What’s in a name? Word choice in direct marketing

It is an article of faith that names have power. In Genesis 1 and 2, Adam names the animals as part of his dominion over them. Many wizards in the Potterverse dare not speak the name of Voldemort, choosing He Who Must Not Be Named instead. Shakespeare asked what was in a name and it turned out it was quite a bit, given the death toll at the end of that play. Rumplestiltskin, Isis versus Ra, Doctor Who, Bilbo in Smaug’s den, YHWH, and so on: so much of our myth and mythology is about there being power in what something is called.

The truth is that, because of nominal biases, what something is called matters. I’m cheating a bit with this topic, because this isn’t one big cognitive bias, but a few different ones. They can have an impact on your direct marketing language.

People tend to prefer things, people, objects, etc. that are easy for them to understand. (study here). This is known as the fluency bias. There’s a reason that only eight names cover more than half of our presidents (James, John, William, George, Thomas, Andrew, and Franklin (which used to be a lot more popular than it is now)). Names that are more common help people rise faster in occupations. Believe it or not, stocks that have ticker symbols that can be pronounced as words outperform stocks that can’t be

Our brains are more persuadable by things that are easy to read and to hear. Winston Churchill, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (and he did some other stuff), talked about how he intentionally chose words with few syllables in his speeches. As a result, they have a fluency that sticks in the mind.

Even as an American, I can easily recall more of Churchill’s rhetoric (“this was their finest hour”, “an Iron Curtain”, “we will fight them on the beaches”, “blood, toil, sweat, and tears”) than FDR’s (“a day that will live in infamy”, “all we have to fear is fear itself”, and I hit a wall).

So never select a gargantuan word when a minuscule one will suffice.

Of course, the most fluent name for something is one’s own name. Believe it or not, people who have the same initial as a hurricane give more in disaster relief to that hurricane. The theory is that people want to distance themselves from the act that “they” are committing.

This works in other ways as well. I once tested state-specific victim stories in direct mail pieces. In half of them, I indicated that the story came from that person’s state; in half, I didn’t. Response rates went up an average of 30% when the story presented in a place the person was familiar with. Thus, customization to personalize the details of stories to your audience can raise more money.

Details also have a powerful nominative effect. In the classic Made to Stick, which I strongly recommend, the Heath brothers relay the study that stuck in my mind as the Darth Vader toothbrush study. Simulated juries were given eight facts for and eight facts against.

darth vader toothbrushThe stories differed only in detail. Half received irrelevant details for the good side: e.g., instead of just “Mrs. Johnson sees to it that her child washes and brushes his teeth before bedtime,” they added “He uses a Star Wars toothbrush that looks like Darth Vader.”

The other half received irrelevant details for the dark side: e.g., in addition to “The child went to school with a badly scraped arm which Mrs. Johnson had not cleaned or attended to. The school nurse had to clean the scrape,” they mentioned that the school nurse spilled the treatment, staining her uniform red.

Jurors who heard vivid details for the good things judged Mrs. Johnson to be a more suitable parent than jurors who heard the unfavorable arguments with vivid details. So make sure you are providing a real picture for your audience.

There is also a framing effect to word choice. Everyone in the abortion debate wants to be pro-life or pro-choice and not anti-life or anti-choice.

I find this to be especially true for verbs. Ideally, you will be able to ditch adverbs like ideally and have your verbs do the heavy lifting. In a study, witnesses were asked how fast two cars were going when they crashed. Except instead of crashed, the authors tended a few different verbs; here are the results:

  • Smashed: 40.5 MPH
  • Collided: 39.3 MPH
  • Bumped: 38.1 MPH
  • Hit: 34.0 MPH
  • Contacted: 31.8 MPH

Let me stress this: they watched the same crash. All that was different was the word that the question used and you still see an impact of almost 30%.

So how can you improve your own copy? One solution is Hemingway, an app that allows you to upload your copy. It then highlights long sentences, adverbs, passive constructions, etc. The reading ease score that comes with Word or similar software can also help.

Or ask a child to read it and see what s/he thinks.

Hope this helps your writing! If you would like some more of my favorite writings of the week, please sign up for my weekly newsletter, which has the feature “favorite thing I didn’t write this week.” I’m very creative at naming things.

What’s in a name? Word choice in direct marketing

And you shall know your constituents by their deeds

There are two ways to know your constituents better: listening to what they do and asking them what they think. Today, I’ll talk about the former; tomorrow, the latter.

Yesterday’s piece talked about how you can roughly define an individual’s responsiveness by medium, message, and action.  The trick is that we often segment by only one, possibly two, of these.  We have medium covered: most large-scale programs of my acquaintance distinguish among people who are mail, telemarketing, online, multichannel, etc. responders.  And many small-scale programs haven’t begun to integrate medium, so in a way this is its own segmentation.

Sometimes, we will use action as a determiner.  We’ll take our online advocates segment and drop it into one of our better-performing donor mail pieces (frequently not customizing the message to advocacy, more’s the pity).

