The Fundraiser - Practical advice and insight for the charity sector

Posted in Case Studies Corporate Fundraising & Partnerships, Multichannel Fundraising Charity Partnerships and Mergers

Why Macmillan takes a 'customer first' approach

Being in the right place and at the right time has helped Macmillan to galvanise crucial relationships with the public, putting its users in the driving seat of its fundraising strategy. Richard Taylor explains how meaningful relationships are built and why they are so important…

You need look no further than the outpouring of generosity following the recent tragedies in London and Manchester to know that the compassion and benevolence of the British public is undimmed. The spirit of giving is alive and well in the UK and the fundraising community is well equipped in its creativity and resourcefulness to respond appropriately when called to the task.


Of course, our challenges are multifaceted, ranging from the complexity of untangling regulation like GDPR, to the marketing of our offers across multiple channels – bringing with it complex journey planning, data selection and product hierarchy. And please, let’s not get started on discussing the implications of Brexit.


We’ve also had to expend energy defending the practices we’ve been criticised for. In my experience, charities always want to do the right thing but have too often lacked the data analytics and integrated systems needed to follow through on the relationship management they would love to provide.


(As an aside, I personally think that the new regulator has got the balance right between pragmatism and recognising what's best for donors. It doesn’t start from the premise that fundraisers adopt practices simply for their own gain.)

Remembering the simple principles


No one needs reminding that donors want to understand how cost effective our activity is, how their donation gets spent and the impact it makes. But these really are the simplest of principles on which we should base our fundraising.


Donors are not naïve, and they have more ways and more freedom to communicate, express themselves and influence than ever before, so it’s important we get our part right.


The most striking insight for me at Macmillan when I joined 18 months ago was the realisation that 65% of our donors had received support from the charity and they constituted 75% of the value of our income. This overlap is significant and shows that our donors and beneficiaries are mostly one and the same.


Building meaningful relationships


Our case for support is significant; the needs of people living with cancer are growing as the number of people with the disease in the UK is expected to rise to 4 million by 2030. One in two of us will receive a cancer diagnosis in our lifetime. Although the amount of support we can offer to people who need our help is limited by the resources we have, the headroom to grow both our service offer and fundraising is enormous.


But that doesn’t mean the only way to reach potential donors is to cold market to the masses on the basis that they might one day need our help. A better way is to put our energy into building meaningful relationships with people, whether they have approached us for a service, such as financial support or a clinical nurse specialist, or a fundraising product such as a pack for an upcoming event.


We provide a consistent offer so that everyone knows where we are when they need us. Our customer service is critical with every touch point for every beneficiary and donor. It doesn't matter whether they donate first or meet us through the support we give them.


Putting customers first


That ‘customer-first’ approach has helped us to develop a positioning where Macmillan goes to where the public is. I don’t mean through their letterbox or inbox, I mean having a presence in their everyday lives. We don’t have Macmillan-branded shops on the high street, so we galvanise our work with partners.


Boots, for example, has Macmillan-badged beauty advisors and pharmacists trained by Macmillan to help people affected by cancer with their health or beauty concerns. This might mean giving advice on building confidence through their appearance after the devastating impact of cancer on their body. Or it could be providing information about side effects and signposting them to Macmillan for financial support. These are familiar and trusted environments in which the public can really see for themselves the value that Macmillan can bring to the lives of people affected by cancer.


Similarly, through our recently launched partnership with Lloyds Bank, we have trained frontline teams to not only help their customers who are financially affected by cancer, but also to refer them to Macmillan experts if they need further support, such as benefits advice.


There is no direct fundraising ask, no ‘sign up for a direct debit’ form to sign after a visit to the pharmacist, or a ‘run a marathon for us’ ask in the bank. But once people know how to get support from us, when they’re ready, they may want to support us to help others. We’re building mutually respectful relationships based on trust.


Working through partnerships and collaborations is a positive way to demonstrate our resourcefulness as a sector. The public doesn’t want to see us compete or duplicate, it wants us to provide impact and value. By working with others, we leverage our reach, capability and relevance while tapping into the mindset of a society united in overcoming social challenges.


Fundraising of the future


But what of future developments? When pondering fundraising of years to come, I think we will simply embrace the patterns of consumer behaviour that exist at the time. Like the online payment platforms that revolutionised sponsorship 20 years ago (in my opinion, the last significant innovation in our sector), we will adopt technologies that have been tried and tested in other market places.


Although we’ve embraced digital marketing, we are yet to really know what the internet of things or augmented reality will mean for fundraising, but they nod to our future because we’re already embracing them in our everyday lives.


At Macmillan we’ve already piloted a digital assessment in a clinical setting for people at the point of diagnosis. We’re currently considering a digital patient journey and planning tool. And as we consider how we provide clinical support through apps similar to the ones used regularly by the public, we start from the premise that the primary benefit would be to the patient, being helped through what can be the toughest time of their life. If Macmillan can be seen as helpful, relevant and accessible, as well as showing the real impact of our spend, then that can only be a positive thing.


So rather than asking ‘what is the next big thing in fundraising?’ we’re looking to the next big thing to support our customers with what they need. Fundraising will thrive thanks to the spirit of generosity in our country – but only if we are in the right place at the right time.


Richard Taylor is Executive Director of Fundraising, Marketing and Communications at Macmillan Cancer Support

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