Testing the post-content ask

Someone has come to your site.  They have downloaded your eight-point plan or a white paper.  They’ve taken an advocacy alert.  They’ve looked at your infographic.  Now what?

When we think about donors, it’s often with our fundraising glasses on, thinking how do I get this person to donate?

One of the underrated aspects of donorcentricity is starting off with the idea of “how do I solve this person’s problem?”.

That is to say, for people who come to your site with the intent of making a donation, most of them are going to make a donation.  For the majority that come with some other intent, however, what is their mindset and how can you help them achieve it?

Let’s take the person who wants to do something about your issue.  That something is, to them, to email their legislator about a particular piece of legislation you are working on.

A traditional fundraising approach would be to have a button on the advocacy page that encourages them, instead of taking an action alert, to donate to your advocacy campaigns.  This interruption marketing is trying to take them away from what they want to do to what you want them to do.

What I would advocate testing is finding your biggest content engagements and put a logical ask (not necessarily a donation ask) after the person has completed what they came there to do.

This could be:

  • On the confirmation page.  If someone downloaded a white paper, it could be “this white paper was made possible by the generous support of people like you” or, perhaps more engagingly, “now that you know about the plight of the Brown Bar-ba-loots, can you email your legislator to add them to the list of protected species?”
  • In a lightbox.  We talked about these earlier this week.  In addition to coming up after a page opens, you can also do them as they are about to close.  This type of ask can serve up your best reason or pitch to complete the action they came to the page to do.
  • As a follow-up email.  The test here can be what the appropriate action to ask for is.  If you have someone who has taken an action alert, what do they want to do next?  And what is of most value to you?

On a related note, I’ve worked with advocacy campaigns where a donation ask after an advocacy alert performed better than a similar up front ask by email without the action alert.  People wanted to take action, then donate.

The great thing about this is that you can be very specific in your ask.  That is, if someone took your Brown Bar-ba-loots action alert, your donation ask (if you choose to do that) can be a Bar-ba-loot specific campaign, crossing confirmation page, lightbox, and email follow-up.  You don’t have to ask this person about polar bears or penguins, because you already know what they care about.

So test out how you can solve your potential donor’s problem first, then ask for something of value.


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Testing the post-content ask

Addressing the resource challenges of donorcentricity

Getting to an organization that is able to know about its donors and customize communications accordingly is not easy.  We often lack one centralized database that acts as the Truth.  We don’t think we have time to make donor calls to thank people where revenue isn’t attached.  Our budgets are so small that we transcend lean and mean and are now emaciated and ticked off.

But we must start somewhere.  Why?  Remember the old joke about the bear and the sneakers?

For a refresher, two guys are at their campsite when an angry bear comes charging in.  One of the guys immediately bends over to tie his sneakers.  The other one says “You idiot!  You’ll never outrun that thing!”

The guy with the sneakers replies “I don’t need to outrun the bear.  I just need to outrun you.”

So, if you have no better rationale and didn’t read my Monday post about the value of donorcentricity to our business model, remember:

  1. Donors to our organizations donate to other organizations.
  2. Other organizations are doing these types of stewardship activities.
  3. BEAR!

colbertbear

So how do you start this journey of a thousand steps?  Here are some tips to first steps to better talk to donors.

Get your database in order. This may mean some time working out of csv files to get your lists in order.  However, this is much better than not trying at all.  It will also help you in the long run, as the fancy pants SQL/database steps to data health are likely just automated versions of what you are doing in your spreadsheet.

Institutionalize calling.  It doesn’t need to be just development employees or just employees.  But any part of your culture that you can get to call donors to thank them – do it.  Even if it’s one call per month.  The practice of hearing donor stories helps whoever here them take what was once a figure on a spreadsheet and turn it into an understanding of why people outside your organization think you exist.

And it helps them to feel your gratitude as well.

Ditto for thank you notes.  The more these can be a cultural touchpoint, the better.

Try an unconventional thank you strategy.  We have 50 ways to thank your donors here, most of them unconventional and many of them very poorly rhymed.

Finally, once you have data from a good number of people who have randomly received thank you calls or notes or the like, run the numbers.  You should be able to see from an increase in retention rate (I hope) the impact that calling can have on your donors and your retention rate.  Sometimes that number will be enough to continue your random calling.  Sometimes it will be large enough to justify significant resource allocations changes.

After all, the quickest solution to a small budget is to get a big one.  This can help you prove it out.


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Addressing the resource challenges of donorcentricity

Quantity versus quality of pieces in donorcentric fundraising

Food for the Poor, the DMA’s Nonprofit of the Year last year, sends 27 mail pieces in its control donor series throughout the year.  These are all very good donorcentric letters, focused on the impact that you as a donor are having in saving people in their times of desperate need.

Another nonprofit of my acquaintance that will remain nameless, sends out one appeal per year.  When they asked me whether they should send a second piece, I told them that they should make their one piece work first, because it was not a compelling appeal.