We rarely segment by message, even though picking something that people care about is the most basic precondition of the three.  After all, you may not like telefundraising, but you’d at least listen if it was immediately and urgent about something that you care about.  And it’s much easier to get someone to do something they haven’t done before for a cause they believe in than to get them to do something they’ve done many times if they don’t believe in the message.

The good news is that you have your constituents’ voting records, of a sort.  Consider each donation to a communication a vote for that communication and each non-donation (or, if you can get it from email, non-open or non-clickthrough) as a vote against that communication.

[tangent] This is also a helpful technique for when your executive director comes into your office and says “I’ve had five calls today from people who aren’t happy about [insert name of communication here].”  If you reframe it as five people voted against it by calling and five thousand people voted for it by donating, the noisy few are not nearly as concerning.[/tangent]

A proper modeler would use the data from these votes to run a Bayesian model to update continually the priors on whether or not someone would respond to a piece.  As you can probably tell, I’m not a proper modeler.  I prefer my models fast, free, and explainable.  So here’s how I’d use this voting data:

  • Take all of your communications over a 3-5 year period and code them by message.  So for our hypothetical wetlands organization from yesterday, this might be education, research, and conservation.  Hopefully, you don’t have too many communications that mix your messages (people donate to causes, not lists), but if you do, either take it by the primary focus or code it to both messages.
  • Determine the mix of your communications.  Let’s say that over five years this wetlands organization did 25 conservation appeals, 15 education appeals, and 10 research appeals.  This makes the mix 50% conservation, 30% education, and 20% research.
  • Take your donor file and pull out only those people who donated an average of at least once per year over that 3-5 year period.  This will ensure you are looking only at those people who have even close to sufficient data to draw conclusions.
  • Take the coding of communications you have and apply it to the pieces to which the person donated.  Generate a response rate for each type of message for each person on your file.
  • Now, study that list.

In studying that list, you are probably going to find some interesting results:

  • There are going to be some people (a minority of your file but likely a healthy segment) that only gave to one type of message.  And you’ll see the pattern immediately.  Someone who gave eight times over five years to education appeals and never to conservation or research appeals is clearly an education donor.  You will look at all of the other communications you sent this person and all of the people like her in the X-issue-only segments and you will weep a little.  But weep not.  You can now save your costs and these people’s irritation in the future by sending them only the communications about their issue area (with the occasional test to see if their preferences have changed).  It’s only a mistake unless you don’t learn from it; if you do learn from it, it’s called testing.
  • You can also probably lump people who gave rarely to other messages in with the X-issue only people.  So if someone gave to nine of the ten research appeals and to only one each of education and conservation, they clearly have a strong research preference.  This is why it’s helpful to look at these data by response rates — you can see where people have ebbs and flows in their support.
  • You will also see people who like two messages, but not a third (or fourth or however many you have; I will warn you to minimize the number of buckets, as you will not have a large enough sample size without).  So if someone gave five times, three to education appeals and two to research appeals, education and research both appeal to this person with a 20% response rate.  However, conservation doesn’t apparently appeal to them, so you can reduce communications in this realm.
  • You’ll also see a contingent of folks who donate to communications in roughly the same proportion that you send them out.  These people can probably be classified as organizational or institutional donors.  It will take far more digging than mere file analysis to figure out what makes this donor tick.

This leads into an important point: these will not get you to why.  Even things like how often a person gives for how long or Target Analytics Group’s Loyalty Insights, which can show if the person is giving uniquely to you or to others, are transactional data.  While useful proxies, they can’t tell you the depth of feeling that someone has for an organization or let you know what ties bind them to you.  To do that, you must ask.  That’s what I’ll cover tomorrow.  But hopefully this gets a little closer to information that will help you customize your donor’s experiences.

 

And you shall know your constituents by their deeds

The science of ask strings

Today’s direct marketing paper says, in essence, the less you ask for, the more people respond and the less they give.  Duh.

But there are some great surprises in the paper that make it well worth exploration.

De Bruyn and Prokopec took a look at anchoring effects in ask strings.  Specifically, they worked with a large and anonymous European non-profit to mail to their donor list.  They did so with a 3 x 3 matrix of ask strings set by two criteria: 1) is the initial ask below, at, or above their previous contribution? and 2) is the ask string steep (20% increases in levels), steeper (50% increases in levels), or steepest (80% increase in levels).  The ask strings were four items long.

This is a bit confusing, but here are initial and final asks for each condition, assuming a $100 donor.  You’ll note they are appropriately rounded:

Lower Equal Higher
Steep $85 … $140 $100 … $170 $120 … $200
Steeper $70 … $230 $100 … $350 $150 … $500
Steepest $55 … $320 $100 … $580 $180 … $1000

Some of these may look to you as they looked to me — fairly aggressive.  In the higher steepest condition, you are asking your $100 donor to donate $180, $320, $580, or $1000 — not a common ask string by any means.  That’s why I’m glad there are studies like these that test this with other people’s money.

