For a long time, charities have benefited from our in-built good manners.

British etiquette is renowned for being complex, often ridiculous and almost impossible for a foreigner to fathom. If there’s one man that perfectly epitomises our complete inability to be direct, it's Hugh Grant:

It’s this sometimes excessive politeness that has helped to keep many a fundraising wheel turning.

Uncomfortable with saying no, supporters often regret signing up on the doorstep once the panic has passed. But times and attitudes are changing, and to win in the future, charities must change too.

Treat people like consumers, not supporters

As the world becomes ever more connected, the number of messages processed, the amount of content consumed and the way relationships are built is changing. Charities, are competing in this world too, so to succeed we must be far more driven by consumer need.

Consumers increasingly know their value (and the value of their data) so are continually demanding more in return. Over the years fundraisers have faced criticism for asking for a lot upfront but offering little in return – with follow-up communications that are often little more than extra asks for support.

But the imminent GDPR legislation will change everything. Charities will need to offer much more to attract new, opted in, supporters. So, what’s in it for them?

Build a relationship, not an exchange

The idea of a value-exchange in fundraising has existed for some time, but too often it is instant, short-term, and lacking in deeper value. A keyring or a car sticker have their place, but do little to build a real connection.

GDPR presents a great opportunity for us to think about how content and new digital services can attract potential supporters and build stronger value-relationships. These propositions must be interesting and useful to people’s lives. Can we help them fix problems using our expertise, or inspire them with ideas for their own families? How do we make a tangible difference that creates greater desire to support us in the future?

Reap the rewards

Crucially, this means offering something useful before you get something back. Build a connection before you ask for support - it won’t be in vain. We’re psychologically programmed to respond to positive actions with something positive in return, and this strengthens over time - reciprocity. Crudely, it’s why you may find yourself spending a lunchtime buying questionable Christmas cards for the colleagues who unexpectedly included you on their list!

It means we can’t escape feeling a sense of commitment when we get something first; a two-way street.

Three approaches fundraisers can take today to improve their relationships with supporters:

  • What expertise do you have that could benefit potential supporters? Are you an animal welfare charity that could help people look after their own pets? Or a children’s charity that could advise families on how to deal with parenting challenges? For example, the RSPCA have a wealth of free to access information ranging from how to choose the right puppy, through to diet, behaviour and general petcare advice.
  • What questions do consumers have that you could answer? Can you find search data to understand popular search terms in your field of expertise, what topic areas could you own? Google Trends is one useful tool for understanding the popularity of specific search terms.
  • How could you use technology to inspire, educate or entertain potential supporters? Could you create games, videos or experiences that bring your cause or passions to life? A great example of this is how The National Autistic Society used VR to help people understand how an autistic child experiences visiting a shopping centre.

It’s clear then, that sharing something valuable with consumers before they become supporters, will feed future giving. We think it’s the key to turning consent legislation into an opportunity to build mutually beneficial relationships and long-term support.

All of which makes us optimistic that GDPR could herald the start of a very exciting time for new thinking and innovation in the charity sector.

Joie Chapple


Joie is a Planner at Signal. She develops strategies that hero the consumer and achieve commercial objectives.

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