Step one in welcoming: the thank you

I’ve already done a week on thanking your donors.  Somehow, I managed to talk about why to thank people, rules for thanking donors, 50 ways to thank donors, and ways to thank people multichannel-ly.

And I didn’t talk about what should be in a thank you.

It’s a wonder you even read this blog — thank you for that.

One source to which I’m indebted for this week and many others is Roger Craver’s Retention Fundraising. It is a classic about how to retain donors that I can’t recommend highly enough.  He posits that there are seven drivers of retention:

  • Are you effective at your mission?
  • Does the donor know what to expect from interactions with you?
  • Are your thank yous timely?
  • Do you listen?
  • Does the donor feel s/he is a part of something important?
  • Does the donor feel appreciated?
  • Does the donor receive information about who is being helped?

These are the things you are trying to accomplish with your thank you, and with your welcome series.  Most of these apply to any acknowledgment, but they are most important for a first gift.

Remember emotion.  So many acknowledgments aren’t thank you notes.  They sound like they were written by someone trying to tell Sgt. Friday about your donation.

jack_webb_joe_friday_dragnet_1957

At 1430 hours, the suspect made a donation.
It was tax deductible pursuant to 26 US Code 170.

They are long on amount and date and making sure your name right and short on capturing anything related to the donor’s experience in making the gift.  As we’ve discussed, the vast majority of gifts are made not because of what someone thought, but what they felt.  The thank you know should respond to this in kind.

Specify to why.  Along the same lines, the thank you should not just replicate the emotion of the original, but also tie into the story and the reason for giving.  If someone gave with a petition attached, the thank you should reference the petition and how it is helping make a difference.  If they gave you their email address on the reply device, they should be thanked in both medium.  Ideally, the signatory of the thank you should be the same signer of the appeal letter.

Especially with a first gift, it’s important to establish trust.  Relating the thank you to the gift is a good way of establishing that trust.

Remember their past giving.  If they’ve been giving for 10 years, let them know you know that.  While not strictly related to welcome packages, it’s important not to forget this.

Prove the impact.  This also helps build trust.  If you said the donor’s gift would help build a well, the story and pictures, and emotional impact from the thank you should be related to the impact from the well.  Especially if you are not a name-brand charity, the donor is taking a chance on you doing what you say you are going to do with the donation.  Letting them know that you did helps build a relationship and ties them to the impact (not the output) they were hoping to have.

Remember, the donor wants to know who they helped and why that’s important.  Help them.

Differentiate.  A first donation is more predictive than any other donation.  If someone donates an abnormally high amount to your first solicitation of them, they are uniquely dedicated to your cause and/or of substantially greater means than the average donor.  Chances are good that you have a special procedure for anyone who gives over a certain amount (let’s say $1000) to your organization, whether it’s a phone call or handwritten note.  I would advocate you extend this to people whose first gift is abnormally high.  It may seem odd to extend the same treatment to someone who gives $1000 and someone who gives $100, but chances are good that that $100 donor is your $1000 donor of the future.

Do not delay for differentiation.  That said, you hear horror stories of processes for larger donors that delay their thank yous.  You may think I’m exaggerating here, but at the summer camp for future non-profit direct marketers, the counselors would shine a flashlight on their face from under their chin and say things like “And then the letters sat on the executive director’s desk.  And they sat.  And they sat.  And they sat.  For over. Three.  Weeks.”  We campers would not be able to go to sleep, knowing that our best donors were getting the worst treatment.

Perhaps I went to the wrong type of summer camp.

Anyway, there are four solutions to this dilemma:

  1. Light a fire under whoever is supposed to be writing or calling
  2. Pick someone else to do the writing or calling (or have a team of people to share the load)
  3. Use a quasi-high-touch solution like outbound voice mail or pseudo-handwritten cards
  4. Send a regular thank-you note immediately, then follow-up with a phone call or handwritten note

All of these have their merits, but I strongly recommend solution four.  Not only will this thank the donor twice, which is rarely a bad thing, but it will make your process independent of personalities.  I am a big fan of processes that work regardless of the people who are in them.  You may say your ED or board member is extremely punctual with their calls and letters, but this may not always be the case.

