Friday, June 26, 2015

What makes a successful campaign?

I recently had a conversation with a colleague who works at another institution who is getting a masters in fundraising from Columbia and needed to discuss annual giving approaches and programs. She asked me a series of questions about the who, what, where and why of how we approach raising money and ended with the title question of this post; "What makes a successful campaign?"

My most immediate response was "money."  Fortunately for me, I actually thought before I responded and realized that is the most measurable aspect of it so we tend to use that as the yard stick.  How many gifts.  How many attendees.  How many submissions to the contest.  But I think that we need to step back about 3 steps and identify what is the goal of the program.  Are you charged with a dollar goal?  Assuming so, as I don't know anyone in fundraising who is not, clearly that is one aspect of the effort.  But what other responsibilities do you have?  Most institutions rely upon the annual giving office to start the giving pipeline - very few million dollar donors start with a six figure gift.  Most start with a two figure gift.  Many of us have participation goals - often, and unfortunately, tied to US News participation rates.

Each of those goals requires, above all else, the involvement of constituents.  So that is success.  Making a gift, sending in a class or alumni note, attending an event, declining to attend an event, sharing a facebook status, retweeting your tweet, any interaction is success if it builds towards a deeper and stronger relationship.  

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Can fiscal year end efforts be donor centric?

Anyone with more than 12 months in an annual giving career knows the pressure - the fiscal year ends in 4 weeks, 3 weeks, 2 weeks, heck 2 hours and the VP comes around asking if you have made calls, sent mail, what you are doing online etc... as though it didn't occur to you to ask folks to give. Or for that matter that you haven't spent the last 11 plus months doing exactly that.

To higher ups, fiscal year matters greatly - is about the budget process, about making sure that you have the institutional resources that you need.  Many institutions budget for the upcoming year based upon achieving goals in a way that means that if you don't reach those goals, real cuts need to be made to real programs.

So they matter to the institution.  But does that mean that they matter to your donors?  I would suggest that you have several different groups that see it radically differently.  First you have your loyal donors - these are often multiple consecutive year donors and they give because they believe in what you do/offer/are.  They need little more than a reminder that you are counting on them.  For these donors, fiscal year end is donor centric.  Ironically, the other audience that I see fiscal year end is the exact opposite - non or future donors.  They have not indicated a preference regarding what and when or why they give and as a result, a strong push to give this year and enable you to have more capability next year can actually be a highly friendly approach.

To many of your donors who are either not consistent or are lapsed, fiscal year end alone messaging is simply "all about you", and nothing about them.  They have given you clues, directions and in some cases outright messaging as to what they are interested in.  Use the fiscal year end as the opportunity to message them if it can be used to create a sense of urgency based on the existing conversation but don't try to squeeze a calendar year end donor into a fiscal year end gift because it is what you need - not only won't that work but it likely will cost you six months from now at calendar year end when that donor is looking to give because they will choose one of the countless other charities seeking the same dollars who paid attention to the donor rather than to their own needs.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mail for Millenials

I know.  You don't mail your younger donors.  There are too many, they don't give, we don't have good addresses, they don't read mail.  I hear this all the time, internally and externally.  At every gathering of marketing, fundraising and communications professionals that I have been do over the last 4 or 5 years.

Mail them.

Why you ask?  Because nobody else is.  They don't get junk mail, they don't get bills, they don't get checks in the mail.  They file taxes online and pay many of their bills digitally.  Some have never held a checkbook.  Your appeal will be one of the only things in the mail to many of them.

Be smart about it, don't send them the same appeal that you are sending your direct mail responsive 68 year old alum.  The appeals can't look, feel sound or be written for the AARP.  Go to your designer who does the enrollment materials and explain to them what you are doing.  Use what they design.  If they do it right, it will look all wrong.  Don't be afraid of words but  the messaging needs to be direct, clear, succinct and demonstrate accountability.  Tell them and show them.

Integrate with web.  Do not email it.  Recruit volunteers from their peers and ask them to post it on social media.  Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube each reach 25% or more of the population but that is really, really, really crowded space on a mobile device for eyeballs.  That mailbox looks better and better the more you learn about how many folks are trying to get a piece of their pixel life.  By using the mail to drive and support that intial inquiry you are able to create focused direction that they will verify on the web but you have them headed in your direction when they get there, not competing with the world for attention.

Remember the line about the cat and curiosity?  In this case, curiosity about what is in the envelope gets the attention and the cat makes a gift.  Better outcome for you and the cat, right?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Does your senior gift program actually cost you donors?

We all know the pressure to increase participation.  I will address that further in the upcoming weeks but recently spent several days in St. Louis with folks from several other Catholic Universities comparing programs and data through the Target Analytics program and had an interesting related conversation.