As I mentioned, they found asking for more got more in average donation but suppressed response rate.  However, there were several other elaborations on this:

  • Ask string steepness didn’t affect response rate. Only the lowest, left-most ask seemed to affect response rate significantly.  The lesson here is that you can ask for more and get more without hurting response.  This is potentially free money.
  • Steepness did increase average gift.  So 80% increases won in this case.
  • Multi-donors were more set in their ways. Indexing off of higher than their previous contribution was related to a big drop — from an average of 10.5% among those who had the ask string that started at equal to 9.1% among those who were asked for higher.  It is, not shockingly, as if the multi donors were saying that they had already told the nonprofit what they give and don’t forget it.
  • The worst thing you could do was ask single donors for what they gave before.  This surprised me.  Response rates for the single donors were 5.3% in the lower group, 4.1% in the equal group, and 4.3% in the higher group.  Indexed average gifts were .937 (lower), .909 (equal), and 1.162 (higher).  So there was a trough in both response rate and average gift for asking a single donor for the same thing they gave before.

They didn’t give the net revenue per piece charts in the study; I found them invaluable in understanding the implications.  These are indexed to a $100 donor to make the math easy:

Single donors Lower Equal Higher
Steep $4.74 $3.54 $4.23
Steeper $4.76 $3.96 $5.62
Steepest $5.49 $3.68 $5.26
Multi-donors Lower Equal Higher
Steep $10.42 $10.16 $9.96
Steeper $9.30 $10.44 $9.67
Steepest $10.46 $10.53 $10.68

All this indicates something to me that I hadn’t thought of before (and maybe you have and have tested it — if so, please put it in the comments or email me at nick@directtodonor.com so we can have a report from the trenches): different ask strings for single versus multi-donors.

The hypothesis that I would form based on these results is that people who have given before are set in their ways of what they want to give and thus we should index from the previous contribution or the HPC.  Single donors are more pliable, so we can work to get more value out of them early in the relationship, elevating their support before they get set in their ways.

science-pinkman

Hope this has been as valuable for you as it has been for me.

The science of ask strings

Influence in direct marketing: commitment and consistency

Just like people tend to do what other people do, people also tend to do what they themselves have done in the past.

Emerson said famously that “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”  Of course, that’s probably what he always said.

Our mind is wired to think we were right more often than we actually were.  Moreover, we have cognitive dissonance as a tool to help us justify these feelings.  So if we are right all the time, then why wouldn’t we keep doing what we are doing?

This is especially true for older supporters.  A study called “Evidence of a Positive Relationship between Age and Preference for Consistency” (with Cialdini as a co-author – he shows up a lot of different places) found that as we get older, we tend to want to have consistent thoughts, people in our lives, and patterns.  Since a large portion of most nonprofit direct marketing audiences skew older, this is particularly salient for us.

There are four key ways that consistency can work well for you in your direct marketing efforts:

  1. Getting your foot in the door. A small act toward your cause can cause a person to believe that they are the type of person who supports your cause.  This can be an email to their legislator putting up a sign of support, or downloading your materials.  Any small step can be referenced in asks for further, difference, and more valuable asks.  One of the executives I’ve had the honor of working with and for says “if you want to get money, ask for advice; if you want to get advice, ask for money.”There is a concern among some that so-called slactivism – taking on issues online by the least time-consuming means possible hurts “real” efforts.  I would argue that not only have well-run online campaigns changed hearts, minds, and/or votes, but also that these campaigns lend themselves to commitment-based follow-ups with language like “you’ve stood with us before; will you stand with us again” that uses commitment tactics.
  2. Flattery.  This should be easy, in that your donors and supporters are the people who make your valuable mission possible.  Telling them that, however, is not done often enough.  There was a recent quality study that looked at how recalling good deeds affected giving.  They found that when the study subjects primed themselves by recalling their past good deeds and perceive themselves as strongly moral people, they gave twice as many charitable donations as participants who recalled bad deeds.
  3. Playing back consistency. This can be as simple as variable copy letting the person know you know how long they have been giving.  After all, if you are told that “for 14 years, you have stood alongside poor suffering discarded stuffed animals,” who can resist a 15th year?
  4. Honoring consistency. Sending a communication on the anniversary of someone’s initiation with an organization not only gives them a nice feeling, it also reinforces that they are the type of person who gives to organizations like you.  Similarly, published donor rolls are both a great recognition tool and an advertisement on behalf of that’s person’s donation to you.

You should not rest exclusively on consistency’s laurels – expecting someone to give to you just because they have always given is a fool’s errand.  However, you probably noticed that many of the above techniques mix the reminder of the consistency with a reminder of the impact that someone is having or how good it feels to give.  That’s a good way to mix consistency with liking, which is what we’ll talk about tomorrow.

Influence in direct marketing: commitment and consistency

Targeting people online (along with a sneaky trick for low-cost CPC ads)

If you are a privacy advocate who doesn’t believe the Internet should be following you around, this is not the post for you.

In fact, if you don’t think the Internet should be following you around, the Internet may not be for you and you’d probably do well to shut it off now.

There is a famous New Yorker cartoon from the early days of the Internet when you could call it cyberspace or the information superhighway non-ironically.

on-the-internet-nobody-knows-921x1024

That simply isn’t the case anymore.  With cookies and tracking technology, the Internet not only knows you are a dog, but it knows what butts you have recently been sniffing.