Test high-touch pieces below where you currently are doing them.  If you aren’t differentiating at all, well, now’s a great time to start.  If you are, I recommend a test of doing handwritten notes, phone calls, or other high-touch solutions to at least a segment of whatever half of your current threshold value is (so, if you do $1000+, try it with $500+ donors).  Track their giving over the next year and see if it pans out.

My guess is that, if your organization is like almost every other organization I’ve seen, three things are true:

  • Your current threshold was set by someone in the mists of time because it was a good round number that didn’t sound like an overwhelming amount of work for the person/people involved.
  • It has gone through little to no scientific inquiry in the interim.
  • There are touchpoints you can do that will raise the value of the next tier of donors that will justify the amount of work necessary.

There is a who-is-going-to-tie-the-bell-around-the-cat’s-neck problem with this solution.  I would recommend you, the reader of this blog.  Talking to contributors and thanking them for making important work possible is beneath no one.  You will likely not only get a lift in your response rates, but you will also gain vital donor intelligence that few others in your organization will get by having actual conversations with actual donors.

Turn off regular communications with new donors for a certain amount of time.  In the mail, this is easy.  Chances are you have already pulled the list of people you are going to be mailing 30-60 days from now.  Thus, a suppression emerges naturally (although you may wish to lengthen it).  For online initiates, there is a temptation to drop them into regular communications immediately.  

Don’t.

Remember yesterday’s post — you are looking to thank this person, learn about them, have them learn about (and perhaps interact in a non-donor context with) you, and make a strategic ask for a second gift.

If they are dropped into regular communications, there is a near-100% certainty that they will get asked with no learning, which is not strategic.

The amount of time is not really the important part; accomplishing your communications goals is, so you can test what the right amount of time is for you.  And, as Roger told you at the top, be sure to let them know what they can expect from you (and I would add “and allow them to change that default”).

What do you put in the interim?  Well, that’s what I’ll talk about for the rest of the week.

If you would like to get these weeks in digest form, please sign up for my weekly newsletter, where you’ll get not only context for these posts, but also my random neural firings and previews of upcoming posts.  You won’t want to miss it.

Unless you do and that’s fine too — I just appreciate that you are reading.

Step one in welcoming: the thank you

Why welcome your donors?

I’ve read a lot about online and offline welcome kits, packages, and series.  These are almost always treated in separate articles by separate people in separate universes.  If your organization is sufficiently large, chances are they are written by separate people; if it’s even larger, they are written by separate people in separate departments.

In studying, I’ve found one deep and profound difference between welcoming donors and constituents online versus offline:

One is made of dead trees; the other is made of electrons in tubes.

Other than that, not much difference.  There are four major purposes for welcoming someone:

  1. To appreciate them in a way that makes them like you.  Online, there’s research from Powerthru Consulting from their work with Environmental Action that is worth a read.  They found that everyone who opened an email from their welcome series, it increased their likelihood of opening an email over the next six months by 20%.  Further, it increased their likelihood of opening all of the emails over the next six months by 1-3%.

    Welcoming emails also are well-opened and clicked on, far more than regular emails, according to MarketingSherpa

    It’s more difficult to get such data on mail pieces, but I’d wager they run the same way.  This first post-thank you mail piece is going to be (if you are doing it right) in the honeymoon phase of the relationship and thus affect the trajectory from there.

  2. To learn about the person and engage with them.  If you doubt why should know about your donors, sneak over to my Winter is Coming end-of-times prediction about nonprofits who do not know their donors.  Suffice it to say, your best chance of getting future donations from someone are by making sure you are customizing your asks to their desires.  You won’t know how to do that if you don’t know them.

  3. To allow them to learn about and engage with you.  In this honeymoon period, you are still a bit new to them as well.  Maybe they are actually more interested in something that you do than the one they donated to.  Maybe they are interested in advocacy, volunteering, downloading materials — who knows at this point?

  4. To get another gift, perhaps an upgraded one.  A one-time giver is not really a donor.  About a quarter will give another gift.  While this is better odds than putting your finger on a name in the phonebook (side note: we really need a new analogy for this), it’s not someone who is committed to the organization.  Double this for online donors, who are even more fickle on average.

