Face: The Future

Published by Jack Ryan on

The Outlook for Face-to-Face Fundraising
It seems a lot of fundraisers’ time is spent thinking about the future: Will we manage to invest our full budget? Will we reach our targets? What to do if the income is not as planned? Will I have a decent budget next year? Five year plans…

Wouldn’t it be great to have a crystal ball that spelled out at least some of what lay ahead and allowed us to focus just a little more on the present moment? Well, for better or worse, that particular technology hasn’t yet materialized but that doesn’t stop us fundraisers from engaging in a little bit of future gazing. Being prepared for different eventualities is important – it allows us to be able to respond quickly and appropriately and to minimize the damage from inevitable bumps along the way – of course it’s an art, not a science, and with this disclaimer in mind I’d like to offer a few forecasts on how I see the face-to-face method of donor recruitment evolving over the next couple of years.

 1. Shrinking public space in traditional markets

Many councils and cities ban street fundraising

Open any news source in (for example) the UK or Austria (or many of the most established face-to-face markets) and it won’t be long before you read about a city or council that is implementing (or considering) a complete ban or enforced reduction of face-to-face activities in the public domain. Search Twitter for the words ‘fundraiser’ or ‘chugger’ (a term I consider to be both offensive and ignorant by the way) and you’ll see that the face-to-face topic evokes plenty of debate from the public – and a majority of those moved to tweet tend to have a negative view of the practice and are quite vocal in calling for restrictions. I forecast that authorities in these markets will continue to impose limitations and the amount of public space open to street and door-to-door fundraisers will continue to shrink.

In this sort of environment non-profits and agencies who serve them will have to think creatively about where they can engage the public. Some face-to-face activity already happens in the workplace, cinemas, swimming pool foyers, cafés – mostly this has been pioneered in developing countries where traditional public sites have always been challenging.

2. Successful Face-to-Face will become an ‘Experience

Greenpeace blend street theatre and fundraising in Stockholm

When face-to-face was new people were curious and excited to see charities on the high street and in some cases even waited in line to talk to a street fundraiser (oh the days!). Nowadays, with the novelty factor gone, it’s more common to hear of people crossing the street to avoid an encounter with a fundraiser. Non-profits who want to continue to use the method must recapture the novelty element and give people a reason to stop that goes beyond charity. This is already used to some degree by organisations like Greenpeace who sign up new donors at open boats or UNHCR who recruit donors during installations at World Refugee Day. However in order to reach the scale needed by most organisations they will have to create these sort of high-experience events with the express purpose of engaging the public with an ultimate fundraising goal – not simply piggyback on existing events (of which there are too few).

3. Death of the Clipboard

To a degree face-to-face has already taken steps down the digital path. It’s possible to see fundraisers using iPads or smartphones to present information and capture data. This sight will become more common as hardware prices falls and custom built software solutions are created. The dream of real time data verification and instant database integration is close to becoming a reality in many places, which will result in huge cost savings for organisations. It’s also possible that the ‘experience’ demanded by the public in point two can be served by technology – UNHCR in Italy already provide a futuristic looking pair of virtual reality glasses that, when worn, allow the would-be-donor experience the terror of being in a refugee situation. It’s worth pointing out here though that the technology is replacing the clipboard – not the human (though I have heard interesting rumours about robots collecting cash on the streets) because the power of face-to-face has always been the human interaction (it’s much easier to say no to a machine).

4. There Will be Fewer Agencies

There are two reasons for this speculation:

Gift UK - one of the high profile agencies to leave the market in recent years

First, the public (prompted by the media) are questioning ever more closely the costs of acquisition and they are reacting against the perceived siphoning off of their donation to a middleman.

Secondly, agencies are less likely than in-house operations to be able to provide the authentic ‘experience’ demanded by the donor and the rising costs associated with providing this sort of experience will mean that organisations will have more reason than ever to bring operations in-house. Some large names (like DialogueDirect and Gift in the UK) have gone in the past years – I think more will follow them.

5. Quality over Quantity

Many organisations have been experiencing zero or only minimal growth despite bringing in large numbers of new donors through face-to-face. With donors historically young and fickle, the attrition rates have read like a bad horror story. With a greater move towards in-house (see point 4) organisations will be in a position to target more stable donors and will accept lower volumes in return for this.

