Fresh from launching the ‘Heart Savers’ campaign at the Heart Foundation of New Zealand, Bruce Waldin shares his tips on getting a successful regular giving program off the ground.

Fresh from launching the ‘Heart Savers’ campaign at the Heart Foundation of New Zealand, Bruce Waldin shares his tips on getting a successful regular giving program off the ground.

An engaging and successful regular giving program is critical to a charity’s growth. A case in point is the local and global expansion of World Vision, driven by its core child sponsorship program.

When I left World Vision New Zealand for the Heart Foundation in 2006, fundraising income – while generally solid and sustainable – was well below World Vision’s. The challenge therefore was to generate sustainable fundraising income to help more New Zealanders understand cardiovascular disease and how to prevent it.

To that end, we undertook to create a regular giving program from scratch. ‘Heart Savers’ is the result, and here are the key steps that were taken to launch it – perhaps these will help you with your regular giving initiatives.

1. Understand Your Unique Situation

It’s tempting to jump right into action, either following someone else’s successful formula or your own instincts. This is a recipe for an expensive disaster. Any good product strategy starts with a comprehensive situation analysis considering your organisation’s unique context, including the fundraising product range and performance, the availability of budget and staff resources, supporter demographics, other charitable programs in your space, the expectations of your stakeholders internally (e.g. senior management and board) and externally (e.g. donors, partners, volunteers and other supporters), inherent risks, and opportunities. Just like people, no two charity brands are alike, so don’t copy others expecting it to work – it won’t.

2. Understand your brand

We spent time analysing the brand perceptions of supporters and the public, then developed plans to improve it in line with our desired future state. People are unlikely to decide to donate regularly to your program if they don’t connect emotionally with your brand and cause. The look and feel, messaging, tone, imagery, and promise inherent in your new program must also match people’s perceptions and experiences of your organisation.

3. Make use of Experts

Once the important background work is done, call in outside help. It’s easy to get too close to your own ideas, and a good consultant (we used Pareto Fundraising) will push back on your unchallenged beliefs or untested opinions. With a disciplined strategic process, a consultant can help you develop a detailed execution plan based on your unique situation. If you think consultants are beyond your budget, consider the risk of your campaign failing. If necessary, wait until funds are available, and prioritise your budget accordingly.

4. Developing the Proposition

An overview of the program was done starting with three critical elements – the brand essence, the project truth, and the donor insight. We decided to launch the regular giving program to our current direct mail appeal donors, with the objective of upgrading them from single-gift donors of varied frequency to monthly donors. We developed a compelling one-sentence campaign proposition: “Take a stand against the biggest threat to your family and friends, by committing to a regular gift of $20 per month”. We also created campaign tools, including the donor journey, feature stories, target audience profile, giving-level ask strategy, and mailer plan.

5. Develop Your Creative Strategy

Develop the unique look and feel of your new program, including the tone, words, visuals, logos, designs, colours and program name. As with all good fundraising creative, the approach may vary according to which part of the story you are presenting (e.g. the need as opposed to the solution). If a creative agency is involved, it is very important to brief them well on the early strategic process and output.

6. Develop Your Creative Elements

Many regular giving launches involve similar key creative elements. We developed a conversion letter, lift brochure, response form, and direct debit form. We also tested a lift postcard depicting one of the story subjects from the letter, with a brief emotive quote from the person and a smaller photo on the back.

7. Know Your Targets and Results

Being able to accurately report your results against agreed documented targets keeps you and your agency partners/consultant honest. Whether things go well or badly, you can’t plan the next steps without a clear and detailed understanding of the previous effort. Include different parameters so you can explore reasons for variations from targets. For example, our average monthly gift fell below target (because we lowered the ask levels), but response numbers exceeded the target. Consequently the return on investment was close to target, and the cost to convert donors to regular givers was half the amount we’d expected.

8. Map Your Follow-up Plan

Prepare your response follow-up from the beginning. All your hard work can be quickly undone if your new regular givers are not treated as the VIPs they are, so deliver on their rightful expectation to be treated better than most. This starts with the welcome pack, delivered quickly! Ours consisted of the pack outer envelope, an information flyer, a case study letter, fridge magnet photo border including important contact details, and a flyer with general heart-health tips. Later on in our tax receipt mailer, we included a supporter care form where regular givers could write a note about their personal story and ideas for the Heart Foundation. This generated an amazing 36% response.

9. Recruit the Right People for the Job

You can’t expect to have committed donors without committed staff looking after them and your regular giving program. So ensure program development is included in job descriptions and performance reviews, and recognise that different skills will be needed for key areas like program strategy, campaign execution, database management and supporter care. Whether you have a team or you’re on your own, be disciplined in your planning and keep assessing all opportunities to acquire, upgrade and retain your regular givers using the mix of skills, resources and creativity available.

10. Keep Reviewing

Continually appraise your situation. How is your program tracking? What about your other campaigns? Are you hitting targets? What’s working and what isn’t? How can you capitalise on your available financial and human resources, now and in the future? Honest performance and situation reviews will inform good decisions about the next steps. Regular giving is about long-term sustainable income, so take a big-picture long-term approach and avoid knee-jerk decisions about program changes.

Our ‘Heart Saver’ program launched successfully. Since then, we’ve tested some things that didn’t work, and noted other unexpectedly high responses. This is building a picture that will help us make the next move towards gradual growth in our regular giving program. Good luck with yours!

Heart Saver Regular Giving Program – Launch Results

No. of people mailed17,043
No. of people who responded656
Response rate3.8%
Average monthly gift$9.45
Regular giving income per month$6,200
Return on investment (Year 1)1.14