Getting other people to do your hypercustomization

Yesterday, we talked about how changing user experiences create expectations in the nonprofit world (aka “If Amazon can X, why can’t you?”).  Today, there’s a great case study of what happens when you let go of control of your message.

In 2004, a blogger who uses the nom de plume “Yarn Harlot” created a fundraising campaign for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) called Tricoteuses sans Frontières (Knitters Without Borders).  She put up a page on her blog talking about the important work that MSF does and urged her followers to join Knitters Without Borders in support.

Whatever you thought they raised, it’s probably too low.

knitsignal11310By the sixth anniversary of the campaign, Knitters Without Borders had raised over $1,000,000 to support MSF.  When the earthquake hit Haiti in 2010 and destroyed the hospital in which MSF was working, she put up the Knit Signal (at right, so that you know I’m not making this up) and asked knitters to support the relief efforts.

Three things are remarkable about this story:

  1. There are more knitters than you knew there were.  I live with a knitter, so I already knew.
  2. tsfbThe Knitters Without Borders logo is a parody of the MSF logo.  Think for a moment if your communications team would allow a knitting blog to parody your logo to raise money for your cause.  
  3. Here’s a part of the piece about the Haitian earthquake:

“I spoke briefly on the phone this morning with the MSF office here in Toronto, and they confirmed several things.

Things are bad.

The MSF Hospital has sustained damage that means it isn’t functioning as a hospital right now. Staff have moved to the courtyard and set up tents and what materials they could retrieve from the building and are doing their best to help people as they can. Doctors who were providing maternity care are now running a trauma centre.

They, and their sister offices in other countries spent all night figuring out who could go and how to get them there, and staff is packing as we read this to get there as fast as they can.  They’ll be taking inflatable surgery suites with them so they can use that instead of their damaged buildings.

They believe that some of their staff are among the casualties.

They recognize the power of Knitters Without Borders and the force that we can marshal in a pinch, and they are grateful that you’ve been able to help them in the past, and they would very much like your help now, and right away.”

First off, tell me that you don’t want to hire Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, the Yarn Harlot, as a copywriter today.  I know I do.  I’ve read a couple of her books and I don’t even knit.

Second, note that she got these details from MSF headquarters.  In the middle of dealing with an earthquake, they talked with a key influencer of a community.  Not later on in the week, not when they got to it between finding out what staff members they lost.  That day.

The lesson here is that people can do some of your fundraising for you, if you’ll let them.  You need to:

  • Give them tools and permission (the logo for Knitters Without Borders)
  • Recognize their power (“They recognize the power of Knitters Without Borders and the force that we can marshal in a pinch”)
  • Keep them in the loop (“I spoke briefly on the phone this morning with the MSF office here in Toronto”).
  • Appreciate them (“they are grateful that you’ve been able to help them in the past, and they would very much like your help now, and right away.”)

What a great donor communication.  And not from the organization in question.

MSF has done a great job since then of being transparent about the need, their role, and the role of their donors in Haiti (take a look here for an example).

But on their own, how many knitters would they have gotten to donate?

Getting other people to do your hypercustomization

Hypercustomizing your donor experience

We often talk about how it’s an Amazon world and we are just living in it.  And we bemoan how hard it is to live up to that standard of customer knowledge, immediacy, and customization.

Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends presentation indicates that it’s not going to stay this hard.

It’s going to get harder.

On slides 66-69, she talks about hypercustomization of customer experiences:

  • Combatant Gentleman (which sounds like a horse that came up lame and lost me the trifecta at Belmont) has a cohort of up and coming real estate employees that they target with real estate specific advertising
  • Stance (which makes socks) found that their Star Wars socks were selling well, so they created Star Wars specific Instagram ads and targeted them to Star Wars fans (but, since they were selling a variety of socks, suppressed those people who were fans of one specific Star Wars character).  This had a 36% boost to ad spend.
  • Stitch Fix allows customers to put in their own desires and specifications (along with their Pinterest feeds), allowing designers to get to know their tastes and design garments specifically for them.  Then, you keep what you like and return what you don’t.  They report that 39% of their customers now get the majority of their clothes from them, up from 30% a year ago (a good sign of loyalty — could you imagine a nine point jump in the number of your donors who donate the majority of their giving to you?).

We also discussed this earlier this year with the hypercustomization of Ted Cruz’s Iowa campaign — by getting specific messaging to fireworks enthusiasts, they were able to fill a particular niche within persuasible voters.

The non-profit space now as sites like Kiva and DonorsChoose that allow us to sponsor/loan to the particular person we want to, getting a customized experience from that donation, and encouraging us to give again.  

