…and the face-to-face fundraising Oscar goes to…or does it?

Academy Awards

Daryl Upsall FInstF | 1 March 2017

“Excuse me, do you have a minute?” “No, I don’t, I am too busy to be bothered by you chuggers right now!”

That's the way some of the UK media might portray a typical face to face fundraising conversation and let’s be frank, it is not that far from the truth, as experienced by the hard-working folks out there on the street, going door to door and around the shopping malls.

How sad is that, but who is to blame? It is us of course. 

Those of us in leadership positions in fundraising in the UK and around the world. I carry a bigger burden of guilt than most. Just over 20 years ago, I was heading up Greenpeace’s global fundraising. I was at a meeting with three Greenpeace colleagues and the ‘Direct Dialogue’ group (what we now mostly call “face to face fundraising”) was born.

Even in Austria in 1996, we got negative headlines as the Austrian Church complained that Greenpeace was stealing its donations! But oh was it successful and within a few years, face to face fundraising was recruiting new monthly donors, and younger donors, for Greenpeace around the world. Then for Amnesty International. The rest is history.

What has changed since then?

Well, we learned a lot along the way, and often the hard way. Those twenty year old donors cost us a lot of money to both recruit and lose; direct mail was not how one continued a conversation with such donors whilst the telephone was; back office and banking systems needed a total shake up and optimisation; messages and visuals needed sharpening and some major innovation such as virtual reality headsets; tablets replaced paper forms and investing in quality training and people was money well spent etc.

So why am I so vexed by the current state of face to face fundraising?

At the end of the day we are, in my opinion, still as a sector and not only in the UK, too focused on volumes, not the quality and lifetime value of face to face recruited donors. The biggest face to face battle being fought in the world today by the mega NPO brands is for the largest slice of face to face production.

Operations have scaled up, volumes increased along with cost and attrition rates, whilst ROIs and lifetime values have declined. The press has meanwhile done its worst, agencies have crashed and burned and sadly, and especially in the UK, few new monthly donor recruitment options are left standing - and it’s not getting any better.

Having worked in some 60 countries over the last 34 years I have seen face to face fundraisers in action in at least 30 of them, and they still ask the same question as they approach me, namely: “Have you got a minute?”

I mostly quietly decline but inside I am angry that after 20 years we still have not changed the script. Perhaps we should take more notice of those Oscars...

Daryl Upsall, Daryl Upsall Consulting and IoF Fellow

Daryl chaired our Face to Face Fundraising conference in March 2017

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