OK, that analogy went somewhere unpleasant but suffice it to say that ads follow you around the Internet and learn your behavior.  Read about the uncanny valley-esque level of personalization that can result here.

Additionally, sites with log-in functionality – Google, Amazon, social networks, and so on – not only know where you’ve been going, but who you actually are IRL (in real life, which used to be a cool acronym, but isn’t anymore because I just used it).

As consumers, we can blanch in horror and retire to our fainting couches.  As marketers, there is a significant advantage to be had here.  So here are four tactics that work with the new new media.

Remarketing.  This is what happens when you go to a site, then leave, then ads follow you around the Internet saying “would you like those shoes you were looking at now?  How about now? Maybe now?” until you want to go back to abacuses. While you were on that site, they put a cookie on your computer, which lets that site and other sites know where you were.  They then spread the word to the ad network that so-and-so was this close to buying shoes.

I make this sound sinister, but which would you rather see: an ad for something you are interested in or a random ad?  Personally, I like that advertising is at least trying to be relevant.

What works for shoes can work for your nonprofit.  With a few simple tools provided to you by remarketer (there are a number of them, including AdRoll, Bing, Chango, Google, Google properties like YouTube, Retargeter, Perfect Audience, Wiland, etc.; if you want a review of some of these sites, try this Kissmetrics blog), you can put a cookie on your site and begin asking the people who have come to your site if they’d like to take the next step.

Cotargeting.  Google, Facebook, Twitter, and some outside firms like Wiland will now allow you to upload your list of donors, newsletter subscribers, volunteers, or whatever other group you want to target, with their email addresses.  The match rates for Google and Facebook are really quite impressive (hat tip to Wordstream)

Then, these services will market your message to those specific people.

It’s like we are living in the future.

The next step (and it’s started pilot testing, as I understand it) is for your TV box (whether cable or satellite or cord cut or whatever) to customize as well.  I applaud this development.  I’m a semi-avid football fan who does not drink beer and will never own a truck.  Eighty percent of football advertising is wasted on me.  It would be lovely to say to those companies “you save your money; I’ll save my time” and we part as friends.

You’ve heard me preach multichannel/omnichannel-ness on this blog; now you have a way to replicate and reinforce the messages you are giving out through other media through advertising.  Your broadcast messaging just became a direct marketing one.  Huzzah.

Lookalike audiences.  Remarketing and cotargeting can help you get the people who have already sought you out.  Lookalike audiences are people who are very much like these people, according to the model of whatever ad networks you are using.  This way, you can try to acquire donations from the people who look like your donors and Web traffic from people who look like they would like your site.

The supporter cards that Wagner was processing in Des Moines were feeding into the computers at Strategic Telemetry’s Capitol Hill office.  Those commitments, along with some traditional polling, had already helped to refine Obama’s back-of-the-envelope vote goals in Iowa.  But the real power of Strasma’s black box, like all microtargeting models, was extrapolatory: the names of whose had signed supporter cards went in, and out came the names of other Iowans who looked like them.  These algorithms were matched to 800 consumer variables and the results of a survey of 10,000 Iowans.

– Sasha Issenberg, The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns.

Low-budget advertising.  I promised you a trick on Tuesday and earlier in this very piece.  The trick is a two-step process:

  1. Use an ad network that uses cost-per-click advertising rates and places ads by the amount you are willing to bid, rather than on the amount of gross revenue they are going to make (that is, don’t use Google or systems with Google-like quality scores).
  2. Create bad ads. That is, create ads that get your message out, but without the call to action.  Let’s say you target people who are getting your matching gift mail piece, email, and telemarketing with an ad about your organization and the good work that it is doing (think of the ads that run during the Sunday morning news shows that have slogans like “BP: We barely even have oil anymore”), but doesn’t mention clicking, a matching gift, a donation, or anything else that would encourage a click.  This way, you can put up your online billboard and get the awareness and good feelings from it, but not be charged to have it up.

This is certainly a short-term strategy, but can be used to boost a campaign in a pinch.

Hope you enjoyed online acquisition week.  In honor of it, I’d create ads to follow you wherever you go, but since I don’t really have a revenue model yet, that would be kind of counterproductive (“I’m advertising to try to get people to come to a site that I don’t make money on.” “How do you hope to get money from that strategy?” “Volume!”).

Please let me know at nick@directtodonor.com or in the comments what topic(s) you’d like to see in the future.  Thanks!

