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What fundraisers can learn from cat owners

03/11/2011

Don’t laugh, but this week’s blog is inspired by a timely reminder from Jeff Brookes over at the Future fundraising blog and our cat Percy. Jeff’s blog talks about the need to put ourselves in the shoes of donors when creating fundraising messages and he’s 100% correct – it’s not what we think about our campaigns and messages but it’s whether they appeal enough to the target audience for them to act in the way we want them to (this applies to all communications of course, not just fundraising).

Taking this a step further, Percy’s behaviour gives me pause for thought when considering target audiences too.

He wants feeding when he wants feeding. If he doesn’t get fed at the time he’s expecting or the experience he enjoys isn’t up to his expectations he makes a point of letting us know by destroying some item of furniture or clothing. Now imagine a potential or existing donor is like Percy – are their preferences and expectations really to be telephoned during their evening meal or their favourite soaps? Even worse, as they’re preparing for bed?

Over time, a cat owner learns about the preferences of their charge and adapts their behaviour accordingly. But even though my home phone number is registered with the TPS (telephone preference service), I still receive those calls from charities who should be adapting to my preferences.

Secondly, when we have delivered to his expectations he is hugely affectionate and loving; bestowing his time, fluff and many small rodents as expressions of his mood. We create the environment he likes and he positively engages with us rather than the neighbours or indeed any visitors we welcome.

Basically, he makes the choice based on what he gets and how he’s treated by us over time. It’s reasonable to acknowledge that donors and volunteers behave in exactly the same way.

Thirdly, if Percy decides he has had enough stroking and we continue to fuss him, there is no gentle warning sign. He either leaps away or occasionally bites. As a society, we don’t tend to give gentle warning signs these days. Instead, given the relative ease with which we can switch allegiances (think banks, mobile phone providers or power companies) we tend to take so much behaviour that we don’t like and then, once our buttons have been pushed, we simply walk away from whatever is peeving us, often without making a fuss or giving the organisation a second or third chance.

I believe this might be particularly true for charity relationships without strong personal ties to underpin any errant behaviour. There are over 160,000 charities in the UK for donors to choose from and there is no penalty for moving or starting again somewhere else.

And at least with Percy we know when he’s walked away…

Lastly, and perhaps a bit trite, is the fact that being a cat owner is hugely rewarding in the long-term both physically and emotionally.

Fundraisers and their charity colleagues should seek to develop such mutually beneficial relationships with supporters. They need something back from the charity if they are going to continue to support it, even if that is only a regular, targeted reminder of the good they are helping to achieve through the charity’s work (although I wouldn’t recommend leaving it at this – see previous post on tangibility).

There is one part about being a cat owner which is very different to fundraising though. Acquiring new donors generally has a much higher cost than engaging existing donors. However, the cost of a new kitten is definitely cheaper than ongoing vets bills! (but don’t tell Percy I said that)

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