We are facing disruption by degrees.  Or to use the parlance from a couple weeks ago, our frog is slowly being boiled.

How do we deliver a similarly customized experience?  One way is to do it yourself.

Yes.  It is a pain to write 50 different petition texts for 50 different states.  But when you can reference exactly what is going on in their state and hose they can help and what they need specifically, you are getting toward that customized experience.

Same as when you customize copy to indicate that you know the person was served by you four years ago.  Or started donating 10 years ago.  Or are donating because their daughter is affected by your cause.  Any little bit helps.

But in reality, it would be best if you can find the central point of differentiation among donors for your organization and customize on that to begin.  It could be cat versus dog.  It could be advocacy versus conservation.  Or those impacted by your disease directly versus those who have less direct connections.

Chances are very good that these people have entirely different desires.  And should have entirely different experiences.

People want to support good causes.  That’s the big thing we have working for us.  They will forgive us not sending a child to their house for a few days to see if they like them and want to sponsor them — we won’t be able to do the full monty for customization.  But we have to try to meet them halfway.

We’ll talk about the other one — getting people to hypercustomize for you — tomorrow with a remarkable story from the knitting world.

Hypercustomizing your donor experience

Ask string amounts: to round or not to round

 

Rounding can be controversial.  On the one hand, round numbers could potentially help with fluency, which is crucial in persuasion.  Rounding out ask strings can help you get out of weird numbers that consistent upgrading can create (e.g., if you donate $30, then upgrade by 50% each time, that’s $45, $67.50, $101.25, then $151.875.  And if you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you).

On the other hand, there is a potential draw in using an odd amount specifically to stop someone short (e.g., your $17 will feed X people).  In fact, in face-to-face settings, panhandlers found that when they asked for change, 44% of people contributed.  When they asked for a quarter, 64% contributed.  When they asked for 17 cents or 37 cents, 75% of people made a contribution.  This is called the pique technique: the idea being that the odd request breaks people out of their normal mental structures, forcing them to think about what you are saying.

However, this may or may not be as applicable in non-face-to-face environments.  Burger et al took a look at the mechanism by which this worked.  They found that contributions only increased among people who came over to ask a question; there was no difference in giving between people who were given a specific answer (e.g., “I need to buy a stamp”) versus those who were given a generic answer (e.g., “I need to buy some stuff”).  Since there isn’t a mechanism for someone to stop and ask you a question in the mail or online (yet!), this technique may not work on asynchronous platforms.  And, in fact, a study of the pique technique when applied to causes, rather than donating directly to the person face-to-face, found no significant difference with this technique.

There is, however, evidence that rounded numbers can increase giving.  One study of donations found that rounded values increase giving by seven percent.  Specifically, they found that people were more likely to choose things that were on the ask string (what they called an appeal scale) than rounded numbers not on the ask string, but that a good number of people wrote rounded numbers in as the other when not on the ask string.  Additionally, they found when a round number was on the ask string, there was a particularly strong pull of that number on donations.

In addition to articulating that round numbers have a pull that is independent of the pull of a person’s internal reference point and the ask string itself, they also helped define a conundrum.  To wit: what is a round number?  As the authors put it:

“While the notion of a round quantity is seemingly intuitive, it is nonetheless difficult to make precise. Round numbers are operationalized in the present paper as the face values of commonly used French currency notes or small integral multiples thereof. Based on the data used here, this functional definition accounts for all but a negligible proportion of off-scale donation amounts, in the sense that adding or removing additional rounded values does not substantially alter any aspect of the analysis.”

As we noted in the all about the Benjamins piece, these banknote values are especially strong — $100 in particular. 

 

In summary, fluency seems to trump creativity in the case for round numbers, especially at higher levels.  If you are looking to increase average gift, it should be to something that is highly fluent like $20, $50, or $100; if you have to be creative, do it with lower ask amounts so that they don’t have as much draw.

However, there is some evidence that having one oddball, very high donation amount can be helpful, as we noted with the Make-a-Wish Canada example here.

The idea of providing an outlier as a potential anchor and/or moneymaker is an interesting one.  While I could find no data on this from the nonprofit world, there are studies from the for-profit world that indicate that the existence of one very high product can increase what someone is willing to spend on a medium-priced product.  This explains the existence of those news stories you hear from time to time about how someone has created an even more expensive hamburger, made with wagyu beef, caviar, gold leaf, and unicorn tears.  

ht_burger_kb_120530_wmain

Medium rare, unicorn tears on the side, please.

Having this burger on a menu, in addition to the free publicity, could also increase average spending.