Targeting people online (along with a sneaky trick for low-cost CPC ads)

Beyond RFM – doing intermediate-level segmentation

By now, hopefully, you have seen the benefits of segmentation and the value of RFM as a preliminary tool.  But you have probably intuited a few of the flaws in it already:

  • The distinction between recency groups is sometimes artificial. Let’s say two people give $20 per year, one at the end of January and the other at the beginning of February.  The former would be at 13 months for a January mailing; the latter at 12 months.  A few days difference could mean that one gets mailed and the other didn’t.  (In fact, I’d love to test a segmentation out to 13 months instead of the standard 12 because of this; please comment or email me if you’ve done this, so I can share and illuminate myself).
  • The distinction between frequency groups is artificial. Your multidonors range from people who donate once a year over a series of years to people who donate to literally every communication they get.  RFM analysis gives these two people the same number of communications.
  • The distinction between monetary value is artificial. You probably saw this one coming, given the first two.  Which donor would you prefer – a donor who donates $10 ten times per year or a donor who donates $50 once a year?  RFM prefers the latter; I’m guessing you would prefer the former.
  • It carries literally no other information. The $25 dollar donation of today could be from someone who clipped coupons to raise the money to donate or Bill Gates divesting himself of what he found in one cushion of his couch.  What a person donates is an indicator of capacity, but it’s a blunt tool when a scalpel is possible.
  • You probably noticed I was talking only about the mail in examples. RFM doesn’t look at channels of donation, nor at the sensitivity of people to those channels.

Let’s address this last one first, as we look for ways to customize RFM more than using it alone.

Separate RFMs by channel. When you do your telemarketing list pull, you will almost certainly want to call deeper into your file to people who have made a previous telemarketing gift than those who you are trying to make their first gift on the phone.  Same thing in the mail: you may be willing to mail multidonors out to 48 months $50-99.999 for people who have given through the mail, but only to 12 months or 18 months $50-99.999 for people who have only given online or on the phone.  Separate RFMs by channel will help you make these determinations.  Remember that you are looking to make sure that you have a strong multi- or omni-channel program, but that doesn’t mean you have to be agnostic as to channel of origin or preference.

Cadence analysis.  This goes to your $10 10x versus $50 1x donor example above.  You have to figure out who likes/needs multiple communications to make a gift or gifts and who doesn’t.  Some ways you can do this:

  • Look at how many types of offers you have going to a person in rotation; hammering the same key on a piano over and over isn’t music, nor will the same approach be music to your donor’s ears.
  • Take a look at how many times you mail someone in acquisition. Sometimes chronic non-responders need a different offer (as with rotating your offers above), but you can also see whether someone after seven or 17 or 27 times of getting a message from you means they almost certainly won’t donate and you can bless and release.  The same holds true for your lapsed donors as well.
  • Test consistent communication versus no communication versus resting periods to see what happens when you try different cadences.
  • Look at frequency of gifts within a certain period of time, rather than ever. You can see dramatic results sometimes by decreasing your mailings to your one-time-per-year donors versus your multi-per-year donors.

Mission area: I mentioned this when discussing customization types, but tailoring your communications toward the area of your donor’s interest is also a legitimate segmentation target.  Why would you send that advocacy alert to people who care only about your work in schools or your calendar with pictures of dogs to your car people?

Income: If you don’t want to ask that millionaire for $17, a wealth append can get you the information you need to customize your ask strings and communications strategy.

Location: Zip codes are the poor person’s income append and can be free-ish, so that’s a potential win.  More often, though, you can use zip code modeling to breathe life into underperforming acquisition lists.  Simply find your top X percent of zip codes from your current file and ask for just those zip codes from the rental list.  It will be slightly more expensive to rent per name this way, but it can provide a 20%+ lift in response rates and/or average gifts.  This is also a way to test new lists while minimizing risk.  One caution: you don’t want to do this for all lists or you risk self-limiting your acquisition strategy.  If a list works well for you across zip codes, use the whole thing – that way you give yourself a chance to be wrong about a zip code long-term.

Demographics: Some nonprofits find that different messages work better for men versus women.  Age can also be helpful, as you work to avoid sending your one millennial donor your planned giving brochure (there’s optimistic and there’s delusional…).  With demographics, backtesting makes initial sense, where you see how people of different demographics responded to previous appeals and messages, then use that data to define your strategy.

Previous responsiveness: It sounds obvious, but it’s ignored by CRM: if someone like getting your calendar three years ago, they may like getting it again.  Replace “calendar” with member card, action alert, survey, etc., and you have the makings of a profitable add on to your usual list mix.

Those are some of the things you can add to spice up RFM.

I said at the beginning that this was intermediate segmentation.  Advanced segmentation is modeling.  The hacks above will help get you many of the benefits of modeling at a fraction of the cost, but it won’t get you all of the benefits, so definitely leave yourself open to building smarter and smarter donor modeling solutions.

Any other segmentation recommendations you’ve seen work?  Please leave them in the comments.

Beyond RFM – doing intermediate-level segmentation

RFM part 2 – segmentation goals beyond net revenue

From yesterday, we had a sample membership mailing with these results from last year, and we were going to cut any segment that didn’t get $.33 per piece or more, since that is what the piece costs.

To do so would actually cost us dearly.  As we discussed this week, there are more goals than just the immediate gaining of revenue.  Looking at mail pieces alone with a “here’s a piece; here’s another piece” mentality can ignore what other things a mailing can do for you.  Let’s take a look at this chart of historic gross per piece by segment with two ideas in mind: groups we want to invest in and testing opportunities.

RFM Gross

Take a look at our $50-99.99 37-48 single donors.  They have an anemic response rate of .3% and an average gift of $80, so they would only gross $.24 per piece to mail to (and thus lose $.09 for each piece sent out).  Should you mail these donors?

