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

Welcome step three: Ask again

Now you have thanked someone for their gift, you’ve used both asking and revealed preferences to learn about your donor, and you have given your donor opportunities to learn about you.  Once all of this is established, you should ask again.

I’ve said earlier that the welcome series time doesn’t matter too much to me, as long as you are accomplishing all of these objectives.  I’m going to give lie to that here to say that you should be trying to get to this point fairly soon (within 15-30 days online; within 30-60 days offline).  Contrary to your intuition and the indignant cries of your board members that they would never give again so soon after making a first gift, this window is actually your best opportunity for getting that second gift.

And it is critical to get that second gift, for a couple of reasons:

  • Your likelihood of retaining a donor goes up significantly after a second gift.  This is why I advocate not looking at a monolithic retention rate.  Instead, it’s best to break down into retention among new, first-year, lapsed reinstated, and multiyear donors; the retention rates among these are really that different.  Indeed, that’s why on Monday I said that a one-time giver is not really a donor.  Retention rates after first gift are really that low.

  • The second gift sets the tone for the rest of their relationship with you.  Looking at one of the studies we’ve discussed on ask strings, you can see that first-time donors are fluid in terms of their giving. They are in a place where it is literally better to ask them for anything but what they gave previously.  Multidonors, on the other hand, need to be asked for what they were asked for previously.  Ask them for too little and they will downgrade; too much and they will not give.

1280px-Blacksmith_workingImage source here.
It’s a metaphor for a reason: cool metal hardens — only when it is hot is it pliable.

If you have done your welcome series/letter/email/whatever well, this ask should be natural.  You’ve learned about them, you’ve customized your ask to specifically what they want to hear about and who they are, and you know that what you are asking them for is something they will support.

Because of this, and because of the fluidity of first-time donors, I strongly advocate that this second ask be an upgrade in amount or degree.

After all, your ask now should be improved from your semi-blind graspings in acquisition, where your goal was to cast your net far and wide.

And you can drastically increase the value of your donor (to you and hopefully to them) by upgrading them to a monthly giver.

There are some who advocate for acquiring with a monthly giving ask (and, in fact, acquiring with only a monthly giving ask).  As I’ve mentioned, I don’t have the guts to try this yet, other than in means like DRTV where the medium is too expensive to try anything else.  (If you’ve done this, please write in the comments or to nick@directtodonor.com.  I would love to share your experiences with the readers of this blog and/or to read them myself).

But post-acquisition, you may have the perfect storm of factors to lead someone to become a monthly giver:

  • They are still in the glow of their first gift
  • You’ve created a customized experience for them
  • They have not yet become set in their ways of how they give to you.  We’ll talk more about mental accounting at some point, but suffice it to say that people have different boxes of finances in their heads.  Once you are in a box, it is difficult to break out of it unless the person’s finances or perceptions of you change.

We’ll dedicate a week to monthly giving, but you’ve already seen some of the tactics you can bring to bear in this upgrade ask:

It’s definitely worth testing against a more traditional upgrade strategy that would ask for a larger one-time gift.  So test away, but make sure both versions incorporate what you know about the donor.

Welcome step three: Ask again

Welcome step two: Learn more about your donors and engage them

You’ve now created a gap between now and your normal communication stream for your new donor.  What do you do next?  As any Londoner can tell you, you now need to

bakerloo_line_-_waterloo_-_mind_the_gap

We know in case after case that personalization increases the effectiveness of direct marketing.  And not just making sure the person’s name is spelled correctly: it’s about making sure you know why they are giving and are thanking and soliciting them under those auspices.

With a new donor, you will have a single data point with which to start.  They responded to theme A through medium B.  You can leg your way into donor knowledge as we recommend by changing one thing at a time, but that won’t help you get that second gift.  And even if you are doing well, 60-70% of the time, you won’t get that gift.

Previously, I’d talked about the two ways of getting information about your supporters: watching their behavior and asking them.  It turns out those are the two things you should be doing in your welcome communications as well.

The critical step, and the one most often missed, is setting up opportunities for behavior watching and for feedback.  Or sometimes we go to the opposite extreme and send an email for every little bit of our mission we can think of, drowning the donor or prospect with a deluge of did-you-knows.

