SOFII's Blog - interesting fundraising trends and ideas from around the world

SOFII is an online archive of fundraising best practice and creativity. It is filled with an ever expanding array of easily accessible exhibits, articles, videos, opinion pieces, hints and tips, book reviews and recommendations. The SOFII blog is a place for us to share some thoughts and ideas that might not have an obvious home on the SOFII website. It’s also a place for us to invite guest bloggers to share their views. If you’d like to contribute to our blog please get in touch with

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Social trysumers and the free experience era.

By Marcelo Iniarra

I was contacted by SOFII a couple of weeks ago to write a regular blog on interesting fundraising trends and innovations. I have been scratching my head fairly consistently ever since about how best to begin a series of posts on one of my favourite elements of fundraising, and indeed the primary focus of my career as a consultant, innovation.

Those of you that know me through work, or have attended one of the workshops or seminars that I give at various fundraising events around the world will probably be aware of my philosophy that innovation should be a primary focus within all social organisations. In this post I will be focusing primarily on innovation within the area of fundraising.

After more than a decade promoting this philosophy, firstly from within Greenpeace and later as a creative strategist at my own company,, with clients such as UNICEF, UNHCR, Action Aid and SOS Kinderdorf, I began to notice a pattern emerging regarding supporter needs.

As some of you may be aware, during my time at Greenpeace, I was one of the pioneers of digital media within the social sector. While promoting digital innovation within the organisation, I began to notice more and more people getting involved as cyber activists, e-newsletter subscribers, mobile phone donors and through other means of digital participation, even though many of them had never actually donated money.

A pressing question began to emerge in my mind. What if we started to consider these people not just as mere contacts in our databases but as people with a new access to the organisation, people who are interested in the cause and might one day go on to make a donation so long as their free experience of our organisation turned out to be a favourable one?

During a time when digital media is enabling us to have so many experiences for free – we can consult encyclopaedias, listen to music, watch television, read newspapers, all without spending a single penny, social organisations must also join the free experience era and involve people in their work before asking for a donation.

The term that I invented for these supporters, ‘social trysumers’ is probably best explained in the chapter Social Trysumers and the Hidden Gate in the Pyramid , that I co-wrote with my former Greenpeace colleague and friend Alfredo Botti, which appears in the book, Internet Management for Non-profits.

Social trysumers is based on a concept that first appeared on the website in March 2007. Trysumers, simply put, refers to a new breed of consumer who wants to ‘try before they buy’. In my opinion, supporters of our social organisations are certainly no different and, largely thanks to the boom in digital media, there has been an in

creasing emergence of non-financial supporters in search of new and creative proposals for social change.

As a result of this new door, we then discovered that changes must be made to the traditional fundraising pyramid in order to bring it up to date with this new free experience era. The traditional fundraising pyramid only permitted access to the organisation by making a donation. Entry could be gained by making a one-time donation, by becoming a monthly donor, or by leaving a legacy, but it always involved an initial financial contribution.

The new fundraising pyramid includes a new entrance – a non-financial, digital entrance – as well as a whole new level from which millions of people can potentially begin their journey of commitment to an organisation.

In my experience, there are two kinds of people that inhabit this new level of the fundraising pyramid. The first kind, the ‘social trysumers’, wants to experience the social sector via new media, without incurring any costs. Maybe they will like what they find and go on to support the organisation financially, or maybe they won’t...

The second group consists of a more traditional sort of social participant who wants to become part of a digital movement, activism or community and enters the new pyramid that way. These kinds of people already want to form part of the organisation but do not want to commit to a donation right away.

Some examples of successfully implemented social trysumer programmes include several campaigns developed by Greenpeace and, which encourage people who want to help a cause or individual to get involved, say bu signing a petition or calling a government into account. The hope is that this experience will make the trysumers think, ‘Hey, I love doing things for this organisation’. Then, when there is a financial appeal, these people will respond by saying, ‘Sure, I’ll support your cause financially because I know how important it is to fight for, how difficult it is to achieve certain goals, and I know that you’ll make the most out of my donation’.

Of course, the issue of sustainability is vital for social organisations and it is therefore important that we obtain as much contact data for our social trysumer databases as possible, in order to persuade them to cross the line into a financial relationship with the organisation at a later date.

As a result of these dramatic changes to the very foundation of fundraising, the question also arises as to whether fundraising itself should change in order to accommodate this new breed of supporter. Which department should be in charge of managing the social trysumer database? Should the communications area manage the email or SMS information? Should the campaign area take charge of involving the trysumers in digital action? Must the fundraising area invite the trysumers to donate in order to achieve its organisational objectives?

