Sunday, July 26, 2009

Amazon meets facebook et al

I love the idea of building a database of asks and opportunities. Leaving out of this conversation, the support on the back end for doing so (only one of the four schools that I have worked for could even have approached supporting this type of effort from a technology standpoint) I think the idea is exactly where we need to be aiming - how to make the online interaction with you similar to and maybe even surpassing that which your constituents have with with other non-profits and ultimately with the for profit businesses that they purchase from.

This then leaves me with an open and growing question - how to harness the tremendous amount of information that is shared through social networking sites. There are databases out there now that can scrape your emails against the dozen or so most popular social networks, identifying public profiles and supplying you with built in databases of who is on which. In the same fashion, a portion of each profile can be pulled in based upon common criteria. This is information that is relevant and important (indeed it is self reported) to your constituents. Sending out a solicitation talking about the environmental impact your campus has? Wouldn't it be great to be able to target alumni beyond those who were environmentally conscious as students? You have the data, pull it together and target those folks with that focus.

This is all the back end of the social network profiles that we see. Certainly we can use the front end as well - find some champions who are willing to engage others and create a sense of community. Use those champions to learn what is important about your institution to folks on the social network and then outside of the network ask them to "put their money where their keyboard is".

Monday, July 20, 2009

Segment by interest - the amazon approach

I am impressed with and their e-marketing strategies. In the last six months, I've noticed that about 2 weeks after I make a purchase, I'll receive an email from with language like - "as a shopper of baby toys, we want to let you know about the following toys/sales/items that we thought might be of interest to you." The items they promote in the email are typically varied in price point - many of which are at or above the price point of my last purchase. I'd say I click from those emails through to a product about 50% of the time and make a purchase about 20% of the time. As I make more purchases, I receive more targeted emails.

Why can't we apply a similar strategy to our asks? Segment your audience by topics they've clicked to learn more about in the past. Yes, that will require laying some groundwork - sending informational emails, tracking clicks, and storing that information for each potential donor - but the return on investment would be high. Not only would you have a better chance of engaging your donors and securing a gift, but you would also start to build a more robust profile of each donor. A better understanding of who your donors are will allow you to build more effective appeals electronically, by mail and by phone.

This personalized marketing approach is something we should be considering to segment and target constituents online.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

asks to investment

I had a very interesting conversation yesterday with a colleague at a small liberal arts college regarding ask amounts. Her concern was that in the current economic environment, she is being overly aggressive with her ask array and was looking for some insight into how to ensure that she was effectively making meaningful asks. We talked for 30 minutes or so about segmentation based upon gift history and prior engagement and what other factors have impact on how much a prospect should be asked for. After we hung up, I continued to think for a while about amounts, funds and solicitation methods and got to wondering how well we do at using that type of information in our electronic fundraising efforts. My conclusion was; not well, not well at all.

With a few notable exceptions, we tend to approach online fundraising in a fashion similar to mail in the early 90s. That approach is generic, nonspecific and not effective. Take a good look at the next piece going out from your direct mail efforts, I would venture a guess that it has multiple variables, custom asks, is segmented at least by gift history and most likely includes additional segmentation based upon engagement, degree, major, involvement as a student among many other common variables. Now take the same look at your next online solicitation. How many of the same variables does it contain and address?

I hear a common objection when I raise this issue: Folks aren't giving this way so why am I putting the same level of investment and effort into this as my mail pieces? My last mailing was to 11,442 people and raised $24,311 to complete the 2008-2009 fiscal year. My last email was to 45,187 alumni and I can directly connect it to $6,345, also at the end of the last fiscal year.
Given that comparison, clearly I should be spending most of my time in mail right? To me that is the wrong view and ultimately circles back to the conversation about clicks and gifts. A huge part of the reason that we end up with clicks but no gifts and checks rather than online contributions is the effect of what we put in leading to what we get out.

Investing in online engagement (different from an online community) will eventually lead to online gifts but it takes the same level of effort and a financial commitment to accomplish this. Segmentation, matching asks, inclusion of specific funds and identification of signers and solicitors matters, maybe more online than in direct mail or phone but our efforts as fundraisers do not support this need and the results hold that up.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Making the clicks = the gifts

As you might imagine, the issue that Scott describes below drives me crazy! We spend weeks agonizing over messaging, design, animation and pacing, photos, music. We send out a beautiful and powerful appeal that persuades recipients to click on the giving button. And then, the data shows that the number of gifts submitted is less than the number of clicks to the giving button. WHY!?

Like most things, I don't think there is an easy answer. The reason varies from institution to institution depending on your giving form and your constituent base. I agree with Scott - I don't think we've tricked people into clicking - they understand what "give now," "donate," "give online," and "make my gift now" means... but for some reason when they get to the form - they decide not to make the gift.

