Friday, July 27, 2012

"I'll Never Donate To You Again"

It's a powerful threat, isn't it?

The thoughts of an individual telling you, a charity, that you'll never receive another cent from them is scary and one that is usually taken seriously.

But the threat has become bandied about with members of the public conveniently threatening charities with a boycott because they use chuggers, spend too much on admin, travel business class, said something wrong on Twitter, or just because of something someone said they once heard.

I call the rumours the Captain Pugwash Syndrome. Someone once claimed that the cartoon Captain Pugwash contained characters such as Master Bates, Seaman Staines and Roger The Cabin Boy. It didn't, but the people who heard the rumour passed it on as fact and the next set of people in the chain absorbed the information as absolute fact. Charities fall victim to these kind of rumours all the time.

"I'll never donate to you again."

Charities I deal with hear this threat all the time. Individuals claim they will never donate again because the charity is using the most-cost effective form of fundraising available and generating hundreds of thousands of Euro each year. The individual just happens to dislike it and the biggest defence they have at their disposal is this threat.

Personally I think they weren't going to donate again anyway. It's a convenient excuse. On more than one occassion we've discovered that the person who "will never donate again" had never donated in the first place.

But it's still scary for the charity. It's scary because most of the time they can't or won't defend themselves. It's not like the private sector where the threat to "never buy your product again" usually falls on deaf ears. Charities take it seriously...because they're nice...and genuinely consider eliminating their most cost-effective form of fundraising because one or two people said they would never donate again. It's amazing.

But you don't hear it as much in the private sector.


Well, because it's inconvenient to boycott a product or a service.

Whereas a donor won't really notice if they 'give up' a charity, they'll notice if they give up their IBM computer (because of that whole Holocaust thing), give up their iPhone (because of that whole mass-suicide thing), give up driving to work (because of that whole killing the planet thing), boycott blood diamonds (because they're blood diamonds), change their mobile phone battery (doublecheck yours...there might be traces of blood on it), give up cows' milk (but soy milk tastes funny!), etc.

No, that's too much of a hassle.

But never donating to you again? So easy. And the truth is for the majority of the public charities are interchangeable. This year's charity will be replaced next year. "I'll never donate to you again" is the petty threat that's thrown from the lifeboat back to the sinking ship. It's the recently dumped girlfriend that tells you she cheated on you anyway.

So what are you going to say to the next person that tells you they will never donate to you again?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

How Much of My Donation Is Spent On Overheads (Or Why Admin Costs Are Bull***t)

How much of my donation is spent/wasted on admin/wages/overheads?

First of all I'll answer your question, and then I'll tell you why you're asking the wrong question.

For the sake of convenience I'll use the word admin to cover all wages, overheads...all that boring stuff that nobody likes to fund.

The amount of your donation that goes on admin depends on the organisation. It's usually on their website or available if you ask and it's usually about 10% or maybe 15%-20%. Some organisations will tell you 100% of your donation goes to 'the cause' and none goes on admin. What they do here is secure funding elsewhere, make out like that covers the boring stuff, and then make this pointless claim to you. Every charity has overheads. All money received is income and everything they spend on is expenditure. It's futile to say that the 20 Euro note you just gave is going to go here or there. It goes in to a bank account with all the other money.

And these figures, these percentages, are meaningless. What is admin? Whose wages are admin and whose are the cause?

The doctor performing surgery to give people their sight back...that's the cause, right? Or is it admin and wages? The person who co-ordinates these surgeries, schedules them and makes them happen...that's pure admin, right? But the cause wouldn't happen if this person didn't arrange it, so let's file it elsewhere.

The cost of transport - essential to making things happen - admin or cause? When the water charges come in...what do you want hospices to classify these as? Nurses need to wash their hands, people need to drink water. Cause or admin?

Amnesty International does the amazing work it does by raising awareness, campaigning, sending letters. Lots of printing. Lots of photocopying. It's probably all admin. But it's also probably all the cause.

