Challenging Assumptions

I love Which Test Won.  I’m unashamedly a bit of a data geek and the weekly opportunity to guess which digital tests yielded improvements really appeals to me.

I very often get them wrong. Which is kind of the point, right? Challenging your own assumptions is often the best way to discover new truths, to learn and develop and make things better. And in this world, drive more opens, higher sign-ups, more money.

This week’s test was one of those that challenged a lot of the more general “truths” that we know about digital.

which test won

A credit card sign up page, the test version of which had a checklist page to go through before you get to the application form. An extra stage. An extra click.

General consensus as a rule tells us that fewer clicks is better, that more clicks increases drop-off and reduces conversion.

But this case study reminds us that, actually, if it’s the right extra step – one which cements the decision that the user is making – it can do the opposite and uplift results.

A great reminder to think about the detail of your work and not just the wider received wisdom. And to, y’know, test.

The case study can be found here – and I recommend signing up for the weekly test email if you haven’t already.

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It’s been a while…

There was a time when I probably could have (just about) got away with calling myself A Blogger; at times maybe Sporadic Blogger was more appropriate – and now it seems like Lapsed Blogger is the best I can nominate myself.

I hope to change this and get back into the groove.

A large part of falling off the radar was having a baby; I wasn’t working so my brain was less… fundraising, more focus on functioning.  But I’ve been back at work for 9 months now. Trying to re-establish myself, integrate the disparate parts of my life, build a new way forward. Slowly I’ve managed to pick back up more and more – motherhood, work, social life, exercise, (learning to drive – terror) – and this is one of the last pieces that I haven’t yet managed to quite fit back in. I lost my mojo.

And it’s been such a funny time. And it continues to be such a funny time. I still can’t quite get my head around what it is to “be” a fundraiser in the current climate. My life has changed enormously, but I thought I knew what I was in for, returning to work. I shifted my personal landscape, and then I returned to a new role at a new charity, but the sector changed too. I’ve felt paralysed, unable to articulate my thoughts, opinions, ideas. Kept my head down and just Got On With It.

I don’t have anything clever or insightful or thought-provoking to say about what’s happening in the wider fundraising world at the moment. People far cleverer, more articulate, more experienced than I have plenty to say on where we’re at, where we may be going. Decisions are being formulated, and it will take time for these to come through – and, crucially, for their impacts to be understood.

Meanwhile, I have a job to do. I have another conference to prepare for. I have events to attend. I have smart people with ideas to meet. And that stuff, at last, I finally have the  headspace to fully engage in. And blog about. So here we are.

(PS: please forgive the navel-gazing nature of this post. Normal(ish) service will resume hereafter.)

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The Problem with Fundraising

Elderly woman leaps to her death because of charity mailings (except her family say this wasn’t a factor).

Charity targets donors aged 98 (except when you read the article, that’s not what’s happened).

Charity bosses paid more than the PM (ok, that one’s true, but I disagree that that’s automatically A Bad Thing).

It’s all kicking off. Again. Still.

This weekend a ‘newspaper’ ran a story about the tactics employed by a professional call centre used by charities to raise funds for them. In 2010 another (no longer with us due to exposed appalling practice) ‘newspaper’ ran essentially the same story, about a different call centre. Five years ago.

Jonathan Waddingham wrote an excellent rant (his word!) on the weakness and uniformity of responses from the sector. I’d go one further in this observation – they’ve also not changed in 5 years. 5 years ago allegations were taken very seriously, investigations were launched, operations were suspended. And here we are. Again. Still.


Same with CEO pay. We in the sector believe they’re worth it. Public perception on the whole is that they’re not. And as a wise fundraiser pointed out when we discussed this, public perception IS our reality. 

We defend these stories, we put our side across, we make small changes to codes of conduct, and we carry on and assume we’ve done what we needed to do.

Meanwhile public trust erodes further and the media are just waiting for their next opportunity to discredit the sector. And we all suffer. Or rather, our beneficiaries do.

I don’t have the answers. But shouldn’t this be the wake up call? Shouldn’t we now pause and reflect, and start looking at what we need to do as a sector to safeguard the future of fundraising? Isn’t now the time for strong leadership, real change, a different approach to regulation? To say ‘enough is enough’ and be bold, and draw our line in the sand? 

