Tales from the Secret Giver: from a whisper
to a scream (and everything in between)

Home/Secret Giver/Tales from the Secret Giver: from a whisper
to a scream (and everything in between)

It has now been two years since we started the Secret Giver. At the beginning, we set ourselves the lofty ambition of being able to genuinely track and understand the supporter’s true perspective on their ongoing relationships with the charities they support.

Each of our Givers supports and tracks just one charity each – ensuring they get exposed to every single element of the Supporter Journey as it develops and can give us regular, consistent feedback on their experience.

So far, our Givers have had almost 3,000 interactions with the forty plus charities we have been tracking and every year we provide our members with a comprehensive benchmarking report of how they compare with the marketplace and their competitors. As we work through the analysis, I have been struck by some of the similarities and disparities that we are seeing – particularly from some of our biggest and most well-known charities.

Every interaction from every charity is measured and assessed for six key factors: frequency, timing, method, content, quality, and accuracy. Our Givers also review the service they receive and how it all affects their commitment levels. All of this data is analysed for insights, conclusions and recommendations that cover everything from prompt levels, to cross-selling, to thanking to Gift Aid.

But even the simplest measures can tell some tales.

Let’s take volume of interactions – perhaps the simplest measure of all. Immediately some vast differences become apparent. We record how many times each charity engages with their Giver and have broken this down into four six-month blocks over the two-year period.

For each of these periods, the lowest volume is just one or two interactions, but the highest shows one charity reaching a massive 66 interactions in one single six-month period.

[Chart] Volume of interactions: range (by John Grain Associates)

However, the single highest and lowest counts are the extremes of the measure, and can distort perspective. So, we took an average of the five highest volume charities and the five lowest and then looked at how that might affect the overall picture.

[Chart] Volume of interactions – top and bottom five charities (by John Grain Associates)

The higher range becomes much closer (previously it ranged from 39 to 66), however it is now between 32 and 38 engagements. The lower range (that was just 1 or 2 interactions) now span an average of 3 at the lowest to a high of 6 interactions. It does still show that while some organisations are very regularly in contact with their supporters five or six times per month, others are only managing this number of engagements in six months.

Of course, averages show trends, but they don’t tell any specific stories. By looking at cumulative totals over the two years, we can see how the least active engaged with their Secret Giver a paltry eleven times in two years – barely a (careless) whisper. Meanwhile the busiest charity racked up a huge 200 interactions in the same period – pretty much akin to constantly screaming in someone’s face.

As a Giver, it’s a pretty different experience to be interacting with a charity you support twice a week, or once every two months! Even the second highest volume charity managed 140 interactions – equivalent to more than six a month. And the next three highest were all engaging more often than once a week on average. By contrast, at the other end of the scale, those charities favouring more of the whisper approach were interacting less than half as often as the average.

[Chart] Total volume of interactions – most and least (by John Grain Associates)

So, what is the impact of greater, or lesser, amounts of engagement with your supporters? Of course, there are lots of other variables at play, but at its simplest, feedback from our Givers consistently shows two things where volume is concerned.

Firstly, to butcher a metaphor, less is not more. Less, when it is so little that our Givers have almost forgotten you, is just a one-way train to lapseville. Our Givers’ commitment scores have declined (from the previous six-month period) every single time a charity has barely been in touch. Without fail.

As soon as there is a gap of ninety days or more, our Givers inevitably mention it as a frustration or disappointment. The feeling is exacerbated if, hitherto, interactions have been more regular than that.

Lots of engagements (and we are deliberately not saying ‘too much’), are affected much more by relevance and quality for our Givers. If there are lots of touch points but they are well done, interesting and (critically) well-integrated, then our Givers typically underestimate how often they have had contact with the charity.

If, on the other hand, the volume exponentially increases as our Givers choose to engage with more opportunities presented to them (take a survey, attend an event, sign a campaign) but then drop into what are best described as separate supporter journeys that pay no heed to each other, then the frustration starts to mount. We had one Giver enthusiastically get involved in three or four separate activities only to find their in-box, and doormat, inundated to such an extent that in the third six-month period they were having more than one interaction per week, compared to one every three weeks plus in the previous six-months.

Supporters notice things like that, especially when the charity makes no mention of contacts that have come before, and even more so when the requests to give / do / write / attend / volunteer etc. also increase exponentially. Not only was this Giver being contacted more than once a week, the balance of content had changed from 61 per cent Supporter Care & Feedback related communications to 36 per cent – meaning almost two-thirds of engagements were now directly wanting support of some kind.

The real problem with this is that it is happening to the most committed and the most interested – those of our Givers that have really been inspired to get more involved are now expressing irritation at the lack of joined up communications and awareness of their relationships with the charity. In common with those who are receiving next to nothing, their commitment ratings are starting to decline. It may take longer to happen, but what an avoidable tragedy that is in terms of driving supporters away.

In this article, we’ve only scratched at the surface of the impact of volume on the supporter experience, but even so it should be food for thought.

At the very least we would encourage you to start thinking about Supporter Journeys in a different way. Don’t simply focus on those internal ‘mapping’ exercises but consider the volume, the frequency, the content mix, and cast a critical eye over the quality and relevance of all your communications. These are all significant factors from the supporter’s perspective, but too many of the charities we are tracking are failing to have a holistic view of their overall programme, resulting in too much too quickly, or perhaps even worse, never enough in the first place.

Our final chart is a slightly crude one, but I think it makes a point effectively enough. The volume levels of the five least active charities (three of which are household names) account for just 4 per cent of the overall total. The volume levels of the five most active charities (three of which are also household names) account for 26 per cent of the overall total. The average commitment ratings for the least active five has dropped from 60 per cent to 23 per cent. The average commitment ratings for the most active has increased from 60 per cent to 65 per cent. Overall, across the scheme, commitment ratings have dropped 6 per cent in total to an average of 54 per cent.

This all says there is still much work to be done to improve the supporter experience and turn the hypothetical Supporter Journey into something that actually has genuine, practical impact and purpose.

[Chart] Volume compared to commitment (by John Grain Associates)

The Secret Giver scheme is a comprehensive mystery shopping and benchmarking scheme for the voluntary sector, tracking and analysing every communication from nearly fifty charities across a wide range of causes.

More information about the Secret Giver scheme click here.