Welcome step two: Learn more about your donors and engage them

You’ve now created a gap between now and your normal communication stream for your new donor.  What do you do next?  As any Londoner can tell you, you now need to

bakerloo_line_-_waterloo_-_mind_the_gap

We know in case after case that personalization increases the effectiveness of direct marketing.  And not just making sure the person’s name is spelled correctly: it’s about making sure you know why they are giving and are thanking and soliciting them under those auspices.

With a new donor, you will have a single data point with which to start.  They responded to theme A through medium B.  You can leg your way into donor knowledge as we recommend by changing one thing at a time, but that won’t help you get that second gift.  And even if you are doing well, 60-70% of the time, you won’t get that gift.

Previously, I’d talked about the two ways of getting information about your supporters: watching their behavior and asking them.  It turns out those are the two things you should be doing in your welcome communications as well.

The critical step, and the one most often missed, is setting up opportunities for behavior watching and for feedback.  Or sometimes we go to the opposite extreme and send an email for every little bit of our mission we can think of, drowning the donor or prospect with a deluge of did-you-knows.

The way to maintain that balance with your supporters is to give them three major opportunities:

  • To use you as a resource.  People are more likely to support organizations that solve their problem.  This can range from “I want to eat more sustainably but I’m drowning in a sea of cage-free, organic, cruelty-free, etc. labels and don’t know how” to “I donated to suicide prevention because a friend committed suicide, but now I’m having these thoughts…”.  We nonprofits are (or should be) experts in our area and we can help in these areas.  And, as a much secondary effect, it allows us to see our supporter as a person. 
  • To use you as means to accomplish their goal.  If they donated to a particular issue, they may also want to write their legislator about it — that may give them the same (or similar) warm feeling that donating did.  Or they may want to volunteer in a very specific way that helps them achieve the same end their donation did.

 

  • To learn what they think.  You want to know how you can serve them better.  This can be through a survey or an open-ended question.  Or this can be an opportunity to bring in a different medium by having a human call them, thank them, and ask for why they gave and why to you.

The larger point here is that these should be framed in how they help the donor or cause, not how they help you.  It’s amazing how much of a difference there is between “We are also on social media, so like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!” and “Our Facebook community helps parents of children with autism support each other, so please join in if you’d like to hear from others who have been where you are.”

It goes without saying that you should track these activities.  If someone sends back the petition in their mail package, advocacy is something that appeals to them.  Thus, the way to get them to be a higher value donor may not be to get a second gift through the mail (although you should try); it may be to get them to be a frequent online advocate, then ask them after an online petition to become a monthly giver to support the specific advocacy activities they enjoy.

It’s even easier online.  If someone clicks on your link for more information for parents of kids with autism, you know they almost certain fall into this category themselves.  This is a programmatic opportunity as well as a fundraising one, but all boats will lift if you have this information and use it to help the person in question.  Links that you send should be trackable and appended to each supporter’s record so you can customize your messaging.  

The alternative is to become the cable company that asks you for your phone number with their automated system, then has a person ask you for it, even though caller ID is a thing that has existed for a while in this universe.  If someone tells you something, they will expect that you know it.  And clicks are, believe it or not, communication.

There is a lot of ink and virtual ink used on how many emails or mail pieces you should have in a welcome series, how long it should last, etc.  You’ll notice that I don’t cover any of that here, because I don’t find it to be all that important.  If you can accomplish the thank you, learning, and engagement all in one communication, go for it.  On the flip side, as long as a welcome series is about supporters’ interests, it’s difficult to say that it is going on too long.

Welcome step two: Learn more about your donors and engage them

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?

Acquiring new advocates in (and for) direct marketing

There are several services now set up to bring advocates into your organization on a cost-per-acquisition basis. Care2, Change.org, and CQ Roll Call are the main ones that have come across my desk.

In full disclosure, I have not yet tried these services. I hope that anyone who has can tell about their experience in the comments (or contact me at nick@directtodonor.com; I’d love to set up a guest blog opportunity to help correct my vast areas of ignorance).

But I do know what would be required for me to participate in these types of campaigns:

  • Maximizing free/content marketing efforts
  • Optimized advocacy forms and efforts
  • Strong knowledge of the value of each advocate and a strong projection of the value of these externally acquired advocates versus internally acquired ones.

