Charlene Vallory explains how a recent telephone campaign enabled MS Society to engage lapsed supporters and gain valuable feedback that will inform its future fundraising strategies.
It is our responsibility as fundraisers to understand our donors - and to use this understanding to treat them in the way they would like to be treated.
Between May and October last year, MS Society ran a campaign with telephone fundraising agency Listen to gather feedback from supporters. The campaign involved Listenís fundraisers calling supporters whose membership had lapsed over the last year, to ask them about their reasons for ending their support and their general experience of being an MS Society supporter.
The aim was to understand a little bit more about why they had ended their support - and whether anything could be done to get them back and keep them on board.
Knowledge is power
Although originally conceived as a fundraising campaign, the MS Society and Listen made information gathering the key objective, with the intention that this feedback would be used to help plan future donor reactivation programmes. While a fundraising Ďaskí was included in the call, this was very much a secondary aim.
Questions posed by the fundraisers included, for example: Why did you become a member of the MS Society? Why did you end your membership? Is there anything you would improve about the membership programme? Is there any information you feel you should have received? This mix of closed and open questions allowed the MS Society to understand its supporters and their reasons for being involved with the charity and, in turn, how it could improve services.
Having an open conversation
We actively encouraged our fundraisers to have an open and honest conversation with supporters. Of course, this required a great deal of confidence in the fundraisers at Listen to handle sensitive calls - something we managed closely. We also made sure fundraisers were armed with significant knowledge of the charity and its recent history, so they were able to answer any questions or concerns during the call in a way that would reinforce confidence in the charity.
During the call, supporters were encouraged to talk about their frustrations with the charity, give their opinion on the communications they had received from the charity, and state which types of communication they would prefer to receive as members in future. The majority had positive feedback about the charity, but the open conversation also gave them the opportunity to raise concerns and make suggestions.
Letting supporters lead the conversation in this way made them feel valued - and it yielded some extremely useful information. For example, it turned out that many supporters were actually unaware that their membership required an annual renewal and had expired. Many,when they realised this, were keen to renew.
Others cited financial reasons for ending their membership. For these members, other ways of getting involved with the charity were discussed. For example, volunteering their time within the local branch, or a reduced monthly donation to the charity.
Some supporters reported feeling overwhelmed by the amount of communications they received from the charity. The telephone fundraisers were careful to note this information and pass it onto the charity, in order to help inform its future communications with those supporters.
Donít dismiss lapsed donors
A complete evaluation of the campaign is in progress, but already the feedback gathered has highlighted the need for us to review our membership renewal strategy. It has also shown that although these members may have lapsed, that doesnít mean they are no longer engaged with the cause - which shows the importance of not dismissing these supporters.
Not only was the campaign useful for gathering feedback but, in terms of fundraising, it also came in over target, with some 11 per cent of those lapsed donors who were called agreeing to make a gift of either £8 or £4 a month by direct debit.
The exercise showed just how useful supporter feedback can be in guiding the future direction of campaigns. In particular, the lessons we learned from it will help inform our future reactivation strategies and techniques. Furthermore, because we now have a greater understanding of our supporters and their motivations, we can build this knowledge into our fundraising scripts and give our fundraisers the information and tools they need to ensure the success of future campaigns.
Charlene Vallory is direct marketing manager at MS Society