Friday, June 26, 2009

Annual Giving Ts

I had written a response to Stephanie this morning (written as I most often do in between other tasks on a notepad with a pencil) and then had an discussion shortly after about fundraising (thank you Craig and Elizabeth) that made me rethink what wrote so the following is my "new" post for today.

Stephanie's point is perfect for this time of year. I am a "planner" so have an annual retreat with my staff in March to review the last 12 months and schedule the next fiscal year. While I do this early and strongly believe that you are better served to do so next year, that doesn't mean that you should not do it now - IMHO planning of any sort is better than no planning at all and the net effect will most likely be to demonstrate how much easier it would be if all of the planning was done earlier resulting in a March meeting next spring.

In or out of the digital fundraising world, this is the single most important piece of annual giving advice that I can dispense: Plan, Plan, (test) Plan. Without a plan, you are simply going nowhere and doing it quickly. With budgets getting tighter and donors more frugal, we need to use our resources more wisely. For most of us this means testing, targeting and thinking - the three "t"s of annual giving. Data mining, data analysis and segmentation will all help to yield more for less.

Generating online engagement takes time and investment to produce results. Consider how long you have been sending mail and how many millions of phone calls your program has made, then consider what you have done online and for how long. Now look at the results from each of the three programs - is what you put in what you are getting out? Creating an online plan and integrating it with the rest of your programs also serves other components of the advancement shop - the alumni office is most likely under pressure to reduce or eliminate printed invites and integration here can play a big role in their success as well as your own.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Do you have a plan?

Scott's right - in our field information is critical. Who are our constituents? Where are they? How can we best reach them? What motivates them? What are their passions? To be successful, we need to be informed, and what better way to get informed then to have a plan and execute on it!

Let's look at a specific case of a client – we'll call them MainSpring University – in which planning generated results. In the case of MainSpring U. they contracted with us to create one stand-alone, soft-ask email appeal to "test the waters." As you might expect for the first e-appeal, the bounce rate was a little high (the email data not regularly used at this point), email open rates above average (constituents were curious) and completion rate to the giving buttons in the email hovered right around average rates (constituents not used to giving online). We also noted high completion rates to the “learn more” and "update your information" buttons. Verbal feedback from alumni, friends, faculty and staff was overwhelmingly positive. Altogether, the results indicated potential for growth, and for the subsequent fiscal year we sat down with MainSpring U. and developed a strategy that used e-appeals to reinforce mailers and the call center efforts throughout the year. Our plan included a similar soft-ask email appeal that we sent the previous year. This time the email saw an increased email open rate as constituents were more engaged with the University online, a much lower bounce rate given that we had been able to clean up the data with regular email correspondence, and 1.5x the completion rate to giving buttons that we saw in the previous appeal.

So as you ring in the new fiscal year, step one should be to develop an integrated marketing plan in which direct mail, online appeals, social media, and phone calls all work together to drive giving and participation. Especially now, when the budget is tighter than usual, take the time to plan. And in your plan, be sure to leave time for data analysis of each appeal so that you can continuously test, compare data and revise strategy to maximize results.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What we can learn from soft drinks

Reusing a prior solicitation is a terrific idea, and it brings to light one of my common critiques - all that is new does not need to be new each and every time. We see our pieces so often and so much that they are often months old to us before they even see the light of day. This frequently leads to our rushing to get the next "new" best thing created before we have any idea how the last piece(s) produced. The result is that we keep changing the look and feel of our efforts without ever learning from the results and feedback provided.

To be clear, by no means am I advocating for standing still, rather that you are best served by creating a plan that establishes consistency of look and feel and then testing that look and feel against pieces created using informed feedback from the "standard."

The Coca-Cola company demonstrated this for us in the 80s. We all remember new Coke but if you look at the can you could be drinking from right now it clearly says classic coke. In focus groups Coke was losing to Pepsi (remember the Pepsi challenge?) so they changed their formula to compete better. Unfortunately for them, their customers (your donors) liked Coke as it was and rejected the new version. Testing in the real marketplace would show that customers overwhelmingly preferred the taste they already knew.

