As a charity, talking to supporters is a vital source of income and an important way of retaining regular contributors, but it takes more than a news update to build that resource and increase not only contributions but active involvement and support. Everything needs to work in harmony; PR, direct mail, web & social media, but too often it’s fragmented.

Basic marketing sense tells us charity supporters need to know how their money is spent, which means reporting back on the impact the charity is having on real people, lobbying, research, animals or environments. This is often best served by a retention mailing that reinforces the brand and the values, reassures the supporter and keeps the monthly direct debit in place. So, whether electronic or direct mail, the basic supporter retention mailing would seem straight forward – it’s a cornerstone charity marketing function that acts as a flagship to your most valuable resource as an income earner and anchor – yet not everyone appears to see it that way. Word or Publisher enthusiasts send out newsletters that look poor, do not reproduce corporate colours accurately and often look in at the organisation rather than out at the front line actions and impact. Perhaps that works for a local charity collecting for the village hall but any charity beyond that is making a grave error of judgement … and no! The “it shows we don’t waste their money” line, doesn’t wash – we like to know we’re part of something – we want to buy into the brand, the mission and feel warm about the results we help achieve.

A properly integrated charity mailing, online and social media campaign should help to get the supporter pot bubbling and give people a real sense of being informed and involved! An integrated fundraising strategy should sit behind them and knit them together to build on the resource rather than settle for ‘keeping in touch’. The real issues being addressed and impact being made should be the focus that stimulates support, avoiding the temptation to use gimmicks is often a good anchor. But what about getting supporters on board?

Supporter communications in any form should deliver the tools to get people signing up, running, jumping, skipping, cycling, dressing up as giraffes or whatever else tickles their fancy all in the name of the charity.  It’s not just about raising the income; it’s about brand exposure. But action needs to easy and instant, so how many charities really put ‘supporter involvement’ on a plate?

Identifying the motivation for involvement and building new networks through those diamond supporters, who will actually get out there and do it, should be another clear strategic goal sitting behind supporter communications. But not for everyone – how many charity websites give home page coverage to historic events rather than focusing on new events that people can be involved with – what price is a free-post response card in an existing mailing to gather interest or perhaps a small donation, compared to the involvement that can generate. Incentives for organisers are another underused tool – ropey photography is another wide spread problem, but we wont go there just now.

A good supporter communications strategy is a beautiful beast that fly’s the flag, secures and increases donations and supporters, builds contacts, gives people the tools and the motivation to get involved, and integrates all the communication channels to work together. Which all adds up to planning the full year’s campaign and messaging well in advance and monitoring what works and what doesn’t. There is a horrible phrase – joined up thinking – but when it comes to charity communications the term does seem to sum up what every charity needs to be doing.

We are living in tougher financial times but any charity that thinks their communications campaign doesn’t justify the expenditure needs to seriously consider what they’re actually doing … and perhaps what their agency are up to.

If you would like to talk to Oyster about your supporter communications strategy, please give us a call on 01243 389713 or email hello@oysterdesign.co.uk.