 

This post is a section of my upcoming, not-quite-a-book, not-quite-a-white-paper about ask strings.  It will be free to all subscribers to my free weekly newsletter, so please sign up here.

Ask string amounts: to round or not to round

Using your real estate better: customization

One of the very few useful concepts I remember from undergraduate economics is the difference between fixed and marginal costs. This is in part because I was taught in the pre-behavioral economics days, so the world the equations described was entirely unfamiliar to me.  But it’s also because this difference reverberates for me even today.

To review, the difference is what you have to pay regardless of the scope of the project (fixed costs) and what you have to pay per quantity generated (marginal costs).  If you want to send out a mail piece, the copywriting costs are fixed — they are the same regardless of whether the piece goes to one or one million.  But the paper, postage, etc., are not.

For implications, think of Metcalfe’s law that the value of a communications network is proportional to the square of the number of users connected to it (which is why Facebook will be hard to dislodge — it’s tough to leave a place where all of your friends are).  A recent HBR article showed the dark side of this law when the marginal cost of some communications are so low:

w160219_mankins_darkside-850x544

It’s tempting to look at this graph and say “30,000 messages?  Sounds like Thursday.”  And that’s the challenge — we are inundated as consumers and inundating as marketers.

This means we want to maximize the real estate that we have in our communications.  While we have a constituent’s or donor’s attention, we want to milk it for all it’s worth.

pch-sweepstakes-partsOften, this is done crudely.  When a direct mail envelope is stuffed with so many offers, buckslips, and tchotchkes to make a 1980s-era Publishers Clearing House mailing blush, the effectiveness of any one offer is diminished and the ask can often go missing.  

(Incidentally, the modern Publishers Cleaning House is a great transitional story; look at this case study for a quick idea of just the social media side.)

Similarly, many email newsletters look like nonprofit Christmas trees, where every department wants to hang a few ornaments on them.

But this week, we’re going to explore some untapped resources and hidden gems — places you can put content that are both impacting and low (marginal) cost.

And, since every blog post should have at least one good tip in it and not be full of just introductory material, one of the biggest and easiest of these is:

Customization

When you decide to send a mail piece or make a phone call to a person, the vast majority of the costs of that communication are already incurred. Then, it’s just a question of what you put into that communication.

True, there is an additional cost of customization.  But once you customize anything in a phone script or on one side of a letter, the marginal cost of adding in additional customization is almost nothing — maybe some additional data costs.

The return is almost always positive.  And, since the alternative to getting additional revenues is likely communicating more, which incurs additional costs and has diminishing returns, it’s a preferred route.

So here are some ways to customize your communications that will let your donors know you know them and increase their receptiveness to your appeals:

All of these can cost you little, but bring you significant results.  This is what we’ll shoot for for the rest of the week, so if you don’t think you’ll be back, please sign up for our weekly newsletter here for a digest of these tips and tricks, plus some secret subscriber benefits.

Using your real estate better: customization

Microtargeting and the ABCs of customization

Microtargeting is most often thought of in the political realm, where increasingly granular models are able to predict how people are going to vote and think about various issues.  A good example is how Ted Cruz won Iowa: by microtargeting the interests and issues of voters down to fireworks regulation.

But you don’t have that type of time, budget, or modeling power.  Yet you still want to connect with your donors in ways so that they know that you know them.

Enter the poor person’s microtargeting.  We’re going to slice and dice our control letter in such a way that there’s something in it for everyone.

The important thing to remember is that the cost in customization is largely in customizing one side of a piece of paper in the mail.  Online, it’s virtually nothing.*  There can be some data costs, but while the maximum customization approach below may churn out thousands of different combinations of letter, it still is all very simple variables acting predictably.

So here goes the ABCs approach.  Try as many of these as you can on your appeals and see how different one person’s would look from another:

Age:  Does your older donor want a larger font size?  Different levels of formality?  Two spaces instead of one?  Including the Oxford comma?

Buckslip: What could you put in the envelope, based on what you know about the donor that would make them more likely to donate?  Remember, you don’t have to have it for all donors, just some…

Channel responsiveness: Don’t ask someone for their email if you already have it.  But do sent them an email that support the mail package they just received.

Donation history: Putting last gift in the upper right can help bring back lapsed donors

Event history: “You wanted with us to cure X.  Now we need your help again.”

Frequency of giving: If someone is giving 4+ times per year, might now be the time to ask about that monthly giving program?

Giving history: “your gift” versus “your gifts.”  Also, have they given the same amount year after year?  You probably don’t need to push the upgrade.  However, if they’ve been steadily rising, go for the gusto.

