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Partnership delivers massive change for good

PAH-logo-2016In the summer of 2007, donorflex client development consultant Jo Davies headed south to deliver a period of intensive training requested by Princess Alice Hospice’s newly appointed Director of Fundraising and Communication, Nigel Seymour. It wasn’t 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 hospice’s senior management team as a result, will ring bells at charities across the country.

Princess Alice Hospice logoThough fundraising income was rising, it was at a tiny percentage rate compared with the growth of the organisation’s 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 team’s internal donorflex user skills to help answer a couple of fundamental questions:

  • Do we stop using donorflex if it means we’re paying for a system that’s being used as little more than an address book?
  • Or do we invest in donorflex in order to help us aid the business?

The answer is self-evident.

Jo’s 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 PAH’s 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 hospice’s plans from vision to reality.

The ethos I pick up of donorflex is an organisation that isn’t going to fritter away money, it’s going to be there to support its clients and take a proactive stance of ‘You’ve got an issue, how can we resolve it?’

“I had used Raiser’s 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 that’s 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 isn’t going to fritter away money, it’s going to be there to support its clients and take a proactive stance of ‘You’ve 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 ‘Here’s the evidence of the marketplace, this is where we are, this is where we want to be, I can give you a solution, it’s going to cost this amount of investment, but you’ll get there’. Then it’s the trust factor. It comes down to the fact that I had a board who said ‘We trust what you’re trying to do… go away and do it’.”

Every organisation needs a vision

“I think some hospices really struggle with this,” Nigel suggests. “They’re very good at missions – ‘We know why we’re here, we know what we’re doing’ – but where are you wanting to go?

“To an extent, we’ve suffered from that. We recognise that. But, while the organisation wants to do a ‘steady-as-it-goes’, we’ll push forward. We’re 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 we’re 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 we’re going to get there is a proper Single Supporter View (SSV) approach. That’s our next phase of development.”

Culture of change, change of culture

The challenges confronting both the Princess Alice Hospice team and Jo Davies at the sharp end of the donorflex support service haven’t just been about understanding the Esher landscape and harnessing the power and potential within it.

Human nature has played a huge part in what’s been achieved, whether that’s the cultural changes the PAH fundraisers have been asked to make, the realities they’ve been asked to face, the energy they’ve needed to spend, the imagination expected of them, or the trust they’ve been required to invest in donorflex’s 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.

“It’s huge,” Nigel agrees, “because, while you have plans, you deal with human beings and change. Don’t forget, we were doing a lot of change-management. Jo is absolutely aware of the challenges that we have faced internally.

“You’ve just got to keep reiterating the reason why you’re doing something and the benefit of it – ‘There’s a reason we’re doing this, and it’s not for you… It’s actually to spend donors’ money and to raise more money to care for more people’ – and, eventually, the person comes along.”

Measures of success

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 we’ve 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, we’ve managed to maintain our average gift at about £45.”

So far, it’s working. Those 19 DM appeals have raised £925,000, and they’re looking at a return of four or five ROI – “phenomenally good for direct marketing”.

“Even in years where national and local charities are contracting, we’ve 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 they’ve done well, and understanding why. But the warm glow doesn’t begin or end with admiring the £s accumulating in donorflex.

Princess Alice Hospice Lottery is driven by donorflexA couple of weeks before this case study was compiled, Nigel and the team celebrated 2011’s 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: ‘I’ve 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’.

“That’s 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 supporter’s media of choice; which has then had people commenting on it. That’s the full circle approach, and that is what we’re doing more of.

“It’s 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.”

Cost and value? So far, so good

The hospice’s success has been clear enough for other donorflex clients to seek Nigel’s 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.

Princess Alice Hospice logoThat includes premium support with donorflex and the increase in user licences that came with turning words into deeds. But that’s just one part of the equation. He also told them about the return.

“I don’t get scared of those kind of figures because I know that, down the line, that’s why we’ve added £1.2m net income growth over the last four years.

"For hospices that are smaller than us, that don’t have the knowledge or the foresight, it’s hard for us to say ‘You can be brave and your investment will come’.

"But, if we’ve got to spend the same amount or more over the next four or five years to achieve what we need to achieve, it doesn’t faze us. If it’s the right move for us, we will invest.”

So far, so good.

“From what we set out to do, we’ve achieved about 85 per cent,” Nigel explains. ”And the reason we’ve not achieved 100 per cent is the reality of what’s 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. We’re comfortable with where we are but we are also ambitious to grow and improve and we know where we want to get to.

“Fundamentally, we’ve been able to grow income by 42 per cent. We’ve been able to grow and improve stewardship of supporters. We’ve been able to reduce risk to the organisation by ensuring that intelligence is captured on a system that’s backed up and secure, rather than in people’s heads, or on pieces of notepaper in filing cabinets.”

The journey to come

The whole of PAH’s next strategic period is based on the belief that the economy won’t improve any time soon, and that – when it does – there’ll 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 Davies’s consultative work in the coming months.

Princess Alice Hospice logo“We’ve now stopped cold recruitment,” he says. “We’ve done a lot of trialling, but we recognise that we’ve got so many more assets – so many opportunities that we’re not exploiting – that, if we introduce SSV and implement it as well, we don’t need to recruit anybody new. We’ll be able to raise the money we need via the assets we have at the moment.”

He insists that any organisation could follow PAH’s 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 ‘It’s a cop-out’. St Gemma’s in Leeds have a smaller catchment area than us. The areas are not awash with affluent areas, but they’ve got a greater number of supporters. Why can’t I have the same number when I’m 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 doesn’t mean to say they part with their money. There’s 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, that’s what you’ve got to do.”

Commitment: The heart and soul of success

“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 that’s a win there because I don’t have to keep on pushing people.

“I need to reinforce the point that this is a partnership (with donorflex). We’re developing a product that allows us to achieve our goal of engaging supporters and increasing income, and achieves donorflex’s 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, you’ve always got to keep your suppliers keen! You don’t promise something and then say ‘We promised it, but we can’t deliver it’. A supplier that has the ethos of the hospice world, the same ethos that we have – that is important.”

Success stories

What have been Princess Alice Hospice’s particular successes along the way?

  • The restructuring of data
  • Moving away from manual processes
  • Streamlining the approach to data-entry and reporting
  • The implementation of donorflex Lottery that has further strengthened the objective of working from one, central database (single supporter view)

If you want to find out more from Princess Alice Hospice, please arrange to speak with them via donorflex.