You gotta learn to listen, listen to learn

You gotta learn to listen, before you get burned”

– The Ramones

 

At the beginning of 2016 we conducted our first ever in-depth charity consultation; an opportunity to really listen to our key customers about what was important to them. One of the key topics we discussed with charities was our flagship Christmas Challenge campaign, the UK’s biggest online match funding campaign.

 

The Christmas Challenge had achieved a great deal. Over £78m had been raised for more than 2,800 charitable projects since the inaugural campaign in 2008. It had engaged some of the biggest funders in the UK, won several awards for its impact and firmly established itself as a one-of-kind funding opportunity in the fundraising calendar.

 

Despite all that, we knew from the conversations that we were having with charities that elements of the campaign needed fixing. We knew improvements could be made. We wanted to change. We had begun to adopt agile methodologies (derived from the software industry) in the way the Big Give worked. One of the principles behind Agile Manifesto states that “our highest priority is to satisfy the customer”. The consultation provided the perfect opportunity to practise what we were preaching.

 

The consultation

Through interviews, focus groups, surveys and analysing the data we had available to us, we began to gain valuable feedback and build a picture of the problems the Christmas Challenge faced. We found the biggest pain points in the campaign that charities told us about were:

  • The competitive nature of the match funds created a stressful and frustrating experience for some donors. Charities cited examples where match funds had run out in minutes, meaning months of preparation and communications to donors was in vain.  
  • The campaign was disjointed because it was run over several days where match funding was “released” on each day. This led to a start-stop nature to the campaign.
  • The match funding model used was too complicated for charities to explain in an elevator pitch to trustees / donors / stakeholders.
  • For the time and cost, charities weren’t necessarily convinced they were getting good value from participating in the campaign. As a result, charities weren’t returning to us as often as we hoped. Only 1 in 3 of the charities that had ever participated in one of our Christmas Challenge campaigns had taken part more than once.

 

The research

Alongside conducting our consultation, we co-commissioned the UK’s first ever piece of research on match funding. The findings were stark. Match funding really works. 84% of those surveyed said they would be more likely to give if their donation was matched. 1 in 3 said they would give more if a match was offered. Data analysis showed average donations increased 2.5 times during match funding campaigns on the Big Give site. Thought-leaders in philanthropy and fundraising, who contributed to the research, also recognised the power that match funding can have: “Match-funding can provide a well needed boost to charities who, in the current climate, are struggling to bring money in. It’s like giving them a new superpower, a new weapon, a new challenge to get their teeth into. It can reinvigorate their fundraising.” (Bridget McGing, Deputy Director, Pears Foundation)

 

The research reaffirmed that the Christmas Challenge was a good and powerful tool for charities to use to raise funds. But feedback from the consultation led us to believe that with some tweaks, the campaign could be even better and even more powerful.

 

Christmas Challenge 2.0

We made key changes to the campaign which we piloted for the first time in the 2016 Christmas Challenge (or for tech geeks, you can call it “Christmas Challenge 2.0”). The full list of changes were published in a “What’s New” document but included:

  • Changing our match funding from being competitive to ring-fenced for each charity. Fundraisers therefore went into the campaign knowing exactly how much match funding they had for their individual charity.  Because of the ring-fencing, we were able to release all of the match funding on day one of the campaign.
  • We scrapped the fees that charities had to pay to take part in the Christmas Challenge.
  • We simplified the way donations were matched in such a way to incentivise charities to set realistic targets for the campaign. This made it much easier to explain how the matching worked to stakeholders as well as reducing the risk of match funding being left over after the campaign finished, ensuring as many charities as possible could access the match funds we had available.
  • We introduced Christmas Challenge Awards to recognise the efforts of the most successful charities that took part in the campaign.

 

The results

Charity satisfaction has soared as a result of the changes we made, as well as a record number of donations in 2016 when nearly 18,000 donations were received (compared to around 10,500 in the previous year).

 

Although the total raised only increased marginally from £7.27m to £7.3m, for us the results are reflected in the increase in charity participation and satisfaction. Due to the changes we made, more charities (up from 258 to 332) were able to participate and the survey findings on the benefits to these charities surpassed our expectations.The table below summarises some of the findings from our post-Challenge survey which we ask all participating charities to complete.

 

Impact 2015       2016
We attracted new donors through the campaign 48% 95%
Our current supporters gave more 49% 62%
My charity would like to participate in the next Christmas Challenge      67% 95%
We would recommend the Christmas Challenge to another charity 65% 98%

 

The numbers speak for themselves. Just imagine one of the FTSE 100 being able to say they’d increased customer retention by 28% in a year. You’re talking about some pretty happy stakeholders, right?

 

We also explored the changes we made with charities. Of those charities which had taken part in previous years, 93% said they preferred the new model to the old one. It was perfectly summarised by one of our brilliant participating charities: “Success breeds success and your excellent systems and process are a huge benefit to our charity. The way you have taken on board the suggestions we made in the consultation round and the overall support you have given us has been fabulous. There are other ways of raising funds online – but yours adds value through the match funding and, particularly with the changes made in 2016, dovetails very well with a personal approach to attracting, motivating and developing donors year on year.”

 

Conclusion

“Why didn’t we do this earlier?” the team and I reflected after our 2016 campaign. It’s obvious now, but listening to our most valued customers has made a huge difference in terms of the impact and satisfaction amongst that key customer base. Lesson learned. And our challenge to you: Have you taken time to listen to your key customers recently? If not, do it. Trust us, it can make a huge difference.

 

Needless to say, we’ll be continuing to run the “new and improved” Christmas Challenge and look forward to more charities and donors participating in our 2017 campaign. Any charity wishing to participate in the Christmas Challenge can find out more here: thebiggive.org.uk/christmas-challenge/

 

We know we haven’t completely cracked it and we’re always looking for ways to improve. We’ll continue to engage charities throughout the process and more frequently in future. We’re most definitely learning to listen, listening to learn.

 

On that note, we’d love to hear any feedback your charity has on the Christmas Challenge or the Big Give in general, we really do value it: info@thebiggive.org.uk / @BigGive.