doing a side projects as well which are interviews like podcast interviews with a bunch of people talking about my job, prospect research, and how it will change in the future but also retention and how we can build stronger relationships with our supporters which we need to do, I think. That’s me in a nutshell.
Steven: Absolutely, I totally agree on the retention front. I know you’re talking a lot about it. Obviously, we’re talking a lot about retention at Bloomerang. I like the approach that you take which is a little bit different because it seems like whenever people talk about retention they talk about doing things after the donation. Your donor communications, your follow up. But you think of retention before the donation happens in how you approach the campaign. Can you talk a little bit about how you take a retention-based approach leading up to a campaign and during a campaign rather than just doing it afterwards? What does that look like?
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. From my point of view, from the job that I actually do, I think it starts in the earliest point of a campaign, so in the pre-planning, actually. A big part of my job is making sure the right people are being contacted and that we know who the most committed supporters are, who is not just giving the most and the most frequently, but actually who has different types of touch points with the organization, who is contacting us a lot, who are the loyal supporters and how do we actually understand that. That’s right at the start, before you’re planning a campaign. That’s one big part of the prospect research role that I do.
But I think the operations stuff and having a really connected back office is absolutely critical to a campaign succeeding. It’s really important for fundraising or retaining relationships, generally speaking. But if you’re going into a big capital campaign for a particular cause or project, then there is no point doing lots of work leading up to it and then getting to the point where the donations are coming and not being able to record the information and gifts appropriately and in a timely way and have this 360 view of what the supporter’s experience of the campaign has been.
I think there’s the research stuff and then the operations stuff and they’re both really critical from my perspective in building strong relationships with supporters as part of campaigns.
Steven: There are so many thinks I want to ask about from your end. Let me dive right into them. You mentioned that interconnected back office. What does that actually look like when you talk about that term?
Ben: From my own experience these things can be siloed off. You have the fundraising guys and they’re working really hard to develop relationships and find new people to bring in to the organization and do all that stuff and write the applications. Then you have the gift processing guys who are perhaps in another department and they’re doing their thing there. Then you have the customer care people who are responding to letters, perhaps writing thank yous, responding to complaints, that kind of thing. Then you even have these senior people up a few layers and it can be siloed off.
So what I mean by operations is actually having and integrated approach where the people who are doing the work at the beginning, the fundraisers, building the relationships, are linked up with the people doing the operations and processing and doing thanking and dealing with complaints. All those areas are about building relationships with supporters. There is no point in trying to divide them or split them off. You need to have them really integrated and connected up. That’s what I mean by the operations side. It’s like having your back office function connected to the front line fundraisers and having the information flow around as well as it can.
Steven: So you’re going into the research phase and I know you mentioned a couple of things, but can you talk about what you look for? You mentioned who your most loyal donors are, which obviously sets you up for retention success. What are those factors that you look for or actually try to research in order to identify who is the most loyal, who is going to be most receptive to the campaign, and who it is going to work for?
Ben: Yeah, there is a traditional approach. For inside professionals and prospect researchers, it’s largely about transactions. And as you said, that’s largely about money coming in and the recency and the frequency and monetary value of those gifts. But I think it’s quite sensible to take a wider view of the supporter’s experience of the charity. The transactional stuff is obviously important but you have to look, as well, at people who are perhaps volunteering for the organization, who are giving their time as well as their money. People who are proactively giving and contacting you. So who is calling in to say their address had changed, who is responding to surveys, who is calling up because they liked your television ad or your mailing, who is actually proactively contacting you as well.
I think there’s probably a piece around qualification and doing qualitative desk research as well to understand if you’re dealing with major givers, have they given big gifts to similar causes or is there a personal connection with your cause? Did their parents have dementia? Some kind of direct experience as well. It’s really about stepping beyond that transactional approach and actually trying to broaden that out the affinity as well. What’s the motivation to give and how connected are they with your organization? I think they’re all really key points for that question.
Steven: Absolutely. So you do all this great research. Obviously, you’re very valuable to the organization. You deliver it. What are the fundraisers able to do differently that maybe they wouldn’t have been able to do or do not so well maybe without that research? What kind of difference does it really make? Is it segmenting? Is it how they write their appeals? What do those things look like?
