Have you ever wondered why your donors do not behave the way you expect them to? Why didn’t they give as much as we had forecast? Why didn’t they respond in the way we had anticipated? This week I realised that I have become so fundraising-orientated that I sometimes forget that donors don’t always see things the way that we do.
To give a little bit of background you, I used to work for a charity that runs one of the most famous peer to peer fundraising events in the UK. The concept is simple; women are asked to dress up in pink (its a cancer charity), run 5k and get their friends and family to sponsor them for doing so. Participants are then asked to send back their sponsorship money for the charity to invest in life-saving research into cancer.
I was always shocked to hear that a large percentage of individuals who participated in the run did not return any sponsorship money at all. I made up excuses for these people. Maybe they fundraised as a group so the charity only saw one donation but it actually came from several people. Perhaps they didn’t tell us that the donation was sponsorship money when they sent it in so we didn’t code it properly on our database. There were endless reasons why we may not be able to track every single donation that we received against the correct activity.
Today I heard something that I had never considered. A friend asked me if I fancied taking part in a charity run with her in a few months’ time. Both of us want to get fit and start running so having a specific event to aim for sounded like a great idea. “Fantastic!” I said all too quickly, “Shall we fundraise together too?” I asked naively. I was shocked by her response. She calmly explained that she didn’t intend to fundraise at all. She had signed up for the charity run simply to incentivize herself to get fit. She went on to tell me that she didn’t think that the run was long enough to justify asking people to sponsor her. From her perspective it was as simple as that. She had paid an administration fee to the charity when she signed up and, as far as she was concerned, that was the end of her obligation. I was gobsmacked.
Experience tells me that charities often do not recoup all of their costs through the admin fees for this type of event. They are willing to take the risk as there is an expectation that participants’ fundraising will more than compensate for the difference. This does mean however that if someone does not return any sponsorship money at all then they have essentially cost the charity money. It was only at this point that it dawned on me that my friend didn’t know this….and why should she…it wasn’t anywhere on the charity’s sign up forms for the event. I searched high and low on the organisation’s website trying to find something that would tell me whether or not the admin fee covered their costs and I couldn’t. As I read further, I also realised that no where does it explicitly say “this is a fundraising activity”.
When we, as fundraisers, create fundraising activities it is easy to assume that participants know that the purpose is to raise money and that there is no way that a small admin fee could cover the costs of setting up a highly professional event. Unfortunately our donors are not mind readers. They are exceptional people who are willing to give money in order to make the world a better place…but only if we ask.
What have I learnt from this experience? Next time I am organising a fundraising activity I need to tell supporters that we hope that each and every one of them to raise money for taking part (and we will help them along the way). It’s a simple thing to do, something that we can all do, but it’s the simple things that make a big difference.
Dan Fletcher says
Good story Mandy. It’s the first rule of fundraising – if you don’t ask, you don’t get, but you’re absolutely right that it has become standard practice to assume the ‘ask’, and not actually state it with this kind of soft-entry challenge event. It’s much clearer for London-Paris cycles, or climbing Mt Kilimanjaro challenges, but the more routine charity challenges that don’t really connect with the charity’s cause have just become subsidised, but worthy, entertainment, rather than real fundraising – ie asking someone to donate their hard earned cash to partner with a charity and help it change the world.
A good reminder of the basics, which also chimes with the current soul-searching that some elements of the fundraising world are currently having to do over confusing fundraising with sales and marketing.