I’ll go through each of these in turn, as these would be valuable whether or not you decide to invest in cost-per-acquisition campaigns.

Maximizing free/content marketing efforts

First, get your Google Grant.  I know, I’ve said it before, but some of you still don’t have one.  So get it.  Consider it free traffic to your advocacy efforts.

Speaking of, after donation forms, advocacy activities are the best thing you can direct search traffic to, as they convert very well.  It’s usually a safe bet that the person searching for “email congress seal clubbing” wants to email their elected officials about seal clubbing.  And if they click through on your ad, they are probably on the con side.

(A note: as of this writing, there are no nonprofit ads for the term “seal clubbing,” but Humane Society and PETA are on the first page of search results.  Opportunity?)

And, as we mentioned last week, now you know something about your constituent’s interest as you work to, one change at a time, probe their interests and convert them to a donor.

That’s on the search engine side, but the more important part is to make advocacy a part of your communications. The more you talk about activities and activations in your blog, enewsletter, social media, and Web site, the more people will interact with it.  Here are some potential topics:

  • Highlight news stories about your issue.
  • And don’t just retweet that article about your issue; add the note that that’s why we have to pass HB1489 (or whatever) with a link for people to take action.
  • Blog a first-person account from one of your volunteers who lobbied legislators and how rewarding it was.
  • Talk about your lobby day (state or national) and invite your constituents to be a part of a virtual lobby day online.
  • Honor legislators who have been champions of your cause.
  • Tell success stories of passed legislation (since you should be doing these for your online and offline petition signers anyway).
  • Post a legislative agenda for the year and report back on it with the legislature(s) is/are closed.

Hopefully, these will increase interests in your petitions or emails to legislators.

Optimize advocacy forms and efforts.  I probably should have mentioned earlier that you need a platform for emailing legislators that allows you to own the constituent, not whatever petition service you are working.  These can range from setting up your own form on your site to ones that come with your CRM to paid solutions of all stripes.  If there’s enough interest (you can let me know by emailing me at nick@directtodonor.com), I can review these solutions in a future post.  For now, suffice it to say that the value in advocacy online is to whom the constituent belongs.  If it’s you, you can ask for future actions — advocacy and otherwise; if it’s someone else, you are helping them build their house, not yours.

Once you have these forms, it’s important that you treat your advocacy form like a donation form (if possible), where you are continually testing and refining your system.  For example, if you are doing a national petition, you may just ask for name and email address in order to maximize form completion.  I would advocate also asking for zip code; if you are going to be asking people to participate in other advocacy efforts, you will have to know in which districts they fall.  That may be it in order to get people into your organization.  Physical address may impair your form activation rates to the point that it is more profitable (side note: we need a term for profitable, but for non-profits; non-profitable sounds like the opposite of what it is) to leave that off and either ask for or append (or, more likely, both) the data afterward.

Further, there are all the usual things to test:

  • Does your petition work better at left or right?
  • Pictures on the page or spartan?
  • One-step action or multi-step?
  • How much copy to sell the petition action?
  • And so on

You definitely want this tested before trying any sort of paid campaign so you are not pouring water into a bucket without a bottom.

You also want to put similar rigor behind what communications you send advocates after their advocacy.  This would include a customized advocate welcome series, what (if any) is the first mailing they would get, what other actions you ask them to take, etc.  More on this tomorrow.

These are significant determinants of lifetime value, so you want these well in place before…

Determining the value of an advocate

For some organizations, having an advocate is its own reward.  For most, however, it’s also an activity on which you will want to break at least even.  Unfortunately, lifetime value is hard and multichannel attribution is its own week of blog posts at some point.  So here’s a quick and dirty hack for figuring out how much you should be willing to invest to get an advocate:

  1. Pull a list of everyone who came into your online database via advocacy action.
  2. Pull a list of the donations these people made online over the past year.
  3. Average the sum of the donations by the number of people in your database via advocacy action to find the one year value of an advocate.

That’s it.

I can hear purists out there screaming at me: “what about future year revenues from an advocate?”, “what about the value these constituents have in recruiting other constituents?”, “what about the gifts made in other channels?”, etc.

