The choice: more donors or better donors?

There is a forthcoming study in the Journal of Marketing Research looking at the choice of defaults in donation asks (e.g., which radio button you have auto-clicked on your Website for donation level).

One of the findings was that for many scenarios, changing this default impacted average gift and response rate, but didn’t change revenue.  That is, the average gift and response rate moved in exactly offsetting ways.  So which is the winner?  

Let’s leave aside the fact that there is an obvious correct answer to this*.  It brings up an interesting conundrum: all other things being equal, would you rather have fewer, better (which we will operationalize to higher average gift) donors or more, lesser donors (lower average gift)?

So, let’s say your campaign is bringing in $100,000: would you rather have 2,000 $50 donors or 5,000 $20 donors or some other scenario?

This is a realistic question.  If you graph out your acquisition success by outside list that you are using, chances are you will get something like this:

paretoefficiency

This is actually a good sign.  It means that you are using the best lists, as you are approaching something close to the Pareto efficient frontier (a fancy way of saying you can’t grow any more; you can only make tradeoffs).  After all, if there were a list that was in the upper right here — high response rate and high average gift — you’d be doubling down on that.  But since there isn’t, do you invest more in the upper left or lower right?

This has far-reaching implications.  For example, what metric do you use to determine the success or failure of an acquisition piece?

Yes, in a perfect world, you would use lifetime value.  But we don’t live in a perfect world (if you doubt this, watch a presidential debate at random; this could make Dr. Pangloss open a vein).  Lifetime value takes time to manifest and you need to know what you are making a decision on tomorrow.

So, for your preliminary work, do you go toward net cost to acquire a donor, which will reward getting a large number of smaller donors?  Or do you go to something like net per piece, which will reward fewer larger donors?

(Or, as I’m starting to do, do you look at the donors that a campaign is bringing in and their initial give, then projecting out their average gifting as a poor man’s model for lifetime value?  This is a better solution, but again, don’t let logic get in the way of a good thought experiment.)

This week, I’d like to explore this thought experiment in some detail (in part because it’s something I’m struggling with as well), laying out the case for both approaches and seeing what the implications of this are.
* The correct answer is to set up ask strings and defaults based on previous giving history and/or modeling; customization cuts this particular Gordian knot.

The choice: more donors or better donors?

Learning from political fundraising: the eyes have it

This week, we’ll look at some of the lessons we in the nonprofit world can learn from those in the political world.

Wait!  Don’t leave!

I know I said that I would be counterprogramming to the blogs that turn out 7 Vital Marketing Lessons from This Year’s Oscar Winners topical content.  But:

  1. There are actually lessons that we can take from the political realm.  If you haven’t read The Victory Lab or Rick Perry and His Eggheads, I strongly recommend them as valuable insights into another industry that relies on donations for its livelihood.
  2. Political fundraising has to be crazy fast and efficient.  Imagine if in November, your nonprofit was going to either win or lose: accomplish all of your goals or cease to exist.  When the stakes are that high, there are distilled lessons that we can benefit from.
  3. It’s only going to get worse and I can’t stomach putting this topic off until December.

So how about this: I will not mention the current (as of this writing) Republican frontrunner despite the potential clickbait. Instead, I’ll try for a nonpartisan look at some items that may be helpful for we nonprofits.

The first one is relatively brief.  In looking at campaign Web sites, take a look at what the candidates’ eyes are doing.  Here’s Hillary Clinton’s Web site — an older version:

hillary-clinton-2016-campaign-website-600

 

And here’s Bernie Sanders.

berniesmall

What do you notice in common?

The eyes of the candidate are looking at what they want you look at.  This isn’t true in all or even most candidates’ cases: many of them are looking right at the camera or staring off into the future.

But those are missed opportunities.  Studies show that humans automatically look a few discrete places: where arrows or people point* and where other people’s eyes are looking (one such study is here )

Kissmetrics shows a great heat map of where people look when a photo is looking at the camera. 

