In the summer of 2007, donorflex client development consultant Jo Davies headed south to deliver a period of intensive training requested by Princess Alice Hospices newly appointed Director of Fundraising and Communication, Nigel Seymour. It wasnt long before the significance of those three days in Esher became clear for them both to see.
The situation that had led Nigel to make his call, and the decisions and actions taken by the hospices senior management team as a result, will ring bells at charities across the country.
Though fundraising income was rising, it was at a tiny percentage rate compared with the growth of the organisations charitable expenditure. It was clear that the deficit would widen unless they adopted a fresh, proactive approach to raising money. The answer was a restructure with the spotlight quickly turned on what role donorflex and the support team here in Birmingham might play in that process.
Not to be too disparaging of what happened in the past, but the information on donorflex was basically worthless to me, Nigel admits. It was ad hoc and it was inconsistent. This week we might decide to record it like this, next week we might decide with the new income code on....
He knew the cause was a complex mix. The coding structure was one thing. So was data policy. But the organisation also lacked a real donorflex champion, and the first critical step was for Nigel to audit his teams internal donorflex user skills to help answer a couple of fundamental questions:
The answer is self-evident.
Jos initial three-day visit resulted in a partnership in which clarity, purpose, trust, commitment, partnership and patience have become watchwords. The culture of the organisation has changed and PAHs donorflex system has been sharpened and tuned first via a sustained and carefully crafted series of consultancy days, then a Premium Support Agreement into a tool that has underpinned the transformation of the hospices plans from vision to reality.
The ethos I pick up of donorflex is an organisation that isnt going to fritter away money, its going to be there to support its clients and take a proactive stance of Youve got an issue, how can we resolve it?
I had used Raisers Edge and Visual ALMS in different organisations, but there was a strategic decision to be made, Nigel explains. My initial time was spent with Jo understanding whether donorflex had the capability to match what we wanted to achieve. Fundamentally, it did. So thats why we stuck with it.
I really buy into, and Princess Alice Hospice buys into, the ethos of our supplier. And the ethos I pick up of donorflex is an organisation that isnt going to fritter away money, its going to be there to support its clients and take a proactive stance of Youve got an issue, how can we resolve it?.
A key critical success factor for donorflex retaining our business is Jo. The only way I won the investment argument (internally) was to say Heres the evidence of the marketplace, this is where we are, this is where we want to be, I can give you a solution, its going to cost this amount of investment, but youll get there. Then its the trust factor. It comes down to the fact that I had a board who said We trust what youre trying to do go away and do it.
I think some hospices really struggle with this, Nigel suggests. Theyre very good at missions We know why were here, we know what were doing but where are you wanting to go?
To an extent, weve suffered from that. We recognise that. But, while the organisation wants to do a steady-as-it-goes, well push forward. Were very visionary in terms of fundraising and retail, and also now as an organisation.
We want to be visionary before you (donorflex) start your (development) plans, which is a perfect scenario to be in. So were very close to saying We know where we will be in five years, and what it will cost to get there and the gap therefore that retail and fundraising have to fill.
That has led the strategic discussion and the sign-off says the way were going to get there is a proper Single Supporter View (SSV) approach. Thats our next phase of development.
The challenges confronting both the Princess Alice Hospice team and Jo Davies at the sharp end of the donorflex support service havent just been about understanding the Esher landscape and harnessing the power and potential within it.
Human nature has played a huge part in whats been achieved, whether thats the cultural changes the PAH fundraisers have been asked to make, the realities theyve been asked to face, the energy theyve needed to spend, the imagination expected of them, or the trust theyve been required to invest in donorflexs expertise and advice.
For a large slice of the past four years, the framework for the PAH evolution has been a Premium Service Agreement. It has provided the time and flexibility needed for Jo Davies and the rest of the donorflex operation to hear what Nigel and his team have wanted, to understand why, and to support them in taking the steps that have delivered tangible results.
Patience has also played a massive role.
Its huge, Nigel agrees, because, while you have plans, you deal with human beings and change. Dont forget, we were doing a lot of change-management. Jo is absolutely aware of the challenges that we have faced internally.
Youve just got to keep reiterating the reason why youre doing something and the benefit of it Theres a reason were doing this, and its not for you Its actually to spend donors money and to raise more money to care for more people and, eventually, the person comes along.
The Princess Alice Hospice fundraising strategy was implemented on April 1, 2008. A few, short months later, the recession hit. It was an immediate challenge to the plan.
You adapt as an organisation, Nigel says. The whole point of the strategy was about diversifying income streams. In order to make those judgements, you need intelligence coming back to you.
If weve run 19 direct marketing appeals, we need to know how people are responding. Are people responding at a lower average gift? Can we increase the average gift? Even in a tough economic climate, weve managed to maintain our average gift at about £45.
