London is full of places to eat and drink which you stumble upon by accident and wish you had found sooner.
A while ago I happened to walk past the understated front window of Max’s – a new place in North London offering a simple but enticing menu of fresh sandwiches and a small selection of beer and wine. Last Friday night, wanting a quiet night before an early start on Saturday for my AbleChildAfrica Board Meeting, I finally decided to check it out.
Max’s simple vision is to offer customers a chance to indulge in his four favourite things: "Drinking booze, eating sandwiches, staying up late and not getting ripped off."
The experience didn’t disappoint on any of these four points. The sandwiches were colossal and tasty, the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed, and the bill at the end was the final pleasant surprise of the evening. I left a very satisfied customer.
Max’s does a brilliant sandwich but you’d be unlikely to know about it if you hadn’t strolled past the door by chance. Caught between the cosy charms of Crouch End and eclectic Finsbury Park, it’s on a quiet stretch of road with just a couple of pubs for company. The bus is regular and the weather is usually miserable – so most people will hop on the W7 and never even see poor Max’s.
This reminded me of the situation which I think many small charities find themselves in. They might have an enticing shop window which gives you plenty of reasons to walk in the front door – but they’re on a quiet street with not enough people walking by (so to speak).
However, none of this will translate into crucial income unless you have enough people “walking past your window” in the first place.
With literally thousands of charities out there competing for the same donors, small charities often struggle to get attention, even if they develop great fundraising products. What you really need is a base of loyal, committed and engaged supporters.
I developed my ‘donor journey’ approach to supporter communication to address this. It helps small charities to develop a smarter and more pro-active strategy for targeting communications, attracting supporters and growing their loyalty and generosity over time.
I wanted to quickly share a few of my top 'donor journey' tips with you...
Be strategic and proactive
Most people don’t have a pre-determined certainty to support or not support a particular charity. While people will naturally have preferences and beliefs about certain causes, they will be influenced heavily by many factors – such as how they are asked, when they are asked, by whom they are asked and how often.
The way in which you communicate with supporters over time will shape their response at the crucial moment. Your communication strategy must keep in mind the end goal of developing relationships and making appropriate asks.
This is critical because not everybody wants to receive or should receive the same message. If you ask a high value donor to make a small one-off donation, or ask a potential London Marathon runner to do a small fun run, you could be “spoiling” future asks and missing out on income.
Supporters are likely become less responsive if they receive every event invitation, donation request and news update. A strategic approach avoids inundating supporters with too many messages or conflicting pleas for support.
So I support charities to develop two key documents. Firstly a donor pyramid, identifying the different levels and categories that their supporters fall into. Secondly, a communications calendar – planning in advance when to send key messages, how to take advantage of the best communication opportunities and how to sequence things effectively.
1. Via your website – site visitors may not feel ready to make a donation or sign up to an event – but if they leave without doing anything, you may never hear from them again. So feature a newsletter sign-up box prominently on your site and plan what you will send to new subscribers during those crucial first few weeks.
2. Social media is a great way to attract followers. However, it can be difficult to develop that relationship outside Facebook, Twitter etc. Try posting links regularly to your newsletter and website content and encourage people to join the mailing list. This gives you another platform on which to communicate.
3. Sharing is caring – don’t underestimate the power of advocacy and word-of-mouth recommendations. Your followers will have ‘social currency’ with their own contacts – take advantage of this by urging them to recommend and share content with others.
4. Look out for free opportunities – Google allows charities use AdWords for free via the Google AdWords for Nonprofits programme. Most charities are eligible and the application process is fairly quick and simple. There are some limitations and you may require some expertise to get your account working effectively, but in the long term it can make a big difference to website traffic.
5. Think about your own unique points of entry – every charity engages with the public differently and this will provide its own opportunities for recruiting new supporters. However, many charities aren’t great at capitalising on this. Brainstorm all the different ways in which people are likely to first come across your charity and try to make sure it is a positive experience and that you are doing what you can to stay in touch with them afterwards.
Keep it simple
This is where Max really knows his stuff. A simple, easy menu of four sandwiches – consistent quality, no frills and no overly difficult decisions to make.
Being strategic is very important but don’t over-complicate it or spend too long planning. At some point you just need to get started and accept that you will learn things by trial and error.
I hope these initial tips provide some food for thought, just like my trip to Max’s did for me. There's plenty more I'd love to tell you about this approach - both in terms of getting set up and also how to move donors up your pyramid.
Please get in touch with me if you’d like to discuss this further. I’ll also be running a session on my donor journey approach in my workshop on Thursday 26 March.
Finally, I’d thoroughly recommend popping into Max’s to appreciate how to keep things simple and to enjoy a really good sandwich. The braised beef focaccia is worth the trip alone!