7-baby-face

Because the baby is looking at the user, users get locked up in the baby’s eyes with no indication of where they should next look.

Now, take a look where people look when the baby is looking at the text:

8-baby-face-eye-tracking

Here’s another good example from QuickSprout.  Looking at the camera:

sunsilk-uncued

And looking toward the product:

sunsilk-cued
So, when Hillary or Bernie are looking at where you put in your email address, guess what the next action is they want you do to.

Now, take a look at your home page.  Where are your pictures looking?  And where do you want people to look?

 

* Where arrows point: what, you thought this from Clinton’s site is a coincidence?

arrows

Learning from political fundraising: the eyes have it

Marketing your content

Field of Dreams lied to us.  A generation of people were told that if you build it, people will come.  A lie by lying liars.

fieldofdreamsmay06

Also, Iowa, while very nice, is theologically not all that close to heaven.

Similarly, we were told a better mousetrap would cause a stampede of purchasers.  Yet there’s still the one that threatens to sever a digit every time I try to set it.

This is not to say that quality doesn’t matter.  That’s too cynical even for me.  But quality content with marketing will beat quality content without marketing just as surely as a Smith and Wesson beats four aces.

So, how do you market your content?

Search engine optimization.  If you write your content, then sit down to do your search engine marketing, you’ve already lost.  Ideally, you will have already looked through what people are looking for in your category, as we recommended Tuesday.  You will have woven those terms and phrases into your content.  Now, you have a platform from which to further optimize.  Make sure your partners are linking to your content, as link popularity is still a key indicator of quality.  

Similarly, I like to go to other people’s content that is related and complementary to my own and comment on the piece, complementing their content and linking to my own.  Always practice good etiquette when doing this: you want to make sure you are doing as much to promote the person you are commenting on as you are getting, including linking to them from your own content.

Search engine marketing.  If your content is converting well, add it to your Google Grant under all of your relevant search terms.  You want to make sure that people who are looking for your type of content are able to find your specific content.

Social media. Yes, I said yesterday not to create content for social media.  I meant that you shouldn’t only be posting things on Facebook or LinkedIn, where the rules and the audience are not your own.  But as long as you have friends/connections on these platforms, be sure to post your content here, linking through to your own site and resources.

Other content. As you become an effective content creator, you’ll notice that your podcast promotes your blog, your blog promotes your newsletter, your newsletter has a video in it, and that video asks people to subscribe to your podcast.  This is not only natural, but meritorious.  If you’ve taken the idea of fractal content creation, your topics will be related to each other enough that you can legitimately say “if you liked this blog post on conflict diamonds, you might also like to download our white paper on the largest offenders.”

One of the underrated ways for getting nonprofit donations is filling a need for your potential donor.  If, each day, you are only getting donations from the people who intended to give you money at the beginning of that day, you are missing out on significant opportunities.

Rather, a person will come to your site wanting to see if their spouse has the disease your cause is trying to cure.  You will help diagnose the disease.  You offer a brochure about dealing with that disease and the person accepts.  You email them the brochure.  Then, as part of your welcome, you check in with them to see if they need anything else.  They look for, and find, specialists in their area.  Then, after you’ve helped them get what they need, them making a donation to you seems like the most natural thing in the world.

Your content is its own journey: you want to take people through journeys one step at a time.  You can try to plan them, but people will likely choose large parts of it themselves.

To the point we made yesterday, blogs of 400+ posts get more traffic because content supports content.  In the publishing world, when an author has a new book (or in the case of James Patterson, ten new books), sales of their previous books increase because more people are discovering the old books.  So the best part of content marketing is that your content will help your content succeed.

But we also need to make sure your content helps you reach your goal.  We’ll complete our (first) content marketing journey tomorrow, with how to create content that converts.  After all, it’s great that content supports content, but someone has to pay the light bill and vacuum out the Internet tubes every so often.