    A donor who gives a second gift early in the process is more than twice as likely to retain as a long-term donor than someone who waits.  Do not be in the “oh, they just gave; let’s not ask them” crowd that does not strike hot iron.  The debate over whether or not to ask in thank you’s is a legitimate debate (I say you should, but other smart people say no), but not asking in the welcome series at some point is simply incorrect.

This should not be restricted by medium.  I’ve already talked about this extensively in the post on breaking down your thank you silos.  So, I’ll just add two quick things here:

  • You usually will have someone’s mail address when they donate online, but not their online address when they donate through the mail, so this is easier to do from online to mail.
  • fMRI studies show that reading from dead trees causes more emotional processing than reading from electrons.  Roger Dooley and his Neuromarketing team have the story here.  So there probably is greater applicability of these techniques going from online to mail.

This week, I’ll go through each of these purposes in turn for a welcome strategy that is medium-agnostic.  Personally, I view hitting all of these points as more important than whether you send two emails or five or the exact timing of when the mail gets out, so we will focus on technique and usable tips.

Why welcome your donors?

Influence in direct marketing: liking at work

you-like-meHat tip to The Interview Guys for the image

Liking sounds like it is exclusively the property of face-to-face asks, where you work to be liked so as to directly solicit a gift.  There’s a reason that we direct marketers stay behind a desk while our glad-handling extrovert brethren ask for major gifts. (In my case, it’s introversion, a love of numbers, and a face most suitable for print.)

Did that self-deprecating humor make you like me more?  Good!  Then we can continue with the post.  (Also probably for the best that you think it is self-deprecating; there’s a reason this blog has no picture of me.)

There are three major areas in which the psychology of liking can give us a significant advantage, even when we aren’t physically with a person.

The first is in persona.  Not the hip marketing term where you put a name, face, and demographic/psychographic profile of your constituents, also that’s a bit of the idea.  Rather, it’s who the virtual faces to your brands are in your various communications.

In The Audacity to Win, David Plouffe talked about their digital strategy for fundraising and who quality signers were for various content:

To keep things fresh, we varied the length and tone of the messages–some were long and informative, others quite short and informal. Perhaps most important, we learned that people responded very well to e-mails from Michelle Obama and that we needed to use Barack somewhat sparingly–when he signed an e-mail it always produced by far the biggest response, but we did not want this to become a stale event. So many of the e-mails came from me, though when we needed a big response to an ask–for money, volunteer time, or to watch an event–we made sure the e-mails came from the Obamas.

To me, this speaks to a compartmentalization of voice: Barack Obama was the primary persona in the campaign, used for speeches, policy positions, debates, etc. etc.  Because he was everywhere and in every media, a communication needed to feel special.  However, Michelle Obama did not present in the same way.  A communication from her was able to touch different emotions, make different points, and, frankly, be liked in a way that you can’t like a person that you agree with even 90% of the time, because that 10% will always be in the way.

So who are the different voices in your organization and how do you use them?  I would recommend an inventory of people and uses.  For some, a victim/survivor is one certain type of voice.  A head of policy or government affairs can be the attack dog that your advocacy supporters and donors want to hear from.  A development staff member or volunteer can be used for institutional appeals – renewals of membership or reminders to fulfill pledges – so that your passionate voices aren’t drawn into this bureaucracy.  A celebrity can bring in his/her followers to the fold, even if they are loosely affiliated at first.

And so on.  Some even might want to transcend the human – would an animal charity want to have an official spokesdog?  I recommend using a person as a mouthpiece for a specific type of communication to a specific type of person who wants to receive that communication and will like the person who is the messenger. 

Don’t have institutional messages that aren’t from someone.  So many e-newsletters fall into this  trap.  They are from the National Conglomeration for the Amelioration of Sesquipedalianism, when they could be from Rachael.  I don’t know Rachael, but because she’s a human, people will generally like her more than the monolithic NCAS.

The second is in being liked by liking.  As with consistency, praise for past actions will get you everywhere.  People generally like people who like them.  Similarly, flattering works and since I mentioned that yesterday, here’s another study that shows this, lest I not be giving you sufficient value.

The third major impact of liking is that people are more likely to like people like them.  I’ve seen a 30%+ increase in response rate to a communication when people were told that the story they were hearing happened in their own state – and that includes states like California or Texas, where the case may not have even been within a full day’s drive.

