Help your agency make you feel like the only client in the world!

publication date: Dec 4, 2013
author/source: Fiona James-Dambrosio and Alex Tom

In the early 2000s, the World Society for the Protection of Animals' acquisition channel consisted mainly of direct response TV and prospect mail.  These channels were highly successful for several years – but we began to experience a decline in response.  We realized that we needed to diversify our fundraising tactics.

In 2008, we tested face-to-face and were disappointed with the initial results.  We didn’t understand why that channel wasn’t working for us. After analyzing the campaign, we realized that a number of elements, including our metrics, were unclear. That had set us up for failure from the start.

So how did WSPA Canada transform this struggling channel to a high successful one? How did we build a positive, collaborative relationship with our agency and pioneer innovative street technology that has identified us as trailblazers within our own international organization?  Simple. We focused on one thing:  building strong relationships.

Our campaign had been plagued by many problems including: unmet objectives, high attrition and a strained relationship with our agency.  Rather than re-inventing the wheel, we simply re-aligned our priorities, and revisited each stage of our vendor relationship we felt we could influence. 

The RFP process

When you first develop your request for proposals, it's crucial to know what success looks like to you.  In our case, we were specific on revenue targets, number of new donors acquired, average gift and cost per acquisition.  Once you have developed your benchmarks and objectives, include them in your proposal so that all the agencies seeking to work with you will know exactly what you expect from their partnership.   

This is a good time to develop your scoring template.  The scoring template should include all the categories that are important to your team, for example, strategy, experience, creativity and account management.  A scoring metric will help you and your team to rate and compare competing vendors to determine which one is best suited for your particular campaign.

Contract negotiations

Once you have selected your vendor, you can then negotiate value.  For us, value was determining elements such as campaign guarantees.  What happens if the vendor doesn't meet our revenue targets?  What guarantees are available and how will the vendor work with us to address these issues?

Both parties tend  be amiable at this point and are more open to sharing risk, so take this opportunity to discuss worst case scenarios before the start of your campaign.

Campaign start-up

During the start of the campaign, you should expect your vendor to develop and provide a critical path.  This document should include list of all the elements of the start-up that need to be completed.  This is a great way to ensure that no detail is overlooked, that deadlines are realistic, and that both parties are assigned tasks and therefore accountable for a successful start-up.

Lastly, work closely with your agency to develop a campaign training that will excite and motivate staff.  The training should include:

  • An overview of your organization (who you are and what you do);
  • A guest speaker (someone who can speak to the work you do and provide representatives with examples of how their work is making a difference);
  • Key messaging. It’s obviously the vendor’s responsibility to train its representatives on scripts and rebuttals. However, your job is to provide key messages that convey urgency – why to donate today.


Once you have launched your campaign, maintenance can be as simple as setting up weekly reporting and status meetings. For WSPA though, given that we were renewing our fifth fundraising campaign, maintenance became more about inspiring and upholding morale. 

During this stage of our relationship with our vendor, we began working together to develop creative solutions to problems.  For example, we continued to experience high attrition, and we turned to our vendors to help us address the loss of revenue.  The result was a point-of-sale processing solution that enabled us to process donations as live transactions. It reduced our first pledge failure rate from 10% to 3%. 

At this stage of your relationship, innovation can flourish.

Marriage or break-up

As you approach the end of your campaign, it should come as no surprise to either party whether you will renew your contract or not.  It's no surprise because throughout the campaign, lines of communication were open and each stage was approached in a spirit of collaboration.

Should either partner decide not to pursue another contract, don't avoid the conversation-- just be direct, be honest, and be respectful. 

In a nutshell

  • Know your metrics and what success looks like to you, otherwise you will not know what to look for in a vendor.
  • Look at your campaign as a partnership- it’s not you vs. them.
  • Be honest, transparent and respectful and you won’t offend your partner.
  • Collaboration is good for the soul and even better for building strong partnerships.
  • Test and apply learnings. In some cases test, test and test again.  Face-to-face, which we almost eliminated a few ago, is now our most prominent acquisition channel.
This article is taken from a presentation at AFP Greater Toronto Chapter's Congress 2013.

Fiona James-D'AmbrosioFiona James-Dambrosio joined the World Society for Protection of Animals Canada team in July 2012 as Manager, Supporter Acquisition. She leads the development and implementation of five direct response channels including: face-to-face, direct mail, online, symbolic gifts, community outreach and donor journey. Fiona fell into fundraising back in 1999 when she joined Univision Marketing Group as a phone representative for World Vision Canada. She has since managed face-to-face and phone campaigns for SickKids Foundation, Canadian Cancer Society, The Canadian Red Cross and Plan Canada.

Alex TomAlex Tom is a seasoned marketing professional who uses his powers for good not evil. With over 13 years of experience within various industries, he currently holds the title of Director, Development and Marketing at WSPA Canada. Alex started his career at Business Depot (Corporate Express) where he was pivotal in developing their first marketing database. After a stint at CIBC, his love for building relationships and championing the underdogs coupled with his passion for philanthropy led him to move from the for-profit sector to Plan Canada, where he was responsible for the acquisition of over 40,000 new child sponsors. 

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