When Charitable Donations Fall – Who’s to Blame?

I was listening to a program on BBC Radio 4 yesterday morning (You and Yours) about the difficulties that charities are facing in these straitened times:

“Christmas is the season for giving and is often the big year-end push for many charities. But according to a report compiled by the Charities Aid Foundation and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations charitable donations have fallen by 20% in real terms in the past year, with £1.7bn less being given.”

There was a lot of interesting feedback from the expert contributors:

  • Sarah Miller head of public affairs at the Charities Commission commented that “The top complaint made to the FRSB (the Fundraising Standards Board) … is to do with the use of data, where people are perhaps being sent mailings that they don’t wish to receive or perhaps incorrect information is being used on mailings or they want to know where the data has come from or perhaps a mailing is going to a deceased family member and they’ve asked for it to stop and perhaps the charity still hasn’t made that change – so that’s the top complaint by far”.
  • John Low, Chief Executive of the Charities Aid Foundation stressed that “You must be as efficient in the way you run a charity as any business, and maybe more efficient, because it’s precious public money that you have and you have very serious responsibilities to your beneficiaries.

It is certainly true that as a charity or any form of non-profit organization, you have far less margin for error when mailing your donors than a commercial organization. If I get duplicate mail from a retailer that I shop at, or incorrectly addressed mail that obviously hasn’t been able to obtain postal discounts even if it was actually delivered, it might make me wonder whether their prices have to be inflated to allow for such inefficiencies – but I’ll still do the price comparison when next shopping. When I get duplicate or incorrectly addressed mail from a charity that I give to, I get upset that they’re wasting my donation. Even more so given that I know there are money-saving solutions (ranging from desktop software, to services and hybrid solutions) for ensuring that mail is not duplicated and correctly addressed. Moreover, many mailers upset next of kin by mailing to the deceased or simply waste large amounts of money by mailing to people who have moved.

Based on the feedback received by the FRSB, some charities have a pressing need to implement effective solutions for eliminating wastage in their direct mail:

  • Gone Away suppression will more than pay for itself by reducing print and post costs.
  • NCOA (National Change of Address) and other services will allow charities to mail donors at their new address.
  • Deceased and duplicate suppression will avoid the damage to the donor relationship that otherwise will inevitably occur.

Sarah Miller also told listeners:

“If there are ways that charities are interacting with you that you don’t like, do tell them. Tell them how you want to interact with them.”

I remember about 15 years ago, one of our customers working for Botton Village (a centre for adults with learning disabilities and other special needs in North Yorkshire in the UK) won a direct marketing award simply because they asked their donors how often and when they would like to be contacted and at what time(s) of year. This led to a significant increase in donations. These days of course, it is far less expensive to contact people by email, but some donors may prefer at least some communication by mail, or not want email contact. Consolidating and matching donor information when they may donate via the web or by post is obviously important – for example, so you can make sure that you claim Gift Aid for relevant donors, or avoid sending a scheduled communication if they’ve just donated.

Chris Mould, Executive Chairman of the Trussell Trust, the charity behind the UK Foodbank Network talked about how a front line food bank in the Network can get a web site at minimal cost with online data collection: “It doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel”. This chimed with John Low’s recommendation that charities can become more efficient by cooperating on their resource requirements.

One last and very important point: all the experts on the program agreed that fundraising campaigns really work  – regular communication with your donors is important to show where the money is going, but efficiency is even more important.

 

If you are a charity, struggling to get hold of your data quality challenges OR if you’ve noticed a major drop in donations and want to know if data quality is the cause, email us for a Free Data Quality Audit and we’ll highlight the issues that could be putting your initiatives at risk.

Data Quality and Gender Bending

We have all heard the story about the man who was sent a mailing for an expectant mother. Obviously this exposed the organization sending it to a good deal of ridicule, but there are plenty of more subtle examples of incorrect targeting based on getting the gender wrong. Today I was amused to get another in a series of emails from gocompare.com addressed to [email protected] The subject was “Eileen, will the ECJ gender ruling affect your insurance premiums?” 🙂 The email went on to explain that from December, insurers in the EU will no longer be able to use a person’s gender to calculate a car insurance quote, “which may be good news for men, but what about women…” They obviously think that my first name is Eileen and therefore I must be female.
Now, I know that my mother had plans to call me Stephanie, but I think that was only because she already had two sons and figured it was going to be third time lucky. Since I actually emerged noisily into the world, I have gotten completely used to Stephen or Steve and never had anyone get it wrong – unlike my last name, Tootill, which has (amongst other variations) been miskeyed as:

• Toothill                    • Tootil
• Tootle                      • Tootal
• Tutil                         • Tooil
• Foothill                    • Toohill
• Toosti                       • Stoolchill

“Stephen” and “Steve” are obviously equivalent, but to suddenly become Eileen is a novel and entertaining experience. In fact, it’s happened more than once so it’s clear that the data here has never been scrubbed to remedy the situation.
Wouldn’t it be useful then if there was some software to scan email addresses to pick out the first and/or last names, or initial letters, so it would be clear that the salutation for [email protected] is not Eileen?

Yes, helpIT systems does offer email validation software, but the real reason for highlighting this is that we just hate it when innovative marketing is compromised by bad data.  That’s why we’re starting a campaign to highlight data quality blunders, with a Twitter hash tag of #DATAQUALITYBLUNDER. Let’s raise the profile of Data Quality and raise a smile at the same time! If you have any examples that you’d like us to share, please comment on this post or send them to [email protected].

Note: As I explained in a previous blog (Phonetic Matching Matters!), the first four variations above are phonetic matches for the correct spelling, whereas the next four are fuzzy phonetic matches. “Toosti” and “Stoolchill” were one-offs and so off-the-wall that it would be a mistake to design a fuzzy matching algorithm to pick them up.