There are wonderful donorcentric people who argue that nonprofits need to reduce the amount they communicate across the board.  I would argue that they need to reduce the amount they communicate badly.

Let’s take a look back at the reasons that people give for stopping giving to a nonprofit from Dr. Adrian Sergeant (first covered in Wherefore Segmentation):

 

reasons-for-lapse

As you can see, 72% of the reasons were related to not getting our message across like “other causes are more deserving” or “I don’t remember donating” or “they don’t need money any more.”  Less than four percent said inappropriate communications.  People are leaving because we persuade too little, not too much.

And as for the sentiment you may get about mailing too much, Van Diepen et al looked at irritation from nonprofit mailings.  They found that irritation can be incurred from mailings, but that it had no impact on revenue per mailing.  That is, people kept donating at the same rate per piece.

As Jeff Brooks put it in his wonderful book The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications:

[A] typical donor gets at least 10 pieces of unsolicited mail every delivery day.  That’s 3,000 pieces a year.  If you write to a donor twelve times a year, you’re sending 0.4 percent of her yearly total.  If you stopped mailing, the daily average would drop from 10 to 9.96.  Not a meaningful difference for you and your donor.

But for you, that cutback would mean lost revenue, forever.  A loss of hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars from each donor.

You’ll never solve the Too-Much-Mail problem if you treat it as a numbers game.  The real issue is the relevance of the mail, not the volume.

All of that said, you could be mailing too much, as measured by both your net revenues and a true donor focus.  Here are some of the symptoms:

  • Channel mismatch. It is correct and laudable to try to get an online donor to give offline and vice versa.  However, there is a point of non-response (that varies by organization) at which the online donor is very unlikely to give.  For example, if someone gave their first gift online, continues to give on online, and hasn’t so much as looked at 10 mail pieces from you, you might be wasting money in sending those appeals (note: I say those appeals – perhaps a mailing that encourages her to go to the Website and make a donation is just what the doctor ordered).
  • Seasonality mismatch. If someone donates every November or December like clockwork, but never a second gift in the year over five years, you are probably safe in reducing the mailings they receive in spring and summer.  Note that I don’t say eliminate.  It could be that the updates they are receiving in the summer are the reason they donate in the winter.  But you can probably save some costs here.
  • Mismatch of interests. As we’ve advocated in the “change one thing” approach to testing, you can find out what messages people will respond to and what they won’t.  One you learn that, for example, a person only gives to advocacy appeals, you can safely cut some of the other types of messages they get.  Or someone who only gives to premium pieces get premiums (but for whom they are a turn-off don’t).
  • Systemic waste. Additional mailings should do two things: increase retention rates and increase total program net revenue.  That is to say, it’s not enough to say “this piece is a good one because it netted positive”; you need to be able to say that without the piece revenues would have been down overall.

To make the math simple, let’s say you mail three pieces, each of which gets $100K net revenue.  If you eliminated one of them and two pieces started making $150K net, that third piece was not netting program revenue (unless it was a cultivate piece that set up future year’s revenues or had an upgrade component or the like.

What this nets out to is that in a donorcentric future (or, at least, in my donorcentric vision of the future), people will ask how many control pieces you send and you will have to say that it depends greatly on the donors themselves (or give a range like somewhere between two and 30 pieces per person).

And, of course, that each of these pieces is customized and crafted to appeal to that particular donor or segment.  That, in my mind, is listening to the donors and not trying to let a Platonic ideal donor get in the way of each precious unique donor snowflake.


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Quantity versus quality of pieces in donorcentric fundraising

Donorcentricity: it’s only a fad if you aren’t doing it

I had the pleasure of doing a debate at last week’s DMA Nonprofit Federation Leadership Conference with Lynne Wester, the Donor Relations Guru, about donorcentricity.  She was pro (and was a pro, surprising no one); I was con.

Several people asked me afterwards what I actually believe.  For the most part, I’m very much pro-donor-centrism.  I took the con side because I believe what John Stuart Mill said:

quote-however-unwillingly-a-person-who-has-a-strong-opinion-may-admit-the-possibility-that-john-stuart-mill-125-26-67

And also because sometimes an admirable goal of improving the nonprofit sector’s sometimes abysmal treatment of donors loses sight of the goals of fundraising.

So this week, I’d like to poke, prod, and challenge the wisdom for and against a donor focus, starting with what it is and why it’s important.

The answer is not to make our donors feel better.

The answer is to cure cancer.  Or end drunk driving.  Or prevent mistreatment of animals. Feed the hungry.  Protect the abused.  Light the fire of education.  All this and more.

To do these things, we need money.  To get money, we need donors.  To get and keep donors, we need our donors to give happily.  Thus, making our donors happy is a good goal.  It’s just not the end goal.

But at the same time, we ignore it at our peril.  In the room, I talked about the amazingly low retention rates we have, especially for first-time givers, as a reason to churn-and-burn.  My actual conclusion could not be farther from the truth – retention is something on which can we continually work and improve.

