I cut my teeth in the hospitality business. I was weaned in my parents’ gift shop in Weston-super-Mare, making whippy ice creams and looking out for shop lifters from the age of 11. I learned from a very young age that looking after people puts food on your table and buys your school shoes. I have since learned so much more from a career in the service industry, but the principle of looking after people who give you money remains the same.
You've got me, so talk to me!
I've donated money to a number of causes, large and small, since the pandemic hit and, to be honest, I've been really underwhelmed by the standardised, generic responses I've received from pretty much every charity.
For example... a couple of months ago, I donated £20 to a well-known, high-profile charity because I was moved by a big TV campaign. As thanks for my donation, I received two emails from Virgin Money Giving, and absolutely nothing from the charity. No thank you email. No text. Not even in my junk mail. The email was well-worded, with a nice tone but I was aware that it was from Virgin Money Giving, and not the charity. Last week, I donated £10 to a different charity I'd almost forgotten about, but was reminded of them when they got a nice bit of press. Guess what I received? The exact same generic auto-reply email that I'd received from the previous charity, although slightly tweaked so that the names of the charities differed.
The first emotion this provoked in me was anger. It really pissed me off that neither organisation could be bothered to plug into their CRM to set-up an automatic email that was tailored to their own messaging and where my donations might go to make a difference.
Why more hospitality?
Three things I have learned from hospitality that will translate into every other industry are:
If people don't have a good experience with you, they won't give their money to you
When you engage with your biggest fans, they will do your messaging for you
If you don't engage with your fans, they will move on to something else and forget about you
Here are some reasons why charities need to bear these things in mind when considering supporter engagement:
1. We're officially in a recession - engage with people if you expect them to give you money
If your charity has a paid employee who works in supporter and donor engagement, there is absolutely no excuse for you to not interact with people who donate money to your cause. I remember in the 2008 recession, while working for a chain of bars, that if you didn't work hard to make sure that every single customer left the bar happier than they were when they walked in, they wouldn't come back. At a very base level, the awesome venues stayed open and the sh*t ones closed - the venues that survived were the ones that could guarantee a great experience.
As more people lose their jobs and expendable cash becomes more precious, it is so important that you keep a positive conversation with your supporters going and remind them that you are there and doing a really great job. To rely on government grants would be idiotic - the pot is not bottomless, even though Rishi Sunak may at times have people thinking otherwise.
2. Recruit supporters once - so you don't have to do it again
I generally have a two-time rule when I visit a restaurant; if I go for the first time and receive terrible service, I put it down to one bad experience. If it happens again, I never return.
You should really only have to recruit your supporters once. If you keep your supporter dialogue open with a constant flow of high quality content and by being approachable, they should continue to support you. If you don't talk to your supporters, you'll have to recruit them again, which gets expensive, or they'll just start ghosting you in return. According to charity publication ThirdSector, the average charity take two years to recoup the acquisition costs of a £5 per month donor. To compound this stat, people will on average tell 9 friends when they have a good experience, and 16 when they have a bad experience. Concentrate on giving your supporters an amazing experience, and they will look after your acquisition for you.
3. People need to feel a connection - especially now
People donate to causes they care about, with studies showing that people donate in order to feel happier. I believe that if you are able to make someone's day better, you really ought to, and if someone chooses your cause to give money to, thank them properly! You don't have to spend their donation buying them a gift in return, but it would be good for them to know how their donation is helping you to make the world a better place.
4. People want to make a difference - so be different, not generic
If someone donates to your cause, it means they are interested in what you do - so talk to them! Those with enough money to donate want to do so because they have been personally affected by a cause or the charity’s message ignites something within them.
If an organisation can’t even be bothered to send me an email after I've given them money, when there are so many tools to help them share their story, I shall gift my money elsewhere. Kindness puts food on the table, it gets homeless people off the streets and it gives a lonely person someone to talk to.
5. Don't be lazy, tell me your story - I'm clearly interested
I was really disappointed when I realised I'd received two identical, standardised responses from two different charities after donating to them. Quite frankly, I found it lazy. While it's not good to continuously spam your supporters with requests for money, it is good for them to know where their money is going and who it is helping.
My absolute favourite comms comes from NHS Blood Donation. As a national organisation with big remit and a team behind it, it's easy to assume that it might be easier for them than for other, smaller charities. That being said, there are some enormous charities who are not talking to their supporters - despite having a team of people that are paid to engage with them.
It's not all doom and gloom. There are tools to make it easier for organisations engage.
There are some great tools out there that will help you with your comms - and everything will integrate with your other digital products (website, fundraising platforms etc.) so you can schedule emails to thank people for donations and segment emails to target people depending on the channel they come from.
Charity Digital have developed a great digital marketing platform specifically designed for charities and they don't charge a license fee for hosting your contacts. I've been using it whilst volunteering with Charity Excellence Framework, and it's so easy to use with some great templates to start you off. They also help charities to save money on their digital software purchases - well worth a look.
Mailchimp is still one of the easiest tools out there for managing your database and staying in contact with your supporters. It's completely free up to 2,000 contacts which is a great opportunity to get to know how CRM platforms work, with barely any investment (except time).
Charity Comms has some really good blogs to help and inspire you with your communications and they also have loads of events which will help you learn about more effective communication.
I'm also a big fan of Charity Digital Lab and the tools that they have which will certainly make your digital comms so much easier.
And if you don't know where to start? Get yourself on Charity Excellence Framework, fill out the questionnaires and create an action plan to see where your weaknesses lie.