Upgrading: Ignore at your peril

Published by Giles Pegram on

You are writing about upgrading, cross selling and cash gifts.  Why these three?

I covered retention separately in my two blogs (here and here) on relationship fundraising and (here) on recruitment.  These three are the other drivers of monthly regular income.

Presumably the activity that will make the biggest impact is upgrading?

  • Absolutely, but beware of what you call it. ‘Upgrading‘ is what happens when you are bumped from economy to business class, or change your computer.   For us, upgrading is about giving a donor, who is delighted about their support for beneficiaries, the opportunity to do even more. Before being upgraded, a donor should feel good. After upgrading, they should feel excellent.

Where do you start?

  • All evidence, even after 20 years, is that £2 per month is the best entry level. Charities who only change something as major as this with the evidence of testing, maintain £2 as the entry point.
  • If you have an effective upgrade programme, people will gradually upgrade to their comfort level, leaving a rump of people for whom £2pm is right, and who wouldn’t give if the ‘price‘ was £3pm.
  • In the current paradigm, where most communications have a single task, we would thank people for what their current giving is achieving, and ask them if they would feel able to upgrade their gift from £x pm to £y pm. We would do this, ideally by phone, twice a year.   People who upgraded would be deleted from the next ask, so that a donor who upgrades regularly would only be asked once a year.
  • This though feels like a clumsy sales device that even if it results in some upgrades, can put many donors off. In a new paradigm, donors would be asked in almost every communication if they would LIKE to upgrade. And given a choice of amounts.   Simply asking for twice the current amount is crass.   You don’t ask a £30pm donor to upgrade to £60 pm via a standard, scripted, telephone call.   A significant step such as this needs to be very carefully worded so that it is clear that it is the donor’s CHOICE whether to upgrade or not.

Alright, I understand the theory; what does this look like in practice?

2015-08-26 13_33_04-Outlook.com                       

This looks very clever, but you need to walk me through it.

This chart is one of the most informative I have seen.

  • Left hand axis, and bar charts, show the number of donors at each monthly giving level. Right hand axis, and blue line, show the total monthly income.
  • This is a file of donors that is in a state of growth. As such, it is skewed to new donors, and therefore to the left hand side of the chart. The number of £2pm donors is a function of both the number of donors that have recently been recruited, and the donors for whom £2pm is their comfort level.  Even so, although the largest number of donors are giving at £2pm, the largest value is at £5pm and £10pm.  The number of £10pm donors is small compared with £2pm, yet produces (by a small margin) the most income.
  • Twenty per cent of donors produce 50 per cent of income. (£9pm+)
  • Once (if ever) we got to a steady state, (i.e. just enough recruitment to replace lapsed donors), then the graph would inevitably move to the right, as the file matures. Anyone who thinks of regular givers as ‘£2pm donors’ is making a big mistake.
  • image GilesI am fairly confident that, as the file matures, we would see the top 20 per cent of regular givers producing 80 per cent of the income from regular givers. It follows the Pareto Principle, so long as we take into account the top donors that are now ‘creamed off ‘ into a mid-level or major donor programme.
  • However you do it, make sure that upgrading is core to your fundraising programme. It is not the icing on the cake, it is the cake.  At the same time, be donor-centric.   If you are asking people every six months if they would like to upgrade, and after 4 (6?) opportunities, they haven’t responded, stop asking them.   They have told you they are at their comfort level and pursuing them will stop them feeling good about what they can do, and make them feel bad about what they can’t do.

Any final words on upgrading?

Consider giving your £10 pm donors a different message from your £2pm donors. We used to segment by RFV.   There is a whole new opportunity to segment our regular giving file.  ‘R‘ and ‘F‘ have gone.  So we are left with V – value.  There are £10 pm (£120 pa) donors on your regular giving file.   What do you do to make them feel special?

OK, that deals with upgrading, so what is cross-selling?

It is the process of getting supporters to do different things.   E.g. event attendees to become donors, donors to become campaigners, etc.   Someone discovered that the more touch points a donor has, the more loyal donors will be.   A lot of effort is put into encouraging donors to do different things, because this will make them more loyal donors.

That seems reasonable?

Except that all we know is that there is a correlation between those with multiple touch points and loyalty.  We assume that having multiple touch points makes them more loyal.  But we don’t know if there is a cause and effect.   In other words it may be that the most loyal donors are more likely to have multiple touch points.  The cause and effect may be the other way round – counter-intuitive.  We don’t know.

So what’s your advice?

Continue as we are.  Promote multiple touch points, but don’t set too much store that heavy expenditure in this area is going to produce more money from your supporters (I believe the best way to get more money is to promote more happiness and commitment in your donors).   You will identify your most loyal donors in either of the above scenarios, so can take whatever action you feel is appropriate, like acknowledging in one communication each year that we know they have multiple touch points and are our most loyal donors.

What about cash gifts?

1941 Christmas appeal makes national news (Thanks to SOFII)

1941 Christmas appeal makes national news (Thanks to SOFII)

cakeFirst, don’t assume that regular givers will not give cash gifts as well, if there is a reason.   I can think of four good ones.   In each there is a particular, specific need that you require extra cash for.

  • An emergency,
  • A significant new project, where you can show a diagram or picture, and describe how it helps beneficiaries. (At the NSPCC we found that donors in Plymouth would happily give to a new children’s centre in a deprived part of Liverpool and showed their enthusiasm by sending little stars with a message on to the centre.)
  • A one-off appeal, being made to all donors and the general public.
  • An annual appeal. Say, Christmas – and sent in October.   Say, ‘The Director’s Christmas Appeal ‘on the outer envelope.   A review of the past year, in the voice of the director.   Stories of beneficiaries who have been helped.   Stories of donors who have helped.   Sent to all donors, including the “once a year“ donors. I have seen that, when this is done well, the response can be staggering.   Donors recognise it and know this is the one time each year when they should make a special gift.   It grows as it becomes a regular occurrence.

But a donor must feel good about their current giving, not bad because they didn’t give a cash gift.   As I said above, always make your donor feel good about what they can do, not bad about what they can’t.


Giles Pegram

Giles is vice-chair of the Commission on the Donor Experience, an initiative aimed at transforming fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. He is also a trustee of the Institute of Fundraising.


Pat Spanjer · August 25, 2015 at 17:54

What is £2pm?

    Giles Pegram CBE · August 25, 2015 at 22:41

    Hi Pat,

    The concept of regular giving has become a major means of fundraising in the UK. People are asked to give £2 per month. They are stewarded, and asked, from time to time, to increase their monthly gift. The result is shown in the table, The largest proportion of the income comes from £10 per month donors.

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