Friday, October 24, 2008

Tony Elischer reckons a good time to revisit strategy

In his excellent article "RECESSION: Watching Is Not An Option" Tony Elischer of ThinkCS seems to agree with most of what the other experts are saying, and his ideas about how different areas of fundraising will be effected coincides quite nicely with my white paper and what Mal Warwick has to say, in particular Mal's belief that " a recession drags on, donor acquisition efforts may become even more challenging than they already are."

A couple of differences or greater elaboration and emphasis on different areas makes his paper an essential read. Just some of those are highlighted below...

Tony reckons "Any switched on marketer or fundraiser knows that the current climate WILL impact on their fundraising and their portfolio of techniques." I believe he is right, and it already is (for example, with corporates), but as you read his paper (and most of the other opinion pieces out there) the measures he and others recommend will be good for your charity even if it turns out things aren't effected as bad as we expect.

Within his paper, Tony also brings attention to the fact that fundraisers "...must take account of the pressures on [our] own unique portfolio of funders..." very relevant, for example in the difference responses needed from those with diverse portfolios against those relying on one or two corporates and events.

Although there are tons of papers out there about what happened last time - most saying 'not a lot happened, but things were a bit worse', and one actually saying we will be fine, one thing I can assure you is that no one actually knows what will happen.

It is different; life is full of new things and unique circumstances. Tony says "...No charity can simply look at its numbers today or trust the previous macro trends and say that it is holding up against the recession." Great point - there are far too many unknown unknowns out there.

Don't be afraid to tell your boss or board you don't know what will happen (you wouldn't want to tell a lie) but make sure you tell them what you are doing in preparation for the known unknowns. Most of these preparations will, of course, be good practice.

Tony reckons "Customers learn to spend differently and, as a result, their values change with higher expectations of experience, service and value." So good customer care will help! Yaay! you know you should be doing that anyway.

Some other knowns include "Corporate fundraising: possibly the first area to show signs of moving to a static position and then decline. Already we have seen deals falling through
that have taken many months of planning and negotiations." (Dear reader, please send me any examples like this, I believe Tony, but some anecdotes would be good).

Our research of actual income data on 23 Australia charities shows that the Australian market is indeed experiencing this already, and although you can't prove it is because of the feels as though it must be a factor. (OK, I work in a data obsessed agency, but I still have feelings).

On individual donors, Tony claims "Already visible in markets such as the USA, UK, Netherlands, Ireland is the effect on the key area of recruitment of new donors." (Tony - or anyone else - please send me some references / evidence, anonymised if need be). he continues "This has been getting harder year on year over the last three years or more and the recession will really put further pressure on this area."

This contradicts Steve Thomas' view from Canada - he agrees acquisition and appeals income has been in decline for years, but tells me his data shows the decline has not got any worse this year.

But regardless of whether it is getting worse, Steve wouldn't disagree with tony that "Charities cannot give up on recruitment but we are going to have to work much harder and be much smarter in this area..."

Although Tony thinks " money would be on the next significant surge in digital recruitment for the charities that continue to invest in this area and effectively to integrate it with the rest of their marketing" I reckon people should be careful about switching budgets from tried and tested fundraising methods like face-to-face, which - according to the F2F agencies I spoke with - is not in decline. Yet.

Of course, another advantage with products like F2F (and to some extent phoning) is that you would quickly notice a decline and can afford to watch and see there. As Amanda Seller from WSPA says "We all know we should be tracking our data, staying on top of our data and analysing what is going on..."

Still on individuals, Tony points out that "UK charities are already seeing reductions of up to thirty percent in the value of estates, so reforecasting may be necessary." Along with other legacy experts telling us estates will take longer to be realised I think this essential advice - don't bank on your legacy income holding up. Better to plan for decline, and be pleasantly surprised if it does hold up than the other way around.

Tony finishes with some sound management advice "And finally here’s the practical advice some organisations will really struggle to face up to – recession is the perfect time to ensure that your staff, your board, and your organisational structure is right to meet your future needs and bring success.

"Whilst you may have to fight cuts in the donor recruitment budget and other vital fundraising areas, you can use the recession to tackle any unproductive staff and structures, ideas and programmes that didn’t work. Your donors won’t tolerate anything else, so think of it as starting a healthy diet to give your organisation the energy and resources to face the future."

Let's face it, whatever happens you should be doing that anyway.

Sean Triner

As well as this article, ThinkCS publish tons of useful stuff on their website.


teacosy said...

Hi, Sean. Ted Garrard, advancement VP of the University of Western Ontario was totally open about the effect of the recession on his major gift efforts. Within a week or so, three donors in the seven-figure bracket who had previously been ready to close decided to defer their gifts indefinitely.

You can read the full story at

'Sean is always learning' said...

Thank you TeaCosy, blog going up!