Leeds University Union A Capella Society, The Songsmiths

University of Leeds

Going on a journey to transform regular giving

Some of our favourite work grows organically, when a partnership blossoms from promising beginnings, and when we go on a journey together to create more impact. With the University of Leeds, the journey started with Rosie and Adrian’s long-running Regular Giving Insight and Benchmarking project. This sector-wide annual exercise enables higher education institutions to compare themselves against others and identifies areas of challenge or growth within their own programmes.

The University of Leeds has been a loyal member of the benchmarking project since its inception 10 years ago. In 2019, their data highlighted a fall in giving from direct marketing and lower-than-average donor retention. Knowing the value that Rosie and Adrian’s cumulative experience could bring, the team at Leeds asked the pair to delve further, to understand what might lie beneath these worrying trends.

We looked at their direct mail, stewardship pieces and telephone programme, and dug deep into the numbers,” says Rosie. They found a lack of consistent messaging, as communications switched from asking for specific research projects to student support, and that this changed from appeal to appeal, format to format, and year to year. The lack of consistency was having a real impact on donor retention, as donors to the specific research asks would give once but wouldn't give again. “From our work elsewhere, we knew that donors who give to specific research appeals won’t necessarily be interested in student support and often wouldn’t give again.” But there was also a loyal cohort of donors who weren’t being retained because they weren't being presented with communications that spoke to them like supporters, and they were also lapsing. “When we presented our more in-depth analysis, the team at Leeds said: ‘OK then, help us to fix it’.”

Mapping the journey
Rather than give the team a long list of everything they needed to do, Rosie and Adrian focused in on what they needed to do first which was retaining more donors as this was where the greatest value was. They started by mapping the existing journeys for different supporter groups, whether first-time, loyal or direct debit donors. They highlighted what each group had received over the last three years and what their experience of the institution might have been in terms of asking and messaging, including emails, newsletters, magazines and alumni events.

We focused in on how donors were being asked, thanked, engaged and stewarded across all channels,” says Rosie. “We found that appeals were being created first and foremost to acquire donors and were just being tweaked for donor audiences.” This meant that previous and loyal donors - who were contributing most of the income - were being communicated with as if they hadn’t given before. “These donors were already part of the Leeds family and needed to be acknowledged for and shown the impact of their previous giving. Together we worked with the team to shift the focus more onto their donors – who they were, their previous giving and what they would respond to.

This flip from being activity and appeal-led to being donor-led was a real shift. With this insight, Rosie and Adrian worked with the team to co-create new supporter journeys that focused more on the donor experience. They also supported the team to define and articulate the underlying purpose of the regular giving programme and create a consistent story for donors, which would focus more broadly on student support rather than specific research projects. Defining audiences and segmentation were key, so the data team was involved from the start and together we set achievable programme KPIs which were used to monitor progress through the year.

Top of the league
The impact? In the next benchmarking exercise, Leeds were top of the table for donor retention and income to the programme grew. “There was a huge upturn,” says Rosie. “They had segmented and tailored how they spoke to donors, taking into account whether they were a new supporter or if they had given consistently for the past three or more years.” The team quickly adopted a much more donor-centred approach, and this drove how they managed all of their activity and developed their solicitations. The impact was huge with, for example, a direct mail piece bringing in double the amount that had been forecast. “It was one of those moments when you feel so proud both of the team and what we had helped them to achieve,” adds Rosie. With the team growing in confidence, they are now turning their attention to donor acquisition, with ongoing support and insight from Rosie and Adrian.

The experience “showed the power of partnership” says Rosie. “We’ve been on a journey with them from the beginning, standing by their side along the way. The team at Leeds have been brilliant, running with what we uncovered through our analysis, implementing new ways of working and embedding a whole new way of approaching regular giving.

What they say

Working with Adrian and Rosie reframed our whole approach to regular giving. They used the data to unearth genuine insights, and built on their experience of what works to help us really focus on what our supporters want to hear. The difference it made was incredible - they helped us to retain many more of our donors and dramatically increase fundraising income.
Fridey Cordingley
Deputy Director of Communications, University of Leeds

To find out more about how we can help your organisation to develop strategic donor engagement, contact us on info@morepartnership.com or 01382 224730.