I was delighted to welcome Chris Williams, Head of Community Fundraising and Events at Richard House Children’s Hospice to talk about Stewardship.
Chris and his team – like so many of us – had a tough time during lockdown. But he shared how he was able to turn that into an opportunity to lay strong foundations of excellent stewardship for community fundraising at the Hospice.
His top tips and advice are applicable to charities of all sizes, and with the right time investment, you too can see the growth and income that naturally follows properly stewarding and caring for your supporters.
Chris’ step-by-step guide to building excellent stewardship
1) Massive clean-up of data
Chris’ data was in a state many community fundraisers could relate to. A mixed hodge-podge of organisation addresses, business addresses, contacts stored in different places, different forms of consent, inconsistently recorded. To truly be able to know, steward and understand their donors – they needed to know who their donors were.
Chris invested around 8 weeks cleaning the data of the community groups and contacts. This is a big job. You need to allow for adequate time and investment to do this. It’s a difficult job to outsource as really it needs to be the fundraiser(s) who know at least something about the relationships to go through, record by record, sense check, read notes and update accordingly.
Don’t underestimate the time this will take. Or the fact that this is not immediately income-generating work. BUT it WILL pay off.
“Community need solid foundations to be able to work from”
Sarah's top tip: My Direct Marketing colleagues used to tell me snacks had no calories on data days. I’m not sure that can apply to 8 weeks worth of data work though!
2) Segment the clean data
During the huge data clean up, Chris learnt a lot about his donors. In particular there was a wealth of information and insight hidden in the relationships and contacts of the groups and organisations. Individuals that were clearly passionate about the charity but had not always been communicated with in the right way – if at all.
Chris worked to segment and group not just the organisations that had been giving, but the contacts and relationships too.
For your charity, you need to think about what makes most sense on how to group people and how you’re going to communicate with them going forward. It’s important to not lump everyone in together. Which brings us on to Chris’ third point.
3) Take one group or segment at a time, and build a tailored communication plan around them
For your charity, start with your data. Are there a large number of a particular type of group that already support you or have been supporting for a number of years for instance? Don’t go scatter-gun, and don’t try to do it all at once - start with your warmest groups.
One key group Chris identified for the Hospice was Freemasons. He sat down to draft an email that was focussed on them as a group. That first email was all about them – the mission of the Freemasons and how it aligned with the charity, what various groups had done before for the charity. It was in his word ‘epic length’, and when he shared it with colleagues, many said it was too long.
BUT. A good communication should be tailored to the audience and as long as it needs to be to share what you need to share. This was highly tailored and crafted with the knowledge of what the audience liked to read about – it was specifically tailored to them. Chris stood strong and that first email saw higher open, read and click-thru rates than their standardised emails.
If it had been a bland or boring email – even if shorter - it would not have worked. So don’t forget:
Tailor your message
Be engaging – no bland and boring
4) From there – it’s all about regular communication
Getting the first donation from a group or supporter is easy. The art to excellent fundraising is getting the second gift Once you’ve secured that second donation, you are much more likely to have a long-term supporter.
Chris and his team created tailored stewardship plans – segmented and tailored to that group’s interests.
Before they began working in this way, Community emails had a 15% open rate. After implementing this stewardship, that rose to consistently around 80%. Which any marketing team will tell you is phenomenal.
This way of working has been rolled out across community, events and individual giving – which had not previously been a big focus for the charity and is now learning and growing from community fundraising. Chris emphasised that this is a slow burn, Community Fundraising in this way isn’t going to bring in money overnight. But it works, and it’s sustainable.
“Our supporters are not ‘a Rotary club’, ‘a Freemason’, a ‘marathon runner or a ‘regular giver’. They are a Richard House Supporter."
Here are some more top tips from Chris that all fundraisers and charities can apply:
1) Patience and faith in community fundraising
Community Fundraising often doesn’t get enough love, despite it being the basis all our charities are based on. You need to have belief in yourself and what you’re doing. We are the best people to know what our donors want, and how they want to be communicated with. When the CEO or a Trustee asks “Oh I’m not sure it’s worth investing in community fundraising” – have confidence that it is!
2) The most difficult gift isn’t the first one
If your supporters don’t donate or fundraise again – it’s the hard work you put in to get them as a donor undone. Get that second gift within 12-18 months and you’ll have a regular and loyal supporter for a long time to come.
3) You can’t report on success enough
Going back to the previous point – you need to show the evidence that stewardship and relationship building is worthwhile.
Track your KPIs and report on them regularly, along with feedback from your supporters. Drill down into why successes happened, be familiar and confident with your data.
4) Don’t judge your supporters by the size of their gift
Doris from the WI raising £50 from her cake sale could very easily be your next legacy pledger if you look after her well. Legacy pledges from community audiences were a KPI Chris and his team began to track. Those alone are a solid business case into the importance of community fundraising and stewardship.
5) Don’t be afraid to ask again early
Your stewardship should flow and your next asks should be continually drip fed and worked into your messages. Your supporters are more likely to engage with you soon after their first gift if you steward them well.
“We are the front face of our organisations. We shout the loudest. We see everybody.”
And if all that insight wasn’t enough, some final practical tips that came out of the Q&A with attendees
Look for content themes. Rather than scrambling for content for an email or newsletter, theme your content. For instance Chris created one piece around bereavement and spoke about the Rainbow Suite at the Hospice, as well as things like in-memory giving. Have your communications plans mapped out, look for clear links like awareness days. Don’t get to the 28th of each month and panic about content for the email due out on the 1st.
Never underestimate the power of a simple 'Donate now' button on your emails to get that next gift.
Testimonials from supporters. For instance a Regular Giver who was a Freemason talked about their regular gift in one of the stewardship emails inspiring others to think “If he does, I could too” – this is called social proof and it works.
Thank you again to Chris from Richard House for taking the time to share his insight and expertise. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisWilliams_5
Want to join future Cuppa n Chat events? Join the Facebook group for everyone working in Public Fundraising (Community, Events and Individual Giving)