I agree: this is not the best way to pull an average advocate’s lifetime value.  It is, however, a quick one.  And it sets a baseline: if you know the average advocate is going to pay for themselves in 12 months, all of their other activities will be gravy.

That is, if you work this equation and it says the average advocate on your file gave you $3 last year, you know that acquiring an advocate for up to three dollars is valuable.  If your advocacy page converts at 10%, you know that you can put up CPC ads on search networks and pay up to $.30 per click.  You can experiment with online petition sites, which charge at least $1.50 per advocate (in my experience).  And you can value your online communications that bring in new advocates versus those that bring in new donors.

So this dart throw, primitive though it may be, can help you determine your communications mix and investment.  Not back for something you can do in Excel in 15 minutes.

If you would like more tips like this one, please sign up for our weekly newsletter. There you will get to pick new topics for the blog, see related content to what you get on Direct to Donor, and get a TL;DR version of the week’s news.  Thanks!

Acquiring new advocates in (and for) direct marketing

Creating content that converts

Over the past couple of days, I talked about Google Grants and other CPC search engine tactics for driving people to your site.

But nothing beats getting people to your site without paying for them (or Google paying for them for you).  That’s where having quality content coming in.

There are three layers to having quality content in the sense that I’m using it – content that gets you to the conversion you are looking for.

First, the content has to be attractive to machines.  That is, a person looking for the content has to be able to find it on the Internet through search engines.  There is a whole science to this called search engine optimization and plumbing its depths is a topic for another time.  However, you can get a good portion of the way there by looking the keywords that you’ve selected for your CPC ads.  Focus on how many times they are searched for and how well they convert for you.  From this, you should get a strong perspective on the types of content people are looking for and what they want answered.  You can then write that content, using the keywords that people use to find such content.

I use write here even though there are other types of content that are not in written form.  However, to be searched for effectively, there should be some sort of written aspect that corresponds to your video, audio, picture, etc.  Search engines deal best with the written word.

Second, the content has to be attractive to people.  This probably goes without saying, but your content has to be on a valuable topic and written well.

 

Chris_Hemsworth_3,_2013Having attractive imagery or people in your ad will likely also help.
Thanks for the assist, Chris.

Third, the content has to make a person want to take the next step.  What that next step is is up to you.  You can approach it either with the end in mind (“I want people to email their legislators through our advocacy system; what would make them want to do that?”) or from what is in the content (“I have this white paper here on the dangers of bovine flatulence; what would be a logical thing to do as a result of this”) – either way works.  The latter is good for a content audit: collecting all of your assets and determine their use.  However, if you are starting from scratch, it’s probably best to have the end in mind when you set virtual pen to virtual paper, lest you write a great piece that don’t achieve your goals.

While I’ve done quite a few blog posts here on the site now with little else, it doesn’t really pay to have the same type of content or same type of next step over and over.  Varying your content types is a good way not only to prevent your constituents from getting board, but also segmenting your constituents for the future – e.g., this cluster like action alerts, these like surveys, etc.

I mention action alerts and surveys, because these are two generally nicely converting content types, because their existence is set up to cause people to interact with them.  Others include polls, pleas to share your story, petitions, contests, etc – anything with a form on it or a question is going to be a bit better at capturing constituents than anything without.

Speaking of, I’ve been writing mostly on things that interest me; what interests you?  I’d love to do a day or a week on the topics that would be more valuable to you.  Simply leave a note in the comments below or email me at nick@directtodonor.com.

Creating content that converts

Acquire your own online donors

I know, it’s an odd title.  But every year, 30% of your online constituents go away not because they aren’t interested in you anymore, but because they changed their online contact information.  Seventeen percent change after six months.  That means that the half-life of your list is less than two years.

halffull.jpgIt doesn’t matter if it’s half full or half empty, just that it’s half of what it was.

This is going to be online acquisition week and I’ll go through a lot of tactics for bringing folks into your organization online.  But because of this, the best and the easiest way to acquire new online constituents is not to lose the old ones.  Conversely, it doesn’t make sense to start acquiring new online people if you aren’t ready to keep them.

So we’re going to go back to that old saw: data hygiene.  If you don’t believe in the necessity of data hygiene, then there’s a PSA you need to read.  We’ll look at the online specific ways to keep your data clean.