Among the more in depth discussions surrounded senior class gift programs and the potential value of those programs.  While most of the schools present had a program, and we all assumed that a senior class gift program would lead to an increase in the number of donors from that class down the line, the reality was that there was no such impact.  It did provide an increase in number of donors but typically they were low level additions from a financial standpoint so the one or two year increase in donor count matters when the program is started but then creates a need to keep running that program to maintain donor counts and is terrifically difficult to grow beyond a certain point.

So does a typical senior class gift program help?  Or does it hurt?  Clearly teaching the students about giving to your organization makes sense.  But are you are teaching them to give in a way that is sustainable?  Many organizations clearly are not.  Focus on specific projects or plans is great for getting them to give but unless you want to move into having a project per year per class that isn't really what you do most of the time.

We also spend a ton of effort on each of them to get them to make that gift.  If you are one of the lucky programs with the resources to create a class based fundraising effort, maybe this makes sense. Otherwise, you are teaching them different behavior from any other activity that you are going to undertake with these alumni.  Are you training them wrong?

What seems to be happening is the higher the investment in the senior gift program, the greater the disappointment with the ensuing years.  Communications, stewardship and attention all drastically decline 1 year after the senior program such that you end up with a declining participation rate year after year.  Conversely, investing those resources in a strong young alumni program that starts with students but is centered around engaging the constituents builds up the number of donors year over year creating lifetime donors rather than single program driven donors.

It takes patience and investment to make this happen but what would you rather have; 400 donors one time who renew at lower than a 3% rate or 190 donors who have given for between 1 and 10 years and grow every year?  Invest in a senior class gift but spend more on long term engagement and connections to young alumni than on the gift program.  The short term return may be a bit lower but several years in you will benefit and a decade from now, you or whomever is in your role will be hugely grateful.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Once upon a Generation

It is spring break in my household this week.  And this year that has meant a trip down to Florida to visit with my mother and father in law.  The are retired and reside in the Villages in central Florida. If you are familiar with the Villages, I need say little more.  If not, the simplest description is a community of over 100,000 active retirees living in a cost effective portion of Florida.  

As a result of my time down here, I have had the chance to speak with a number of residents, and have learned some very interesting things in terms of their views on philanthropy and engagement. Concurrent with this, I have been working on our second microgiving campaign and that is for the GLOBE program which is a class that functions as a student run microloan organization.  As a result, it has been a fascinating week of switching back and forth between the viewpoints of Millenials or "Echo Boomers" and the Boomers (there are a few of the Greatest Generation mixed in but the majority of the retirees down here now are Boomers - feeling old yet? lol.)

The following are some of the take aways from these conversations and how I plan to apply that knowledge:

  1. Boomers feel that somebody else should be taking a turn at the helm as they retire.  This was one of the most consistent themes that I heard.  Many of them still have parents to care for but they want to enjoy their own life and realize that the time they have left is likely to be long so feel that they should be spending their money on "me".  My approach here is to focus on the "me" - what do they believe in that we can provide?  This may be in terms of experiences, further education or connections so engagement and partnership with alumni and donor relations are critical here.  From an ask standpoint, connect with and work with Planned Giving.  Getting these folks to commit to something larger or more elaborate may also be the key to getting them to give annually on a smaller scale with an ask to "help ensure that the program your bequest/deferred support is going to will be in the best possible shape when that time comes."
  2. Millenials and Boomers want accountability but want it in different ways.  Millenials expect stewardship of a sort before they make their first gift!  Telling them what you have done with the money from others and why that mattered matters to them.  Boomers are more patient but want more of that focus on "me" after they give and with the growth of technology they also understand that this can be accomplished for gifts of $10 as easily as for gifts of $10,000.  Not doing so will result in that $10,000 gift going somewhere that does.  My thoughts here are to set up a series of communications that go out before and after each major ask  talking about the prior support and why it mattered with segmentation for donors explaining why their support specifically made a difference.  After the ask, I will provide results with a very simple and direct summary of the results from that appeal including an accounting of why that has mattered to several specific people - put a face on it.
  3. Millenials give when asked by peers.  They are skeptical about any and all messaging from organizations and the peer "signer" needs to be not just a classmate but someone they have a personal relationship with or they lump that person in with the organization rather than as a peer.  This is why crowdfunding approaches work but similar setups can be obtained through the use of a broad set of volunteers who truly believe in what they are raising the money for and who are willing to ask acquaintances for not just money but for their advocacy.  
There were countless other conversations that provided individual insights above and beyond these. The clearest trend overall was that we need to be doing a much better job with communicating to generations differently by listening to what they want to know and how they want it shared.  Not only doesn't the general appeal for the unrestricted fund resonate anymore, the general appeal for the restricted fund is falling flat too.  More and more, it is targeted appeals for clear and defined purposes that resonate and create support.  