Similarly, people reaction better to communications from, and about, people of similar age, background, religious persuasion, racial or ethnic breakdown, educational background, and so on and so on.  This is not to say that you should go out and create “the Hispanic mail package.”  In fact, please don’t.  But customization can help you talk about how the problem you are trying to solve affects the people like the person you are talking to.

These rich details given a good picture of a person and the more someone can picture a person, the more they like and empathize with that person.

So these help your communications make your voices, and you, more liked and bring in donations.  After Christmas, we’ll talk a bit about authority in influence.

Influence in direct marketing: liking at work

Influence in direct marketing: reciprocity at work

As direct marketers, we gradually become experts in why and how our donors give.  But sometimes, we can get into the weeds of control communications (“this matching gift appeal works; let’s send it again”) and forget the mechanisms by which communications work.  At least I’ve done this; your mileage may vary.

So, I’ve found it to be helpful to delve back into first principles periodically.  One of my favorite resources for this is Robert Cialdini’s Influence.  As an insight into why people do what they do, there are few better (although David McRaney’s You Are Not So Smart and You Are Now Less Dumb are great looks into cognitive biases that are a fun read and thus I will get to in other posts).

For the TL: DR version of this book, there’s an HBR summary of it here .  Cialdini articulates six principles of influence that are both core and common across cultures:

  • Reciprocity
  • Authority
  • Social proof
  • Consistency
  • Liking
  • Scarcity

Think of each of these as a way to make yourself more persuasive and have more influence that you can incorporate into your causes’ way of talking with your constituents.

I’ll take each of these in turn to give my thoughts on how these levers can be used in old and new ways.  And, since there are six of them, I’m going to use this as an opportunity to test writing on the weekends.  So for those avid followers of this blog (thanks, mom and dad!), I’ll be skipping Christmas and writing on Saturday and Sunday this week.  We’ll see how it goes.

I’ll start with reciprocity – the idea that doing something for someone makes them more likely to do something for you.  I’m starting here because this was the first one I encountered in spades in my first nonprofit direct marketing program.  In fact, it’s what many people think of when they think of direct marketing solicitations: premiums.  Whether it’s a front-end premium of labels, calendars, address books, pins, or whatever tchotchkes we can figure out how to flatpack in an envelope, or the back-end premiums exemplified by the donate-to-PBS-get-a-totebag model, these have become ubiquitous.

This is because they work; the principle of reciprocity is such that if we are given a gift, we feel obliged to respond in kind.  Add a well-thought out premium to an acquisition package and you will likely see a jump in your response rate.  In fact, this jump will be highly correlated with the perceived value of that premium.  While there are a thousand studies of this hidden behind all of our nonprofits’ firewalls, there’s a good published one here.  It shows a 17% increase in giving when a person is given a small gift and a 75% increase when they are given a large one.

There are cautionary notes to strike, however.  A program build on premiums – back or front – can become a one-note piano.  Ideally, you have a broad mix of communication types and influence levers with your constituents.  Some of the people you will acquire from premiums will be responsive only to those premiums and value your organization only for the things they get from you.  This can preclude effective upgrade and bridging strategies.  Additionally, the donors you get from these efforts can be attracted to other organizations by other premiums (or the same premium as you send).  As a result, they may become prolific tippers of nonprofits.

As a result, a program build on premiums and premiums alone will tend to have lower average gifts, lower retention rates, and a great challenge trying to kick the addiction they and their donors have to these gifts.  This is by no means to say premiums have no place in a nonprofit program, but that it’s best of they are one of the many things you do to attract and retain donors, rather than the sole one.

Cialdini says it well in his HBR article: “Ultimately, though, gift giving is one of the cruder applications of the rule of reciprocity.”

There are higher value forms of reciprocity to be had in your direct marketing program, beyond the labels and the notepads.  The first is that value does not have to be measured monetarily.  As I’ll talk about in the post on scarcity, exclusive information can be something of great perceived value that a person would want to reciprocate (a note here that these forms of influence almost always work better together than alone).  Similarly, a paper clip on a mail piece is an interesting signifier that human hands have touched the mail piece.  This human touch means that a mere machine didn’t just pre-digest this mail piece and spew it out to you; this signifier can be something that helps bring people to you.

