Morag Fleming and Rupert Tappin unmask the findings of the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association’s latest survey of door-to-door and street fundraising
Face-to-face fundraising has been practiced in the UK for over ten years, but until recently there has been no standard way to track its effectiveness or predict impact, other than the standard ROI measurement. Charities mainly measure campaign performance around known cancellations; but these are invariably inaccurate. The donor attrition and retention survey (DARS) takes clearly defined procedures to ensure that all inactive donors are recorded on a charity’s database as a cancellation. Many charities fail to follow the BACS payments procedure properly and don’t mark donors that have missed a payment. This can lead to future payments not being requested, causing them to be defined as neither ‘active’ nor ‘cancelled’. These non-active but non-cancelled donors make up anywhere between one and 35 per cent of a charity’s apparently ‘active’ regular giving database. In order to counter this, DARS requires all charities to report the number of donors making each payment. Once analysed, this will reveal those that drop off at subsequent payments as a percentage of those that made an initial payment.
Four years into DARS, the largest number of donors ever reported was measured using data on 155 separate campaigns from 27 charities. The survey measured 74 street campaigns with 342,916 donors and 81 door campaigns with 475,247 donors, and found that 678,532 donors made at least one payment. Charities taking part in the survey are numbered to ensure the anonymity of their responses. The results are then mapped out in graphs and an average figure for each year’s campaigns is pulled out for benchmarking purposes.
Door campaigns in 2004 were the best performing to date. Figure 1 shows that all door campaigns appear to have lower attrition than the corresponding street campaigns, however 2010 figures show them evening out. While this may be a sign of better donor management, it may also be due to the changes in the market over this period which saw a significant increase in door activity while street was limited in its capacity.
This data does not include donors that fail to make their first as charities do not receive that data from their fundraising agencies, however they are an important measurement of campaign success. Over the years the DARS survey has analysed many of the variables that can impact on face-to-face campaigns to determine which might have an effect on attrition. It has to be remembered however, that no variable can be assumed to be acting in isolation. Any changes to campaigns have to be tested to ensure that they do give better results for the charity and are easily applied by agencies.
It has long been recognised that younger donors do not always show long-term loyalty. This is apparent in the street data. The under-29 age group have seen rising year-one attrition since 2007, perhaps as a result of the recession. The 30 to 34-year-old group saw their worst year in 2007 but year-one attrition has improved in the three years since then. However, when the long-term attrition rate is taken into account the four to five- year trend is almost identical for both age groups.
On the door, the younger age group is absent in most of the campaigns analysed. The least attrition is shown by the over-45 age group although sign up rates of these individuals are lower than others. Donors in the 35 to 45 category have seen an improvement in year-one attrition rates over the past two years. These variations in giving commitment show how imperative it is to get the right balance of donors to readily sign up to face-to-face, and maximise the proportion that are likely to stay longer-term.
The average gift that is given by a donor is another area that has been analysed in the 2011 survey with the results on both the street and door proving very similar in this area.
Donors that are offered the option of signing up to a lower gift value have a much lower attrition rate than the higher value donors: less than ten per cent in the first month, and only rising to between 20 and 30 per cent by the end of the year. In comparison, the higher value gifts have a drop off of fifty percent by the end of the year. So it is possible that by pushing the average gift up to increase the theoretical ROI on campaigns, charities are in fact increasing the likelihood of high attrition rates.
This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 9, September 2011