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We need to talk about time...

October 13 2017

As an agency, crafting charity campaigns has become an integral part of our creative and customer experience delivery. Whilst our list of Third Sector clients has evolved over the years, so has the role we play for them and our understanding about messaging and audience.

Through a combination of campaign experience and objective data, there are now certain things we know to be true when it comes to asking for donations.

Offer a scale of donation value

Our experience has shown us that when it comes to donating, asking ‘a little’ can go a long way. We have seen first-hand the contrasting results between general requests and small specific demands. Consider the difference between:

  1. Would you be willing to make a donation?
  2. Would you be willing to make a donation? Every penny will help.

Research shows that those who were asked the second option were twice as likely to donate – jumping up to nearly 50% from the 28% that were asked the first line.

It shows that people may be hesitant to take action when clear parameters are not established. In this case, without a clear indication of what an ‘acceptable’ minimal donation might be, donors are more prone to suffer decision paralysis – and ultimately choose not to give at all.

Note, for example, how multiple charity donation pages now provide pre-defined donation values.

Giving is a personal act

There might be a vast array of motivations and personal persuasions governing why someone will donate to charity, but there is usually one constant. And that is the all-powerful “I”.

  • I felt moved by the story
  • I wanted to leave a legacy
  • I wanted to look good – have a better image for myself/the company

Giving has always been a personal act, and whatever the reason for donations, it is likely to stem from personal reasons – so something as simple as making sure the “you” and “your” is front and centre in campaign messaging is crucial. People don’t want to feel like their reasoning is irrelevant. They want to feel a connection and that you understand why they are giving.

The act of giving is immediate

It might be obvious to all, but although we want our donors to be long term, their willingness to give is likely to be impulsive – so let them act on it.

They have just seen your communication, they have just been convinced. Respond before life gets in the way and a million other messages are thrown at them – make sure you let them give! The act of donation or fundraising should be clear, simple and immediate. It should not be defined by one act of payment or call to action but should allow for the easiest method.

It should not involve a long sign up process or numerous checks. Even altruism has an expiry date, so any unnecessary delay is likely to dampen emotional arousal and result in donors giving less – or not at all.

Why aren’t we taking the same approach when we’re asking for time?

Working closely with clients over the last few years we have seen first hand the evolution of asking for money, shift to asking for time. Time to fundraise, volunteer and share for a brand, and talking about time requires a very different approach.

And we have seen that the greatest successes come in the re-packing of time as a donation.

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The scale language: Setting expectations on volunteering time breaks down resistance. Thanks to an array of devices and apps that time us in our daily life, we’re conditioned to monitor the duration of any activity more closely. When asking for time to be volunteered, therefore, we shouldn’t shy away from this. Just as when we ask for donations on a website and offer £5, £10, £20 tick boxes, we should apply the same options to time.

Several notable brands do this very well. BBC Radio 1 asks volunteers to spare a few hours to make a difference as part of its #1millionhours campaign, while Oxfam requests volunteers to ‘give a shift’.

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And remember to quantify that time. It is important you clearly state the value impact of their time and set expectations. People will want to clearly understand how the value of their time (which is often viewed as more precious than money) will impact on the value that the charity produces.

Utilise skills and personal development: Sell the benefit. It may sound counterintuitive, but you sometimes need to articulate in detail how an act of altruism will register on the satisfaction scale. In our experience, most young volunteers fall into the personal development agenda – Millennials in particular respond well to the opportunity to build communication or technical skills. For older generations, it is often the sense of involvement within the community that strikes a chord.

Extend existing time: The example of GoodGym or Casserole Club shows the benefit of leveraging the value from activities that volunteers are already passionate about – in this case running and cooking. By showing runners the impact they can have when they incorporate deliveries or home visits into their exercise routine, or inviting cooks to prepare a few extra portions of their favourite dishes, you can overcome the most common objection: “I just don’t have the time”. All you need is a slick, accessible mechanic to connect those willing to help with those in need of help.

Give people a platform to talk about it: In 2017, we are all ‘sharers’. We check in at each new venue, and post the results of our latest run for all to analyse. Charities can learn a lot from this, tapping into the pride volunteers feel when giving time. We might be reluctant to shout about a financial donation, but we have no reservations about sharing our volunteering experience – which in turn inspires others, turning volunteers into ambassadors. Social proofing can be more effective than any advertising campaign – it simply requires the right platform to assist sharing.

It might seem crude to point out, but charities have the same challenge with each campaign as commercial brands: they need a response to the “What’s in it for me?” question. In this sense, showing the personal development, community involvement, or social profile benefits of volunteering is no different to seeding the philanthropist pool with tax breaks. The tax we pay on time is lack of impact – show people how they can convert their regular activities, hobbies and passions into valuable solutions for their communities, and you are effectively recycling that original waste into a priceless resource.