When I was an exchange student in Japan, I carried a pocket-size English-Japanese dictionary with me. (Pocket sized to make sure that it never had quite the word I needed, causing me to resort to “large bald person’s religion’s house” when I wanted to find the Buddhist temple. I quite possibly offended the entire nation and thus apologize here for my adolescent self.*)
Recently witnessing a conversation between two people– one an older direct mail veteran; the other, a digital native online community builder who may never have seen a piece of paper – put me in mind of those days of mistranslation and bumbling. They never seemed to grasp that one man’s teaser copy was another woman’s pre-header (or close enough to be getting along with). Thus, they talked past each other and went their separate ways thinking the other was an idiot, even though they seemed to my ears to be agreeing.
Thus, this week, I’d like to try for some peace, love, and understanding between the often warring nations of offline and online. Or at least the understanding part.
We’ll start with one of the simplest areas of cultural differences: acquisition.
Those who have been weaned on online will find the offline acquisition culture strange and terrifying. Most notably, they trade and rent acquisition lists from each other!
For those in the offline world, don’t suggest this as a tactic for your online brethren. Not only is it illegal (sending unsolicited emails is called spam and it’s even less appetizing than its namesake), but it is culturally not done in the online world. (Yes, the cultural taboos are even worse than the legal ones.)
Despite, or because of, these differences, however, there is a lot that each tribe can learn from the other.
For online folks, just because you can’t and shouldn’t exchange or rent lists online doesn’t mean that you can’t create mutually beneficial relationships. You can do this through shepherded emails. Let’s say another nonprofit has a similar constituents or issue area to you. You might consider sending an email to your list saying, in essence, that if you like us, you might like them. And vice versa (of course; there is no quo within the quid).
Similarly, you might try engaging your corporate partners to see if they will run a shepherded email for you to their constituents, urging them to engage with you. This has its own built-in incentives — the for-profit looks like the valuable philanthropic member of the community they are and you reap the list building benefits.
For offline folks who think the no-list exchange or retail rules are overly puritanical, know that an opt-in model for mail is on the visible horizon. For those in the US, our friends in Europe are facing this by virtue of EU/UK regulations. (How politicians justify themselves being able to send mail as they wish with opt-in only for nonprofits baffles me, but I suppose that’s what happens when you write the laws yourself.)
And opting in does provide a stronger bond between you and the donor or potential donor. Thus, you can learn from your online partners how to build that bond. Some tips:
- As we’ve advocated, make sure you are setting expectations for what communications a person will receive in your welcome series.
- Make it easy for a person to change the frequency, timing, and/or nature of their communications. One tactic smart online folks will do is have multiple lists for which someone can subscribe. If a communication is not to the person’s liking, they can be removed from those emailings without losing a constituent. If a person does not want (for example) premiums, they should be able to request that and have it be honored.
- Make it easy to opt-out with clearly visible instructions. A person who asks to be taken off of your mailing list is doing you a favor (not as much of one as they might have done, but a favor nonetheless). They could simply let you mail away and waste your money, but instead, they are helping you save it. Help them help you.
- Get your list through organic means. Online and offline content can help you build a subscriber and constituent list. This content marketing isn’t good for just online activation — it can be used for mailing as well.
Hopefully, these will help you discuss acquisition fluently across channels. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the cost implications from offline and online, using fun and exciting terms like “marginal costs.” You won’t want to miss it.
* Of course, if I’m apologizing for my adolescent self, we’re talking about way more people than just the entire nation of Japan…