The way to maintain that balance with your supporters is to give them three major opportunities:

  • To use you as a resource.  People are more likely to support organizations that solve their problem.  This can range from “I want to eat more sustainably but I’m drowning in a sea of cage-free, organic, cruelty-free, etc. labels and don’t know how” to “I donated to suicide prevention because a friend committed suicide, but now I’m having these thoughts…”.  We nonprofits are (or should be) experts in our area and we can help in these areas.  And, as a much secondary effect, it allows us to see our supporter as a person. 
  • To use you as means to accomplish their goal.  If they donated to a particular issue, they may also want to write their legislator about it — that may give them the same (or similar) warm feeling that donating did.  Or they may want to volunteer in a very specific way that helps them achieve the same end their donation did.

 

  • To learn what they think.  You want to know how you can serve them better.  This can be through a survey or an open-ended question.  Or this can be an opportunity to bring in a different medium by having a human call them, thank them, and ask for why they gave and why to you.

The larger point here is that these should be framed in how they help the donor or cause, not how they help you.  It’s amazing how much of a difference there is between “We are also on social media, so like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!” and “Our Facebook community helps parents of children with autism support each other, so please join in if you’d like to hear from others who have been where you are.”

It goes without saying that you should track these activities.  If someone sends back the petition in their mail package, advocacy is something that appeals to them.  Thus, the way to get them to be a higher value donor may not be to get a second gift through the mail (although you should try); it may be to get them to be a frequent online advocate, then ask them after an online petition to become a monthly giver to support the specific advocacy activities they enjoy.

It’s even easier online.  If someone clicks on your link for more information for parents of kids with autism, you know they almost certain fall into this category themselves.  This is a programmatic opportunity as well as a fundraising one, but all boats will lift if you have this information and use it to help the person in question.  Links that you send should be trackable and appended to each supporter’s record so you can customize your messaging.  

The alternative is to become the cable company that asks you for your phone number with their automated system, then has a person ask you for it, even though caller ID is a thing that has existed for a while in this universe.  If someone tells you something, they will expect that you know it.  And clicks are, believe it or not, communication.

There is a lot of ink and virtual ink used on how many emails or mail pieces you should have in a welcome series, how long it should last, etc.  You’ll notice that I don’t cover any of that here, because I don’t find it to be all that important.  If you can accomplish the thank you, learning, and engagement all in one communication, go for it.  On the flip side, as long as a welcome series is about supporters’ interests, it’s difficult to say that it is going on too long.

Welcome step two: Learn more about your donors and engage them

Step one in welcoming: the thank you

I’ve already done a week on thanking your donors.  Somehow, I managed to talk about why to thank people, rules for thanking donors, 50 ways to thank donors, and ways to thank people multichannel-ly.

And I didn’t talk about what should be in a thank you.

It’s a wonder you even read this blog — thank you for that.

One source to which I’m indebted for this week and many others is Roger Craver’s Retention Fundraising. It is a classic about how to retain donors that I can’t recommend highly enough.  He posits that there are seven drivers of retention:

  • Are you effective at your mission?
  • Does the donor know what to expect from interactions with you?
  • Are your thank yous timely?
  • Do you listen?
  • Does the donor feel s/he is a part of something important?
  • Does the donor feel appreciated?
  • Does the donor receive information about who is being helped?

These are the things you are trying to accomplish with your thank you, and with your welcome series.  Most of these apply to any acknowledgment, but they are most important for a first gift.

Remember emotion.  So many acknowledgments aren’t thank you notes.  They sound like they were written by someone trying to tell Sgt. Friday about your donation.

jack_webb_joe_friday_dragnet_1957

At 1430 hours, the suspect made a donation.
It was tax deductible pursuant to 26 US Code 170.

They are long on amount and date and making sure your name right and short on capturing anything related to the donor’s experience in making the gift.  As we’ve discussed, the vast majority of gifts are made not because of what someone thought, but what they felt.  The thank you know should respond to this in kind.

Specify to why.  Along the same lines, the thank you should not just replicate the emotion of the original, but also tie into the story and the reason for giving.  If someone gave with a petition attached, the thank you should reference the petition and how it is helping make a difference.  If they gave you their email address on the reply device, they should be thanked in both medium.  Ideally, the signatory of the thank you should be the same signer of the appeal letter.

