Face to Face

How we got face to face fundraising in the can

What have Red Bull and Face to Face Fundraising (F2F) got in common, apart from delivering high levels of energy?… Come on you know really.

Well, they were both invented in Austria!

In the case of F2F in Vienna specifically. During the 30th May – 1st June over 250 F2F fundraising experts from around the world come together at the sell-out First International Face-to-Face Fundraising Congress . Not only will we be celebrating the 27th anniversary of the first F2F campaign by Greenpeace, with the co-creators, including myself, but also sharing and looking forward to the many opportunities, innovations, and challenges in the world of F2F today.

It seems strange that when Greenpeace launched F2F in 1996 it was to help overcome what my boss, Thilo Bode, then Executive Director of Greenpeace International, called the problem of us becoming “Greypeace.” Most donors, in the mature fundraising markets were getting old (ahem 60-70+) and we were not attracting newer, younger donors at the bottom of our donor pyramid.

Nor in the emerging markets in the Global South where were our “traditional” fundraising tools such as direct mail, getting any attraction and even a digital fundraising pioneer such as Greenpeace could, in the mid-1990s recruit digital donors to scale. There were simply not enough people online, let alone had emails or access to the “World Wide Web”.

Something had to be done.

Enter Greenpeace Austria, an agency called Dialogue Direct and my Austria based Greenpeace International colleague Jasna Sonne. They pitched a completely new idea at me for Greenpeace International to test and invest in. Direkt Dialogue, or what is now know as Face to Face fundraising, signing up (on paper forms) donors on the street as monthly donors to Greenpeace Austria via bank transfer. No cash, no pledges, no one-off donations, no technology. Literally, just a conversation between a dialoguer/fundraiser with ID, a show card and a sign-up form. It bloody worked! It worked so well that we rolled it out across Greenpeace as fast as we could and Amnesty International, guests at our famous fundraising skillshares soon copied in the UK and beyond. We had no patent on this powerful too, not would we want to have. We did have a clear “first mover advantage” and a Fundraising Investment Fund to be able to roll it out.

We also made plenty of mistakes along the way. No kidding we made a lot! We immediately got negative media from an unlikely source, namely the Austrian Church, who even had the issue debated in Parliament; recruited donors that were too young to keep up the monthly payments at the level they had signed up to; bombarded young donors with paper newsletters, direct mail appeals that never got read and had no concept of what a face to face “donor journey” might entail.

Nonetheless, the mistakes, tests and learnings by Greenpeace and the subsequent evolution of the F2F as a powerful and effective tool has revolutionised fundraising worldwide. It is the most powerful and effective tool to monthly donors in the 21st century. Even digital/social cannot yet deliver the volumes and lifetime value of face to face fundraising in most markets.

Today, F2F is much more data driven, effectively integrated into and with the rest of the fundraising toolkit; donor journeys/loyalty building and touch points far better understood, as are the demographic profiles of what are the most valuable lifetime value donors; technologies of payment/banking, communication, back-office processes and CRM management are standard elements of successful F2F fundraising, wherever it takes place in the world.

Still challenges remain from the past and new ones emerge, as do opportunities for innovation and change.

As Juan Edelshein, Director of International Fundraising a leading F2Fagency working in Mexico, Peru, Panama and Spain, which has raised over 585 million euros and 700,000 monthly donors in Spain alone, tells us:

The world’s response after a very long global confinement, is proof that F2F’s future is brighter than ever! People came back to the streets in big numbers and all the metaverse talk was put on hold. There’s still no better tool to explain a great humanitarian cause…than a good old fashion human face to face conversation.

One of the biggest challenges is the most human not technological one, namely how to do we identify, recruit, train, motivate, retain and grow the best face to face fundraisers to join our teams and become the best ambassadors for our causes and our amazing way of connecting with new, long term and sustainable donors.

I do not have the answers but, for sure, those attending the First International Face-to-Face Fundraising Congress in Vienna this summer will be collectively debating, sharing and coming up with the answers. I am privileged to be part of this amazing event.

Now where is the best Wiener Schnitzel and Sacher Torte in Vienna?