The Real Challenge of Multi-Channel Fundraising (or Sales): Customer Service

Published by Mike Johnston on

It’s called many things and it can be a bit of a buzz term: integrated fundraising or multi-channel fundraising.

Whatever its name, its definition is the same: “the use of multiple channels to raise money”. However, it’s not the name or the definition that’s most open to debate. Rather, it is whether multi-channel fundraising leads to better results and a deeper donor relationship.

The furious adoption of the internet for fundraising has brought the issue of multi-channel marketing to the forefront. In the past, direct mail, TV, and the telephone have been effectively combined to help improve fundraising results. For example, the telephone has been used to reactivate lapsed donors and convert direct mail single gift donors to more valuable monthly debit (regular) donors. The evidence, generally, with multi-channel marketing prior to the emergence online giving, was that using a more active channel (e.g., the human voice of a phone call) was a very effective way of upgrading donors who were regularly swimming in the channels of a more passive medium like direct mail.

Why does this happen? A wonderful colleague of mine, David Love, once told me “No one has ever made a wet dash out of the bathtub to open a letter, but they have to answer a ringing telephone ”. And that’s what I mean by active versus passive channels. The phone is much more active and more human with a voice. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t incredible challenges to using the telephone, particularly around the invasion of the privacy of a donor, but it still has a place in multi-channel fundraising.

Unequivocally, the case studies in the charitable sector prove that the combination of online and traditional channels can make huge improvements to online fundraising.

But even if you are tactically ready to integrate your fundraising channels, are you doing it for the right reasons? And what I mean by that is:  are you doing it to provide a better customer (donor) experience?  Because that is the key reason behind providing a cross-channel customer experience.

Nonprofit organizations (and most likely many companies) are contemplating (or already executing) cross-channel customer service models. The underlying justification for all of this should be better customer service. But one barrier to cross-channel customer service execution is finding the right staff. How do you take existing (or new) staff and expect them to know both traditional channels for marketing and new ones on top?

I hope we can draw some focus and inspiration from the Four Seasons – the proudly Canadian hotel and resort Company. No matter the changes in technologies, the company has remained focused on four key principles for success: service excellence; quality; culture; and brand. So when your company or charity are beginning to debate the merits of cross-channel marketing or fundraising you shouldn’t be focusing on the tactical issues – you should remain focused on what cross-channel marketing means to the customer.

How will cross-channel marketing make them a happier (and more profitable) customer or donor for you? Don’t get lost in all the details on various channels integrating together except for how they can be evaluated in the area of customer experience.

And in the area of human resources, do not be discouraged if you cannot find someone who understands all channels (online and offline). Take heed of the Four Seasons and how they hire for their company. They look for the following qualities: excellent problem solving ability; autonomy; a love of what they do; someone who loves people. They don’t hire people in non-executive positions with past hotel experience.

Can you believe it?

Think about that for a minute.

The Four Seasons has the best reputation for customer care in the competitive hotel industry but doesn’t hire people with past experience in that industry. They have created a culture, and training structure, that guarantees that if the person likes people and can solve their problems – the Four Seasons will mould that foundation into something excellent for the industry.

That is key for charities and companies to understand in this cross-channel world. Find people (already with you) or hired from the outside who just love interacting with other people and want to solve their problems. Then give them the cross-channel training they need (or let them learn those technical things on the job) and make sure your corporate culture inculcates them to properly represent who you are to the customer.

Today’s customer is demanding, needs more customer care than ever before and the cross-channel tools (offline and online) must be working seamlessly together. And standing behind those tools has to be staff who are not afraid to step in front of those powerful tools (social media; email; direct mail; the telephone) and solved someone’s problem through what many call ‘the human moment’.

Are you ready to do that?

Mike Johnston

Michael Johnston is the President and founder of the global fundraising consultancy, Hewitt and Johnston Consultants, co-founder of The Global Legacy Giving Group, the sports-based Pro Am Connection, and is the Founding Chair of the Integrated Marketing Advisory Board. Mike has been a fundaiser for over 23 years and is an expert in direct response fundraising innovation and integrated campaigning. He has worked with 100's of nonprofit organizations all over the world. Mike has helped raised over a billion dollars for his clients around the world.


Paul Nazareth · July 26, 2012 at 15:27

I really like that when I get 101 via email I don’t see who wrote it.
Gives me a much more objective reading experience.

Now that I see it was written by Mike J, the experience, the eloquence and strategic nature of it makes perfect sense. I love that David Love-ism!! Going to use it in the future.

As a fundraiser who is on a mission to help charities I care for invest in that full spectrum offering I relish a post like this because it reminds us of the WHY. Every time I talk about going muti-channel everyone jumps to the conclusion I’m talking ONLY about ‘asking’ and doesn’t invest in the engagement factor.

Going to send this to 100 fundraisers to day as a must read. Thanks 101 and MJ.

Christina Attard (@GPtekkie on twitter) · July 26, 2012 at 19:12

“No one has ever made a wet dash out of the bathtub to open a letter, but they have to answer a ringing telephone.”

Yep, but that charity better well have done their homework before pulling me out of the tub!

It’s why charities that are looking at multi-channel, no matter what the medium, better have a strong case-statement that goes beyond the old “donor-as-ATM” value proposition – we have needs, you have money, how about giving us some?

Once the case messaging/value proposition is strong, is compelling, is urgent and it put in the direction of people who the charity strongly suspects care, then the tools we have can become power tools. Otherwise, investing in multi-channel anything is as useful as hearing the SOUND of someone ELSE’s circular saw at 6am on a Saturday morning.

I really like how this post focuses on enhancing the customer experience in all of this – to summarize my point above, I would just add that charities need to also remember that the core-product offered also has to be very high-quality.

David Love · July 27, 2012 at 13:45

Now, you can have your IPad in the tub with you!

We can’t say often enough that that when we talk with our donors, through any channel, we are obliged to say something inspiring and relevant to them.

Can’t resist another quote, this time inspired by the philospher “Rabbit” in Bambi.

“If you can’t say somethin’ inspring, dpn’t say nothin’ at all.”

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