Use focus groups to move forward


How often have you found yourself battling ideas, trying to come up with a way to better deliver the services you offer, how to gain new support, build on relationships – the list could go on as to what people/organizations battle with, but, there could be an ‘easy’ solution – Focus Groups. 

If you have an annual appeal coming up, no doubt you’ve reviewed the debriefing notes from your last appeal and know how it went, what worked and what didn’t. 

It’s the ‘what didn’t’ that needs looking at, it’s where using focus groups can help. 

It’s important to have a representative group comprising both supporters and open/receptive non-supporters, so as to hear both attitudes to why people do and don’t support, why some saw your campaign as appealing and thus supporting as will as why people weren’t attracted by your campaign. 

There’s lots of potential to be gained from getting a group together, keep it relatively informal – maybe a wine to welcome participants before getting started, this time will also give everyone a bit of free networking time to get to know each other and act as an icebreaker. 

Agenda for a focus group could be: 

Participants arrive – 15 min networking

Introduction – 5-10 minute introduction as to why the get together and your hopes from it

Round table – 3 min intro from each participant

Ask the question/s – Why you support and why you don’t 5 min+ from each participant as to why they support and why they haven’t supported.

Recap – Using what you’ve gleaned give brief overview of what you’ll take on board for future campaigns.

Invite to remain – Ask everyone to stay behind for some socialising. Use this time to thank each person individually for their input AND time, also an ideal time to expand on any answers to questions you may not have had time to fully cover earlier.

Has your organisation done anything like this – what impact, effect has it had on future campaigns?



Don’t just answer the immediate question


How often do you get asked, or how often have you made an enquiry to an organisation or business about the services they provide and how you can help them or they help you – only to get a stock answer, nothing specific and nothing that actually invites you to want to ‘do business’. 

By only answering the immediate query there’s a chance that an opportunity for more dialogue to be lost; there’s often something deeper to why people ask questions, it could be that they want to do business, that they need your help or that they want to help you. 

Unless all communications include the opportunity for further discussion – the door is closed, don’t be the one closing the door. 

If you have a potential supporter contact you about the work you do, don’t just answer that question – answer it, then add additional information that may not be immediately available, perhaps you’ve recently done something that you could share – if so do it. 

You should also be giving the person more reason as to why their support is important – do you have a new project that you could tell them about? 

Before hitting send and signing off the response – STOP – have you asked them if there’s anything you can do to help them make the decision, the commitment to support you? 

Don’t leave it for them to have to do all the work, you have to put your thinking cap on and find a way to keep engaging with them, to build the environment for them to decide you’re the right fit for the support they would like to give an organisation. 

Do you answer only the immediate questions, if so why – and will you look at changing how you handle all enquiries?



 DOOR © Javiermontero |


Appeal Fatigue

Last week Auckland City Harbour News, and Central Leader, ran an item “Has appeal week fatigue set in?” talking about the number of appeal weeks, and the way people react to street collectors. (20 Jan 2012 – by, Rhiannon Horrell)

If you’re walking down Queen St and see a group of charity collectors, what do you do? 

Put your head down and look the other way? Rummage through your wallet in an effort to show you’ve tried but have no change?

Or pull out the money you were going to use for lunch and hand it over? 

This year Aucklanders will be faced with up to 66 awareness and appeal weeks. 

To be fair, some are awareness weeks only and do not seek financial donations. But what effect does the overload of dedicated weeks have on Aucklanders? 

New Zealand Federation of Family Budgeting Services chief executive Raewyn Fox says the clients that her organisation deals with are sometimes more likely to give to a local church than to an appeal week.

“Lots of our clients are family oriented – so they’ll pick a cause like sick kids or something like that.” 

She says because of the sheer number of causes, it’s a juggling act for people to decide what to do with their money. 

“It may depend on whether they have a couple of bucks in their pocket to spare. If they do, then those charities are the lucky ones. But a lot of the time, people don’t.” 

She says people may then feel guilty or inadequate about not being able to help. 

“The cost of living is greater in Auckland. We are very busy and a lot of families are under pressure.” 

Auckland University department of psychology associate professor Ian Lambie says it’s not that charities have lost their meaning but “people do have some level of threshhold and may find it a challenge to politely say no. We’re being asked to do more and more.” 