Even though Scott simplified his form and saw no change, I'm not sure that means this would be the case for every institution. For some, I think the giving form is too complicated and/or too long. The fewer clicks the better. The more information you can pre-populate - the less the donor has to do. Let's consider how easy it is to shop online - we'll use my most recent purchase at Baby Gap as an example. With an 8-month-old keeping me busy, I make quite a few quick purchases online. After putting her new romper and dress into my basket, I clicked to check out. It brought me to a login page where it remembered my username and password (i opted for them to be stored a while ago). After hitting submit, i was brought to one screen that summarized my whole transaction, remembered my credit card information, billing and shipping address, and summarized my purchase information. The only thing I needed to do was hit the purchase button. In just two clicks, a package was on its way to my house.

So let me ask you - is it that easy to make a gift to your institution? Are there ways to simplify your form? Can you pre-populate donor information? This would certainly reduce the number of keystrokes. And ... this is probably a stretch ... but should we consider those regular visitors to your giving page? It might be a welcomed surprise to be able to set up a login and password to store their address, billing, and credit card information.

Considering ease of use is just one place to start - I'm confident that it won't hurt to make your giving form easier to use. But for Scott, that wasn't the answer... so where do you look next? Consider the design of the page and extra "along the side" content about why your gift really will make an impact; also, is it easy to designate a particular fund, college or school? Try to look at your form through the eyes of your donor not someone who sees it day in and day out, and test away to see if you can bring the number of clicks to give and the number of actual gifts submitted closer together.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Clicks and clicks but few gifts

After putting down my drink (a corona with a lime), I followed Stephanie's directions and took a look at my numbers - as most of what I do is segmented by giving history, engagement level, school or college, recognition society membership or other relevant variables, I have a difficult task in comparing apples to apples. Obviously my more engaged segments have open and click through rates that are sometimes more than 100 times that of our most disconnected alumni. The most common variable for me is, ironically a giving component - that of clicks on the giving form link.

Clearly, my more engaged constituents click on the "give now" links at a higher rate than those who have never given but no matter the segment or the constituent background, I find that the number of clicks on links to the giving form is always far higher than the the number of gifts. This mystifies me.

I know you say, people are not sure where the link leads - that is what I thought as well so I tested it with links as direct as "click here to make a gift now" and found the same result. Thus, I have dismissed that explanation.

So if it is not confusion about where I am taking them, it must be that the form is too confusing or complicated. So we took the form and simplified it, shortened it and allowed for either customization or minimalism as the user desired. The result: lots of clicks, lots less gifts.

So I turn this around to those of you reading this post and ask you - any suggestions? Have you either found this to be true and are as confused as I, or have you found a solution?

I welcome suggestions and ideas on how to address this particular item, I know that for me, as I am sure for many of you, that would lead to additional and new donors.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

How should we define success?

Ah...July. A new year. A fresh start. The holiday weekend is a good time for a little R&R so that you come back to the office re-energized. But while you're sipping on that cold beverage poolside, take a few minutes and reflect on the year - which appeals stand out in your mind as the most successful and which did not perform as well. Was it an issue of timing, integration, target audience or the tool itself? And for that matter, how should we define success? Is it based solely on dollars raised or can we also consider non-donors converted, lapsed donor participation and other non-giving related engagement with the appeal? Do things like providing updated contact information, sending back a comment, and asking for more information also add up to a successful appeal? To use Scott's acronym IMHO (which means "in my humble opinion" if any of you, like me, had to look that up) I'd say yes because this type of engagement is the first step to securing a gift. If we're talking about online appeals, we should also be considering metrics like the email bounce rate, emails opened versus buttons clicked (the number of folks viewing the appeal versus the number persuaded to click) and clicks to the giving form versus gifts actually submitted.

Everyone asks what the benchmarks should be – what constitutes a good response? If you do a quick search online you’ll find a wide-variety of answers by industry. The frustrating part for fundraisers is that all non-profits are lumped together. And “good” for a religious charity is very different than “good” for higher education fundraiser. Depending on the type of campaign, audience, mailing frequency, and content, “good” is also different for each institution. For a college that has never emailed their constituents, the bounce rate may be as high as 25 – 50% depending on how old the data is, an email open rate of 10 – 15% is good, and a click through rate to the giving page anywhere up to 0.5% would be good. As the institution emails more frequently and more strategically, we’d expect those numbers to go up (in the case of the bounce rate, down of course). Let’s go back to the MainSpring University example that I mentioned in my last post. Their email open rate has steadily grown since they have sent more frequent email appeals. So while I may have said that an open rate of 15 – 20% was good for them at one time, now I’d say high 20% range is good for them. Similarly, the click through rate of 0.5% was good at one time, and now 1.1% and higher is more average for their appeals. So when asked, what’s good – the best response really is “it depends.” It’s very hard to resist wanting to compare your results with other institutions, but in order to gauge your success a better comparison would be to compare your results to those of your previous campaigns that were sent to the same or very similar segments.

Asking yourself questions like this will help you not only gauge the success of your appeal but may also give you some hints as to the next steps to successfully converting those constituents into donors. Now go on, refill that drink and enjoy the long weekend!