Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why We're Switching to iPads

What you might notice over the coming weeks and months on the street, at your door step and in shopping centres are more and more fundraisers carrying iPads. We are moving away from paper Direct Debit forms and, in stages, kitting out every one of our chuggers with a brand spanking new iPad.

Now presumably it's only a matter of time before someone with a platform vocalises their objections to this 'waste of charity money' and so I thought it would be a good idea to explain the thinking behind this move in advance so as to reduce these opinion pieces and so that we can all mock anyone that makes this claim, knowing that they haven't done their research and they certainly haven't asked us why we switched.

We would not be doing this unless it made financial sense to Total Fundraising and to the charities we represent.

There are many, many advantages to using iPads and electronic sign-ups over paper sign-ups. These include:

While there is an up-front cost (huge up-front cost) in purchasing 80+ iPads and developing the sign-up and back-end software, there are long-term savings made to both Total Fundraising and the charities involved (just to be clear the iPad campaigns aren't going to cost charities anything extra - it will only save them money).

  • Most obviously, we no longer need to pay to print triplicate carbon copy mandate forms, a number of which are cancelled, voided and 'soiled' during each campaign. These cost us about €1 per mandate and when signing up 30-50,000 mandates a year this is a substantial saving.
  • We save on printing and laminating the 'presenters' that our fundraisers carry, as well as the A4 folders themselves. Instead, the photos and statistics our chuggers refer to are now displayed on the iPads themselves.
  • We save on postage. With postage costs rising it is especially pleasing to eliminate the registered posts costs that our roaming teams incur every day.
  • We no longer have to pay a staff member to log these paper batches, to key the donor data and to key the hours and results for wages. It will reduce the workload for our payroll staff, our Donor Care staff (welcome callers) and our data entry staff. Fortunately, the increase in size of the business is compensating for this so we don't need to downsize our workforce.

  • About 12% of the account numbers we receive from new donors are invalid. We validate all account numbers when they reach the office to ensure that we do not provide any invalid accounts to our charity partners and they do not waste any time or money presenting them for direct debit.
    When we discover these 12% of invalids in our offices we then have to put the time and money in to contacting the donor to correct the details. Very often the donors are not contactable.
    By validating the details at the time of sign-up through the iPad we eliminate these invalid accounts. It gives the potential donor the opportunity to doublecheck their account details or to change their mind, and we no longer need to process.
  • The iPads also improve our data capture - we can ensure e-mail addresses and telephone numbers are captured and are captured in the correct format. Fundraisers are prompted to ask for contact preferences and other details that they may have otherwise forgotten about. We can quickly and easily make certain fields compulsory. And we can put automated restrictions on certain donors, such as minimum age limits.

  • We take a huge amount of care with the transport and storage of our paper mandates. Nevertheless, in terms of security it's not ideal. The iPads allow new donor details to be securely sent and stored electronically, instantly, and no personal data is stored on the iPads. If an iPad is lost or stolen there is no issue with data security.
  • Another interesting point to note is that if an iPad does get stolen or lost we can track it through GPS and determine exactly where it is. We can also remotely lock it and remotely wipe it. Very cool.

  • Tracking where the iPad is in real-time is just one level of control this new technology gives us. We can also track sign-ups in real-time and track quality in real-time.
  • We can feed information to the iPad immediately. We can update information and forms on the iPad remotely. For example, if a charity releases new stats today we can update the fundraisers presenters immediately. If we find that not enough e-mail addresses are being captured we can remotely make it a compulsory field, or highlight it so it's not being overlooked.


  • One of my favourite things about the iPads is that the fundraisers and managers can see their stats in real-time. They can see the average age of the donors they sign up, the average gift, how much they have generated for charity between all their donors, and much more. They can see how they compare with their co-workers. This is a highly motivational tool.

Technological Innovation

  • The iPads are going to allow us to do some really awesome stuff: with the donors' permission we can capture photos and video, we can use the GPS to do some cool location stuff, we can link in to websites and social media to update live. There are a lot of possibilities and we plan on exploring all of these with the innovative charities that we work with...

This is going to be really cool. Feel free to chat to the fundraisers to see how it works. While you're at it, why don't you sign up and make the world a better place?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

National Volunteering Week

It's National Volunteering Week, which is great. Volunteering is a beautiful thing where everyone benefits.

But did you ever stop to consider that it might be more productive to use those volunteering hours to instead work extra hours in a paid job that you're qualified in, excel in, and probably already work in?

You might not feel as if that's as worthwhile, but you could then take the money you earn from those extra hours and donate them to a cause or a charity you believe in.

With this income the charity could hire someone to do the work you were about to volunteer to do. Realistically, for the amount you've donated, they could probably hire someone to do more hours then you were going to give. They can probably get someone that's better at it than you are. Someone who's qualified. Someone who is going to turn up reliably because, let's face it, you were probably going to flake out after a couple of weeks. Instead they can hire someone who needs the work. You'd be lifting someone out of unemployment. You'd be helping our economy.

It doesn't feel as warm and fuzzy, does it? But economically and financially it probably makes sense.

You should feel good about that. And you should get back to work.

Here's Bill Clinton planting a tree as a volunteer:

But Bill Clinton earns around $181,000 for a paid speaking engagement. Instead of using this time to plant a tree would he have been better off using the time to speak and donating that money to employ some professional gardeners? $181,000 would get you about 18,100 hours of gardening time if you're paying 10 bucks an hour. You could get 10 people in to full-time employment for a year for that.

Of course, I'm just being facetious. I get it that there is a lot more to it than that. It's about what you gain from the experience as a volunteer. It's about donating your own unique skills. It's about making amazing connections you wouldn't normally make. And I genuinely believe we can make a difference by volunteering. Check out http://www.volunteer.ie/ to find an opportunity now.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Non-profit, non-sense

I made a ridiculous statement in a meeting this week where I claimed there was no such thing as a non-profit organisation. More specifically, profit making companies and non-profits are essentially the same thing but just perceived differently.