There are some organizations that would say no – they think that every segment should net positively in a donor mailing or that they should only do no net cost acquisition.  I’ll try to demonstrate why I think these people are wrong.

With a response rate of .3%, it would take 333 1/3 pieces to generate one donor.  At a net loss of $.09 per piece, that’s a cost of $30 to acquire that donor.  Chances are that that is higher than you are spending in your acquisition mailings to get new donors.

But you aren’t acquiring just person off the street.  You are getting someone who then slots into the 0-3 $50-99.99 M segment for the next mailing.  You can see if the person got this mailing again for their next one, they would be predicted to gross $3.62 per piece sent to them or people like them, which is very nice.

Let’s run the numbers assuming that their average gift is $50, your retention rate per year for lapsed reactivated donors is 50%, your retention rate per year for multi-year donors is 70%, and it costs you approximately $10 to mail your $50-99.99 donors for one year.  To make the math easy, we’ll assume only one donation per year (it should higher) and we’ll assume that any donation is worth a net of $40 knowing the mailing costs (in reality, you would want to look at both the possibility that someone will give multiple times per year and that you will have to mail someone even when they don’t give).

This works out to:

.5 * 40 + .5 * .7 * 40 + .5 * .7^2 * 40 + .5 * .7^3 * 40 … .5 * .7^n * 40

(Can you see why I simplified the math?)

What this basically says is that there’s a 50-50 chance of getting any future gift from this person and they have a 30% chance of lapsing every year thereafter.  We aren’t using a discount rate because interest rates now are so low.

To simplify, it’s $20 + $14 + $9.80 + $6.68 and so on.  A bit of high school calculus later and this donor will likely return an average of $66.67 to your organization.  All for the cost of $30.

If you had a magic box where you could put in $30 and didn’t know what it would give you back, but knew the return would average over $60, you’d put money in.  I myself would ask if I could put in more than $30 to speed things up, like asking the genie for more wishes.

See the full comic and other fun stuff here

In general, your multi donors are going to be far better donors.  However, you need to communicate to single time donors in order to get those multi donors.  You also need to talk to those people whose last donation has been a while to renew them for future support.

The corollary to this is that you shouldn’t just look at this segmentation and see what to cut; you should also be adding back in.  Looking at these gross revenues per donor, you are probably (hopefully) wondering why you wouldn’t want to mail 7-12 month single donors of $100+, or deeper into your $1000+ donors, or more.  These are all correct thoughts.  Looking farther back into your pieces, you might see that someone has made the previous mistake – they looked at a small sample size of a $1000+ mailing, found that no one responded, and cut the segment.

Thinking further about this, you can see that perhaps the $1000+ donor shouldn’t get this piece, but they probably should be communicated with.  These are your best and best potential donors and there probably is a way to increase their value more so than not communicating with them.

Similarly, you’d love to renew those $15-$19.99 13-24 month donors, but this also isn’t the way to do it.  Now we are going to break out of yes/no segmentation and into using segmentation to create differentiated communications.  For simplicity sake again, we’ll assume that we have four treatments we are going to try:

  • This mail piece, plus a pre and post email, for our “normal” donor segment (red)
  • This mail piece with “lapsed” language, plus a pre and post email, for our lapsed segments (green)
  • A high-touch invitation-style mailing to higher-value donors with first-class postage to invest in getting their gift (with email and higher-touch telemarketing as well) (blue)
  • A prerecorded outbound voice mail campaign, coupled with an email ask to less valuable or less likely donors to attempt to renew them without high marginal costs. (yellow)

I’ve oversimplified here.  With the high-touch piece, we’d almost certainly want to test borderline segments part with the high-touch and part with the control to see if the additional investment is worthwhile.  You’d also want to test what segments telemarketing works best with.  And so on.  But for first steps, it’s directionally correct.

So let’s color in the mail plan with these four layers.

RFM four color

Note that you are able to contact more people with more appropriate language with this strategy.  Segments that a pure net perspective would have ignored are renewed in this new model and our most valuable donors are treated that way.

But that’s still just RFM with some embroidery on top.  It’s a fine model, but there’s more that can be done.  We will go beyond RFM tomorrow to add a few other pointers tomorrow.

RFM part 2 – segmentation goals beyond net revenue

The building block of donor segmentation: RFM

Over 80 percent of nonprofit marketers know the term “communication segmenting” according to a Bloomerang survey.  Over 60 percent say they segment their files.  This means that almost 20 percent of them don’t know what segmentation is and 20 percent more know about segmenting, but don’t.

Let’s see if we can reduce those numbers.

Segmentation, as you can see from my last two posts, really is for everyone, regardless of the size of your file. We’ve talked about, obliquely, two different types of segmentation – yes/no segmentation (will someone be communicated with or not) and segmentation to help create versions or customizations.