Marketing your content

Welcome step four: Setting up your systems

So you have your plan for your welcome series.  It is somewhere between 1 and n number of communications, depending on the person.  It crosses media where possible.  It thanks, learns, teaches, and asks.  And it honors the gift the person has given, while letting them know they can still be a bigger part of the change they seek to make in the world.

And it is worth nothing unless it is written down.

eyrha

You are working with a process that likely has:

  • At least three media (email, mail, phone) and perhaps more (mobile/texting, addressable ads, video, events)
  • Multiple vendors/systems involved (including caging, database, mail house, telemarketers, online communication systems)
  • Multiple points of differentiation, including medium, message, and high-touch v low-touch
  • Multiple people at your organization (you, donor relations staff, executives)
  • Intricate timelines.  For example, if you have three communications that you want in the order of thank you, learning about you/you learning about us, and ask, you really, really don’t want them to happen in the reverse order.  Also, every time you suppress someone from anything, things get complex.

This is not something that can be informal. In order for these systems to work together, you need to write out how.

Which does not mean you should write it in stone.  The basic principles should be (thank as quickly as possible, customize communications to the person receiving them, include both gratitude for what the person has done and opportunity to do more).  But how you accomplish them should be fluid with your testing regime.

I would say that the easiest way to create your process is to start with the simplest case and work your way up.  In this case, we have the rare example where ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny*.  So here’s how to build your program and your welcome/acknowledgment flowchart.

  1. Start with the most basic thank you by medium.  For an online gift, this is an email thank you; for an offline one, it is a mailed thank you.  Figure out how to get it out as soon as possible. 
  2. Customize those communications to the reason for giving.  A simple way to do this is to have a paragraph in the communication that changes based on the appeal to which the person gave their initial gift (since that’s usually the only information you have about the person at this point). 
  3. Create a special high-touch way to reach out to higher-potential-value donors.  This could be a policy of thanking all sustaining donors by phone or thanking all $100+ new donors and $1000+ existing donors with a handwritten card — whatever you are capable of doing.  This should be added to, not in place of, other thank yous. 
  4. Explore ways to break down your acknowledgement silos and thank people in different ways.  Put those that work into your process. 
  5. Add in a customized ask.  Yes, we’ve gotten this far before adding in an ask.  My thought is that a well-thanked donor is more likely to give to a regular-communication-stream ask than a poorly thanked one is to give to a specialized communication.  Also, you’ll note that this comes before creating a gap in communications (there likely already is one  that you can take advantage of) or learning about/educating your donor (I would rather have a less-educated donor who makes a second gift than a more-educated one who hasn’t).  This ask will be a bit more generic than we would like at this point, but you crawl before you walk. 
  6. Create your communication(s) to learn about your constituents.  These will usually be, but don’t necessarily have to be, separate communications from your acknowledgement and/or ask. 
  7. Create your if/then tree for customization from these learning communications.  That is, you should have something that says “if they are interested in advocacy, send them X paragraph in the ask; if they are interested in conservation, send them Y; if we don’t know, send them Z.” 
  8. Create the systems by which these changes will be implemented both for the ask as part of the welcome series and for all future communications. 
  9. Add communications from other media to the mix. 
  10. Create your timing for all of these communications, expressed in number of dates from the receipt of the gift.  I would encourage you to do a range, rather than an exact date for these communications — you may want to avoid having people telemarketed to on Christmas or on Sundays, for example.