It’s also important to look at reciprocity from the donors’ perspectives.  Sometimes you will get gifts that are a perceived payback from a donor, whether they were directly touched by your services or indirectly.  One key point here is to try to capture what a person’s connection is to your cause and customize to this.  It’s important that the principle of reciprocity says that this is something that something people want to do; the need to have our ledgers square is hardwired into us.  You can help these folks given back in the way they want to and thank them for it.

Thank you’s are also an important part of reciprocity.  Research shows that people give to causes not because they expect anything concrete in return.  Rather, they build up two expectations over time.  One is recognition for their gift, whether publicly or not.  This is a reciprocity that the donor will expect of you.  The other is performance – that you will use their donation to make the impact they would like to make.  If either of these comes as a surprise, please read my post on why we thank everyone for their gift.

We started with premiums and that’s the primary reciprocity lever at work in most nonprofits.  But it’s important to remember that just as we give gifts to people in the hopes they will reciprocate, they also expect that we will reciprocate when they give us a gift.

Influence in direct marketing: reciprocity at work

Breaking down your thank you silos

As mentioned on Wednesday, there are a few different ways to thank your donors.   Thanking donors well, as we know, increases retention, average giving, and good karma in the world.

That said, we too often treat the way someone came into our organization, or the way they made their gift this most recent time, as the entirety of who a person is and how they are going to interact with our organizations.

Most donors have some combination of a mail box, an email box, a phone, a mobile phone, social media accounts, and more.  Yet we insist on assume that mail donors gonna mail checks, walkers gonna walk, phone-ees gonna give over the phone, and haters gonna hate.

If I were to create the stone tablets of nonprofit direct marketing, “Origin ≠ destiny” would be only slightly below “test everything” on the list of commandments.  Of course, I’m not going to create stone tablets, because we tested out of that in ancient Egypt.

It is certainly true that someone who started by donating through the mail is more likely to donate through the mail than someone who has only donated online.  This is because these two people have proven responsive to these two media.  However, it is not true that the mail donor will donate only through the mail.  It’s not even true that the mail donor prefers to donate through the mail – their origin may just have been how you reached out to her first.

Much is invested in creating multichannel donors – e-appends, email captures, telemarketing campaigns, mail conversion series, etc.  Yet we continue to acknowledge offline gifts offline and online gifts online and rarely the twain shall meet.

This is a pity because, while you will receive phone calls if someone is oversolicited by channels they didn’t want to be solicited through, you will rarely receive angry calls resulting from thanking someone too much.  Try to count the number of times someone has yelled at you “YOU ARE BEING TOO DAMN APPRECIATIVE OF MY SUPPORT!”.  If that number is existent, it’s at maximum finger-countable.

So I’ve just started trying some of these and while the juries are still out, early results are showing that they are bearing fruit.  This is in part because some of these are so darn low cost, if you can get the system right up front:

Thank your mail donors by email when you have the email.  I mentioned on Tuesday that speed of thank you is a key predictor of future support.  Let’s say that you are working with a caging vendor that will get acknowledgments out the day after the gift is received.  Chances are you aren’t going to improve significantly on that.  While neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from their appointed rounds, neither will these or any other disaster or incentive get them to speed up.

But what if at the same time as your caging vendor sent the letter, they also triggered an email to the donor that said “[Name], thank you so much for your [amount] gift.  We just got it and you are already [the great thing your cause does].  You are going to get your official receipt and thank you in the mail in a couple days, but I couldn’t wait to tell you how much your support means to all of us here at [organization].”

Send an outbound voice mail as a thank you for online and mail gifts.  This is another way to get thank you’s out quickly when you have a phone number for the donor.  This also works for event donors.

Have a mail-based welcome series for online donors and/or constituents. There’s no reason a thank you and welcome needs to stop at the edge of the Internet.

Send a post-event package or series for your event participants.  This will help those participants go beyond donating just to the event and forging a deeper tie with your organization.

Thank you for reading.  Please leave other ideas for multichannel thank you’s in the comments, so we can all learn from each other.

