The fundraiser of the year works in a convent of cloistered nuns. And the best practice, that in his words best summarises what innovation in fundraising is today, is a dear old postcard sent from the holidays and with beautiful calligraphic handwriting. Roger Bergonzoli, 47 years, lecturer at the first master of Religious Fundraising, is the winner of the Italian Fundraising Award 2017: "he was able to combine the centuries-old tradition of the Cloistered Nuns of the sanctuary of Saint Rita da Cascia with the most innovative fundraising, giving a central place to people and relationships rather than the economic dimension", according to the justification with which Assif, the association of fundraisers, awarded the prize. In four years, under his guidance, the Saint Rita da Cascia Foundation has tripled the collection of 5 per thousand, from 99 thousand to 300 thousand euro.
What is innovation?
"We must start from what "innovation” is. Technology is not innovation, it is a tool: for years we have chased after the digital revolution and we are now in a phase of digital hangover which we are getting over slowly", says Bergonzoli. "Innovation is a question of approach and vision, it means finding new solutions: it can also use old tools but in a new way, revitalising them and this is why we can speak of innovation even from a cloistered monastery". The nuns of Cascia support a school in Kenya and a reception centre in the Philippines but especially close to the Shrine of the "saint of the Impossible" they have the Beehive of Saint Rita, set up as an orphanage and then becoming a residential community for 24 "little bees", attended in the afternoon also by thirty children of the area.
Innovation is a matter of vision: can also use old instruments but revitalising them.
In the summer of 2014, Bergonzoli thought of sending some of the supporters a postcard with the greetings from the girls, with a personalised calligraphic text. "There was no payment slip attached and the idea was not to solicit a donation: our fundraising is totally oriented toward the construction of relationship and added value", said Bergonzoli. That summer the nuns received hundreds of postcards written by supporters on holiday, to thank the girls. After four months the fundraising department saw the explosive impact of that initiative: "In the next mailing the redemption rose 76%, with a +55% of donations on the mailing. The result was generated to the extent of 80% by supporters to whom we sent the postcard".
Fundraising beyond non-profit organisations
The fundraiser is one of the jobs of the future. In 2016 the donations made by the Italians have broken through the roof of 5 billion euros for the first time (data from the Giving Italy Report 2017), but the prospects are growing: it is no longer only the non-profit organizations that take this figure, but also social enterprises and public administrations. Suffice it to say that the last arrivals in this sector are precisely instruments in support of subjects that traditionally we did not associate with fundraising, such as the schools with the School Bonus (operational since May 2016, between 2016 and 2017 has more than quintupled) or theatres and orchestras with the Bonus Art (running since 2015 and has already helped to collect donations for over 200 million euro). Fundraisers in Italy number more than 5,500, of which 65% are women, with an average age of 41 years: one out of two has an open-ended contract, 84% have fixed remuneration and one out of three earn between 21,000 and 40,000 euro per year. Assif drew five profiles, from the fundraiser "by chance" to the "champion" of fundraising, passing through the "advisors"(17% of fundraisers have a VAT n.) that, working for organizations of every sector, show that the fundraising is not sectoral. What does the postcard of Bergonzoli teach to this entire world and its onlookers?
The lesson of the postcard
- The first lesson without doubt is that "today, as in the future, it is important to cultivate relationships. In this way we will have donors who support our organisations for longer. I think that the fundraising begins with the second donation and this means that the bond of the supporter with us is no longer for a fleeting moment. My task is to bring people so close as to make them feel part of the organisation", Bergonzoli answered. What to do? "A good database is very useful, we now have 330 thousand names and addresses with superprofiles. Everything that shortens the distance between the organisation and the donor is good, it is not a question of an instrument". The Saint Rita da Cascia Foundation for example also does mailing without payment slips, every morning it sends an sms with happy birthday wishes and saint's day wishes and there are people assigned to telephone contact with the donors: "The nuns in this sense have much courage, because the relationship is part of their DNA". Connected with this is a thought on the question of emotions: "we fill our communications with numbers and statistics, but you enlist people with emotions".
Fill the communications with numbers, but you enlist people with emotions.
- The second tip, to use a slightly American turn of phrase, is to make the donor feel a hero: "we are still too introspective, we speak of the organisation and of what we have done while the real protagonist is the donor. We must have the humility to recognize that people do not donate to the "organisation" but "through the organisation", to arrive at other people. In the states simply count how many times in the communications toward supporters you use "we" and "you": the message must be "We did this thanks to you"".
Share everything, because sharing is an accelerator of incredible growth.
- Third tip, "each organization must be aware of what tools work best: this is important especially for small organizations that have to make priority choices. Paper for example remains fundamentally important, you want the average donor to be more than 70 years old, to be warmer, less congestion…digital fundraising in Italy does not reach 8%: it must be done without doubt, because fundraising must be multi-channel, but with the awareness of the context," warns Bergonzoli.
- Fourth consideration, sharing, which is "an incredible growth accelerator". Share without the fear of being copied, because "we are not competitors, 60% of donors already support at least two organisations", because "the good things that we do sooner or later come out, someone is "inspired" by them without however having understood the underlying reasons", because "if I share everything, someone else will do the same with me; if you share only a part of information you remain isolated".
- Lastly, the fifth tip, that sums them all up to some extent: "working on effectiveness and efficiency, for getting better every day. Settle for being "the team of the good guys" is the worst brake on innovation and growth".