Then, test the everlovin’ crud out of the system.  You are looking to break your system and then make it stronger at the broken places.  Some common things to test:

  • Do you have a plan, and only one plan, for every giving amount?  I’ve seen plans that say that donors over $100 get this communication and donors under $100 get this other communication.  They forget that a computer is going to be looking at this and ignoring people who give exactly $100. 
  • Do you have a plan for defaults?  Remember in most cases, you are not going to have additional information from the donor when you make your welcome series ask.  You want to make sure there isn’t a big blank space where paragraph three should be. 
  • What happens to your system if someone miskeys a code? 
  • What does your flowchart look like if someone does everything?  That is, you have paragraphs for people who are interested in various particular diseases, want to do advocacy, or have a personal connection to the mission.  What if they are all three, and they are a high-dollar donor?  The goal here would be to make sure you have prioritization and that you are not inundated with communications.  Remember that one of the priorities with your welcome series is to help the donor understand what to expect from you.  This should not be “I will expect to be annoyed.” 
  • How do your dates line up?  If you are integrating multiple messages and channels, you want to make sure that a person doesn’t get a phone call, mail piece, and email all exactly 21 days after their gift. 
  • How are you going to be able to handle the load?  That is, if you are going to be sending a getting to know you email seven days after the gift, will you be able to handle that on January 7th given your December 31st volume?  What?  You don’t have huge December 31st volume?  Let’s do a week on year-end fundraising at some point.

And you want to be vigilant to potential leaks even when you have this written down.  I have the privilege of working with a great donor relations person who keeps me apprised of the tone, tenor, and quantity of calls we get.  From this, she was able to discern that we were getting people calling (from a pattern of three people — like I said, she’s good) that already existing donors were getting member cards, something we include in our getting-to-know-you section of our welcome series.

What had happened was that our caging vendor had had instructions to send the new donor welcome letter to people who came in from acquisition mailings.  Since acquisition mailings often have lapsed donors in them that you are looking to reacquire, there were people who had donated for over 20 years who were being treated as if they were brand new to the organization.

Sovigilance

Image credit.

I will say that I have entirely failed to set up a welcome series for the weekly newsletter companion to this blog.  If you were to sign up for the newsletter here, what would you like to see?  Email me at nick@directtodonor.com; I’d love to use this as a test case.


* “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” is the (mistaken) idea that we go through all of the stages of our biological evolution in development of our embryos.  The catchiest treatment of this I’ve seen is in Stephen Jay Gould’s I Have Landed, where he talks about how the drawings that supposedly prove this theory (like the allegation that we have gill slits at a point in the womb) persist in science textbooks.  It’s also the theme of his first book, which is a technical book and thus one I haven’t read.  In any case, I doubt his first book has any essays on Gilbert and Sullivan, which I Have Landed does, so that’s another point for the latter work.

Welcome step four: Setting up your systems

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

Learn about your donors by changing one thing

Congratulations!  A constituent joined your organization!  Now what?  

Welcome series!  Then what?

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

As our Direct Marketing Master Yoda* would say:

6a90683cc161c525f9fbc01036b2c5b6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn about your donors by changing one thing

Why know about your donors?

Winter is coming to nonprofits. Unnamed, faceless, cold, sparse, biting, relentless, gnawing winter. And not all of us will survive.

sean-bean

There are more nonprofits than ever before and that number is increasing.

The pie of charitable giving is expanding, but not as a percentage of GDP and not as a much as the number of nonprofits are expanding. Thus, the average nonprofit’s funding will be going down.

Retention rates (when controlling for lifecycle as advocated here) are at best flat and often down. Online donor retention rates are particularly alarming.

And it is becoming more expensive to retain donors. In order to hit net revenue budgets, nonprofits increase the number of communications sent. Communications increase in quantity and decrease in quality of results for each piece.

As retention drops, the need for additional acquisition increases, further increasing donor-by-donor pressure to give broadly and shallowly.

Nonprofits flee to what they believe is quality, recapitulating what has worked for others. Donors see the playbook, whether it is address labels or a compelling story.

Everyone has a story and most can be told compellingly. So we do. But it’s enough less and less of the time.

Most nonprofits do most of their acquisition from lists of people who give to other nonprofits. Few bring in new people to the idea of philanthropy, considering it is easier to get the philanthropic to give more.