6. Face-to-Face as a Gateway

Facing tighter regulation and with an emphasis on the ‘Experience’ face-to-face will become only the first of a series of steps leading up to an ask for committed giving. Already it is commonplace in the UK for street fundraisers to ask only for a small one time SMS donation (ostensibly to pay for a meal or a mosquito net). With the mobile number thus acquired the donor is contacted by a telefundraiser a few days later who phones to thank the donor and progresses to request a regular donation. My research shows that a good street representative can generate about 7 – 10 of these leads per hour, which should, at least, go a long way towards covering their own labour costs. The follow-up doesn’t have to be by phone, however, it could be by email, sms, a personalized thank you video (like the truly fantastic Swedish TV license ‘Hero’ video I made) if the donor allows their image to be photographed, or any number of other creative techniques.

I donated to RSPCA on the streets of London to buy 'Archie' a meal and was contacted by phone a few days later


7. Where’s Next?

Due to the market saturation, tighter regulations and increased costs international NGOs will continue to invest in new markets where, although their brand recognition is lower and there is typically less tradition of charitable giving, the ROIs are much higher. Expect to see an explosion in Latin America (with Brazil leading the charge), Africa and South East Asia and tentative tests in Baltic and Balkan Europe.

Am I completely wrong? Do you agree? I’d love to know your thoughts on the future. Please comment!

Jack Ryan

Jack Ryan grew up in a little village in Ireland and cut his fundraising teeth at the age of 10 raising money for a new roof for the community centre. Now he lives in Stockholm and is the Head of Fundraising for Greenpeace in Sweden. Lots happened in between.


James Goodridge · June 18, 2012 at 15:00

Great article Jack,

I think that when examined, people will see the industry has a huge capacity for innovation. Change has been almost non-existent since face to face started – but there was never a driver for it. Now there is and it’s going to be an exciting period in its evolution. One key aspect is an abundance of talented and motivated people. At Waysact we’re obviously flying the flag for technology innovation but we have been overwhelmed by the response we’ve received. The only point I slightly disagree on is the number of agencies – I think there could even be more of them, but that they’ll be leaner and more stable. Change is coming and I certainly believe everyone can benefit from it.

James Goodridge

Jack Ryan · June 19, 2012 at 11:30

Thanks for the comments James – and thanks also for providing solutions that non-profits are crying out for. I agree that it’s an interesting time in the evolution of F2F.

Terry van den Bemt · June 19, 2012 at 20:12

Nice work Jack!

Great article. I certainly agree with you. Thank you for sharing.

Terry van den Bemt

Vic Halom · June 20, 2012 at 13:33

Hi Jack

Working for a payment processing company, I have to agree that the traditional clipboard is being thrown out of the window in favour of laptops and tablets so that modulus checks on bank accounts can take place in real time at the point of ‘sale’. Indeed we’ve begun to invest heavily in supporting these types of two-way applications so that we can continue to help our charity customers.

Thanks for the great article.


Rob · June 20, 2012 at 16:05

Hi Jack,
Great insights in to the future of F2F and spot on. The challenge is that with all of this issues and threats to F2F fundraising the rising costs of running a F2F program going to make it harder and harder to get a return any investment. Tablets and other electronic payment options pay for themselves easily and are how the industry has to innovate to keep up with the challenges posed by competition and attrition.
I am not so sure about organizations starting to create their own events. Whilst these no doubt can be successful l organizations will not be able to use this solely to create the volume that they have become accustomed too. Creating your own events also becomes time consuming and therefore costly. Because of these challenges events F2F fundraising becomes part of a diverse portfolio to also a sustained program.
To my mind the answer has to lie in this having a diverse F2F portflio so not just old style street a mixture which includes events, lead generation, office and other means of F2F acquisition accompanied with the technological innovation that the industry needs.


Alex Brekke · June 25, 2012 at 23:02

I don’t think there will be fewer agencies. Rather fewer greedy corporate scumbag agencies. This is good. An agency can have just as many people working with the right spirit as a charity, in fact I have met many people working at charities who just do it for the money and could care less what their job means. I think the worst is the consultant, they suck money from charities offering little in return. Of course there are exceptions. In Sweden there are now four agencies that work only with charities. A few years ago there was only two. Also the public is ok with agencies in general, they are more concerned about charity staff stealing money like Johan Donner or the high salaries. At least this is what I have noticed in the past five years.

Alex Brekke · June 25, 2012 at 23:03

I agree on the rest. Good work:)

Alex Brekke · June 25, 2012 at 23:09

Btw the consulting remark was not directed at you, just to be clear;)

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