Friday, April 19, 2013

Opening Direct Debit Dates - The Secret Fundraiser

In my 17 years of working I have had many different jobs and many different levels of pay. One thing has remained the same: the day before I get paid I have nothing left in my bank account.

The day I get paid I pay off a chunk of my credit card, pay any debts, and put some money in savings if I think I can afford it. And then a whole bunch of companies start to pillage my account. The Direct Debit and Standing Order Mafia start pulling everything they can out of my account over the course of the month: my electricity, my gas, my mortgage, insurance, pension, some weird stuff, and then...8 lovely charities.

There's no system. Little logic. Just the Bank Account Fairy making sure I finish on zero every month. But sometimes she messes up. Usually in January or if something breaks in my house or if Paul Theroux comes out with a new book or I get engaged or for a whole bunch of reasons. That's when Direct Debits start bouncing. And the later it is in the month, the higher they bounce.

That's why you need to be the first direct debit coming out of your supporter's account.

Most people in Ireland get paid in the last week of the month. And that's why the level of unpaids and attrition is lowest for charities that debit at the very beginning of the month.

But not everyone gets paid in the last week, and that's why you need to be able to debit any and every day of the month. And you need to get away from asking people what date they want to get debited (people are illogical) and instead ask them what date they get paid. And if someone's debit bounces you need to check in with them and make sure they haven't changed jobs and changed the date that they get paid.

I know what you're going to say: "We can't afford to debit every day of the month."

And I would say, "You can't afford NOT to debit every day of the month."

If you can reduce your unpaids and your attrition even by the tiniest of amounts (and you will) then it is worth paying someone to process these debits every day of the month. Think how much you're spending on recruitment of new donors. Think how much you're paying Irish banks for an 'unpaid'. Think of the energy you are putting in to retention.

Instead, make your finance people process the direct debits every day of the month.

If they refuse then make your CEO make your finance people process the direct debits every day of the month.

If they still refuse then offer to pay them cold, hard cash.

If they still refuse then hire someone part-time to process the direct debits every day of the month or outsource to an agency or do it yourself.

Your unpaids will reduce. You will increase your income.

You will be fundraising. Secretly.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Grafton Street Special Planning Control

Today Dublin City Council published proposed changes to the existing "'Scheme of Special Planning Control for Grafton Street & Environs'.

One of the key points in the document is that 'Charity Shops' would not be permissible as "they would detract from the character of the street". They define a charity shop as:

"A shop in which a charity sells used goods that are given to it, or in which they sell new goods, in order to generate an income for the work of the charity."

Now I understand why they would be against the sale of used goods but I am amazed at the explicit mention of new goods. Essentially they are specifying that any shop or establishment that is welcome on Grafton Street would no longer be welcome if they are generating income for charitable work. This to me seems like a (hopefully unintentional) attack on the charity sector.

Bryan Ward, a planner at the council, was quoted in last weekend's Sunday Times as saying, "We're not saying there are no places for charity shops in the city centre. We'd be quite happy to have them on some of the side streets."

I don't understand this disapproval of potentially high-class shops whose profits go towards the work of charity. This proposal is saying it's OK to sell clothes and toys and technology made in a sweatshop but if you're selling ethical goods whose profits go to charity then you're not welcome. I'm welcome to open an art gallery, a tailors or a barber as long as it's for personal profit. If I'm a charity and I want all the profits to go towards saving lives, well, I'm not allowed on the South Side's most dynamic retail experience. One could even argue that this wording prevents profit-making shops from selling items on behalf of charity.

It's another case of rewarding those that want to make personal profit but penalising those who want to do good. I am more welcome to make millions for myself and give a small percentage to charity rather than to make millions for charity and keep a small percentage for myself. All because of this taboo word 'charity'.

Thankfully they are welcoming submissions and observations to be made by June 13th 2013. I would encourage everyone in the sector and beyond to voice your concerns. 'Charity shops' needs to be removed or redefined or we could very well see this restriction rolled out on Grafton Street and beyond.

It is worth noting that Oxfam Ireland already have a shop, selling only new goods, in this area on South King Street. This document states that The Planning Authority have the power to
"serve a notice on each person who is the owner or occupier of land of measures required to be undertaken for the discontinuance of any use or the continuance of any use subject to conditions"
"Under this notice the Planning Authority must state they shall pay expenses that are reasonably incurred by that person."

Finally, the point may be made that charity shops could not afford space on Grafton Street anyway, but we have seen excellent locations been bequeathed to charities in the past. And frankly, if a business feels it makes financial sense to locate on Grafton Street then why would it not make sense for a charity to locate there? If anything, because of their access to volunteers, a Grafton Street location should be more affordable to a charity.

Map of the affected area.

You can read the full report here.
You can make your submissions/observations using this document.