The tragedy of the commons plays out in a million different households. Maybe ten million. To give to one is to be solicited by that one and by the many.

The donor pool is now an apt analogy, as we are polluting and overfishing these same waters without restocking.

Winter is coming. So what needs to be done first?

One might say let’s prevent winter. One would be correct. It is necessary for our long-term survival. We will talk about converting people into the idea of giving at another time — it would be called stimulating primary demand in the for-profit world.

But one must survive the short term to get to the long term. And thus, there is something we need to do first.

One might say to be donor-centric and to love our donors. One would be correct. The ones who will make it through this winter will be the ones that have stood out from the crowd. Their envelopes will be opened, possibly partly for the free gift, but mostly for the joy they create and reinforce. Their emails will be read possibly partly for a nifty subject line, but mostly for a human connection that they forge. Their calls will be answered because they thanked and thanked well.

But there is a precondition for donor-centric treatment. And thus, there is something we need to do first.

The first thing is to know. We must know who donates. Yes, we need to know their demographics, but also far beyond that. We need to know the world they dream of creating. And we need to tell them about how they are helping to create that world.

These wonderful people are planting seeds. They are planning them so kids have a place to swing, so there is shade, so that people can breathe easier, so we can have apples. We owe it to apple people to know they in it for the apples. We owe it to them to tell them about neither the tire swing nor the shade if they don’t care. Our story to them will be the deep moist flesh that children will pick from their tree and the juices that will stay on their cheeks until banished by a shirt sleeve. We will speak of shade to shade people and breathing to those who value breathing most.

To do this, we need to know.

This week will be focused on how to know. I’ll go into the sausage-making that is gaining donor intelligence. But it’s important we start with the why.

It’s because winter is coming. Only those provisioned with true friends will make it through.

The good news is that we are nonprofits. We face down demons worse than winter.

Why know about your donors?

Understanding and using Facebook’s algorithm

Facebook is the nexus of a lot of debate as to how best to incorporate social media into other marketing efforts.  My argument will be there is a twofold Facebook strategy: 1) using organic content to engage your superfans and 2) using addressable media to reach everyone else.

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500 million users.  How quaint.

Like Google, the base of the Facebook algorithm (EdgeRank) is fairly easy:

  • Affinity: How close the person creating the content is to the person receiving it.
  • Weight: How much the post has been interacted with it, with deeper interactions counting more
  • Time decay: How long it has been since it has been posted.

These interactions are multiplied together and summed, roughly.

Like Google, however, it has been altered over time significantly.  There are now significant machine learning components baked in that help with spam detection and bias toward quality content.  Additionally, now users can prioritize their News Feeds themselves.  Finally, because of the sheer amount of content available, the organic reach of an average post is single digit percentages or below, meaning that if you have 100,000 likes, maybe 2,000 people will see your average post.

The implications of this base algorithms are stark:

 

  • Organic reach on Facebook is for the people who really love you.  Many people think of Facebook as a new constituent acquisition system.  However, people who come in dry will almost never see your posts.
  • Consequently, only things that connect with your core will have any broader distribution.  Think of who is in the top two percent of your constituents: employees, top volunteers, board members, and that may be about it.  If those people don’t give the post weight, no one outside of this group will see it.
  • What you have done for them lately has outsized weight.  Research into Facebook interactions shows that Facebook gives outsized weight to what a person as interacted with in their last 50 interactions.
  • Facebook is not for logorrhea like Twitter.  Think of your posts as a currency you spend each time.  If your post gets above average interactions, you will move your average up and interact with more people; if not, your reach will lose.  Posting too many times (which varies from organization to organization) will diminish your audience as average reach will decline).  Additionally, all of the things you have to post for organizational reasons (e.g., sponsor thank yous) are spending your audience and you have to assess how much you are willing to spend to fulfill those objectives.
  • This all adds up to the uber-rule: Facebook is for things your core supporters will interact with quickly.  If they don’t, it won’t reach your more distant supporters and it will lessen the likelihood that your next post will reach them as well.
  • It also relates to the second uber-rule: because Facebook can change its algorithm as it wishes, you should not build your house on rented land.  The best thing you can do with your interactions is to direct them to your site, to engage your content and sign up for your list.

