On Monday, Oxfam took a new step in Europe with the first ever (that I know of) app allowing donors to control their donations.  You can read the full story here.

Even if the medium turns out not to be the right one (who knows if we are going to want to make space on our phones and tablets for another app when we still haven’t cracked level 71 of Kwazy Cupcakes?), it’s an interesting effort to try to engage donors.  And it’s probably a first step toward also being able to customize communications in a similar way.

This brings up two questions: why did they do this and how would I do something similar for my organization.

Why do this?  First, the obvious: donors are asking for it.  We’ve recently combined through tens of thousands of comments from our partner organizations.  While, I don’t want to spoil what will certainly be a fascinating white paper and webinar…

…which you can sign up to learn about here the moment we get them finished/scheduled:

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I can say that many of the most frequent comments are from people trying to change their communication preferences (e.g., by channel, topic, or frequency) or their personal information (e.g., change credit card, amount of recurring donation, name, address, etc.).

So there is a hunger for the ability to do this in the marketplace.

But does that hunger translate into more donations?  Yes, Mr. Rhetorical Question Asker, it does.  Here’s five minutes of video from Dr. Kiki Koutmeridou presenting research on about donor control:

For those who skipped the video assuming I was going to summarize, you are in luck.  What the research found was:

  • Giving donors a measure of control over their communications makes people significantly more likely to want to opt-in – usually by a 2:1 margin or more
  • People prefer to choose channel(s) over frequency, but both are better than nothing
  • This control works better than any other opt-in technique tested

(Incidentally, if you would like to watch the whole opt-in webinar, it’s available here and it has some great insights in it.)

So allowing donors to change their own records makes them more likely to become and stay donors.  Yay!

But, you say, I can’t do an app like this because (pick one or more):

  • I don’t have an Oxfam-like budget
  • My board is so bad at technology, they think Android is a Rogue One character
  • I fear trying to sync anything else with my database, because the difference between trying to get an effective database sync and my last highly invasive gender-specific medical procedure is that the medical procedure is over.
  • Other really compelling reasons

Fear not, hypothetical reader.  You don’t need to have a separate app to give your donors some influence over how they interact with you.  You can:

  • Set up a special donor center where people can see their donations and make these types of changes. This was also a frequently-asked-for item in our donor feedback research.  The cost is nowhere near what a separate app development is.  And they function much like the automatic ticket kiosk at the airport – making it so that fewer people can focus on more specialized inquiries and on adding additional value while technology takes care of the mundane items.
  • Ask at sign-up. Whether online or offline, you can have a real or virtual checkbox that helps people designate their preferences ahead of time.
  • Ask for feedback. This fixes issues after they have already become issues. But it’s better than not fixing those issues.  Plus a feedback platform like DonorVoice’s can help address issues both with individuals and systemically, so it’s both cure and prevention.

But primarily, it needs to be something you want to do.  Many direct marketers worry about what happens when donors can customize their communications – will they select options that diminish or eliminate their giving.  The research evidence says the reverse: people are less likely to donate when they have only a passive role in communications.