All these charities have different definitions and they dress up their figures differently, fuelled by the public's demand to hear a percentage that they can judge their work by. It's meaningless and it's lazy. 100% of your donation goes to the cause every time. Whether it's spent on rehydration packs, surgery, wages, advertising or fundraising it is all the cause.

So can we stop asking it? And can charities either stop providing it or, when they do, issue a massive disclaimer on why admin costs are bullshit and start educating people on what question they should be asking.

You should be asking, "What will my donation do?"

Imagine two charities, both of which give people their sight back. One has 10% admin and one has 20% admin. Which do you donate to?

Well what if I told you the second one spends that extra admin on better doctors, which allows them to cure the blindness of more people each year. They spend more money on recruitment which allows a better calibre of staff - less quacks and less botched surgeries. Which do you donate to?

Instead of asking how much of my donation goes where, what about what is this organisation going to do? How many lives are you going to save?

I don't care how Apple or Google or Pepsi spend my money as long as I get a fantastic end product that meets or exceeds my expectations. I demand the same from my charities.

So let's change it.

If you're a charity let's start by educating the public and standing up for yourself in the media.

If you're a donor be proud of funding the wages, the admin, the overheads. They're part of the package.

To all the charities I donate to: I believe in you. I want you to spend my donation on your wages, on your toilet paper, the spatula on the new Rainbow Warrior, on your Xmas party. Whatever you feel it takes to change the world. I trust you. I know you will run your organisation to the best of your ability. Just keep me updated, and hopefully you won't have to waste any more time justifying yourself to the press and the rest of the people that don't trust you anyway.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

What I Learned At The IOFNC 2012

Just unwinding after the Institute of Fundraising National Convention and I decided to key some notes up on my public blog so that not only will I always have them available, but so that you - if you were unable to attend - can get something from the IOFNC.
Why not read these while pretending you're at a conference? Why not write your name on a piece of paper and attach it to a lanyard around your neck? Say the word 'lanyard' out loud, and then lose that piece of paper briefly. Why not drink some really shitty tea and put a bunch of business cards in all of your pockets? Just start talking to a stranger. Network with your cat. Don't go outside for three days. Forget about your real life.

There were lots of iPads floating about this year and this was the first year I took notes on my mobile rather than pen and paper. Sometimes I drift in to a special place where I write down stuff that has nothing to do with what the speaker is saying.  So here we go...some of it may be of consciousness...

Start Qualifying Everything
Every cost - how many donors is it worth? You're spending €150 on attending a conference? That's this month's donation from ten donors...make it worth it.
On the flip side, every fundraising campaign - what will it do? This month's door-to-door recruitment will give sight back to 750 people around the world.

Sort out Mobile
Need to speed up the accessibility of mobile giving in Ireland. JustGiving doubled conversion rates by adding a mobile donation site.
SMS 'Skip' instead of 'Stop' - UNICEF using successfully.
Send an SMS ask to cancelled DDs.

"Your Board of Directors will not approve"
True words from the one-and-only AJ Leon.
Irish boards are holding back Irish charities.

"Why aren't we protecting voice?"
A beautiful, beautiful (possibly paraphrased) quote from Adrian Salmon.
Telephone fundraising and face-to-face fundraising are so, so powerful. There will always be a place for them and anyone who is investing in on-line and digital before they are investing in telephone is crazy. Ireland is full of that negligence. I can't believe how slow the uptake in telephone fundraising is in Ireland.
It works. Ask me how. (

On-line/Off-line Preference
People don't know what they want...stop asking them.
Prostate cancer mailing - the guy who said mail is dead and then goes on to fall in love with a talking walnut that got posted to him.

Updates to Staff
Weekly charity highlight, videos, messages from donors and staff and more.

It was an amazing Institute of Fundraising National Convention. As always, it was brilliant and I think I saw the best session I have ever seen at any conference. (Interestingly, I also think I saw the worst session I have ever seen). Thank you to everyone involved. (Except the worst session people).