Especially with a first gift, it’s important to establish trust.  Relating the thank you to the gift is a good way of establishing that trust.

Remember their past giving.  If they’ve been giving for 10 years, let them know you know that.  While not strictly related to welcome packages, it’s important not to forget this.

Prove the impact.  This also helps build trust.  If you said the donor’s gift would help build a well, the story and pictures, and emotional impact from the thank you should be related to the impact from the well.  Especially if you are not a name-brand charity, the donor is taking a chance on you doing what you say you are going to do with the donation.  Letting them know that you did helps build a relationship and ties them to the impact (not the output) they were hoping to have.

Remember, the donor wants to know who they helped and why that’s important.  Help them.

Differentiate.  A first donation is more predictive than any other donation.  If someone donates an abnormally high amount to your first solicitation of them, they are uniquely dedicated to your cause and/or of substantially greater means than the average donor.  Chances are good that you have a special procedure for anyone who gives over a certain amount (let’s say $1000) to your organization, whether it’s a phone call or handwritten note.  I would advocate you extend this to people whose first gift is abnormally high.  It may seem odd to extend the same treatment to someone who gives $1000 and someone who gives $100, but chances are good that that $100 donor is your $1000 donor of the future.

Do not delay for differentiation.  That said, you hear horror stories of processes for larger donors that delay their thank yous.  You may think I’m exaggerating here, but at the summer camp for future non-profit direct marketers, the counselors would shine a flashlight on their face from under their chin and say things like “And then the letters sat on the executive director’s desk.  And they sat.  And they sat.  And they sat.  For over. Three.  Weeks.”  We campers would not be able to go to sleep, knowing that our best donors were getting the worst treatment.

Perhaps I went to the wrong type of summer camp.

Anyway, there are four solutions to this dilemma:

  1. Light a fire under whoever is supposed to be writing or calling
  2. Pick someone else to do the writing or calling (or have a team of people to share the load)
  3. Use a quasi-high-touch solution like outbound voice mail or pseudo-handwritten cards
  4. Send a regular thank-you note immediately, then follow-up with a phone call or handwritten note

All of these have their merits, but I strongly recommend solution four.  Not only will this thank the donor twice, which is rarely a bad thing, but it will make your process independent of personalities.  I am a big fan of processes that work regardless of the people who are in them.  You may say your ED or board member is extremely punctual with their calls and letters, but this may not always be the case.

Test high-touch pieces below where you currently are doing them.  If you aren’t differentiating at all, well, now’s a great time to start.  If you are, I recommend a test of doing handwritten notes, phone calls, or other high-touch solutions to at least a segment of whatever half of your current threshold value is (so, if you do $1000+, try it with $500+ donors).  Track their giving over the next year and see if it pans out.

My guess is that, if your organization is like almost every other organization I’ve seen, three things are true:

  • Your current threshold was set by someone in the mists of time because it was a good round number that didn’t sound like an overwhelming amount of work for the person/people involved.
  • It has gone through little to no scientific inquiry in the interim.
  • There are touchpoints you can do that will raise the value of the next tier of donors that will justify the amount of work necessary.

There is a who-is-going-to-tie-the-bell-around-the-cat’s-neck problem with this solution.  I would recommend you, the reader of this blog.  Talking to contributors and thanking them for making important work possible is beneath no one.  You will likely not only get a lift in your response rates, but you will also gain vital donor intelligence that few others in your organization will get by having actual conversations with actual donors.

Turn off regular communications with new donors for a certain amount of time.  In the mail, this is easy.  Chances are you have already pulled the list of people you are going to be mailing 30-60 days from now.  Thus, a suppression emerges naturally (although you may wish to lengthen it).  For online initiates, there is a temptation to drop them into regular communications immediately.  

Don’t.

Remember yesterday’s post — you are looking to thank this person, learn about them, have them learn about (and perhaps interact in a non-donor context with) you, and make a strategic ask for a second gift.

If they are dropped into regular communications, there is a near-100% certainty that they will get asked with no learning, which is not strategic.

The amount of time is not really the important part; accomplishing your communications goals is, so you can test what the right amount of time is for you.  And, as Roger told you at the top, be sure to let them know what they can expect from you (and I would add “and allow them to change that default”).

