Data in Direct Marketing: Past, Present, Future

This week we’ve been at the Institute of Fundraising’s National Convention, the biggest event for fundraisers in Europe. It’s a tremendous event – 2,000 people attend – and the content is fabulous.

Our own Dawn Varley presented on a subject close to her heart – data! Alongside Simon Freeman, Supporter Analysis Manager at Save the Children, and Jonathan Moxham, Database Marketing and Analysis Manager at the British Red Cross, Dawn delivered a session entitled ‘Data in Direct Marketing: Past, Present and Future’.

Dawn’s role was to describe the ‘Future’ of data in direct marketing – here are her predictions, heavily laced with a huge dose of common sense!

What does the future hold?

There’s a lot going on in the world of data and data systems at the moment. Some folks think ‘the cloud’ is the answer (sometimes without really knowing the question) and others think gobbling up more and more data (BIG data!) will give insights we didn’t even know we needed! Amongst all this we have the shifting sands of technology suppliers and the systems they offer. Is your database really going to serve your charity well for the next 10 years or will something more shiny revolutionise your fundraising? All these questions and no real answers. And I don’t have answers either – but here’s what I think …

‘The Cloud’ – means many things to many people, and is one of those buzz words banded about without much thought as to what is really mean by it. It can mean a myriad of different things – it’s the context in which it is used that defines it.  There’s no doubt that ‘The Cloud’ offers us great options to do things in different ways, from removing IT infrastructure to storing our data in the ether rather than in a ‘traditional’ model sat in the office such as thankQ, Care, Raiser’s Edge etc. But for the subject at hand, data in DM, these things matter not.

BIG data is cool, it’s out there, and it can add layers of insight that we never thought possible. But for charity DM right now, it’s not the immediate future – small is where it’s at. ‘Small’ data is YOUR data – the stuff sat in your database about your supporters, and it’s more important to get that in good shape (clean, robust and meaningful), have it understood (a data dictionary exists) and be worked well (you have a data strategy which matches your fundraising strategy), than to start getting fanciful about the BIG stuff. For charities, the land may lie very differently in 20 years’ time but, for the short term, make sure your house is in order.

Before considering my predictions, we need to be sure not to forget the past. ‘Study the past, if you would divine the future’ said Confucius – and I agree. The future needs to be built on the foundations laid in the  past – so the basic, solid and critical stuff we know about DM remains the core. We need to apply a robust RFV model to ensure we’re looking at the most responsive (aka profitable) sections of our supporter bases – and adding more segmentation and analysis will help target what should be the cream of the crop (the past and present as dealt with by my co-presenters Simon and Jonathan). But, looking forward, the key question is what do we need to add to that to maximise return for charities?

Prediction 1 – the future is indeed mobile

There were more than 100 sessions at the IOF’s National Convention this week, and it seems that most have the same prediction– that mobile devices are the future of fundraising. I’d agree, but with an important caveat. Yes, these are now essential devices – always with you, always on, and always demanding of your attention (Google ‘continuous partial attention’ – fascinating stuff) – but we can only start to make this a meaningful channel for fundraising if we have the data to join up the dots.

If I donate to your charity by SMS, and am also a regular donor by DD, do you know I am one and the same? How? You will only know this if you have my mobile number on your database, so you can match my SMS donation number to the mobile number you have on my record (most likely created when I took out my DD). The vast majority of charities won’t have that, and don’t have plans to capture that information at the point of sign-up. Start now!

Crucially, don’t lose sight of your best supporters. If Dorothy Donor is your number one supporter, you are less likely to engage her via this channel. Don’t get too distracted by the shiny, exciting digital stuff when what you need is a good banker postal pack and a robust legacy programme. Digital won’t meet all your targets whereas the offline tried and tested techniques will be the mainstays of income generation for many years to come.

Prediction 2 – it’s social

Communications, therefore marketing, therefore fundraising, has moved from broadcast to interactive, especially for online activity. We have to listen, interact and respond if we are to maximise fundraising. Some would say it’s relationship fundraising – who was it that said that?! But it’s not just about organisation-to-supporter relationships. A new report out this week states that 51% of the charity audience is online; that 30% of donations come through online methods, and that (brace yourself) 90% of online donations are made through online giving sites.

What that means is that it’s highly likely not to be you, the fundraising expert, who is asking for this money. It’s all those supporters out there who are throwing themselves out of planes, running marathons, or just asking for donations (instead of presents) for special occasions.

And whilst these people are just fantastic (we love them) they are not professional fundraisers – so we need to transfer some skills to help them maximise their ROI (and tell them what that is)!

We need to support our armies of fundraising supporters, and provide them with the tools and skills to make the most of their energy and commitment. They need to know the Fundraising 101’s:

  • People fundraise from people
  • Stories are critical
  • Know your case for support and how to express it
  • Make the ask, repeatedly where necessary

Prediction 3 – Data and tech and teams

In the future, the most successful fundraising organisations will have realised the importance of data and the technology that captures, stores, analyses and works it. Plus, they will have their house in order.

  • Get your data in order – capture the right data, at the right time, in the right way. And use it intelligently. Information is everything (think of Amazon or Tesco in the commercial world).
  • Get your technology in order – fit for purpose, future proofed systems which, crucially, can talk to each other easily and that people like to use (Google, Facebook, Just Giving).
  • Get your teams in order – silo working helps no-one – invest in the ways you work inside your organisation and get your people talking.

Ideally, when doing all the above, do it by stealth. It breaks my heart to admit this, but people generally don’t get excited by data, or technology, so present it in fundraising terms – it’s about raising more money, more easily, and more efficiently. Honest.

Prediction 4 – DM basics remain true

As much as things change, they stay the same. Ensure you keep your DM basics close to hand – the principles remain the same across all channels:

  • Right message, right time, right person (who remains Dorothy Donor in most cases – never forget you are not your donor, and the future is not now)
  • Your case for support is everything: Stories, told by people
  • Collect the data, analyse the results, act on the knowledge, test where you can. Digital routes make testing easier & quicker

And as a final reminder to not get distracted by the shiny, exciting digital stuff too much, I’ll close by saying:

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Albert Einstein