Update: Apparently Oxfam on South King Street now sell secondhand goods, not just new goods. My apologies.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Fundraising Ireland Conference 2013: Raising Colon Our Game

Here are the slides from my 'The Best Donor In Ireland' session at the Fundraising Ireland Conference 2013, as well what I think are the key points below:

Open Your Direct Debit Date
I still strongly believe - and I believe the data shows - that opening your choices of direct debit date (i.e. allowing donors to give on any day of the month) will decrease unpaids and improve attrition. If you do not have the resources to do this I believe it is worth shifting some of your spend from recruitment/retention in to this processing change. I'm going to do a dedicated blog post on this soon.

Reactivate & Upgrade
Telephone reactivations are working. Telephone upgrades are working. If you're not doing them then you should be. More than that, on-line upgrades are working too: donors are prompted to increase their donation to cover credit card fees and 17% of people are saying yes. With some tweaking I believe we can get this figure even higher.

Changes In Tax Relief
This appears to be having an impact on how much self-assessed are giving: last year self-assessed individuals donated 9% more than PAYE. This year it's only 6% so far.

Consider The Spikes
You will see a spike in cancellations in January. You will see a spike in cancellations in the summer. You will see a spike in cancellations if there is negative media coverage. You will see a spike in cancellations if your CEO does something stupid. How are you going to pre-empt this?

Be Mobile Friendly
The number of donors who are using (and trying to donate through) mobile devices is increasing massively, with nearly half of visitors now on mobile devices. Your website (and mine!) need to be mobile-friendly. Please prioritise this over making 'an app' - nobody wants your app.

Share Data
We all learn and we all benefit when we share data.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Frequently Asked Questions

I thought it would be handy to do a Frequently Asked Questions - a lot of this stuff comes up repeatedly through this blog, the media, on-line forums/comments and general discussions:

Charity staff have a vested interest in not fixing the problem. If they achieve their mission they'll put themselves out of a job! So do they actually want to fix these problems?
Yes. If an individual cures cancer or fixes poverty they will almost certainly never have to work again. In fact, they will probably be the most famous and richest person in the history of the world. If you put "Found A Cure For Leukaemia" on your CV you are definitely getting a second interview. 

Isn't it wrong to make money from working for a charity?
No. In the same way it's not wrong to make money from selling water, providing information, providing gas and electricity, producing medicine, teaching, upholding the law, being a doctor, destroying our planet, etc.
Or, wait...maybe it is wrong?

Don't charities just make the problem worse?

Charities shouldn't pay CEOs so much money. Shouldn't they employ someone who costs less, or better yet is a volunteer?
Yes, in the same way every company and organisation should try to get the best staff at the lowest cost. If you are that person please write to the board of directors of the charity and inform them you will do the same or better job and you will cost less. Include your CV.

Adverts, billboards, chuggers, mailings, phone calls, bucket shakers, etc. put me off donating. I only donate to charities that don't ask.
That wasn't a question, but that's great. You are awesome. Unfortunately you are the minority. If everyone was like you then charities wouldn't have to spend any money on advertising or fundraising and that would be really cool. But they're not, so can you please ask your friends, family, co-workers and strangers to donate without being asked. In fact, how would you like to shake a bucket for your favourite charity?

A lot of charities get government funding. Shouldn't they be held accountable for how they use that money?
Yes, absolutely. And they are. They are probably held accountable more than the government's other service providers and suppliers, such as the telecoms, transport, stationery, hospitality companies, etc.

Is it true only 10 cent of every Euro goes to the cause?
That question doesn't make sense...what do you mean 'the cause'? Do you mean does the charity only hand a 10 cent coin to a starving child in Africa? That's not how it works at all.
100 cent of every Euro goes towards the organisation achieving its goal. In the same way that 100 cent of every Euro you spent on that can of Coke goes towards giving you that can of Coke. It's irrelevant to say that 1 cent of every Euro is wasted on the Coke CEO, 8 cent is wasted on the shop selling it, 10 cent of every Euro is wasted on the can, 3 cent of every Euro is wasted on transport. You wouldn't ask "Does only 10 cent of every Euro go towards the actual cola liquid?" You wouldn't travel to the Coke factory and stick your face under the industrial sized tap to ensure that none of your money was 'wasted'.

I read in the newspaper and heard on the news that charities spend too much on admin and overheads. Is that true?
The concept of admin and overheads is flawed. And, generally, the head of newspapers, TV stations and radio stations earn more for running much smaller organisations. If they didn't then your newspaper and TV license fee might be cheaper.

I still totally disagree with these charities. What can I do?
Don't donate to them. If they're funded by the government, and you don't have that choice, then write to your TD. You might also use that opportunity to complain about how the rest of your taxes are being spent.

Sorry, I'm going to stop you there. Saying "Charities..." do something is like saying "Businesses...", "Politicians...", "Scientists...", etc. It doesn't work. There are good charities and bad charities. Next time someone says something about charities trying replacing the word 'charities' with 'businesses' and see if it still makes sense. Yes, they're different, but a lot of the same principles apply.