I think there’s a need now for a shakeup of our sector. I don’t have the answers, but some thoughts. What do you think? What changes do we need to implement? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section. 

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5 Lessons from Organisational Change

“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’”
– Rudyard Kipling

Times of great change bring out the best and the worst in us. There’s no doubt that a company merger is up there as one of the more stressful experiences of a working life. It’s not a quick process and there are inevitably casualties – whether through the outcomes of building a new structure, or because people choose to leave rather than wait it out, friends and colleagues are removed from your orbit. 

The charity I work for is undergoing a merger at the moment. I’m relieved; for a couple of years it has felt very clear to me that the two charities were moving closer in terms of strategy and goals, and it had begun to feel frivolous to me that there were essentially two sets of overheads when this could be streamlined into one organisation. So the news came as no surprise and I wholeheartedly backed the merger. 

In a way I have been lucky; I have been on maternity leave for the whole process, and am due to return 5 months after the merge date, when things should have settled down. But the kind of organisational change inherent in a merger has been ongoing in my org for a couple of years now, with a mass restructure and various following reviews of structures, so I have been through essentially the same process. 

I don’t profess to be an expert on dealing with organisational change – though I’m sure there are plenty of those charging a killing for their input. But these are the lessons I’ll take with me into any future such situations.

1) Decide whether you’re on board with the overall aims

Big change in organisations can take place for many reasons. Cost-cutting, merger, new senior leadership. If you don’t agree with the reasons or the aims, it might be time to move on. There are most likely going to be decisions made that you disagree with; if you are on board with the reasons then you’ll have an easier job moving past that. If you’re not, that way bitterness and resentment lies.

2) Don’t get sucked in to the gossip

Ok, this is a tough one. When you and your colleagues are in the middle of these processes it can be tough. As soon as anyone hears a whisper of a rumour everyone tries to slot in all of the pieces. I’ve built whole team structures in my head based on one (as it turned out) incorrect piece of gossip. It’s a waste of energy and can end up making you worry about situations that aren’t actually going to come to pass.

3) Embrace the opportunities available 

For many parties, this kind of change can bring real positives. They may not be as obvious as a shiny new promotion; perhaps your role will grow, or the structure will form new working partnerships with people you can learn from. But there may well be aspects that will enhance your CV and your range of experiences. If your personal situation doesn’t create these then it’s a great time to try to implement them yourself through discussion with your manager. When there’s already so much change afoot, it’s easier to get those great ideas for better working pushed in with the rest of it.

4) Remain pragmatic

It’s not about you (or me, or the person you respected who has been made redundant). It’s not about any of us. Remember the decision making on this stuff is often made from high up within the management team. Chances are they know nothing about the day-to-day of your role. So changes are unlikely to be a reflection of how you, personally, are viewed. Don’t take it personally. Make your peace, or move on.

5) Use your right to reply

Consultation processes are there for a reason. Draft proposals change based on feedback for the exact reason I mentioned above – structures are often shaped (with the best will in the world) by people with limited knowledge of the detail of everyone’s jobs. Now is the time to feed in and state your thoughts on your role and your place within the wider structure. Sure, you may not change anything. But – you might. Especially where your own role is concerned, if you think a corner is worth fighting, do it. You’ll never know how you could have shaped things if you don’t at least try.

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Pauline’s story

I met Pauline in hospital. I was a support worker and she was a patient. Pauline had been in a secure psychiatric hospital for many years due to her schizophrenia.

I met a lot of people with schizophrenia and similar illnesses over the course of 18 months working in the mental health field. Pauline, a lady in her sixties, was the most consistent and the happiest psychotic person I knew. She lived immersed in her own world and we were largely peripheral characters to her.

Pauline dressed glamourously, old school glamour: fur coats and court shoes and huge sunglasses. She wore rouge every day (it feels more appropriate to call it that, than blusher). Pauline was waiting for ‘the director’ to come and take her to ‘the palace’, where she was going to become queen. She never grew impatient, she was so certain that it would happen that it made her days happy and joyful. Pauline had a smile and a ‘hello, darling!’ for everyone. She loved her shopping and the trips we would make to the local shops certainly seemed to be the highlight of her week.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m dismissing the negatives in Pauline’s life: much of her adult life spent in hospital, opportunities missed, no family or friends around her. But at least in her little bubble she was content and happy, mercifully so. She didn’t suffer visions like her dad trying to get her to kill herself (like Wendy), paranoia (like Betty) or a belief that she couldn’t wash herself (like Nicky). Pauline was a ray of sunshine in that hospital; everyone loved her.