This all sounds a bit dire, so I should also highlight how to reach the other 98%(ish) of your Facebook audience as well as some of your non-Facebook audience on Facebook: addressable media.

Facebook allows you to upload a list of your supporters and target advertising to them specifically whether or not they are current Facebook likers of you.  You can learn more about this on my CPC ads post here.  This also goes into lookalike audiences, a way of getting people who aren’t who you talk to currently, but look a lot like them, a nifty acquisition trick.  Since organic reach won’t get you to these loosely and non-affiliated people, this is the only way to achieve that reach.  And, since it is cost-per-click, you can control your investment and your results.

But like discussed above, these campaigns should be to build your relationship to people outside of Facebook.  For the same reason companies advertising on CBS don’t work to build a greater relationship to CBS, but rather to the advertising companies, your advertising on Facebook shouldn’t be aimed at getting Mark Zuckerberg et al more friends — they have over a billion of them already.

Understanding and using Facebook’s algorithm

A direct marketing bridge to… planned giving

If you look at a planned giving consultant’s guide to how to approach planned giving, direct marketing will be a significant part of it.  In fact, they will want to take over the entirety of your direct marketing program.

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t let them, for the same reason your three-year-old does not get to pick what s/he eats.

However, there are intelligent ways to use your direct marketing savvy to cultivate planned giving prospects.

In order to market your planned giving society, you need to create your planned giving society (contrary to popular belief, my master’s is in marketing, not the obvious).  That is to say, you need to give your society a name (even if it’s as simple as the [Your Organization Name Here] Legacy Society) and let people know what will happen when they join by letting you know they have named you for a bequest.

In addition to creating the society, you need to create the systems to handle inbound queries by phone, mail, or email.  The person or people that help with this need not have legal training – in fact, it will likely help you avoid acting like a lawyer if you are not one – but should have a knowledge of different types of instruments for giving.  At its simplest (which can you shoot for if you are just starting up your planned giving program), you can start with just wills/bequests, of which there are few variations:

  • A fixed amount of money
  • A percentage of an estate
  • A fixed amount of money after X is taken care of (X can be family, friends, other charities, etc.)
  • A percentage of an estate after X

Pretty simple; don’t let the lawyers complicate it.  This can be a part where a direct marketer can help.  We are used to boiling things down to a low reading level and making abstruse concepts understandable (for example, by not using the word “abstruse”).  Research shows that complicated words like “charitable remainder trusts” and “bequests” can scare people away when we really mean “making a will.”

The systems you create should be fairly simple as well.  You should have a response system for whatever means they contact you for people who are considering a planned gift and one for people who have told you they have designated one to be made.  For the latter group, you should show them the love – donor newsletter, customized copy in mail and email pieces, recognition and regular thank you’s.  You want these donors to have guilt if they choose to remove you from their will.

Once you have your inbound systems in place, it’s time to work to attract planned giving donors.  You are looking for similar quality here as we talked about for major givers.  In fact, planned giving is a common fallback from a major gift ask (“I realize you may not be in a position to make that gift of eleventy billion now; would you consider us in your will?”).  To summarize for those who have not memorized the canon of this blog, you are looking for loyal, long-term donors, or those who have demonstrated a deep passion in other ways (e.g., volunteering, a large initial acquisition gift).

And you are looking for people who are older.  Planned giving experts will tell you that you should start with people in their 40s and 50s, because these are the people who are most likely to be putting together their first will or thinking seriously about this.

