Learn about your donors by changing one thing

Congratulations!  A constituent joined your organization!  Now what?  

Welcome series!  Then what?

Well, of course, you drop them into the communication channel of their origin right?

As our Direct Marketing Master Yoda* would say:

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No. No. No.  Quicker, easier, more seductive.

But in this case, not ideal.  It’s not ideal for the constituent and it’s not ideal for learning more about what this person actually wants — you may be freezing what this person “is” before you’ve had a chance to find out.

The person has already told you that they are responsive to three things:

  • Medium: If they respond to a mail piece, for example, they do not hate mail pieces. It may not be their only, or even their favorite means of communication, but it is one to which they respond.
  • Message: Your mission probably entails multiple things.  Your goal may be wetlands preservation and you work to accomplish this through education, research, and direct conservation.  If someone downloaded your white paper on the current state of wetlands research and your additional research goals, you know that they are responsive to that research message.  It may not be their only or favorite message, but they respond.
  • Action: If someone donates, they are willing to donate.  If they sign a petition, they are willing to petition.  You can guess the rest of this about them perhaps being willing to do other things.

Other than welcome series, which I’ll talk about at another time, you are trying to sail between the Scylla of sending the same thing over and over again and the Charybdis of bombarding people with different, alien messages, media, and asks.

Thus, I would recommend what I’d call the bowling alley approach in honor of Geoffrey Moore, who advocated for a similar approach to entering new markets in his for-profit entrepreneurial classic Crossing the Chasm

The idea in the for-profit world is that you enter with one market with one product.  Once you have a foothold, you try to see that same market a different product and a different market your original product, in the same way that hitting a front bowling pin works to knock down the two behind it.

Here, we play three-dimensional bowling**. The idea behind the non-profit bowling alley, or change one, approach is that you should change only one aspect at a time of your medium, message, and action.

Let’s take our wetlands organization as an example — they work to educate, research, and conserve.  They have people who download white papers and informational packets, people who take advocacy actions, and donors.  And their means of communication are mail, phone, and online.

Let’s further take a person who downloads a white paper on research online and provides her mail and email address.  The usual temptation would be to drop her into the regular email newsletter and into the warm lead acquisition mail stream (and maybe to even do a phone append to call her).

But this would not be the best approach: you would be taking someone who, for all you know, is interested only in one medium, message, and action and asking them for something completely different.

Rather, it would be better if at first you probe other areas of interest.  Ideally, you would ask her:

  • Online for downloading additional information about research (same medium, message, and action)
  • Online for advocacy actions and donations related to research (same medium and message; different action)
  • Online for downloading information about education and conservation (same medium and action; different message)
  • In the mail and on the phone for getting additional information about research (same message and action; different medium)

Obviously, this last part is not practical; mail and phone are too expensive to not have a donation ask involved. However, you could make the mail and phone asks specific to “we need your help to help make our research resources available not just to you, but to policymakers across the country” — tying it as directly as possible to where their known area of interest.

Over time, you should get a strong picture of this person.  Maybe they are willing to do anything for your organization by any means as long as it is focus on your research initiatives.  Maybe they are willing to engage with you about anything, as long as it is only online.  And maybe they like research and conservation, but not education; online and mail, but not phone; and getting information and donating, but not engaging their representatives.

Taking it one step at a time not only helps you learn this over time, but also helps you learn it without culture shock.  If someone downloads a white paper and you ask them to take an advocacy action on that same issue online, they may not be interested, but they likely see the throughline to the action they took.  If they download a white paper and get a phone call for an unrelated action, they likely will not.

It’s the difference between a donor response of “I can see why you’d think that, but no thanks” and “what the hell?” (followed by the constituent equivalent of getting a drink thrown in your face).

It’s also why I recommend going back to the original communication mechanism for lapsed donors in the lapsed donor reactivation post.  In that case, it may be literally the one and only thing you know that works.

You may say that you don’t have the resources to do five different versions of each mail piece or telephone script.  But you can do this inexpensively if you are varying your mail messages throughout the year.  For a warm lead acquisition strategy, simply make sure the advocacy people get the advocacy mail piece and not the others for now.  If you find out some of them are responsive to a mail donation ask, you can ramp up cadence later, but for now, your slower cultivation and learning strategy can pay dividends.

This also helps prevent a common mistake: creating groups like “online advocates,” “white paper downloaders,” etc. and then mailing them without cross-suppression.  If you send each of three groups a monthly mail piece and someone is in all three groups, they may end up getting 36 mail pieces if you don’t cross-suppression (so that these groups are prioritized into like packages instead of everyone in a group getting everything).

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how to get this type of intelligence from what you’ve already done.

* Don’t believe me?  Check Yoda’s outstanding donor newsletter here

** Science fiction always has people playing three-dimensional chess, but not three-dimensional bowling.  Why or why not?  Discuss.

Learn about your donors by changing one thing

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