How regular giving transformed Lifeline Australia

We recently held ntegrity nrich, a conference for our clients that shared the behind the scenes of some of Australia’s top performing not-for-profits. Attendees scored our conference 9 out of 10, with its top speaker of the day being Rochelle Nolan from Lifeline. 

Rochelle shared her insights for growing fundraising at Lifeline from $5M to $18.7M in just three years.

Here are her key lessons…

Brand recognition does not equal fundraising results - but it makes for a great foundation.

Lifeline is one of Australia’s top charities. Listed as the number to call if you're in distress, they receive over one million calls per year, have incredibly high trust scores and are recognised as the top six charities when it comes to public awareness (McNair, 2021). But despite this, they were struggling to fundraise. 

Awareness doesn’t immediately = fundraising. 

Many believed (incorrectly) that Lifeline received all its funding from the government and so did not need donations. 

To turn this ship around to educate and fundraise the Australian public, Lifeline made regular giving an organisational priority.

Lifeline made regular giving its “big rock” to achieve long-term fundraising growth

Lifeline began rethinking its priorities when it came to growing its fundraising, 

They used Simon Covey’s famous big rocks analogy

  • Big rocks are your highest priorities. 

  • Gravel and sand are secondary tasks that occupy your day to day.  

  • You’ll never have space for big rocks in your jar if you keep filling it with sand.

The analogy encourages you to focus on the bigger picture without falling into the trap of letting day-to-day problems overshadow everything.

Lifeline decided to make regular giving its “big rock” and focused on three key areas of execution:

1. Investing in digital acquisition as a lead generator 

Telemarketing had been the main driver for regular giving donations, but relying on one source for new donors is always dangerous and not a great long-term approach. By moving into digital acquisition Lifeline was able to create new resources and tools that provided value for everyday Aussies and most importantly potential donors. For Lifeline this looked like a Lifeline Care Kit offered via lead gen Facebook advertising - which was followed up by a telemarketing call to collect contact details, and mailpack that was sent in the mail. This activity also importantly helped educate Aussies on Lifeline’s work and its need for funding, priming Aussies for giving now or in the future. 

2. Upskill telemarketers

Next focus was on training its telemarketers to better connect with callers and convert into a donor. This included a new telemarketing strategy, updated scripts and training for staff to connect more closely to stories of impact, statistics and the broader cause. Lifeline paid special attention to making sure its telemarketing agency felt like part of the Lifeline team. 

3. Ensure Regular Giving was an organisational priority

Shifting the culture at Lifeline was as important as shifting tactics. Regular giving eventually became an organisational priority, but this took time and intentional action. This included changing the organisation's financial ROI model, to educating the board on long-term vs. short-term fundraising and ROI and changing the culture to drive results. 

Donor retention were the pebbles & sand 

While focusing on regular giving and revamping the new donor acquisition and telemarketing were Lifeline’s big rocks, the pebbles and sand that surrounded the rock became donor retention. 

Donor retention became an important secondary aspect to their strategy, once the big rock of regular giving and acquisition was humming along. This included onboarding journeys, welcome packs and more that were all developed to keep donors coming back again and again. 

Why? Consider the value of regular givers’ donations over a year, or over five years. It’s the equivalent of a major donor. Lifeline saw the lifetime value of every new regular donor acquired AND saw the value of a major donor in every regular giver. 

A rocks & sand approach  = huge success

Lifeline grew from an annual fundraising revenue of $5M to a whopping $18.7M in just three years. They now have just over  4,300 regular donors providing close to $1.2M a year and they're on track to continue growing. 

What’s more important, is the consistency of this regular funding and how that impacts the organisation's ability to provide their services, unimpeded.  This allows them to ensure their income grows, and their crisis service thrives, so they can support people in the darkest moments of their lives for years to come.  

Our key takeaways from this case study? 

  1. Figure out what your big rock is. For many NFPs this looks like regular giving for long-term fundraising growth.

  2. Ensure you have a holistic acquisition strategy - from telemarketing to digital to face-to-face - whatever it looks like for you make sure they’re all working in sync with one anPair telemarketing with a strong digital acquisition strategy.

  3. Never forget the importance of organisational change and culture for successful fundraising.