Making every interaction count: an interview with Anna Hessenbruch

Making every interaction count: an interview with Anna Hessenbruch

Making every interaction count: an interview with Anna Hessenbruch

Anna Hessenbruch joined the charity sector in 2012 to run the membership programme for the National Autistic Society. She then moved into marketing for Education Support Partnership in 2015, before joining the fundraising team at The Prince’s Trust in 2016, where her role had a primary focus on supporter journeys. Anna is currently the Supporter Experience Strategist for the NSPCC.

Anna, what are the main responsibilities within your current role as Supporter Experience Strategist?

When I first joined the NSPCC, I was hired to understand and support enhancements to current and future supporter journeys and identify new opportunities. For the first few months I observed their current work and recognised there was an opportunity to think about supporter journeys in terms of what supporters have the potential to do for the NSPCC in future, not just what they had done in the past. 

I recommended that we consider the supporter experience more holistically as an organisation to make it more supporter-centric. Following agreement on this recommendation we created a working group to collaboratively take steps to work through how to implement this.

How has the behaviour of your supporters changed over time? 

There is a significant generational difference. We have a lot of individual giving income from older generations who have a direct debit or make very frequent donations in the same pattern. A lot of charities are in the same position, if money comes in, month in month out, there are limited opportunities to cross-engage supporters across channels.

The real challenge we're starting to see across the sector is younger generations – up to those in their 30s and 40s – are less interested in setting up direct debits and want to engage in different ways and through different channels.

For me, it’s now much more about sporadic touch points. While you still have individuals who have their list of preferred charities to support, they want to be able to pick and choose when and how they support those charities. This will require charities to rethink their engagement frameworks as support will fluctuate and therefore be less reliable than a regular direct debit.

Considering this, how have adapted your strategy in response? 

We are focusing on how we are using data across the organisation. Like many charities we have various databases, but some of the data isn’t integrated and we aren’t utilising it to report and understand our supporters holistically. We are currently working through a comprehensive programme to consolidate and integrate these data sources to provide a 360° picture of who our current supporters are. This will allow us to go beyond post-campaign analysis and begin to dig a little deeper into what we currently know.

We have also identified what we don’t know but would like to, in order to improve supporter experience. Within the next couple of years, we hope this will help us to hyper-personalise content to an individual rather than on an aggregated basis. Many charities group their data in segmented ways and will vary the content they push based on those aggregate assumptions. Our plan is to get to a place where, much like in the private sector, every person who engages with us gets tailored and customised communications based on what they want from us.

A basic example, which is commonplace in the private sector, is if someone keeps returning to our website and looking at the same sort of content, we can present the right information to them, instead of presenting the same content to everyone and hoping they find what they're looking for. As our website is a source for information and our services, as well as fundraising, being able to support individuals getting to the right content quickly ultimately improves their experience.

What is the primary method you use to predict the ways donors will want to interact with charities in the future?

I believe data analytics, and how we utilise them to inform our decisions, is at the heart of the future. If you have younger generations interacting a lot more on their own terms, which is varied and sporadic, without the right data you aren’t able to track the different interactions. You simply won’t know, and this limits your ability to forecast and predict how you’ll optimise this in the future.

As a sector, we are just learning that without the right data, without planning what information we need to know, we are simply limiting our ability to fundraise in the future. 

What advice would you give to charities worried about the sporadic nature of support we are likely to see from the younger generation?

I would say we should be thinking about it. If it’s not a consideration being taken seriously, it’s going to be problematic for charities.

I think it’s positive to ask the question, “what can we do about it?”. There are a lot of factors outside of our control, but what can we do? I think the most logical answer, as a first step, is how we can better understand what our supporters want and how we can fulfil that. 

What single factor do you think will impact fundraising in 2020/2021?

In my role, the key factor would be the ability to utilise data, ensuring its quality, security, compliance and ethical use. Fortunately, due to the robustness of our compliance processes we came through GDPR reviews with limited impact but I’m aware for others they haven’t been so fortunate or still have a nervousness. I think the biggest barrier for some to overcome is understanding what the rules of the game are and how they are applied and implemented in their organisation.

Retaining trust with supporters has been an issue for the sector and has rightly meant we are more conservative with the use of data, which is in stark contrast to many in the commercial sector. As we are communicating through the same channels as commercial organisations it can be difficult to cut through and be heard. However, there are several research papers which highlight how individuals are more likely to share data with organisations they trust to use their data properly and responsibly. This is an area the sector could be an exemplar in.

At the NSPCC, we are also looking at what, when and how it is appropriate to collect, store and utilise data beyond legal requirements. We have an agreed Digital Data Ethics Framework and have also created a Digital and Data Ethics Board which is a pan-organisation group that reviews new requests to work through how it adheres to our framework and ensure we fully understand what data is collected and how it’s shared as part of the decision process. We feel these approaches will stand us in good stead for the future and increase trust with our supporters.

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