So far, its working. Those 19 DM appeals have raised £925,000, and theyre looking at a return of four or five ROI phenomenally good for direct marketing.
Even in years where national and local charities are contracting, weve grown at least 5 per cent in the past three years. Each year.
From time to time, the PAH team affords itself the essential luxury of rocking back and reflecting on the achievements of the past four or five years, considering what theyve done well, and understanding why. But the warm glow doesnt begin or end with admiring the £s accumulating in donorflex.
A couple of weeks before this case study was compiled, Nigel and the team celebrated 2011s achievements in a weekly e-news mail to all staff and volunteers. It included something from the Princess Alice Hospice Facebook page. Nigel explains.
It said: Ive received the most wonderful letter today from Princess Alice Hospice wanting to give me a leaf on their commemorative tree. It meant the world to me and completely changed my life.
Thats a fantastic experience. That process has been driven through a database and ensured that donation has been credited to the right place; which has reached a point that has enabled the communication to be fired out; which has been personalised; which has prompted that reaction on the supporters media of choice; which has then had people commenting on it. Thats the full circle approach, and that is what were doing more of.
Its about the knock-on connections that we have. Really our next stage of development is ensuring that those connections are mapped, stored and used correctly.
The hospices success has been clear enough for other donorflex clients to seek Nigels counsel in building a business case to do the same. One such organisation asked about the cost so far.
Nigel estimates that, internally and externally, PAH has invested between £45,000 and £50,000 in the project to date.
That includes premium support with donorflex and the increase in user licences that came with turning words into deeds. But thats just one part of the equation. He also told them about the return.
I dont get scared of those kind of figures because I know that, down the line, thats why weve added £1.2m net income growth over the last four years.
"For hospices that are smaller than us, that dont have the knowledge or the foresight, its hard for us to say You can be brave and your investment will come.
"But, if weve got to spend the same amount or more over the next four or five years to achieve what we need to achieve, it doesnt faze us. If its the right move for us, we will invest.
So far, so good.
From what we set out to do, weve achieved about 85 per cent, Nigel explains. And the reason weve not achieved 100 per cent is the reality of whats happening in the outside world, and some of the setbacks you naturally have when implementing change with people and organisations.
However, as you do more, the time to implement new things becomes shorter. Were comfortable with where we are but we are also ambitious to grow and improve and we know where we want to get to.
Fundamentally, weve been able to grow income by 42 per cent. Weve been able to grow and improve stewardship of supporters. Weve been able to reduce risk to the organisation by ensuring that intelligence is captured on a system thats backed up and secure, rather than in peoples heads, or on pieces of notepaper in filing cabinets.
The whole of PAHs next strategic period is based on the belief that the economy wont improve any time soon, and that when it does therell be an 18-month lag before charities feel the benefit.
To Nigel, that underscores the importance of SSV (single supporter view), which will be at the heart of Jo Daviess consultative work in the coming months.
Weve now stopped cold recruitment, he says. Weve done a lot of trialling, but we recognise that weve got so many more assets so many opportunities that were not exploiting that, if we introduce SSV and implement it as well, we dont need to recruit anybody new. Well be able to raise the money we need via the assets we have at the moment.
He insists that any organisation could follow PAHs lead, and he has a ready answer if he hears any doubter mention the words Esher and affluence in the same sentence.
I say to them Its a cop-out. St Gemmas in Leeds have a smaller catchment area than us. The areas are not awash with affluent areas, but theyve got a greater number of supporters. Why cant I have the same number when Im living in a million catchment area within the stockbroker belt?
What we have noticed is that, while we ve been able to maintain regular giving levels and grow income through direct marketing, the amount of people writing cheques for £1,000 has gone. The majority of our income now is donations below £100.
Just because people are wealthy doesnt mean to say they part with their money. Theres still the old fundraising rule of Show them the need, make the ask, and they will give. Give them great stewardship and they will give again. Wherever you are, thats what youve got to do.
The first thing I would emphasise is that what I lead and direct is a complete team approach, Nigel says. I have a very committed and passionate team who want to achieve. So thats a win there because I dont have to keep on pushing people.
I need to reinforce the point that this is a partnership (with donorflex). Were developing a product that allows us to achieve our goal of engaging supporters and increasing income, and achieves donorflexs goal of supporting the hospice movement.
What came across to me in the early days was your commitment to the hospice movement, and to other charities, in wanting to do better. That commitment is still there. donorflex has a lovely family ethos, and the amount that you give back through user conferences and other means is important and significant.
Those are key assets that just knock down the thinking Do we need to change supplier? because, at the back of your mind, youve always got to keep your suppliers keen! You dont promise something and then say We promised it, but we cant deliver it. A supplier that has the ethos of the hospice world, the same ethos that we have that is important.
What have been Princess Alice Hospices particular successes along the way?
If you want to find out more from Princess Alice Hospice, please arrange to speak with them via donorflex.
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