Yes, it doesn't really make sense and is easily disputed and dismissed. Legally there are non-profits. But I think where my statement stemmed from was a frustration in the assumption that non-profits are good and profit making is bad.

More than that, I think I can trace the seed of this thought back to statements two different charity employees made recently.

The first one was earlier this year when a charity employee said he disagreed with fundraising agencies, as opposed to in-house, because they were 'commercial'.

I don't see the difference. He cares about the cause he fundraises for, I care about the causes I fundraise for. He gets paid, I get paid. How am I any more commercial? Being a longterm employee in a fantastic role there is every chance he earns more than me.

The second statement was from a charity employee who used to work for an agency. He criticised agencies for making their shareholders rich. This is from someone who earns bonuses from his charity employer for hitting fundraising targets.

I get bonuses too. They're called dividends. When my company hits targets and makes profit I get this bonus. I didn't receive any bonus this year because we put all our profits back in to the company to develop two new fundraising products.

So how different are agency fundraisers and in-house fundraisers?

And what does this have to do with the term 'non-profit'?

Well I could run a charity, pay myself whatever I want - even millions - and still be commended for being a not-for-profit.

Alternatively I could run my business, pay myself nothing, but take a tiny shareholder dividend if I have a really good year. I'd be a profit making company.

This is not the way to measure effectiveness.

The truth is every organisation, both profit making and not-for-profit, is somewhere inbetween these two extreme examples. Financial reports are dressed up to appear the way organisations want to be perceived. And these shed very little light on how effective an organisation is in changing the world.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How We Can Make The Irish Charities Expo Work

I nearly called this post "Why The Irish Charities Expo Sucked". But that would be harsh, wouldn't it? And so negative. The truth is there were a lot of positives about today's first ever Irish Charities Expo: the charity turnout was good with a lot of effort put in, some fantastic speakers for free, and [initially] a really lovely, positive vibe.

It was especially good for us as a supplier as we got to talk to the charities about our free services Sponsor.ie and GiftCall.

But alot sucked: It seemed to have an identity crisis...who was this targeted at? It was expensive for exhibitors and the footfall of visitors was virtually zero. The general consensus was disappointment, and even  some anger.

Charities found themselves paying to exhibit because everyone was afraid it would be a huge success and they would be missing out on easy money. The Expo had said that 5,000 company representatives were invited...it might have been amazing. It wasn't. It was sad - for some charities they had paid a huge chunk of budget on this and put a lot of time and effort in to it, and it didn't pay off.

So what went wrong? A few things:

No Corporates
5,000 company representatives didn't appear. A couple of charities said they counted 4 company representatives. Not 4,000. Just 4.

And why would they come? Why would they subject themselves to a room full of charities asking them for money? Why would they throw themselves to the lions?

A company making the decision to donate to charity is relatively easy. They can do it from their office. They can respond to charities they want to respond to. They can meet who they want to meet. They can support who they want to support.

No Public
Similarly, the public wouldn't want to expose themselves to what someone described as "a room full of chuggers", but not to the same extent as the corporates. People love charities. And I really believe that a good chunk of the public would be interested in seeing all of these charities in one place, learning what they've been doing, hearing the excellent speakers, discussing volunteering opportunities, showing their support, and yes even donating to them.

But the public didn't show. Why? Probably because it wasn't marketed very well.

There was very little advertising, very little PR. Social media was not harnessed (the only Facebook presence was an event page that I set up a few days ago). Twitter was used incorrectly. Nobody knew about it.

And that's not necessarily just the Expo's fault - maybe charities didn't advertise it enough, maybe us exhibitors didn't push it enough.

The cost of exhibiting excluded a lot of charities. And almost certainly it was never going to be worthwhile. It needed to be cheap...or free...for charities. Easier said than done. But perhaps us profit-making exhibitors should have paid more. Or maybe the public (if there were any) needed to make a 'suggested contribution' on entry that was divided among all the charities involved. Or maybe they needed more sponsors. They didn't approach us for sponsorship (That always amazes me! Like the ICTR Tax Back Campaign - they are struggling for funding and they've never asked us to sponsor!)

The Charities
Maybe the charities could have done more? I spoke to a really nice print agency guy that I see from time to time. He was doing the rounds at the conference and pitching for business. He spoke to almost every charity there and then he spoke to me, at which point I asked if his company would make a donation to one of our charity partners. He said I was the first person there to ask him for money.

So What Is The Solution?
I believe this can work. I want this to work. I think it's a beautiful idea and can be a great thing for the charities, the corporates, and the general public. So how do we make it work?

Well, it needs to be better advertised. It needs an attraction: a celebrity, an amazing keynote speaker, free shit.

It needs to be cheap, or free, for charities. More of them will exhibit (perhaps with smaller stands) and this will allow the organisers to get more company exhibitors to pay. Make companies like mine pay double, half of which sponsors a charity of our choice to attend and exhibit.

It needs to be better integrated with the charity sector. What about partnering with Fundraising Ireland and running in conjunction with their annual conference. Day 1 is the annual fundraising conference, Day 2 is open to the public with the charities exhibiting and speaking. Maybe at a more appropriate venue.

But I'm writing this on the day of the conference. Let me sleep on it. Maybe I'm being too critical. It's easy to criticise. Maybe there's a lot more to it. We all want this to work, and I hope this will be read as constructive criticism.

On a final note, the other thing that pissed me off was one of the organisers walked by me a few times and blanked me when I smiled, nodded or said hello. I paid for four stands at this thing and the guy wouldn't even acknowledge me.