RFM analysis can help with both of these.  It stands for:

  • Recency: Usually used as how recent was someone’s last donation to the organization. You may occasionally also look at their last interaction with the organization, but we can put that aside for now.  This is perhaps the primary driver of segmentation and, if there is an answer to the “how many people do we have on file?” question, it’s when it phrased as “how many people have donated to us in the past two years” or the like – with a time horizon and action attached to it.  Do yourself a favor and add “recency” to your Microsoft Word dictionary; you are going to be using it a lot and Microsoft Word doesn’t know that word exists.
  • Frequency: We go from the most often used to the most often ignored – how many times someone has given to the organization (or interacted with in non-donor contexts). This is often simplified to single v multi, as this dyad makes it easier to plan your communication.
  • Monetary value. This is usually measured by another TLA (three-letter acronym): HPC or highest previous contribution – what’s been the highest amount the person has made in any one gift. This is an area of some debate, as if someone makes gifts of $20, $20, $20, $20, $500, $20, $20, $20, and $20, it is fairly predictable that they are probably better grouped with the $20-$24.99 donors than the $500-$999.99 donors and their ask strings changes along with this (more on ask strings here).  One solution is to use a formula like 2/3 of their HPC + 1/3 of their most recent contribution or half of their HPC + half of the average of their last five contributions.  But this is something worth testing how it works best for your file.

Let’s do a yes/no segmentation with RFM.  We have a membership mail piece that has historically very well with a number of segments.  It costs $.33 to mail and you are looking for segments that net.  Here are what your RFM response rate, average gift, and gross revenue per piece would look like from last year.

Response rate:
RFM RR

Average gift:
RFM AVG

Gross per piece:
RFM Gross

(these are intentionally realistic, but false, data)

To explain, the first numbers are the months (so 0-3 is someone who last gave a gift in the past three months), S & M stand for single and multi (get your mind out of the gutter), and the dollar amounts across the top are that person’s highest previous contribution.

Looking at this, to maximize net revenue, we can cut some of the segments to lower HPC groups and to one-time donors.  Anything under $.33 per piece isn’t going to net us money.

This is a decent baseline that answers the question “I have this mail piece going out in February; to whom should it go to maximize the net revenue of the mailing?”.

However, we are going to look at it as “how do we maximize the value of this donor by treating them appropriately?” and layer in some treatment segmentation tomorrow.

The building block of donor segmentation: RFM

Wherefore segmentation?

Yes, wherefore.  As long as we are starting from first principles, we can go a little bit Elizabethan.  In the one and only famous “wherefore” quote, Juliet isn’t asking where Romeo is (below the balcony).  Hers are existential questions – for what reason does Romeo exist and what cruel twist of fate made him a Montague, her family’s mortal enemy?

For more of this, check out my likely-never-going-to-be-written book The Bard Does Nonprofit Direct Marketing (All’s Well that Ends with a Donation).

But wherefore segmentation – why does it exist?  We covered a lot of this in the last post, but we’re going to be going into them more granular than that as to who gets what communication when.  Why are we doing this?

The simple answer is “to maximize revenue.”  In this world, every mail piece would be opened and responded to, every phone call answered, every email and online ad clicked upon and donated to.

In this world, the ideal model would be one that gets this 100% response rate – it would read people’s minds and get them the lowest possible cost means of communication to get the maximum gift at the precise right moment.

This is not a horrid definition and, in fact, that would be a really cool (if magical) model to apply.

But it ignores two things: how people give and what your goals are.

Let’s say you have a person who, every year, like clockwork, gives to your membership mail appeal every January.  She’s on your email list, gets your e-newsletter, and a number of other mail pieces each year, but only gives to that one membership mail pieces every single year.

Do you think she would still give to you if that was the only communication she got from you throughout the year?

Probably not. I once walked each year for an organization that will remain nameless.  Every year, I started getting emails from them a couple months before the walk encouraging me to walk (whether I’d already signed up or not) and I would stop hearing from them after the final walk email for another 10 months.

Please notice I say I “once” walked for this organization, not that I still do that.

The bottom line is that even the most loyal of donors (especially the most loyal of donors!) want to hear from you.  Look at Professor Adrian Sergeant’s surveyed reasons why someone stopped giving to an organization:

reasons for lapse

The full study is here; it’s real and it’s spectacular.

Many of these involve someone not being communicated with enough (not acknowledging support, don’t recall supporting, no longer needs my support) or not being communicated with effectively (other causes more deserving, not informing how money was used).  Now look at the bugaboo of many an ED or board member: inappropriate communications is less than 4%.  More people defect because we don’t talk to them than defect because we talk to them too much.  So we can’t do just the pieces that “work” for a person without cutting the heart out of our communications.

As mentioned earlier, it also ignores other goals you have for your direct marketing program.  In a classic, Mal Warwick’s The Five Strategies for Fundraising Success articulates there are five goals you can set:  Growth, Involvement, Visibility, Efficiency, and Stability (GIVES).  He further says these are to a large extent mutually exclusive.

I’m not going to ruin the book for you, but this is just to say that there are things you want beyond maximizing short-term revenue.  You may want to get long-term revenue, volunteers, advocates, awareness of your causes, and more.

So how do we restate our goal?  How about:

The goal of the direct marketing program is to maximize the lifetime value of each of your constituents.

This isn’t just financial lifetime value if you have other non-financial goals, but it likely helpful to help quantify what you are willing to pay to get, for example, an advocate in order to put everything on the same scale.

