Why it’s almost impossible to fix your stubborn fundraising problems

Published by Charlie Hulme on

Every charity has its own stubborn fundraising problem – one it’s never been able to solve. What’s yours? Perhaps it’s:

  • All channels: falling response rates?
  • DM: a struggling banker pack?
  • F2F/D2D/private site: low engagement?
  • Cash: second gift rate consistently low?
  • Online: poor open and click rates?
  • TM: high hard no rates?
  • Or…?

The list could go on indefinitely. But however many problems, there is one uniting them all – the many failed creative “solutions” were undermined by faux science.

So much great creative effort and talent has been wasted. Not because the writer couldn’t write, or the designer couldn’t design. But because what they were writing/designing was based on useless “insight”.

Think of that survey or focus group whose answers were fascinating but didnt translate into change. Or all that supposed insight drawn from correlation rather than causation, e.g. ridiculous statements like “Men prefer X, but women prefer Y”or “Millennials need … ” (as though the many millions of millennials are identical!).

I speak from painful experience having worked as creative director for a large agency. I can sadly and truthfully say I never once received a remotely useful brief. Sure, they could tell me what they wanted people to do. But they couldn’t begin to tell me why people would want to do it.

No wonder those stubborn fundraising problems remain unsolved! Solving them requires subject matter expertise in the science of changing human behaviour.

Many preach the miracles of behavioural science. But few are qualified to practise it.

Dr. Kiki Koutmeridou of DonorVoice has both a PhD in behavioural science and an MSc in neuroscience. In other words, she is an expert on the subject of human decision making.

Working alongside her has blown up everything I thought I knew about behavioural science. Like any conscientious creatives, I avidly consume books, blogs and conferences on behavioural science. But that doesn’t make me a scientist … just a well-intentioned amateur.

I “knew” a lot of things for sure before working with Dr. Koutmeridou. For example, I, like any amateur who’s read a few books, would have told you with certainty that social proof (the principle that we do what we see others doing) was damn near an immutable law.

Unfortunately, nothing’s that simple. Here’s what happens when that generic principle is expertly applied in a specific context. In this case trying to gain supporter consent.


Two things are immediately striking:

1. There is a massive variance between the highest and lowest performing condition. But the only variable is literally a single word.
2. There are two cases where not using the principle perform better than using it.

These results, in this case, will have direct impact on how many people consent to be contacted. In other words, the financial future of this organisation rests on getting this right. I know for sure I couldn’t have guessed which was the correct execution. Could you? Could your agency?

That said, Dr. Koutmeridou would be the first to tell you that transforming behavioural theory into problem solving application takes creative expertise. And, frankly, I’m loving every minute of working alongside her, creatively applying her insight. Between us we’ve taken solid scientific study and translated it into creative that’s delivered game-changing results across channels.

Here’s a recent and radical example of a stubborn problem that was solved, which resulted in a 42 percent increase in total revenue (not a typo!)

Whatever your perennial fundraising problem, there will be a creative execution of a scientific solution. So, you’ll need both a scientist and an artist.

For a free consultation on fixing your stubborn fundraising problem, drop me a line at chulme@thedonorvoice.com

Editor’s note: You can catch Charlie in action at #IFC2017, taking place 17-20 October in the Netherlands, where he’ll present a masterclass, “How science has transformed the supporter journey (and the enormous difference its had on retention and net revenue!)” and workshop, “GDPR What does it mean, what do we need to do?” Luckily, there are still some spots left! Snag yours here.

Categories: Latest posts

Charlie Hulme

Charlie Hulme

Charlie is MD of Donor Voice. He helps charities uncover what, of all the things they do, cause relationship strength and what is harmful. Partners see a massive improvement in performance, value and retention. Voted top speaker at the Institute of Fundraising's National Convention in 2013, he writes frequently for SOFII, 101 Fundraising, the Institute of Fundraising and many others.


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