He says some people may have two to three favoured causes. 

“That is about it for many people. We are a generous nation and a generous society. But it does become too much when you get asked time and time again. You have to draw a line in the sand.”

Mr Lambie says most people will donate out of the generosity of their heart. 

He says for those that can only give $5 to $10 a year, that is okay.

“You can also dedicate time, distribute leaflets or bake a cake. Those things are just as good.” 

The Heart Foundation’s Appeal Week is one of the first for 2012, kicking off on February 13. 

Marketing development manager Alistair Kirk says it’s an extremely important aspect of the organisation’s work. 

“It’s a national event and it’s partly about the money but it’s also about community engagement. Last year we had 2000 volunteers working with us. It’s an opportunity for people to give back.” 

Mr Kirk says the week is a way to connect with people. 

According to the Charities Commission, 1359 new charities were registered in Auckland in the past three years. 

Commission communications manager Sandra Bennett says a further 5434 were registered in that time in other parts of New Zealand. 

In Auckland in 2009, 632 new charities were set up, with 495 in 2010 and 232 in 2011. 

But Ms Bennett says before concluding that there are far fewer charities being established, it is important to note that the charities register first opened in February 2007 and the commission received thousands of applications for registration in mid-2008 when tax laws changed. 

After late applications have been processed, close to 2000 new charities would have been registered across the country in 2011.

In response to this item I wrote in with my ‘view’ here’s my take, as published in Harbour News (Wed 25 Jan 2012)

The question you pose is a good one, and one that many people have been asking for quite sometime – charities also ask the same question. 

As someone who works with charities, I’ve been watching the number of organisations with appeal weeks, or random street days. Often you can walk along Queen St and see a number of organisations soliciting support, either by way of donation or simply for awareness. Who people stop and talk to will depend on the way people (you and me) feel about charity and what we can do to help make a difference, but with the number of organisations is making it harder for people to select who to support. 

One thing about appeal weeks that is confusing is the number of ‘like’ organisations – there’s a raft of organisations working in similar fields and unless the people on the street are distinctive people may be confused as to who they are giving to. 

People will naturally look busy, do the coin shuffle when they see collectors – it’s not too dissimilar to ‘avoidance syndrome’ when people look the other way when they see something happening but don’t want to get involved. 

The CBD is a large area, yet we always see the collectors in the same places – QEII Sq, Vulcan Lane, Event Cinemas, Mid-City, because people know that this is where they will be people avoid walking that route. For charities to make better use of their time on the streets they need to vary where they are located; sure they need to be in high pedestrian traffic areas – but there’s over 1km of Queen St that they could be using. 

The public should also take the opportunity to stop and talk to charities they see on the street and to ask them two important questions 1) how much of the money I give you will be specifically used for the ‘project’ 2) are you working for xyz or an agency? This is a good test to see that the people collecting and the charities are being upfront, that the right information is being given to potential supporters/donors. 

Back to ‘fatigue’ – yes people are tiring, if specific organisations were asked what their ‘take’ is – I’m sure you would find that they are collecting less than they were a few years ago – and not all of this can be put down to the economy, it’s because people are turning off. 

Charities and those representing them could be doing far better through targeted communication with their supporters, and non-supporters;  they also need to look at being ‘less visible’ – people turn off if they see the same charity all the time, if they are off the streets for a while and come back people will ‘notice’ them. 

We will never not see charity collectors or appeal weeks, they’re a fact of life – but we do need to see a change in their frequency and the locations used, will be better for all concerned. 

What’s your take on Appeal Weeks, are there too many, can their timing be better managed, what can we do differently to avoid Appeal Week Fatigue?


Lost in a Tweet

Sometimes we can be seen to not be clear in what we are meaning when we tweet something, and others may take it the wrong way – some clarity is often needed to ensure people seeing our tweets understand what we are saying.

If we have something that could be taken out of context using 140 characters we should perhaps look at writing a blog post about it to avoid misunderstandings.

For organizations being misunderstood can be detrimental to their standing, to how people perceive them and of course to the credibility of the work they do in the community.