Pauline started to change. She started screaming for hours that she was in pain. She stopped dressing up, spending much of her time in nightwear. She became less mobile; more angry, frustrated. She didn’t feel up to shopping. We were concerned: Pauline, as a younger woman, had had breast cancer. Worried that it had returned, during a clearly particularly painful spell, I took her to the hospital. We were pretty much dismissed: she was getting old, and anyway she was psychotic, so this pain was probably part of her mental illness, nothing to see here. Have some painkillers, off you go.

We repeated this a few of weeks later, pretty much word for word.

Another few weeks later and we made the same trip. The doctor looked me in the eye and asked me why we kept bringing her in. I told him passionately but rationally that, simply, she had changed. That this wasn’t Pauline. That something must be very wrong. And somehow something clicked. He sent her for some scans. Finally we were listened to and taken seriously. Finally, a doctor who saw past the mental health issues and took on Pauline as a human being with a potential physical illness.

Of course, as you read this, you know, of course her cancer had returned. Only now it was spread throughout her bones, honeycombing her skeleton. The outlook was very poor: she had only weeks to live.

Pauline didn’t leave the A&E department. She remained in an assessment ward, escorted by a member of staff from the psychiatric hospital at all times. She was in agony a lot of the time, so much so she would put off going to the toilet until it was too late, rendering her, to all intents and purposes, incontinent. The doctors struggled to find a palliative care placement that would be able to cater for her psychiatric needs so she remained in medical no man’s land until she died a few weeks later.

Seven years on I think about Pauline a lot. I remember her joy in living. And I remember how ‘the system’ let her down at the end of her life. She opened my eyes to yet another way mental ill health can rob a person. It robbed her of the life she could have had, and it robbed her of a dignified death. I’m sharing her story because we must make sure stories like hers aren’t forgotten. We must keep talking about and fundraising for mental health charities, and we must keep holding our politicians to account in how they run and improve our NHS. People like Pauline should not be falling through the cracks.

Rest in peace, Pauline.

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Recent asks: the good, the bad and the ugly (part 2)

I wrote a post a while ago about a great fundraising experience I had. Around the same time as I received a fantastic fundraising call and was thanked brilliantly for donating, I also had an ask from another charity. It did not go so well.

The bad

Early last year I fundraised for an international development charity and raised a couple of hundred pounds. I was sponsored to eat nothing but nutrient-rich peanut paste for 24hrs (it was disgusting, like gritty putty, and I actually ate half of one portion and fasted for the rest of the day!) and sold home baked cakes to raise this money.

Then the charity merged with a much larger organisation and the brand pretty much disappeared; they handled it well and communicated with me what was happening, and that I would hear from the larger org in future instead. I thought this was a shame, but understood that these things happen. And then I started to get cash mailings from the larger org. Quite often. All asking me for hundreds of pounds. Prompting at something like £250, £300 and £350.

Oh dear. It seemed that in the merger they hadn’t been able to discern that I was a fundraiser rather than someone who had given my own money. As someone working within the sector I understand the vagaries of fundraising databases, and the challenges inherent in attempting to bring two disparate files together. Though, I thought, for supporters who don’t have that professional link, perhaps not a great experience.

So I emailed the organisation, from my work email account.

The ugly

In my email I explained that I had raised rather than donated, so the prompt amounts were rather ambitious. I understand that it’s likely to be a coding issue post-merger, I said, and so perhaps it’s worth looking at those records again and amending how the prompts are generated. I explained that I was very happy to receive the mailings, but just wanted to let them know.

A couple of days later I received a reply from the supporter services team. Unfortunately there was nothing they could do to resolve this issue, it said. So they would stop sending me cash appeals instead.


