Ask a donor this December

The bustle of social events, shopping trips and family visits can make December pass by in a flash. Fundraisers are busy winding up their Christmas appeals and are perhaps even looking ahead to Valentines appeals, Spring newsletters and New Year supporter events. That feeling of relaxation once the holidays start (or the relatives head home) can seem like a distant memory once you’re back behind the desk in January. Time to do it all over again…

This perpetual busyness and churn is overwhelming and unhelpful. But equally, the intention of coming into 2018 refreshed and ready to shake things up doesn’t always work when you’re cold, miserable and your trousers are too tight.

If you’re anything like me, the best way to combat the January blues is to make a plan in December. This preparation allows you to completely switch off from work over the holidays, safe in the knowledge that you’ve got your list ready to work through when you return.

I’ve been thinking over the last couple of weeks about what the best December lists might contain to help fundraisers get 2018 off to a roaring start. At last week’s CASE Development Services Conference in Manchester, there was a lot of talk about important GDPR prep everyone was doing, but frankly, if my December list consisted mostly of the Privacy Impact Assessments I needed to do, I may not come into the office again.

Helpfully, an equally strong theme was the desire to get to know our audiences beyond the numbers and to better align activities to meet audience needs. My clients, Balliol College and I presented on how we’re using qualitative and quantitative research to explore alumni affinity, identity and expectations – and several members of the audience were planning similar studies of their own.  And why wouldn’t they be? Donor and alumni insight (and the resulting segmentations and journeys) are driving previously unimaginable engagement, acquisition and retention rates.

But the best part about conducting research like this is that it’s genuinely exciting. No really, it is! People tell you the most intimate and heartfelt things, and they will also challenge and surprise you. If you ask the questions, and are prepared to listen, you can find out everything you need to lead strategic change at your organisation. Not only that, if you get to know your supporters, you will become more motivated to go and do it.

So, if you’re looking for a way to make 2018 more rewarding for you personally, more successful for your team and, well… more fun, then here is my challenge to you:

Your goal for this December is to write a list of things you’d like to know from (or about) your alumni and supporters.

Simple, right?

If you write down just one thing every working day, by 22 December you’ll have a pretty interesting to-do list for 2018.

But don’t worry, you won’t be on your own in January! In my next blog, I’ll cover how to turn this list into the best research study your organisation has ever undertaken.

Here are some examples to help you get started:

“I want to know:

  • Whether my alumni enjoy reading our (very expensive and time consuming) annual alumni magazine
  • Why my lapsed donors ended their support (☹)
  • What the barriers are to attending our events
  • What our donors think of the service they receive when they call or email our team


Over to you, #CuriousFundraisers!


Image credit: The Christmas Calling List By Duncan McPhee, courtesy of Archives New Zealand Reference: AAAC 898 NCWA Q819. Licence.

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