Breaking down your thank you silos

Thank you to the bloggers who showed me how it’s done

I’m absolutely forgetting people, but here are some of the ones to thank:

Have a happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thank you to the bloggers who showed me how it’s done

There must be 50 ways to thank your donors

  1. Write them a letter, Eddie Vetter.
  2. Send them a birthday card, Renard.
  3. Remember them on important holidays, Rutherford B Hayes.
  4. Acknowledge their support on important dates like their first gift’s anniversary, Mercy.
  5. Thank them with a prerecorded outbound voice message, Fezzig. (If you can’t tell already, not all of these rhymes are going to be winners…)
  6. Try that prerecorded outbound voice message to see if it will increase fulfillment rates among your telemarketing pledgers, Medgar Evers.
  7. Handwrite them a note, billy goat.
  8. Send them a copy of your annual report with a kind note and their name circled, Erkel.
  9. Make a personal call, Saul.
  10. Ask them to volunteer, dear. (Yes, really, some of your donors may want to become more involved in your organization)
  11. Thank them in person, Orson.
  12. Have a special area/table/zone for them at your next event, Clark Kent.
  13. Send them a member card, Jean-Luc Picard.
  14. Invite them to special briefings that are only for a member, December.
  15. Create a specialized donor thank you newsletter, Irish setter.
  16. Send them a copy of a book written by one of your in-house experts, Howard Kurtz.
  17. Create a year-end statement of their giving and the impact it has made, Sade.
  18. Use a survey to get their thoughts, Don Knotts.
  19. Ask your ED or another luminary to write a card in blue ink, then to make it look handwritten in bulk on a budget, run copies of it on the color printer, Harold Pinter.
  20. Conduct donor telephone calls in a town hall style, Kyle.
  21. Write quality stories, Jason Vorhees.
  22. Make high-quality and personalized online after-action pages and automated emails, Outlaw Josey Wales.
  23. Send them a staff white paper, Don Draper.
  24. Create a personalized support statement in infographic form, Norm. (NORM! How’s it going out there, Norm? It’s a dog eat dog world and I’m wearing Milkbone underwear (laughter from studio audience))
  25. Have excellent donor service, Neal Purvis (screenwriter on six James Bond movies. If you already knew that, you might be interested in one of my books here).
  26. Write them memos about the impact they’ve made and what is left to be done, hon.
  27. Send them pictures about the impact they are making and not of someone handing someone else a giant check, Beck.
  28. Welcome them strategically with a cross-channel series, Aries.
  29. Invite them to share their personal story, Rory (aka Mr. Amy Pond).
  30. Ask for why they give and personalize your thanks to what meaning to them, Clem.
  31. DM them on Twitter, Senator Vitter.
  32. Send them a letter that is written by someone whose life they’ve changed, Danny Ainge.
  33. Wish that the song was about 30 ways to leave your lover, Crispin Glover.
  34. Shoot a thank you video, Hideo.
  35. Throw a donor and volunteer appreciation party, Aarti (Sequeira of Food Network fame, of course).
  36. Ask them to vote on issues where you can live with any of the selections like member card design, Robert Irvine.
  37. Have a donor appreciation wall at your headquarter, Michael Porter.
  38. Message them on Facebook, Captain Hook.
  39. Make it easy for them to tell others about their support, Queen Consort.
  40. Honor and make sure they know you honor their particular and individual connection to your cause, Santa Claus.
  41. Have a phone bank thankathon from your employees and volunteers, Mouseketeers.
  42. Talk to them about the meaning they are giving to people’s lives, Douglas Adams.
  43. Call them for their opinion, Virginian.
  44. Send them an impact-focused news clipping, Rudyard Kipling. (Do you like Kipling? I don’t know; I’ve never kippled.)
  45. Invite them to hear, online or in-person, a guest speaker, Bunson and Beaker.
  46. Thank them with a celebrity if you have one connected to your nonprofit, Stephen Moffit (again, if you know who this is, one of my books might be up your alley).
  47. Reach out on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and/or Grandparent’s Day, depending on their gender and age, Larry Page.
  48. Send a February 14th valentine to the donors you love, turtle dove.
  49. Allow virtual access to whatever form of annual meeting you have, be it a conference, jamboree, or lobby day, Auntie May.
  50. Above all, write from, and to, the heart, Bart.
There must be 50 ways to thank your donors