Friday, March 27, 2015

So you have a plan....can you report it?

Or at least the plan to plan your plan.  What are your major efforts?  You can view it by approach - mail, phone, email, social media/web, personal visit.  You can view it by program - Senior gift, Employee campaign, Alumni participation, Leadership giving, Parent program, Reunion class gifts, Volunteer/Class Agent.  You can view it by audience - alumni, students, parents, employees, friends, boosters.  No matter which you choose, and likely it will be at least somewhat of a mix of all, you are going to face resource allocation and prioritization challenges.

One of the key functions of having a plan is the audit of expenses to return that you will need in order to prioritize where you spend the assets that you have to put in play.  In order to do so, you need some reporting on the past.  For the few lucky enough to have a great database and helpful Information Systems coworkers, this is easy.  For the rest of us, it is a matter of identifying what we want and then creating ways to collect that information.

The reports that I consider crucial are; direct mail tracking, phone program contacts, donor loyalty and campaign tracking.  Notice that I have omitted overall results.  While I am not discounting the obvious value of and need to know, progress toward top line goals, those are likely being tracked and monitored elsewhere.  As a result, you often won't have much ability to change or affect those and they rarely tell much of the tale of your efforts at the program level anyhow.

Mail tracking is simple and clear - record the counts, costs and drops and then track the returns and use some simple math to determine the return rates, cost per dollar raised, return on investment on a per segment, per piece and per program basis.  Phone program contacts likely can come out of the software that you use in your program.  If not automated, simply keep track of the number of folks you actually reach, the number of commitments you garner and how many yes, no and "I'll thinks" you get back.  Donor loyalty is the most complicated as it divides your donors up into categories based upon their last gift by fiscal year and their behavior immediately before that if they are a LYBUNT and immediately after if they are a SYBUNT (lapsed.)  There are several common versions of this report, with variations often occurring in first time donors and future donors (never given)/long lapsed donors.  I have a version of this I am happy to share if you are interested.  Campaign tracking can be complex showing multiple gift donors as unique categories, or what  I prefer which is simply a tracking of the last gift method (ie: mail, phone, online, personal visit) for each transactional donor.

If you can create these plus any others you think are meaningful, you have two options, establish a baseline this year or if possible, apply them to last year and start using that baseline as the starting point for this year's plan.  Either way, the resultant plan will benefit substantially from having a solid, data driven background.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

As I suggested in my last post, I am going to try to run through a number of different approaches to annual giving and while I will get more specific about mail, phone, face to face and electronic tools in future posts, I feel like I need to start at the top and work my way down. 

So what is the top?  I see it as planning.  Planning for next year.  I see this as the most critical activity you can undertake for long term success.  For a year or two, you can throw out the plan and just shoot from the hip.  In fact, if your plan is to move on to your next destination before the end of the second fiscal year, that is the way to go.  For the rest of us, a plan is absolute.  

While I can't help you with a specific plan or even a general outline here, I can make some simple and actionable suggestions.  
  1. Create time dedicated to planning before the first actions need to be taken - this is important and can't be done in between phone calls from donors, processing data for the next mailing and writing the text for the follow up email.  I plan the upcoming year 3-4 months out so I have plenty of time for the first project.
  2. Plan for your plan - do some research ahead of time, collect your numbers, update your reports, have an idea of what is and is not working before you sit down.
  3. Know where you want to be - what are your goals?  Look 5 years down the road and do your best to project what you will need to be accomplishing.  It won't be perfect but will give you some guidance on where you need to build and what you may need to make the case for in resources.
  4. Include folks from the teams that support you as well as the areas you support.  Often they have ideas they don't get to share that can be valuable and it helps to get everybody on the same page and bought in to what, how and why you are doing what you are doing so you get support rather than doubts later in the year.
  5. Create an outline of what you want to accomplish in each program and then fill it with the steps to accomplish that.  Include assets required to accomplish it on a per step basis - we are going to mail 400,000 pieces this year may be a great mailing effort but if you only have a $50,000 budget it is going to impossible to do.
  6. Once you have your steps established, create an implementation calendar.  If you have a new staff, go through this exercise for each step on each project, assigning a due date for each action.  With a more experienced staff, this may simply be an implementation outline - what are your expectations for each effort,what are the steps you expect to be accomplished and what is your expectation for the amount of time and effort associated with each.
  7. Be flexible.  Learn from what is working and what is not.  Simply because you planned to do a year end letter from a trustee in March, doesn't mean that you can't change that to a student in November if that is what is working or who you can get the support from to get it out.
While the devil is in the details for you and your organization, everyone and everywhere I have worked this has provided me with what I need to calmly answer questions, build credibility with staff and supervisors and raise funds and donors.