Focus On: International Fundraising: DM Fundraising Across the Pond
The British and Americans share many similarities, most notably a common language. But there also are many differences. Any American tourist in London will notice the Brits’ dissimilar pronunciation of words such as privacy or schedule, and peculiar terms such as “lift” instead of elevator or “boot” instead of trunk.
Direct-response fundraising in the United Kingdom also shares some similarities with its American counterpart, but most notable are the differences. Our colleagues acrossthe pond face different challenges than we do and, as a result, thetechniques they’ve developed and the results they receive also are dramatically different.
Over the past decade, I have sought to learn more about direct-marketing techniques from across the ocean, and in my journeys I’ve had the privilege to meet John Watson, who many consider to be the dean of direct-response fundraising in the United Kingdom.
John’s clients have included some of the biggest nonprofit and commercial clients in his country. He sold his first company to Ogilvy and Mather in the 1970s, and his second agency, WWAV, became the largest direct-marketing agency in the country. He sold WWAV to Rapp Collins in the 1990s and, after a few years of what he refers to as “garden leave,” he has started again. His new agency is named Watson Phillips and Norman.
There’s lots to learn from British marketers such as John — whether you’re interested in fundraising in the United Kingdom or just want to apply similar tactics with your program here in the United States. The following is taken from a phone conversation I had with him recently.
JIM HUSSEY: John, when did direct-response fundraising take hold in England?
JOHN WATSON: The mid-1980s. Until then, charities weren’t very competitive with each other, and they certainly didn’t do very much direct marketing ... it wasn’t popular. Then several of the large charities started to expand, and it became very successful — but purely by asking for a single cash gift. So typically they asked for 15 pounds … and once that had been collected, then the quaint old English custom was basically not to write to them again because it was thought to be intruding on their privacy. So it didn’t take very long before people figured out that the return on investment wasn’t very sensible … and that was largely why we started to develop the committed-giving process. (Committed giving is the British term for monthly or sustainer giving.)