Plans to limit the number of communications from charities to donors won’t work, says Richard Hill, founder of Media Watch. But the sector must work harder to plan its interactions better.
Following the tragic death of Olive Cooke one of the FRSB’s recommendations is that the IOF should specify the maximum amount of communications charities should send their donors. Is this an appropriate solution or ill considered?
I have to say I have been staggered by the sheer volume of communications I have received over the last five months from monitoring the ‘top 10’ charities. From giving a one off cash gift to ten charities I have received 105 separate communications and that doesn’t include multiple emergency appeals. That averages 2.1 per charity per month. This is skewed somewhat by the development charities, between three they have sent just over 50 per cent of the total, averaging 3.7 per month.
However – and this is a big however – only 20 per cent of this number has been direct mail, so less than 0.5 pieces of direct mail per month. The rest of the communications are 90 per cent email.
Mark Astarita’s recent comments on Civil Society News regarding the proposed changes were interesting and very valid. He talked about the volume of Nepal crisis emails British Red Cross had sent its donors and at what number should they have stopped at, and the potential £2m income risk that limiting the number of emails could have had.
Yes I did receive lots of Nepal crisis emails from all the development charities, but here’s the thing, generally speaking ‘Dorothy donor’ doesn’t donate via email, and for the ones that do email is arguably less intrusive than telemarketing and direct mail.
This is reflected in the difference in response rates between the channels. So to me it seems unreasonable to include emails within a proposed restriction as they are not directly impacting vulnerable groups as much as other channels.
The problem is not how many communications each charity sends an individual donor but the cumulative volume across all charities that goes to that same individual. In general two types of people will donate to charity, those that have a proximity to the cause and those that are charitable in nature, or both.
I have no doubt that Mrs Cooke’s records whether as a current donor or a lapsed one are on many charity databases. And this stems from the way cash donors have been recruited over the last twenty years.
Initially, through the heyday of lifestyle surveys “Would you consider donating to any of the following charities..?” To swapping and renting of data which is still very much the backbone of any acquisition cash campaign. If you’re an existing donor with charity A there’s a good chance you will also donate to charity B, C, D etc.
Every charity is fishing from the same pool of donors so of course over a period of time a large percentage of donors for one charity will appear on a whole host of other charity databases. So you can imagine a single donor who has relationships with ten charities, some current and some historical, could quite easily be receiving fifty plus pieces of direct mail plus dozens of reactivation and upgrade calls a year, not to mention all the additional cold. This will only increase as charities start to implement complex cross sale programmes.
The FRSB’s plans for data sharing to be made clearer is too little too late. Even if they banned the swapping of data it would take years to filter through.
So what can be done? I’m afraid short of charities de-duping all their warm appeals against each other then not a lot.
List owners have a part to play. If a donor is on multiple lists managed by different list brokers then the ability to limit communications is impacted further still. Not to mention the amount of times those lists are sold and rented in any given period. Any change would be down to the desire of the list owner and for most there is little commercial incentive for this to happen.
From a donor relationship perspective charities could do more on internal ownership. I do think the volume of communications I’ve received has been excessive. Direct mail ownership is a lot easier to control but I’ve seen a lot of emails coming through from events, online shops and campaigns. I may have ticked that I’m interested in these areas but all in the same month?
From one charity I received eight communications in one month. That can’t be doing the relationship between the charity and the donor any good at all. Donor programmes need to be planned holistically to ensure an optimal journey and volume of communications sent.
Source: Civilsociety Fundraising