What do you put in the interim?  Well, that’s what I’ll talk about for the rest of the week.

If you would like to get these weeks in digest form, please sign up for my weekly newsletter, where you’ll get not only context for these posts, but also my random neural firings and previews of upcoming posts.  You won’t want to miss it.

Unless you do and that’s fine too — I just appreciate that you are reading.

Step one in welcoming: the thank you

Thank you to the bloggers who showed me how it’s done

I’m absolutely forgetting people, but here are some of the ones to thank:

Have a happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thank you to the bloggers who showed me how it’s done

There must be 50 ways to thank your donors

  1. Write them a letter, Eddie Vetter.
  2. Send them a birthday card, Renard.
  3. Remember them on important holidays, Rutherford B Hayes.
  4. Acknowledge their support on important dates like their first gift’s anniversary, Mercy.
  5. Thank them with a prerecorded outbound voice message, Fezzig. (If you can’t tell already, not all of these rhymes are going to be winners…)
  6. Try that prerecorded outbound voice message to see if it will increase fulfillment rates among your telemarketing pledgers, Medgar Evers.
  7. Handwrite them a note, billy goat.
  8. Send them a copy of your annual report with a kind note and their name circled, Erkel.
  9. Make a personal call, Saul.
  10. Ask them to volunteer, dear. (Yes, really, some of your donors may want to become more involved in your organization)
  11. Thank them in person, Orson.
  12. Have a special area/table/zone for them at your next event, Clark Kent.
  13. Send them a member card, Jean-Luc Picard.
  14. Invite them to special briefings that are only for a member, December.
  15. Create a specialized donor thank you newsletter, Irish setter.
  16. Send them a copy of a book written by one of your in-house experts, Howard Kurtz.
  17. Create a year-end statement of their giving and the impact it has made, Sade.
  18. Use a survey to get their thoughts, Don Knotts.
  19. Ask your ED or another luminary to write a card in blue ink, then to make it look handwritten in bulk on a budget, run copies of it on the color printer, Harold Pinter.
  20. Conduct donor telephone calls in a town hall style, Kyle.
  21. Write quality stories, Jason Vorhees.
  22. Make high-quality and personalized online after-action pages and automated emails, Outlaw Josey Wales.
  23. Send them a staff white paper, Don Draper.
  24. Create a personalized support statement in infographic form, Norm. (NORM! How’s it going out there, Norm? It’s a dog eat dog world and I’m wearing Milkbone underwear (laughter from studio audience))
  25. Have excellent donor service, Neal Purvis (screenwriter on six James Bond movies. If you already knew that, you might be interested in one of my books here).
  26. Write them memos about the impact they’ve made and what is left to be done, hon.
  27. Send them pictures about the impact they are making and not of someone handing someone else a giant check, Beck.
  28. Welcome them strategically with a cross-channel series, Aries.
  29. Invite them to share their personal story, Rory (aka Mr. Amy Pond).
  30. Ask for why they give and personalize your thanks to what meaning to them, Clem.
  31. DM them on Twitter, Senator Vitter.
  32. Send them a letter that is written by someone whose life they’ve changed, Danny Ainge.
  33. Wish that the song was about 30 ways to leave your lover, Crispin Glover.
  34. Shoot a thank you video, Hideo.
  35. Throw a donor and volunteer appreciation party, Aarti (Sequeira of Food Network fame, of course).
  36. Ask them to vote on issues where you can live with any of the selections like member card design, Robert Irvine.
  37. Have a donor appreciation wall at your headquarter, Michael Porter.
  38. Message them on Facebook, Captain Hook.
  39. Make it easy for them to tell others about their support, Queen Consort.
  40. Honor and make sure they know you honor their particular and individual connection to your cause, Santa Claus.
  41. Have a phone bank thankathon from your employees and volunteers, Mouseketeers.
  42. Talk to them about the meaning they are giving to people’s lives, Douglas Adams.
  43. Call them for their opinion, Virginian.
  44. Send them an impact-focused news clipping, Rudyard Kipling. (Do you like Kipling? I don’t know; I’ve never kippled.)
  45. Invite them to hear, online or in-person, a guest speaker, Bunson and Beaker.
  46. Thank them with a celebrity if you have one connected to your nonprofit, Stephen Moffit (again, if you know who this is, one of my books might be up your alley).
  47. Reach out on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and/or Grandparent’s Day, depending on their gender and age, Larry Page.
  48. Send a February 14th valentine to the donors you love, turtle dove.
  49. Allow virtual access to whatever form of annual meeting you have, be it a conference, jamboree, or lobby day, Auntie May.
  50. Above all, write from, and to, the heart, Bart.
There must be 50 ways to thank your donors