Ben: I think you get to a point where it’s a segment of one, actually. And if you’re dealing at the top, then you have to be really personalized if it’s philanthropy and major gifts and that type thing. I think there’s something around campaign planning where the traditional pyramid, which we’ve all seen, this gift pyramid, one big and then they get smaller down towards the bottom of this pyramid shape. There is something about the middle rank of supporters actually contributing more. That pyramid shape makes sense arithmetically if you have a figure and then you just break it down into a number of supporters. But actually from a prospect research point of view, it’s right to not leave money on the table, if I can put it like that from the middle rank.
And the experience we’ve had running a mid-value program is that actually you can solicit for more substantial amounts than you might imagine via mail, via email, it could be face to face as well. But those middle rungs of the ladder are really quite valuable and I think have been undervalued in the past. So in terms of helping the fundraisers you can help them sculpt the asks around the top and make it really personalized then help them to understand the value in the middle and keep that pipeline of prospects moving along and being more personalized.
I think they’re two of the main things research can add really in terms of planning.
Steven: Yeah, absolutely. Maybe the thing we can leave with is a lot of the organizations that follow Bloomerang are smaller. They probably don’t have a person like you on staff; they can’t afford it or whatever. If you were to talk to small organization who wants to do all these things that you’re talking about, they want to do more research, what advice would you give them to get started? Especially if the ED is doing this, one development person is doing this, it’s a lot of work obviously. What advice would you give to those folks?
Ben: It’s a really relevant question. I think in the UK a rough figure is there are 160,000 charities, roughly, 165,000. I think more than half or 80% have either no staff or one member of staff at a time. There is probably a similar picture in the US I’m guessing. I think, however, having said that, if you’re really a micro-organization there are a lot of web resources for free that you can use. There have probably never been as many as at this point. So you have quite a few free sites that you register for to get business intelligence and to get directorship intelligence. There is a lot of stuff around property. There are free resources up to which you can sign up.
If you go searching around for these resource lists, you can find a lot of stuff that you can do for free online. It’s tough in terms of time obviously. If there’s just one of two of you, then you have to really prioritize quite well. But I would say there is a lot of free stuff around that you can use online for free. I think things like wealth and power lists as well. That’s the price of a newspaper so it’s effectively free and you can use that. Also involving people more, setting up committees and using that kind of structure doesn’t have a pound or euro or dollar cost per se, it’s in staff time.
But I’ve worked with committees personally and that is a really powerful way to bring well connected or perhaps wealthier people towards the organization and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg and can work really well with senior volunteers I think. That’s probably two or three things you can do from a smaller organization’s perspective.
Steven: Very cool. Awesome, awesome advice, Ben. Hey, thanks so much for being here. This is great conversation. I want everybody to get into research. Research is cool. It doesn’t have to be boring or tedious. I like research.
Ben: Absolutely. It’s interesting, and it can pay dividends, right?
Steven: Absolutely. Ben, maybe you can tell people how they can learn more about Age UK and some of the other interview type things you’re doing on the side there.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. Age UK is my day job, so I work with the philanthropy team and the trusts and statutories, so government funding teams there and corporate partnerships as well. I think the interviews are going to be really interesting. They’re going to be coming out in the next few weeks. I’ve just been talking to a range of people from across fundraising in the UK to find out their take on the retention question. Also how leading charities are actually working, how they’re dealing with issues around the operational stuff that we talked about actually.
How they’re building relationships with supporters, how they’re doing things with their data, how they’re analyzing their data, how they’re approaching campaigns and generally how they’re building relationships with their supporters. That’s going to be coming up for the next few weeks and I will send a link when the time comes if that’s all right for it to be pushed out.
Steven: Definitely. We’ll link to that. We’ll keep the conversation going, for sure.
Ben: Yeah, it sounds good. It’s going to be a good series.
Steven: Ben, thanks for joining us from across the pond. It’s awesome to have you.
Ben: No problem.
Steven: And thanks everyone for watching and taking a little time out of your day to learn about research. We will catch you on the next episode so tune in then and we’ll say goodbye for now. Thanks for watching.
Ben: Thanks, Steven.