We face numerous challenges right now to the very model of nonprofits historically.  Donors are looking to fund an impact and a cause, not necessarily an organization.  Why should they pay what they perceive to be (but aren’t) high overhead rates when they can do a microloan with Kiva, or directly fund a school through DonorsChoose or find a particular person in need through GoFundMe ?

In addition, aggregator sites are more than happy to give nonprofits the money as long as they own the constituent.  Facebook, usually a reliable example of most examples of walled gardens and rented land, is one of these where information does not get to the nonprofit for meaningful communication.

All of these satisfy donors’ needs to make a difference and feel an impact, while not engaging with an organization.

There are three ways I can see to adapt to this new world:

1. Fail.  Remember, in the words of Adam Savage:

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This may not sound particularly palatable, but it’s better than being the best buggy-whip salesperson or whale-oil-light manufacturer or print journalist left on earth.

2. Compete on the value of our models for effectiveness. Small scale efforts like GoFundMe can fund one person, but they can’t fund a systemic scale against hunger.  Individual donors tend to pick projects based on the basis of attractiveness and skinniness and whiteness (unfortunately), so nonprofits fill a role in helping everyone.  Small efforts can’t effectively change laws or study methods for change.  And they while they fix things well, they can’t prevent them from breaking.

Unfortunately, these are usually tough sells.  For years, we have talked about the systemic problems through the story of the one.  It’s the one that touches the heart and we know that emotion is far better than education in low-dollar appeals (and since you attract people as low-dollar donors, that hurts acquisition as well).  If someone can see a person’s plight and fix it, rather than the underlying problem, easy trumps thorough.

3. Compete based on how well we can treat donors. That’s donorcentricity.  That’s where we can have a meaningful advantage.  One-off sites like Facebook can’t build a relationship around an issue like we can.  And while Kiva is fabulous in terms of creating an addiction around helping, other sites lack in this regard.

So rather than die off, donorcentricity is going to be (in my mind) how we justify our very existence: we are the best at creating meaningful connections between donors and the world they wish to create.

So this is not a fad.  It is not everything, but neither is it nothing.  But in my mind, it also doesn’t mean what some people think it means.

Along those lines, I’ll be talking about communication quantity tomorrow.

Donorcentricity: it’s only a fad if you aren’t doing it

Using your real estate better: preheaders

You have your subject line science down — you do an A/B test in the morning and you roll out with the test in the afternoon.  You ask questions to entice someone to open.  You create urgency.  And you are still seeing your open rates going down.

Maybe it’s that right after your subject line, people see “To view this email in your browser, click here” instead something of interest.

Gone are the days where the subject line was all that mattered.  The first lines of your email now matter, because in many email clients, they are shown alongside the subject line.  This verbiage is called the preheader and it’s valuable real estate that many otherwise really strong marketers ignore.  For example, here are my last few emails from Home Depot as I write this:

home depot

If you thought that these were the first emails I ran to open, you would be incorrect.

Not only to preheaders show up in this way, but they also travel with the subject line to show up in the lower-right corners of Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook accounts.  Additionally, the preheader can entice someone to read the email (gasp!), not just open it.

So what do you want to do with this to draw your readers in?  Some ideas:

Keep it relatively short.  Not subject line short, but make sure that it gets your point across in the first 75 characters or so, so mobile email clients will show what you want shown.

Tag team with your subject line.  My best email newsletter open and click performance was on the same email.  (Hey, if you thought we were getting through a post on email pre-headers without me plugging that you can sign up for my free weekly e-newsletter, which gives the story version of the week’s blog posts plus super secret extra benefits, you were sorely mistaken.)

The subject line was “Lead gifts and priming and men, oh my.”  The pre-header was “And the details on how social proof works in direct marketing and the power of hedonic good comparisons, but that made for a really long subject line…”

If you have only 75 characters, you get the gist of what the email is going to be about.  And if you have more, it’s a paired attempt at humor.  This had an 80%+ open rate and 40%+ click-through rate.

Another good tactic here is to ask a question in the subject line that you begin to answer in the pre-header.

Personalize.  A pre-header can start with “Dear Mary,”.  (This, of course, only works if the recipient’s name is Mary.  If it’s Vlad, you may be in trouble.)  Anyway, this pre-header establishes that you know the person’s name.  This, sadly, differentiates it from many other emails that don’t know your name, so it’s more likely to get opened.

Tell them what’s in the tin.  If you have a video in your email that thanks the person for being a supporter, your preheader may not have to be any fancier than something like “Watch a thank-you video from our president.”  If you don’t have content that is worthy of being in the pre-header, rewrite the email.

Make the call-to-action.  Not “Donate now!”  I haven’t tested that as the beginning of a pre-header only because I anticipate it would go down in flames.  But “Today, you can save a life with one minute and two clicks.” does a nice tease of the content as well as creating urgency and timeliness.

So make sure you are testing this valuable real estate.  And when you do get that email from someone who just has their logo’s alt text as the pre-header, forward them this email if you like the organization (and if you don’t, prepare to steal their donors).

Using your real estate better: preheaders

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