Scrubbing user-entered data.  Users will misspell their own names, then blame you when you address them by that wrong name.  Email addresses are no better, but those at least have a standard format that you can check.  Hopefully, you have an email validator on your forms, but you probably have data that predates your validation.  Some things to look for:

  • Does the email address end with a top-level domain (e.g., .com, .gov, .net, .org, .edu, .mil, or a country code)? Many an email has bounced back because it went to aol.con.
  • Does the email address have an @? If the email has a ! or # in it, chances are that, because these are right next to the @ symbol, @ is what was intended.
  • Does it bounce? That is, when you send the email, does it come back to you?  This is one reason that it’s important to send your email from a real email address – so you can change bounced emails or mark them for further work.  (Also, a real email address will help with charges that you are spamming people).

Put an email validator on your forms if you haven’t already.  Just to make that perfectly clear.

Run an ECOA service.  ECOA, or electronic change of address, is a service that functions a bit similarly to the national change of address (NCOA) registered with the USPS.  These services look at innumerable services across the Web to determine where a person might have gone.  You should ideally run both bad email addresses and email addresses that have not opened an email in a certain amount of time (say, six months).  If they haven’t opened an email in six months and they have a good email address…

Suppress chronic nonresponders from most emails.  If people aren’t opening your emails continually, they won’t miss you not sending emails (and, when you do send a very occasional email, it will be a bit more of a surprise).  And they won’t drag down your open rate or mark your emails as spam, making you more likely to survive email providers spam filters.

E-append your file.  Take your offline donor file and give it to an e-append service; they will return email addresses of people who would probably like to interact with you online, but haven’t yet given you their email address.  This also works like ECOA for bounced and non-opening addresses.

This isn’t going to stop your attrition from bad email addresses.  But it will help you hold on a little longer to the people who want to hear from you.

Acquire your own online donors

Customizing your direct marketing (aka Dear Mr. Jenny Roberts:)

In addition to looking for that sweet spot somewhere between “that nonprofit doesn’t know me and takes me for granted” and “that nonprofit has clearly been looking through my underwear drawer again,” the most grievous sin you can make in customizing and personalizing is being wrong.  Thus, a disclaimer that these techniques should really only be used when you are confident in the data used to customize.

When looking at your donor’s sweet spot, there is another optimization to be navigated – the cost of additional personalization versus the return.  Like all else that is good and pure of this world, the way to determine this is through testing.  But there is one way to maximize the bang for your customization buck, which is to customize only one side of, or page of, a letter.  If the printer can do most of your mail piece without variable printing your costs come down substantially.

Of course, these additional costs are nearly non-existent online or on the phones, where your customization is limited only by your imagination, the time you want to invest in creating different versions, and whether your telemarketers will rise up and overthrow you if you have a different script for every call.  I say this last only partly jokingly, in that some experienced callers will use the script with which they are comfortable rather than the script they are asked to use.  Thus, online can have the purest, cheapest testing, so please, please, please test your online asks.

Here are some simple customizations that I have seen increase response rate to the point that they more than paid for themselves:

  • Name: Duh. Infants as young as five months old selectively listen for their own name and this is fully developed by 13 months.  From then until up to 120 years later, we listen, watch for, and seek out our own name.  That name is very, very infrequently Current Resident or Friend.
  • Donation history: If someone has been a long-term donor, it’s great to recognize this. You want to do this casually, as in “You’ve stood for an end to feline boredom for over a decade.  Will you join us again when we need you most”, not as in “Since you joined EFB 13 years and three months ago,” as that gets creepy. If you have something like a member card or supporter club, acknowledging that someone has been “member since 2001” will usually lift response.There is a special version of this that is also very effective – playing back to people that they contributed to the same campaign last year, e.g., “you had your gift matched last year; now is another opportunity to double your impact on adult-onset flatulence.”  Here, you are reminding the person that they are the type of good person that donates to things like the thing they are reading or hearing.
  • Mission area: If you know how someone came into the organization or what they care about, it’s vitally important to play that back to them. Animal organizations, in particular, customize their messages to cat people and to dog people, knowing that each has their own reasons for supporting the cause.
  • Location: I saw a .5% percentage point increase in response rate when someone knew that the story we were using happened right in their state. Of course, this can require 50 different versions, so perhaps you’ll want to start with more easily variabilized copy.  Even easier is to reference the city and/or state in the copy without specifying the story.
  • Contribution level: This is partly for the donor or potential donor. You don’t want to insult someone who would normally donate $20 by asking them for $1000, nor a $1000 for $20.  I once received an acquisition piece from my local Boy Scout organization that asked for $250 as the lowest donation level.  On an acquisition piece.  With no return envelope.  Needless to say, while I was not helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, or obedient, I was thrifty.  This is also for your benefit.  You want to maximize the donation(s) from a donor, gradually increasing their giving over time as their trust in and love for you grows.  That process can be undermine by asking for the wrong gift at the wrong time.