This may be true.  But there’s not one single other investment you can make at your nonprofit where you will say “now, all we have to do is wait 30-40 years and we’ll start to see if this investment paid off.”  Nor should there be.  For one, you lack effective testing data (reporting of leaving in a will is only a middling indicator of actually leaving in a will); for another, the time value of money has eroded so much over that time as to be negligible.

And, as a fundraiser, not one single person will pat you on the back for the bequest in 2058 that you set up with your marketing today.

So I would suggest a much older age selection for your planned giving prospects.

Then, planned giving experts will tell you to mail and call this entire file.  Also, car donation experts will tell you to mail and call your entire file about donating your car.  Everyone wants you to spend your money on their thing.  I haven’t seen anyone advocate a telemarketing campaign to get people to use text to donate, but I’m sure I will.

Instead, save your money by piggybacking on pieces you are already doing.  Donor newsletters are a great place to put planned giving information because those are the loyal donors who are most likely to participate.  Similarly, you can insert a planned giving buckslip into your acknowledgment envelopes for people who are in your target audience much cheaper than you can for a single mailing.

Now take the money you saved and run another donor acquisition campaign.  You’ll do more for planned giving by having a larger file with better donors than you will having a one-off planned giving campaign.

So those are bits of the direct marketers guide to planned giving.  Tomorrow, we’ll wrap up the week with the bridge to monthly giving.

A direct marketing bridge to… planned giving

A direct marketing bridge to… events

Direct marketing for nonprofits is usually a tool to get a donation.  This week, I’m going to look at the ways you can build bridges to other development areas to help that famous rising tide lift all boats.

I’ll start with peer-to-peer fundraising events, in part because of the degree of difficulty.  Event participants and event donors are notoriously difficult to convert to other forms of giving.  Event participants feel like they gave as part of the event (and they did); event donors are giving more to their friends than they are to the cause.  And the vice is versa’ed – demographically, your average direct mail donor is not likely to want to do your endurance three-day, less she break a hip.

True story: I once participated in a charity 5K that started and ended on Federal Hill in Baltimore.  Here is the view from the top of Federal Hill where we started the walk:

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And here is the view from the bottom of Federal Hill up to the top:

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Hat tip to wikimedia.org for the images

We had a lot of people stop at the 4.9K mark that day.

Where was I?  Oh, yeah.  Walkers don’t convert well.  But in acquisition, we are certainly reaching out to less likely prospects.  With walkers, you know they know who you are and believe in the mission.  You may even know a bit about why they are walking.

So they are an audience worth reaching out to, both to garner additional donors, and to improve their retention for future year’s walks.  Some of these ideas will be applauded by your walk managers as helping them do their jobs; some will have you burned in effigy for trying to “steal” “their” donors.  The trick is to do enough of the former that they will forgive you for the latter.  Here goes:

  • New walker welcome kits (online or off). With most walks, your immediate communications are “thank you for signing up; here’s how you can make money for us.”  This would help mix in messages that welcome the person to the mission of your organization beyond welcoming them to the walk.
  • Similarly, during the walk process, mix in other topics like advocacy alerts to deepen engagement to the organization.
  • Try a telemarketing cycle to your walkers well after the walk is completed. This can both ask for a donation and announce the day and time of the next year’s walk.
  • Addressable media to past participants. Remarketing, cotargeting, and like audiences can be a good way of retaining old walkers and bringing in new ones.  If you don’t know what I mean, I highly recommend Friday’s post on just this topic.
  • Throughout the year, you should try mailing walkers to become offline donors. Ideally, this would feature walker specific messaging and incorporate what you know of why they chose to walk.  Strong techniques could include a walk survey to gather data on your walkers (and to act as a reply device) and a save the date lift note for the next year’s walk.

Because of the inherent national/field friction in some national organizations, I would strongly recommend running these techniques as a test in year one with sites that are willing to experiment.  Using the other sites as a control, you can then present how much better the direct marketed to walks did versus those that didn’t have the wind at their back from email, online, mail, and telemarketing.

A direct marketing bridge to… events