History with this appeal: “As someone who supported our matching gift campaign in the past…

Initiation: “your support has helped X over these past Y years” or “since you joined X years ago.”

Jargon: J is tough, so a reminder to go through your letter and remove anything that sounds like a great buzzword to you, but gobblygook to those outside your organization.

Knowledge: How much explaining do you do?  Is it the same amount for someone who has read 50 letters as someone receiving their second?  

Location: “we’re looking for seven dollars from XXCityXX willing to chip in…”  This works.

Mission area supported: tie your ask to what they want to support.

Nicknames: Does your letter sound like it was written by C3PO: “Dear Dr. Lt. Col. R. Winthrop Huntington III, MD (ret.),”?  If you tell by his checks that he actually goes by Bob, do you want to try saying “Dear Bob”?

Online activity: Mention they were a petition signer as an inducement to get them to sign an offline petition.

Postage: Send your most valuable donors’ mail first class.

Questions they’ve answered: The letter of someone whose survey said they thought it was most important you educate young people should look different from the one who said you should be advocating for better laws as a top priority, no?

Rhythm of pieces: (aka cadence, but I already had a C).  Should this person even be getting this piece or are they likely to make a gift without?

Single versus multi: With singles, you can switch up the ask string. Much harder to do with multis.

Tchotchkes: Are you sending premiums to everyone?  Even those people who have never responded to a premium?

Unique URLs: Not necessarily personalized URLs, but different URLs for different messaging so you can see what creates the greatest online response.

VIPs: If someone is a member of the “Founder’s Circle” or the “Legion of Good Deed Doers” or whatever it is you have, are you referencing that?

Wealth screening: You can do a higher-dollar treatment if you know a person has the capacity to make a larger gift.

seX: You didn’t think I was actually going to get a real X in here?  Appeal to women’s emotions in your ask and to men’s self interest

You: I’m cheating with this, because it’s not a customization.  But it does give me the opportunity to quote Jeff Brooks’ sample fundraising ask letter, which makes me happy:

Dear [name]:

You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. Yes, you. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You.

Sincerely,

[Signature]

P.S. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You.

Instructions: Liberally sprinkle in nouns and verbs. Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. Include specific examples of what the donor’s gift will accomplish. Include true-life stories that demonstrate the need for the donor’s involvement. Be sure to clearly and articulately ask for a gift more than once.

Someday, I’ll write a blog post that good.

Zip selects:  Increase your ask string multiplier if they are from a wealthy ZIP code.


* Get it?  Online?  
Virtually nothing?  I absolutely slay me.

Microtargeting and the ABCs of customization

Priming with donation history and localization

I realized while preparing this post that I have used the phrase “play back” donation history in four different posts — in measuring retention, in the power of commitment and consistency, in my first post on customization, and yesterday.

But I realized I had not provided the intellectual background for why, other than as an example of commitment and consistency.

That ends today.  Kessler and Milkman of the Wharton School did a study of identity in charitable giving.  As they are from Wharton, they gussy up the paper with all sorts of stuff likewharton

But the paper is basically did two split tests with the American Red Cross.  The first was with lapsed (25+ month) donors, where the test version added the line “Previous Gift: [Date]” at the top of the letter (this was the only change).  Lapsed donors renewed 20% better when this statement of their donor status up front.

Also, response rates were 6-8 percent.  Can someone tell me what Red Cross was mailing to lapsed donors in 2010? Because if it wasn’t gold bricks, I want to test it.

I would wager that this is part the idea that the nonprofit knows who I am and what I’ve done.  It’s nice not to be treated anonymously, especially in this day and age.

 

farside

Copyright: someone who isn’t me. My apologies.
If it helps, I owe all of the Far Side books…

Part of this is reminder: “oh, goodness me, I meant to send a check, but I forgot.  Has it been that long?”.  Part is almost certainly shame.  Like we said yesterday, people want to feel good about themselves and a donation four years ago likely isn’t enough to cut it.

The second test looked at community identification.  People received solicitations for one of four efforts: the annual drive, the state drive, the winter drive, and the city drive (with the name of their state and city filled in).  Customizing this down to the city level significantly helped response rate:

  • City: 5.51%
  • State: 4.12%
  • Annual: 4.01%
  • Winter: 3.82% — proof that people hate winter

There was also a 4.8% higher average gift for those who received the city mailing.

The authors went a step further and looked at community size.  Sure enough, people from smaller communities were even more influenced by having the drive be about their city than people from larger ones.  After all, it’s easier to have community pride for Greendale, WI, than the entirety of Chicago, IL.  In part because Greendale is awesome, but mostly because of size.