I believe that now, more than ever, there should be public mobilisation or supporter mobilisation departments, integrally leading non-financial relationships with the organisation. This would constitute a significant change in fundraising. Given the new paradigms introduced by electronic media, perhaps the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who lived more than 2,000 years ago and could not possibly have imagined that his wise advice would still apply today, was very right in stating, ‘There is nothing permanent except change’.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Why are we afraid of success?

By Damian O'Broin

It was interesting to read Christiana’s article here two weeks ago on failure and how talking about it builds trust with supporters. I’ve been thinking a lot about success recently and how many of us seem afraid to talk about how successful we are.

I’ll give you an example. On two different occasions recently, I’ve found myself debating with clients on whether or not to tell donors how successful previous fundraising appeals have been. As it happens, both appeals were for specific parts of their work and both had exceeded the stated target – by quite a margin.

I wanted to shout this from the rooftops and tell donors exactly how much had been raised. This was great news, wasn’t it? But our clients were more reluctant. Basically, their concern was that if we told donors how much was raised we would de-motivate them to give in the future. That it would decrease the need in their eyes.

I think this is wrong for several reasons.

First of all, it misunderstands the nature of influence. One of the six principles of influence identified by Robert Cialdini is the notion of social proof – when we are unsure of what to do, we look around to see what others are doing and take our lead from them.

This is why sit-coms use canned laughter – it tells us when we should laugh. And it’s what lies behind the phenomenon of ‘pluralistic ignorance’, when a group of bystanders can watch a life-threatening event – a mugging, a heart attack – and fail to act. Each is looking to the others for a cue as to how to behave and, as they’re not sure how to react, they don’t act.

Social proof is a very powerful lever of influence and clearly it’s in our interests as fundraisers to have it working for us rather than against us. If we constantly talk about need, without sharing our successes, we are implicitly suggesting to a donor that other people don’t support us.

Whereas, when we demonstrate, in clear and specific ways, that lots of other people are also donating to our cause then we tip the scales of social proof in our direction.

In essence, by telling our donors just how successful we’ve been at raising money, we are providing them with social proof that their decision to support us is correct.

It’s also well known that people like being associated with success. Post election opinion polls are a good example of this. After elections, polls tend to show that the winning party or candidate performed better than they actually did, as respondents associate themselves with success.

And there are other reasons why it’s good to tell donors exactly how much you’ve raised.

It shows that you’re good at what you do. It demonstrates that your fundraising is effective, efficient and well run. Exceeding your target gives you a better fundraising ratio.

It provides clear, tangible evidence that what you’re asking for in your appeals is both realistic and achievable. If your donors know that, between them, they’ve managed to give €100,000, when you go back to them with a target of €125,000 they’ll know that it’s within reach.

The converse of this is important to bear in mind. If you set a target that your donors don’t believe is achievable, they are much less likely to make a gift.

Let me give you an example. Bullying UK – an organisation that I admire – faced a funding crisis over the summer. They needed to raise £50,000 by the end of August to avoid closing down. When I heard, I immediately went to make a donation. But I hesitated. As I thought about it, I realised that I wasn’t convinced that they would be able to raise the money and, therefore, my small gift would be wasted. I never made the donation. (As it happens, the appeal fell short, but Bullying UK struggles on.)

Another important reason to share the detail of your success in this way is simply because it’s true. Telling donors about it is genuine feedback.

We’re gradually entering an era where complete openness and transparency is becoming the norm that is expected of nonprofits by their donors. I believe that the only way to respond to this is with radical honesty. Not just giving donors answers to the questions they ask, but by making available information on everything that they might ask about (with the usual caveats about the privacy of those a nonprofit helps or supports).

Radical openness of this sort will inevitably build trust between donors and charities and help to dispel the myths about inefficiencies and exorbitant administration costs.

And, on a smaller scale, being truthful and sharing information about the detail of your fundraising successes will help to build trust, loyalty and commitment with your donors.

But perhaps you’re still looking at the brass tacks. ‘We asked for €50,000 for project X and we raised €100,000. Surely if we tell donors this, when we go back and ask them for €50,000 for ‘project Y, they won’t donate.’

Again, I think this is wrong. Donors aren’t stupid. They know that the costs of running a nonprofit or charity are extensive and far greater than one appeal will ever meet. They’ll feel positive that you’re raising so much money to help the cause that they support and believe in. I don’t think sharing your success will reduce future income. I think it will increase it, as donors see just how far their donations can go.

At a time when there’s such scepticism about ‘professional’ fundraising and a widespread belief that most of the money doesn't go to the end user, to be able to say that not just the money we asked for, but far more is going to help the end user is a fantastic opportunity: one that shouldn’t be passed up.