Your donors are like those customers - familiar is often good. Change can be made but do it informed and with data to support or refute the decision.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Another important segment to consider before EOFY

I am in complete agreement on the importance of segmenting. And while we're on the topic, let’s add in the “pledged but not yet fulfilled” segment. Every institution deals with a good number of unfulfilled pledges each year, but you still have time to do something about it for FY08-09. To save costs and time, I suggest the “working with what you have” approach. We've all seen those design shows where they rearrange the furniture in your house to charm buyers, right? Well, in this case, we’ll reuse an old email solicitation to entice donors. Rework the text to remind the constituent of his or her pledge amount and why their gift is important. Then, provide them with an easy, environmentally-friendly link to give online. It’s a quick and cost-effective way to make a last call for gifts from a group of constituents who had enough affinity for your institution to make a pledge in the first place. If you try it out, let us know how it works for you – and if you’ve done this before, please share your strategy and results in a comment to this post!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Being effective with the time left in the fiscal year

The end of the fiscal year is a challenge for most of us in the fundraising field. We have tremendous pressure to bring in results before an arbitrary deadline that has been established by our institution. This deadline has little to no meaning to our donors, let alone constituents without a strong connection to us. The lack of a WIFM (what’s in it for me – and no, I don’t know where the second “I” went) and the fact that you have spent the last 11 months making the case for support to these same donors makes for a tough audience to penetrate. This is in clear contrast to the end of the calendar year when the IRS is kind enough to provide many of our donors with a “new” WIFM that we have not played off of yet that year.

So what to do? I completely agree with Stephanie that it is not too late and for that matter, short deadlines are a very powerful way to create a “need” to give in response to a solicitation. I am going to disagree a bit on what that solicitation should be – I would suggest that you should create a piece that can be used as the fiscal year end piece this year and then with some minor modifications as the “we hit our goal” lead piece/thank you piece for late July in the next fiscal year. This cost split over 2 fiscal years can help greatly with budgeting in these tight economic times and the shared look helps to create a sense of consistency that can be powerful – i.e. use a case study of a student in a flash piece this spring and then have that student announce the success you achieved early next fiscal year, thanking donors and letting those who did not give know that you were successful (make up a success if you need to do so – this is about marketing, not reporting).

The next step at the end of this year is an important one – segment your constituents based upon: who has given at fiscal year end before (even if they have given this year, this can be a great time to get in a second ask), who has given for multiple consecutive years but not yet this year, all other LYBUNTS and other donors. For these pools (they need to be mutually exclusive) follow up with a simple html message with trackable results and a message that is consistent with the criteria for the segment – this looks like a text based email from a person at the university with a hard deadline 2 or 3 days from now with that date also being the end of the year. Most importantly it provides a framework for those who are likely to give to do so before the end of the fiscal year – and that was our goal.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

There's still time

Because June 30th marks the end of fiscal year deadline for many institutions, I think it would be timely to start our discussion with last-minute ways to capture end of fiscal year gifts. First and most importantly, it's not too late to build an appeal. Sending closer to the EOFY deadline adds a sense of urgency that is an effective way to persuade action on the part of your constituents. Secondly, I'd recommend you consider an html email or Flash e-appeal for this solicitation. With an e-appeal you can control the time the appeal is sent and received by constituents, and you'll have an opportunity to track opens/click throughs so that you can resend the campaign to those who haven’t responded. That brings me to my third point. If at all possible, I'd recommend a two-send approach - send the initial appeal two weeks before the June 30th deadline and resend it 24 or 48 hours before the deadline. Time and time again, we see this approach bringing in additional last-minute gifts for our clients.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Welcome to MainSpringBoard

We believe that fundraisers benefit from an ongoing discussion of strategies, tactics and solutions to increase participation and giving... especially in this economy. MainSpringBoard is a dialogue between Stephanie Rasamny and Scott VanDeusen using MainSpring case studies and Scott's experiences in the field. Stephanie is the president and founder of MainSpring Media Communications, Inc. She has over 7 years experience in fundraising which includes the Duke University e-solicitation series and is an expert in online media. Scott has 12 years experience working in annual giving, starting in the liberal arts college environment with the last 7 years split between two private universities. He also serves as the director of business development at MainSpring. While they may not always agree, Stephanie and Scott do have a common goal - to use existing technology coupled with thoughtful strategy to more effectively fundraise. We hope that you will follow our discussion through the RSS feed or by visiting regularly, and we invite you to post comments and questions for Stephanie and Scott.