How a foundation audit can transform your charity data with actionable insight

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Have you ever wanted to branch out into a different revenue stream, or trial a new approach to a fundraising campaign, but didn’t have the data to back your ideas? Having a full data view is crucial when it comes to diversifying with confidence and putting campaign plans into action.

For the last two years, Symon Russell has led the individual giving team at Air Ambulance Kent Surrey Sussex (KSS), an independent charity that provides 24/7 Helicopter Emergency Medicine Services (HEMS) across Kent, Surrey and Sussex. Since his arrival, Symon’s been determined to transform the charity’s data into more meaningful insights to inform strategic fundraising decisions now and in the future.

Symon Russell

“To coincide with a strategic move to focus on more proactive fundraising, my team was created to drive individual giving. And one of the objectives was to grow and diversify our income streams,” says Symon.

“Admittedly, we’d been relying heavily on the KSS lottery, which works incredibly well. In fact, it was one of the first charity lotteries to go to market and we’ve successfully grown a large audience of players. But, to avoid being continually reliant on gaming to increase revenue, we needed to think outside the box. And to begin, we needed to look more closely at our data.

“What struck me is that we had a CRM system that was very good at what it did – it managed our supporter relationships and lottery fundraising. But I’m a big believer in using the right tools for the job and the database we had wasn’t giving us that ‘big picture view’ we needed, nor did it allow us to see everyone we had on the database.”

Three phases to completing a foundation audit 

Having completed Wood for Trees’ foundation audits while working with different charities in the past, and seeing first-hand how useful the process is, Symon felt it was the natural first step to take in transforming the data KSS held. With this, the team could clarify their assumptions and uncover new opportunities. From his experience, Symon takes us through three steps to completing a foundation audit.

Phase one

“After some initial preparation to ensure everything is done in a GDPR compliant way, the first step to a foundation audit is to collect all the data you have in-house and send it to the Wood for Trees analysts to decode.

“It’s an area where the charity has the most involvement. Initially, some in-house knowledge is needed to help the analysts understand what’s there, such as identifying supporters and transactions in your existing database.

“One thing I really like about the foundation audit is the exploratory interview process at the start. It’s not just about the data and initial brief. It helps to get a range of opinions and views, and buy-in, from other members of the organisation.

“I’ve only ever had positive feedback about this process – it’s an easy conversation and it helps the data journey along.”

Phase two

“Let the analysts do what they do best – dig into the data, find the interesting insights and present it back. What’s uncovered is always fascinating. However, the sheer amount of data and information can be overwhelming, so you need to dedicate some time to pick it apart and find the bits that are most relevant to you.”

Phase three

“Take on the learnings and action them. Otherwise, you run the risk of the audit being something that sits on the shelf and doesn’t get used. It’s on you and other team members to take on those insights – ask questions about them, bring them up in conversation and operationalise them.”

Foundation audit findings

The foundation audit highlighted many opportunities, and threats, to KSS’s fundraising activity and interactions with supporters.

“Keeping in contact with charity supporters is key to fundraising success. Plus, digital communications are becoming more popular. But, from the audit, we could see how few email consents we had – this was an issue we needed to address,” explains Symon.

“It clarified many of our ‘known-knowns’ – we knew most of our supporters were recruited onto one product and weren’t being cross sold effectively onto others. We’d never gone to our lottery supporters before and asked if they’d like to play an extra line. Subsequently, we’ve implemented this type of upgrade activity and due to its success last year we’re now running a second upgrade campaign.”

Fortunately, KSS’s foundation audit was completed just before the start of Covid-19 in February 2020.

“As a result of the pandemic, we launched our first emergency appeal and changed some of our fundraising activities quite significantly. Usually, we rely on face-to-face canvassing, which we obviously couldn’t do.

“The foundation audit gave us a steer on what we should try and change up. It highlighted areas where we could be bolder during a period of monumental change. Having that all-encompassing view before entering a new strategy cycle gives you perspective and confidence in decision-making.”

InsightHub reporting

KSS’s data journey didn’t end at the foundation audit. The team now use our InsightHub benchmarking and reporting tool to manage interactions between different campaigns and groups of supporters, and plan and evaluate fundraising programmes.

“Some of the data we handed over wasn’t categorised in the best way. So, we’ve worked together to change that and uncovered insights that are helping in decision-making and planning now that’ll make a big difference in the future,” says Symon.

“Regular giving attrition and lifetime value calculations were possible but difficult using the CRM system we had. And pulling off any relevant data was time consuming and only for a snapshot in time.

“Now, we can pull off reports from InsightHub quickly and efficiently, with relevant data provided for specific time periods and a longer-term view. For example, on a call with a colleague recently, I plugged in a few filters on an InsightHub report about our lottery fundraising and instantly got the data we needed to discuss. The ability to access this data so easily is having a huge impact on how we plan fundraising activities and I only see this improving in the future.”

Symon finds the new bookmarks function in InsightHub incredibly useful (watch our video on InsightHub bookmarks here). He can set up reports with filters, bookmark them, and they’re available within a few seconds of opening InsightHub to view time and time again.

“Cross-sell is one of the most important reports for me because we want to focus on diversifying our income streams but also be supporter-centric in our approach. It helps unlock insights that are difficult to see anywhere else because you’re not just looking at a single campaign or group of supporters – you’re looking at the interactions across a wide-range of products and audiences.”

“We’re now going through a period of transition at KSS where we’re able to collect more data to review in the future. The pandemic drove the charity to test door drop activity for the first time in over 10 years. And 12 months on, my team can start looking at the accumulated value of the individuals that received further communications over time rather than just the initial response.”

Overall, the foundation audit has laid the groundwork for transforming supporter data held by KSS. It’s facilitated the analysis of existing fundraising programmes and suggested ways to change activity.

Since completing the foundation audit, evaluation and planning has been aided by InsightHub reporting, which has enabled the team to see what’s happening with current campaigns and supporters across the board to inform future decisions.

For more information, download our KSS foundation audit and InsightHub case studies here.

Air Ambulance Kent Surrey Sussex (KSS)

KSS income breakdown:
• Gaming is the largest revenue stream for KSS at around £9m per year, with 100,000 people playing in the KSS lottery
• In-memory and legacy donations are expected to reach a total of £3m this year
• Other Individual giving activities bring in approximately £1m annually
• Development fundraising brings in over £500,000
• Fundraising and events are a growth area at £1.3m