Can misunderstandings be avoided? Yes, and with thought put into messages organizations will avoid them. But, often the misunderstandings come about as a result of a hastily prepared tweet – tweets sent on the fly. Something comes to mind, an idea, a thought, and without thinking too much a tweet is sent, only for people reading it to take the wrong meaning; but don’t despair – some of your followers will help you when things like this happen, but in the first instance you do have to be mindful that what you are sharing is clear, that it can’t be taken anyway other than the way you mean it.

If it is taken wrong, taken out of context – then as soon as possible you have to put it right, you have to clarify what you meant.

Next time you feel the need to send that hasty tweet, stop, think and reword it if needed – don’t assume others will read it they way you read it yourself.

Don’t let errors, the chance that things may go wrong put you off – there’s far more to be gained that lost using Twitter (or any other social site).

There can be an upside to an ‘error’, it can open dialogue with people you may not have engaged with before – giving you the chance to further talk about the work your organization undertakes.

Don’t make donors do all the work

I’ve often said to organisations that they need to give people a reason to give, that they need to have a clear message about why support is needed – and given. And, after reading “The Active Giver” about the process someone has been through in order to ‘select’ a cause to support – I thought it timely to revisit this.

All too often we see an organisation plead for support – often without giving any real reason, simply stating that they do this, that or the next thing, without showing any real reason why potential supporters should give, and should give now – there’s no immediacy, no call to action.

What the author of The Active Giver has had to go through in order to find that elusive organisation to support is quite common, people want to help others in the community, but unless there’s clear reason why they should give, how they can give – then the job is in the hands of the giver to to seek out causes, whereas it should be the causes that should be seeking out supporters.

Not only was their research involved – searching two datasets – Charities Commission and IRD, but they took the time to look through websites, looked to see what work the organisations do – how many others go to this effort to find a cause? If organisations want support they have to lift their game, they need to give a reason why people should support them.

But, there’s more to it than that – there is clearly a need for a process of validation of causes, how some organisations get Charitable tatus is puzzling, there’s organisations registered as charitable trusts that are self serving, have extremely small reach and causes that would appear to be of little benefit to society in general. 

People are often amazed when I say how many nonprofit organisations in there are in New Zealand; we have one of the highest numbers of registered charitiess and donee organisations in the world – and we’re a generous lot, we do give, but in order to give we have to do hunt out the most appropriate.

When you look at the numbers of organisations the author went through to find a cause, it’s clear that we have too many organsations that appear to be ‘self interest’ groups. We also have too many duplicate organisations – there’s something like 63 organisations registered with the Charities Commission with “Cancer” in their names, surely some of these could merge to form a larger, more active and powerful organisation. 

Have a read of The Active Giver  – would you go to this effort to find a cause, as a charity do you think it fair potential supporters have to do all the work to find you?

You can make a difference

Over the last wee while I’ve been paying attention to comments and conversations about the state of society, how people are trapped in poverty, living on the street, undergoing enormous stress in their lives through illness, child abuse, debilitating disease and many other ‘issues’. What has been amazing, is that in the main the comment has been that “government” needs to do more to help the people affected. 

Sure, Governments the world over could likely do more, but surely we as citizens of the world have to take responsibility, and action to alleviate the pain and suffering too? 

If we solely sit back and wait for Government intervention, and new programmes to help then we’re looking at  a situation where taxes will have to be either increased or redirected to cover new or improved services. 

We can’t expect Governments to do everything, all though we would very much like that to happen – we need to make some effort ourselves. 

Some recent conversations have been between people who haven’t voted in their local elections, they haven’t demonstrated their constitutional right – having instead decided that it wasn’t worth it, that no matter their vote there would be no change in the areas they want to see change in. 

Sometimes, perhaps – but unless we make an effort, unless we participate there will be no change. 

We can all make a difference, whether we’re wanting to make financial contributions, offer our services, lend a helping hand to someone in need – the ways in which we can all help are many and varied. 

As the late Rev. Martin Luther King said in his I Have A Dream speech – ‘… Now is the time …’ , and today, as we start out in new year it IS the time for us all to be doing to make a difference. 

Make 2012 the year you say “I will make a difference, I will play my part”.


Selling space on your body for charity

We’ve seen plenty of talk recently about the young woman ‘selling’ space on your butt with the aim of raising money to help clear her debts – but in the ‘pitch’ she’s giving she says part of the money from the ‘sale’ will be donated to charity.