So these two types of priming work and are thus things that can work for us in the mail, on the phones, and online, considering that the costs of these types of tweaks are typically low.  So go forth and customize!

Priming with donation history and localization

Converting advocates to donors

Let’s say you did the calculation of the value of an online advocate yesterday and it came out to thirty cents per.  Thirty measly cents.

After all the work you put into making sure every advocacy action was liked and retweeted and forwarded to friends.  You’d checked your bucket for holes and plugged them.  You’d dedicated real estate on your site and in your emails to the advocacy action.

But those darn advocates aren’t converting to donors.

Part of it may be your advocacy actions.  Remember the research from Tuesday: actions taken privately convert far better than public declarations that can be used as Facebook aren’t-I-a-good-person-today-so-I-guess-I’ll-have-that-brownie wallpaper.

But more often, the problem is that the communication stream for your advocates looks exactly like your communication stream for everyone else.  Remember our “change one thing” philosophy of expanding constituent horizons: if someone tells you that they like doing advocacy petitions online, your best bets for their next actions are going to be:

  • Doing advocacy petitions online
  • Doing other interactions online
  • Doing other advocacy efforts besides petitions
  • Doing advocacy petitions in other media

The next logical actions are not mailing in a check to support your annual fund or taking a call from a telemarketer who don’t know anything about the constituent or even joining your walk coming up in 42 short days.

And yet that is frequently our next action as nonprofits.  We want to expose people to so many different aspects of our nonprofits we might as well wear a sign that says

This organization doesn’t know who you are
or what you care about,
but they want your money.

A singularly unappealing message.

So how do you convert your advocates?  A few thoughts:

Strike while the iron is hot.  Quick, remember what the last survey you took online was about.  Unless it was in the past week, remembering the when or the what is probably not happening.  The same holds true for online advocacy — people are busy and may not remember they took an action a week later unless the issue is really important to them.

Thus, your communications to them need to start with the confirmation email and take advantages of those first few weeks where they remember you who are and what you do.  This will be easier if you…

Playback their action to them.  This shouldn’t take the form of (I swear I’ve seen this) “thank you for emailing your legislator about the importance of K-12 swimming education on Monday, January 13, 2013 at 8:43 PM.”  This is a conversation — play it just a little bit cool and bring it back to why they did what they did: “Thank you for helping protect kids from drowning by emailing your legislators.”

This playback reminds them that they did act with your organization and primes them for consistency influence: “I am the type of person who does things to protect kids from drowning.  Therefore, I should take this other action to do likewise.”

Report back on their action.  The best thing you can do to keep someone engaged is to make your action more than just a one-time event.  If someone emails their assemblyperson to pass a bill out of committee, let them know when the bill gets a hearing (with that picture of your organization testifying) and when it passes out of committee.  Now, you need that same person’s help to get it passed through the full Assembly.  You are able to get that passed, thanks to this wonderful person and people just like them all across the state.  Now, we need to get the Senate to act: would you email your senator as well?

And so on.  Most actions aren’t a one-time thing (or don’t have to me).  Reporting back on that action lets a person know that their action wasn’t wasted — they are helping to make a difference.  And asking again to help make the same or similarly things happen in multiple ways helps build a pattern: take an action, feel good about yourself, hear that it made a difference, feel good about yourself, take another action, feel good about yourself again…

At that point, it isn’t that big a leap for the final email in that series to say “your support helped pass the Zebra Endangered Animal Law (or ZEAL, because every bill has to spell something now).  Now we need to make sure that judges enforce the laws in place.  Your $17 monthly donation, in honor of the 17 zebras you will be helping to save, will monitor the courts to make sure that zebras will not be poached in our state.”

This leads into…

Customize the ask.  When you ask for a donation, the donation should be to help achieve the same ends that they took an advocacy action about.  If they wanted to save zebra habitats, don’t ask them to stop cosmetics testing on rabbits.

Go multichannel.  A simple campaign that I’ve seen work is mailing online advocates an offline petition for a similar action that they’d taken online, then doing an outbound voice mail campaign to let them know to watch their mailboxes for the petition.  They also received an online version of the same petition and both the offline and online petition asks also asked for a donation to support advocacy efforts.  This tight package can help bolster all efforts.  Similarly, some organizations have seen success telemarketing to advocates post-action thanking them for their action and asking for a monthly donation conversion.  This ties together the idea of a customized ask and striking while the iron is hot.

Any other best practices you have seen for advocate conversion?  Please let us know in the comments or email me at nick@directtodonor.com.  I’d love to publish your success story, whether anonymously or to your greater glory.

Converting advocates to donors