What your local corner shop can teach you about fundraising

Tim Connor | November 18th, 2015

Have you ever read Charles Kingsley’s story ‘The Water Babies’?

There’s a character in it whose morally-weighty surname, I think, is a great message to keep front of mind when fundraising: Mrs Do-As-You-Would-Be-Done-By.

If I were to translate that into what we do in Charityville, I’d probably say “Treat people as people, not as wallets”.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and it took me right back to the first lesson I ever received in direct marketing, whilst training at the Institute of Direct Marketing.

How lucky I was to have the great Derek Holder, pioneer of marketing education in this country, impart the ABCs of what direct marketing meant to him.

He could have blinded the class with words like CRM, customer-focus, relationship-driven, data-centric and a whole host of other jargon.

But, instead, he told us the following story (Derek used better words, but the memory is still vivid in my mind):

Corner Shop, Whitechapel High Street E1

“Direct marketing begins with a corner shop. You’re a shopkeeper and you have a community of customers. The first day, a new neighbour comes in and the shopkeeper notices a new face. The customer buys a pint of milk, leaves his money and heads out the door.The next day the same customer buys another pint of milk. The shopkeeper recognises him, greets him, asks his name, maybe finds out where he’s moved from, what he does for a living, how many kids he has… small talk.

The third day, the customer comes in to get his pint of milk but realises he’s accidentally left his wallet at home. ‘Don’t worry, John – this one’s on me’, says the shopkeeper. ‘How’s your little one doing, by the way?’ Right there, you’ve got direct marketing.”

Simple, isn’t it? But in the words of my favourite Adland commentator, Dave Trott: ‘To get to simple you have to go beyond complicated.’

Now imagine your charity is a corner shop. And instead of having a shopkeeper’s memory, you have a powerful database. But, from that point onwards, we’re striving for the same local intimacy – as if the donor were across the counter from us, face to face.

As marketers and fundraisers, we must never forget the person at the other end. We must be empathic in the truest sense.

That means thinking about what we do and say from the donor’s point of view, putting ourselves in their shoes. Fundraising with the greatest value placed on the relationship.

In other words, do as we would be done by.


Image from London Shop Fronts by Emily Webber