I have to say I was really unimpressed by this response. I know that, had someone sent such an email to the general email at my charity, the team would have forwarded it to myself or another direct marketing colleague – and we would have replied directly, out of professional courtesy if nothing else. Had it been me, I’d have probably made some comments about the database, how it was a bit of a pickle trying to determine who had done what but we’re looking at how we can get to the bottom of it; I might even have asked what they thought of the appeal itself.

But I got a cursory reply, and they took an action that I had stated I didn’t want to happen by opting me out of mailings. Altogether pretty shoddy, I reckon.

The Epilogue

A few weeks later I received a follow-up email – presumably part of their general quality control process – asking me to fill out a survey about how well they dealt with my query. You might not be surprised to hear that I didn’t bother to fill it in!

I have since unsubscribed from their emails, too. I didn’t have a relationship before they started sending me cash appeals, so it didn’t take much to turn me off completely. Alright, I’m just one person, but I would expect others receiving appeals with similar prompts would have been equally nonplussed. My gut says that for a cold-ish audience who may have donated £10 or £20 if the appeal and asks were right, being asked for hundreds of pounds would likely put them off giving at all; certainly I would feel like my £10 would be worthless if if been asked for £300 and would feel almost embarrassed to donate such a small amount (I’d be interested to know if anyone has seen research that says differently though!).

And to respond so flippantly to my feedback – and to ignore my request to continue receiving the mailings – well, there’s really no excuse for that. They made me feel like an insignificant piece of data on their computers. And that’s something no supporter ever wants to feel.

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IOF National Convention – some themes

The fundraisers have headed back to their offices, the #ProudFundraiser posters taken down and the expo stalls dismantled for another year. IOF’s annual National Convention is officially over, and around the country I’m sure many, like me, are working through what they saw and heard and thinking about what it all means for them and their fundraising.

For me, some key themes stuck out.

Attitude, then behaviour
Lots of people this year talked about how important it is to translate your work so you are talking about why you do what you do. I heard this referred to as finding your organisation’s “emotional heart” which I loved. It’s the difference between “we provide aid” and “we stop people dying of malnutrition”. See the real-life examples below:
why not what
I’m not saying this is rocket science but it’s something that we have seen too little of in the last few years. I think though charities are really embracing this and thinking about their messaging in this way more and more. For me, anyone talking about “storytelling” without having this building block in place needs to get back to basics and re-look at their charity through this lens.

One organisation, one message
We’ve heard about integration a lot in terms of channel over the last few years. Maybe it was just me but it felt like this year integration was talked about much more as an organisational messaging priority. Both in terms of public messaging – brand and fundraising, impact messaging and charitable work communications – and in terms of, internally, engaging the whole organisation in key work. I went to a great session about how Friends of the Earth engaged employees from right across the organisation to make sure that fundraising was placed at the heart of the organisation, and (rightly!) seen as crucial to the fulfilment of all that they do.

Working with what you’ve got
Doing better fudraising – and making more money – doesn’t always have to be about the biggest of budgets, an innovation team and a suite of new products. I was pleased to hear from some smaller charities who have made great strides by just being a bit smarter in their approach, a bit more open to ideas, a bit more strategic about their data. The incremental stuff is as important as the flashy stuff, and we should make sure we remind ourselves of that – and review our work regularly with this in mind.

Supporters’ stories are the ones that count
You don’t need to spend hours honing a story, pay a copywriter hundreds of pounds for a page, blend elements from 4 “case studies” into one compelling story. You need to tap into what your supporters and beneficiaries have to say. In the opening plenary we heard Jack’s story, courtesy of Claire House. Jack’s mum’s own words about how being able to spend her son’s last few hours in a hospice rather than hospital made all the difference to her. Her real words, her son’s real name. Tears around the auditorium.

“Proud” means different things for different people
This year’s rallying cry of being “proud to be a fundraiser” was at times divisive. But do you know what? That’s ok. It got us thinking about what our roles are for, the value we place on them and ourselves, our place within our organisations. It encouraged debate and discussion and disagreement. I am a proud fundraiser because of the work that my role makes possible; I am a proud fundraiser because this sector achieves astonishing things. I am proud to be part of a brilliant team of passionate people who raise shedloads of money to help beat breast cancer.

I hope, if you are a fundraiser, that you are proud, too. But if not, that’s fine. But be warned that there are many in the sector who are proud of you, whether you like it or not.

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