Since this hit the news there’s been copycat listing on TradeMe, with the ‘sellers’ also offering a portion of the winning bid being donated to charity.

Is this a charitable thing, or is it just a business transaction with the addition of a portion of the sale being set as a donation just an attempt to smooth the waters with people who think it’s not a great idea? 

Will charities benefit – sure, and as SPCA Auckland executive director Bob Kerridge was quoted in the NZ Herald, “What a wacky world we live in,” but says there’s no harm in it. 

“People do what they want to do, and if in doing it they can benefit their charitable cause, then that’s good. And if that charitable cause happens to be the SPCA, even better.” 

Sure – it’s great people support charity, but sometimes the way they do it may have a reverse effect and turn some supporters off. 

The other downside to this ‘campaign’ is that of copy-cats can dilute the impact, and people will turn off and lose interest in what’s happening, the charities could also run the risk of being associated with the wrong ‘image’. 

Have any of the participants sought advice, guidance or talked to the charities before going ahead? 

If you’re a charity and someone offered a part of their body to help raise funds for you, secondary to helping themselves, would you want to be associated? Why, and would you offer any guidance on how the ‘sale’ should proceed? 

Do you think multiple activities like these dilute the original campaign? 

What will people offer to ‘sell’ next, are there any limits people won’t go to, and at what point will charities say – thanks, but no thanks? 

Charities need to be cautious, there needs to be boundaries – some people will pick up on the charity because it’s been in the news and could become supporters, but this is likely to be short-term. 

Whereas longer standing supporters who are turned off my this type activity could walk away, is it better to retain the longer term supporter and lose the potential new support, who may not be in it for the long haul?


Big Company Charity

People often talk about the big companies and their support of charitable causes, disaster relief and other humaitarian projects – this article in The Guardian talks about this very topic.

The charity disparity: can corporate benevolence be free of self-interest?

For all the talk of aid dependency, Haiti is more dependent on remittances – people sending money home from abroad – than donations. While aid averaged about 12% of its annual income between 2004 and 2009, remittances from workers abroad averaged more than 22%, officially reaching almost $1.5bn in 2010 (although experts claim it is at least double that). As one friend put it, the Haitian toiling in the cloakroom of some London nightclub is more important than the World Bank.


So there is hardly a more important company for Haiti, and many other countries dependent on remittances, than Western Union. It oversees 214m personal money transactions every year, totalling approximately $76bn.

Read full article 

What are your thoughts on big companies and their support of charity – is it self serving, a way to please their customers and to look good in the community, or are they doing it for all the ‘right reasons’?



Potatoes, Eggs and Coffee Beans

Came across this and thought it was something worth sharing:

Once upon a time a daughter complained to her father that her life was miserable and that she didn’t know how she was going to make it. She was tired of fighting and struggling all the time. It seemed just as one problem was solved, another one soon followed.

Her father, a chef, took her to the kitchen. He filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Once the three pots began to boil, he placed potatoes in one pot, eggs in the second pot, and ground coffee beans in the third pot. He then let them sit and boil, without saying a word to his daughter. The daughter, moaned and impatiently waited, wondering what he was doing.

After twenty minutes he turned off the burners. He took the potatoes out of the pot and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed them a bowl. He then ladled the coffee out and placed it in a cup.

Turning to her he asked. “Daughter, what do you see?”

“Potatoes, eggs, and coffee,” she hastily replied.

“Look closer”, he said, “and touch the potatoes.” She did and noted that they were soft.

He then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.

Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee. Its rich aroma brought a smile to her face.

“Father, what does this mean?” she asked.

He then explained that the potatoes, the eggs and coffee beans had each faced the same adversity — the boiling water. However, each one reacted differently.

The potato went in strong, hard, and unrelenting, but in boiling water, it became soft and weak.

The egg was fragile, with the thin outer shell protecting its liquid interior until it was put in the boiling water. Then the inside of the egg became hard.

However, the ground coffee beans were unique. After they were exposed to the boiling water, they changed the water and created something new.

“Which are you,” he asked his daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a potato, an egg, or a coffee bean?”

In life, things happen around us, things happen to us, but the only thing that truly matters is what happens within us. Which one are you?

Author Unknown