New technology could transform the way we look at door-to-door fundraising. Rick Pearson looks through the keyhole and reveals the opportunities and limitations of the new era in door-to-door.
Sweden, 1989. The world’s press is huddled excitedly inside the Sheraton Hotel in Malmö as a man is rolled onto stage in a bathtub. His name is Harry Hotline. On his head is a bath hat; in his hand is the Ericsson Hotline Pocket, the world’s first mobile phone. Allegedly, it allows you to make a call without it being connected to a wire. It’s all terribly exciting.
Fast-forward 24 years and the world is no longer hyperventilating over the prospect of making phone calls on the move (or in the bath, even). However, according to one fundraising chief, we are embarking upon a journey with another piece of technology – one with the power to transform door-to-door fundraising.
“The iPad can help us to revolutionise our approach to door-to-door,” says Martin Jervis, chief operating officer at Fundraising Initiatives.
While charities have been using iPads for the past couple of years, Jervis says that the industry is only beginning to tap into the tablet’s true potential.
“So far, iPads have been used chiefly to make things more efficient – filling in forms, quicker validation of data, faster payments,” he says. “These are back-end, accounting-type benefits. The next step must be to use the technology to help us tell better stories.”
If it ain’t broke
A casual observer might ask: why does door-to-door fundraising need to change? While street fundraising’s figures have stayed fairly constant – sticking at about 200,000 new donors a year – door-to-door donor recruitment has increased year-on-year.
It hardly needs an overhaul. As Ian MacQuillin, head of communications at the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA), says: “It’s a very efficient and cost-effective way for charities to raise funds. Our members recruit far more donors on the door than they do on the street. It’s about a 75/25 split.”
Yet, despite its success, door-to-door comes in for its fair share of negative publicity. In the FRSB Complaints Report 2013, direct debit charity solicitations on the doorstep incurred 5,555 complains in 2012 – a 93 per cent increase on complaints in 2011.
“It suffers from the same perception affecting all types of direct fundraising: some people object to being put in the position of being asked directly to donate their money,” says MacQuillin.
But what if you could make the door-to-door experience a really positive one, for both the fundraiser and the donor?
According to Jervis, it’s perfectly achievable. “People give when they’re asked to give, but we need to get the balance right: we need to make it so they enjoy having their day disrupted. If you can make somebody smile, they’ll think better of the charity and be more likely to give and to keep giving.”
So it’s time to get more creative. Indeed, in a recent project by Fundraising Initiatives with an unnamed client, over 70 different approaches to door-to-door fundraising were put forward at the planning stage.
“Some of the ideas may turn out to be barking mad, but we’ll test them,” says Jervis. “We won’t make assumptions or ask a focus group. Henry Ford once said: ‘If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.’”
One idea being tested is the use of technology earlier on in the conversation. “The first part of the conversation might be a fundraiser talking alongside a video; the second part could be a mobile-optimised version of the story; the third part could look at what happens after the first gift,” says Jervis. “It’s all about purpose-building the entire conversation from the beginning and making it pertinent.”
Technology can only take things so far, however. It’s not enough to whip out an iPad, show a fancy video and expect donors to instantly part with their life savings.
“People give to people,” says Liz Tait, director of fundraising at Battersea Cats & Dogs Home. “Technology can add to the experience on the doorstep, but it’s the fundraiser who makes the real difference.”
As such, it’s vital that fundraisers feel a connection with the cause, says Tait. “We give all our fundraisers a tour of Battersea Cats & Dogs Home. That way, they really feel like part of the family and become more passionate about our work.”
Train to gain
As the door-to-door conversation becomes more sophisticated through the introduction of technology, it’s vital that fundraisers receive the right training. Again, the iPad can help here by offering bite-sized pieces of information that door-to-door fundraisers can access wherever they are.
Training is important for a number of reasons. The first of these is effectiveness: the better trained that fundraisers are, the more effective they will be on the doorstep. The second is career motivation: offer people the right training and they’ll want to become top fundraisers, rather than viewing it as a transitory occupation. The third is compliance. “We, as a profession, must maintain the ability to self-regulate,” says Jervis.
As such, the recent announcement by the Public Administration Select Committee that fundraising should continue to be self-regulated is welcome news. Alistair McLean, chief executive of the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB), the organisation responsible for regulating all charity fundraising in Britain, certainly thinks so. “The alternatives to self-regulation are very stark,” he says. “Statutory regulation would involve putting in place a costly and cumbersome infrastructure – nobody wants that.
“We ask all our members to stick to a promise – to only conduct in good, honest and accountable fundraising – and complaints remain a very low proportion of fundraising asks. When complaints arise, the sector has an independent and robust process in place. Together with the IoF and PFRA, we’re working to maintain the public’s trust and confidence in the sector.”
Looking to the future
So, what’s next? Just as mobile phones have moved on from Ericsson’s HotLine Pocket, so too will the sector discover newer, more effective and more streamlined ways of getting its messages across.
As Jervis says: “You can’t wed yourself to the latest technology – it’s important to keep looking for the next big development.”
Our eyes may have moved from the bathtub but, when it comes to door-to-door fundraising, we should always be searching for the next fresh idea.
This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 30, June 2013