5 simple rules of thanking donors

Your acknowledgment/thank you’s should be:

For everyone.  E-very-one.  I once worked with a nonprofit that thanked everyone who gave $250+ on letterhead, $10-249 on copy paper, and under $10 not at all.  My first step was to thank everyone.  I know that the love discussion from yesterday can come under pressure when finances are tight.  But as an exercise, go back and look at the first donors of your last ten large bequests.  My guess is that the majority were under $20 and some under $10.  Thanking everyone is not only right and polite; it is a great investment in your long term.

That doesn’t mean that you have to ask for a $2 gift again, or in the same way.  You still have a responsibility to maximize your contribution toward your cause. But you do have to be grateful that they gave a gift.

mayathanks2

That doesn’t all mean that you shouldn’t differentiate your thank you’s.

Differentiated by reason for giving. Part of making people feel special is to treat them specially.*

Your different types of donors are supporting different types of things for different reasons.  Your monthly sustaining donors are giving, presumably, because of appeals you have make about the need for steady, predictable income.  Your advocacy donors – those who donated in conjunction with an urgent appeal for change – are going to be the exact opposite.  They will be looking to support the urgent rather than the constant need.  Thus, the messaging should be dissimilar for these.

Differentiated by lifecycle.  If someone is a lapsed donor who is reactivating, remember the prodigal son.  Now is the time to kill the metaphorical fatted calf and welcome them back and letting them know you appreciate that they are coming back, especially if you had been using lapsed-type “why has thou forsaken us?” language to get them back.

Similarly, new donors should have a whole new set of acknowledgment and onboarding messages.  I won’t repeat my blog post on onboarding for new donors and supporters, except to commend that piece to you.

Differentiated by amount given/quality of supporter.  This in part pragmatic – you want to invest more in keeping your better donors.  But it is oft said that smaller gifts are given from the heart and major gifts are given from the brain.  This is partly misleading, in that you have to engage the heart of your major donors first, but the pitch that you make to a major donor is more about the long-term impact that they are going to make with their investment.  Similar language just isn’t appropriate for a $10 donor, who is helping your mission, but not because of a transformative legacy they are looking to leave.  There too is a difference in messaging necessitated by a difference in reasoning.

And then there’s the obvious part – your largest donors should have higher touch acknowledgments.  That includes handwritten notes, personal phone calls, cards for special occasions like birthdays or holidays.  The key that many, many organizations forget is not to let high touch get in the way of a timely thank you.  If you normally send out thank you letters every day, but your high dollar donors get a letter from your ED that s/he sends out every 1-2 weeks, you are falling into this trap.  You are essentially differentiating backwards – your best donors are receiving the worst donor service.

The way to avoid this is to get the standard receipt and thank you immediately as you normally would do, then to follow up with your high-touch thank yous.  Few will mind if you say “I know you got our standard thank you last week, but I wanted to personally reach out to tell you how much your gift meant to me.”  Rather the opposite in most case.

This is imperative because one of the best predictors of whether someone will give again is how quickly and well they are thanked.  So, the final rule is:

Timely.  Get your receipts out as soon as you can, because of the impact on the next gift.  If it’s for a high-dollar donor, consider differentiating even on timeliness, with first-class postage on those thank yous.  Take a look at Blackbaud’s mystery shopper experience here.  Your donors are used to get receipts in week one (for the above average) or week two (for the just average).  You want to be above average to get those additional donations.

Thank you for reading.  Tomorrow, we’ll talk about different ways to thank your donors: some that are a bit nonstandard, all of which help express your gratitude.

* It’s statements like that that are the reason I make the big bucks.

5 simple rules of thanking donors