In fact, there is an entire art to ask strings, one that we will cover tomorrow.

Customizing your direct marketing (aka Dear Mr. Jenny Roberts:)

Your first acquisition mailings

The first thing to know is that mail programs will generally lose money initially. Even if you have great donors and good packages at first, the cost of growing the program will likely outstrip the benefits of running it at first, especially because there are significant fixed costs in the mailing space (e.g., it costs just as much to copywrite a letter than does to 100 people as it does one that goes to 100,000).

Acquisition is where you can get into serious money. Acquisition is designed to lose money for all but the most (absurdly) conservative organization. It’s an investment in bringing new people into the organization and getting them to support you financially. Yet, it’s necessary to start to build your file and lower your marginal costs.

One way to do acquisition on the cheap is with warm and conversion leads. Warm leads are people who have engaged with your organization non-financially (e.g., remember those folks we got to download our white paper last week and give us their contact info?); conversion leads are people who have donated, but not through the mail (e.g., online donors, walkers, gala attendees, etc.). These are inexpensive ways to get new donors, as you don’t have to pay list rental fees.

The other way to get names is, not surprisingly, to pay list rental fees. Try to find organizations like yours to test their lists – often people who support an environmental/cultural/health/etc. charity support many of them. It’s much easier to convince someone to support something very like what they already support.

It also behooves you to put your list up for rental/exchange as well. This will lower your list costs because you will be trading lists with some nonprofits instead of renting theirs.

Charity Navigator will ding you for having a privacy policy that allows this, even if you allow people to opt out of list rental/exchange at any time. Like so many things in the nonprofit world, Charity Navigator is wrong about this. They would recommend, in fact, that you not mail your donors because of the cost involved and because they don’t believe that part of the mailing is a program expense designed to educate your supporters about your issue and promote awareness. That said, if you took the same mail piece and gave it out at a walk instead of putting a stamp on it, it could be considered almost entirely a program expense.

If this doesn’t seem burdened by an overabundance of logic, you would be correct. Generally, you would do well to take a George Costanza approach to Charity Navigator and simply “do the opposite” of their guidance.

In addition to rental and exchange markets, you can also work with cooperatives to get additional names. These coops include Abacus, Dataline, Datalogix, DonorBase, I-Behavior, Target Analytics and Wiland. I think I’ve tried almost all of these at some time or another. These coops share names among them and will build a model of response to get the best possible donor lists for your organization. Think of it as not renting from 10 different lists, but rather getting the best from 20 different lists. Some work better for some organizations than others and it may take a few to get it right.

The downside here is that your best names will start to get mail from a lot of different organizations. On the flipside, you have access to the best quality names from other organizations. Be sure to hold out part of your file to determine the impact of this mailing structure on your file.

After you look at your first bill for an acquisition and regain consciousness, you will rediscover the value of warm leads. Just because you started a paid mail program doesn’t mean that the free tips discussed earlier, especially about working to turn your Web site into a constituent generator, don’t still apply. On the contrary, free is often the best possible price. Adding to the original thoughts, now that you’ve run a program, look at lapsed donors as another source of (re)acquisition. Generally speaking, lapsed donors once renewed will be more loyal to your organization than an outside acquired name and they generally acquire more inexpensively.

So far, I’ve been talking about mailings – online and off – as one size fits all. In reality, if time and money were no objects, each communication you would send out would be handcrafted and uniquely personalized and there would be bespoke artisanal direct mail pieces coming out of Brooklyn and Portland in lavender scented envelopes.

In truth, you aim for something in the middle using customization. That will be the topic for the rest of the week.

Your first acquisition mailings