This is important to have as a definition because it will help you transcend many obstacles.  When should your direct marketing donors get a major gift officer working with them?  When it will increase the donors’ lifetime value (and shame on you for saying “your donors” – donors belong to no individual within an organization). Should your national office or field offices do communications to donors?  Well, which mix will maximize lifetime value? These will likely need to be tested, but won’t it be nice to have an objective answer to some of these?

We’re going to initially talk about RFM analysis, which takes a look at which donors should get which communications.  This is absolutely necessary as a baseline.  However, if you are looking to maximize the lifetime value of each constituent, you will have to look at things differently.  It’s a minor difference, but you will need to think of “should this donor and donors like them receive this communication?” rather than “who should this communication go to?”.  It’s when you get to the point of thinking about donors first and make your communication vehicles reflect that rather than taking your communications and seeing to whom they should go.

Wherefore segmentation?

Why do people stop giving?

This has, unlike so much in the fundraising realm, been objectively researched and I commend the paper to you.

This paper tested six attributes of connection between people and causes they support.  Guess which ones actually mattered to donor loyalty (I am paraphrasing their points somewhat):

  • The nonprofit shares my beliefs
  • I have a personal link to the cause
  • The nonprofit’s performance is strong
  • I trust the organization
  • I have a deeper knowledge of the organization
  • The quality of the donor services they provide me is high

A hint: four of these matter; two don’t. I’ll pause here why you contemplate.

(pause)

I’m Henry the 8th I am.  Henry the 8th I am I am.  I got married to the widow next door.  She’s been married seven times before and all of them were named Henry – HENRY.  Henry the 8th I am.

Second verse!  Same as the first!  Little bit faster and a little bit worse!

henry the eighth2
Does anyone else find it weird that in this “romantic” movie, he got his first date with his wife by aurally torturing her. Stalker much? (Also, this is Ghost for you young’uns.)

Oh, you’re back.

The four that were important were:

  • The nonprofit shares my beliefs – One of the key drivers of giving and support is the desire to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Knowing the organization is like you and has a similar core system to you is vital.  This is something you can use in your writings – “You know how vital art instruction in elementary school is to raising creative, happy, and well-rounded children and that’s why we…”
  • I have a personal link to the cause – Not surprising. Those impacted by a disease, an injustice, a crime, a whatever, are going to likely be among the strongest to support a cause about these things.  The next step, however, is not done often enough – you often can see a significant retention lift if you can reference this: “You know better than most the heavy toll of…”  Beyond this, if appropriate for your cause, work with those who have a personal link to the cause to celebrate this.  Techniques like anniversary cards (congratulations on three years cancer-free today!) can work well, but more than that, peer-to-peer fundraising can allow a person to celebrate those anniversaries on their own behalf.  You cannot craft a message better than: “I believe in X because of Y. Because you are a person like me, please support X also.”
  • I trust the organization. Trust is, I would argue, a necessary but not sufficient condition of support. No one who does not trust you will support you.  You can borrow trust with social proof techniques like the BBB seal on your donation form, but generally, running a tight ship nonprofit is sufficient.
  • The quality of the donor services they provide me is high. Another necessary but not sufficient condition.  In my experience, a good donor relations person can help turn around a less positive donor experience more easily than trust can be repaired, but it’s important to treat the people who help you serve people well. This starts with customization and if you missed the initial post on this, here it is.  Letting the donor know you know them is critical to quality donor services.

The converse of these is what causes people to lapse: if they no longer trust you, they think you share their values, their link to the cause is diminished or severed, or have a bad donor experience, they are more likely to not give in the future.

What of the two that don’t matter?  Performance of the nonprofit is what the Charity Navigators of the world attempt to quantify, first by pretending that percent of overhead means anything to impact, second by feigning that checkboxes around transparency mean someone is active in their community, and now with Charity Navigator 3.0, which has non-subject-matter experts reviewing the statements of subject matter experts to gauge impact and achieving the same level of impact as me commenting on neurosurgical techniques. It turns that those who can’t don’t teach; they rate.

It’s this type of performance that doesn’t seem to matter as much to loyalty.  People give to something because it feels good to give – to plant the tree whose shade you may never enjoy.  Getting into performance and numbers and such can sap the joy from the process.  Or at least that’s my theory on what that didn’t rate.

As for depth of education, it’s great to educate the people who actively want to learn more about your cause.  Donor telephone town halls, reports back, impact statements and the like are all good ways to do this.  But so much of education from nonprofits comes from the false belief that “if only people really understood the problem, then more of them would give.”  In fact, it’s probably that curse of knowledge I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that makes you speak in buzzwords and feel like you can educate the passion into someone.  A story, told well, means far more.

So now you know a little about why people lapse.  And it should be no surprise that retention is worst after the first gift.  There isn’t a built up trust.  There may or may not be a connection to the nonprofit (and if there is, the nonprofit may not know about it yet).  Communications haven’t been established and you haven’t told the donor the great things they did with that first gift yet.

Increasing that percentage of second gifts is the biggest area for almost any retention effort.  So I’ll cover that tomorrow.

Why do people stop giving?