Sunday, August 30, 2009

new and renew

As most of us working on campuses look around this week, we can see the renewal of the education cycle - new students are most likely already with you, other students are returning for a new year. Hopefully you are feeling a new surge of energy and interest in expanding your programs and seeing growth in giving and donors.

Many of us are still waiting for "the other shoe to drop" as decisions are still to be made regarding budgets, expense and in more cases than I would have expected, goals. If you are still waiting on final decisions or outcomes in regard to these areas, please take heart - you are not alone. But what to do?

Your first best course of action is usually to focus on renewals - do you have a program in place to renew your donors on the anniversary of their gift last year? If not, consider a very simple letter that goes out to all donors eleven months after their last "annual" gift last year. Thank them for their support, remind them that it has already been almost a year and that you depend upon them to provide support again this year and provide a simple reply device. This has provided upwards of a 25% response everywhere I have been. Over time, you can get more advanced, using this as the opportunity to increase gift amounts and even as an ideal time to get second gifts from donors who "jumped the gun" on giving.

If you already have some version of that in place, take a good look at your SYBUNT population - pull out donors who have a string of more than 5 years of consecutive giving at some point and start survey calling them - find out why they stopped giving and what you need to do to get them to start giving again. DO IT. if at all possible.

Online (that is the focus of this blog) do some simple data mining - who is opening your online communications, who is giving online - are they the same folks? I am going to venture a guess that they are not. Many of your online donors are getting to the giving page via phone and mail solicitations rather than through online solicitations. There will be a second component of this as well - many of your highly engaged online alumni, will be giving through the mail and phone programs. The first group are paying attention to you on their time and prefer non digital media but are comfortable with online commerce so give in that simpler fashion. The second group is where you can make some inroads into online giving. Put a simple case together as to why it makes more sense for the donor (not for you) to give online and put it into the next newsletter - see who reads it and make some follow up effort to those folks to get their opinion on it - these can be personal phone calls or emails directly from you seeking to gain their opinion in a one to one fashion. That will both inform you and serve to further engage the donor.

Each of these steps can be undertaken at little to no additional cost, will provide measurable and notable response while continuing to engage your constituent base. In times of uncertainty regarding budgets and goals, continuing to expand and enhance programs can be accomplished.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Off to college

Going to college is another great example of a priority point, to borrow Scott's terminology, for both parents and students.

For parents, sending a child to college is a major milestone - one that comes with pride and a big price tag. Sending a child to college affects disposable income and thus philanthropic habits, and to Scott's point, we should solicit parents keeping in mind that they are already making a large financial investment in the institution. In addition to parents of current and former students of your institution, it's likely that alumni from the classes in the 70's and 80's are sending their children to a college and that their household budget has changed. Wouldn't it be interesting to survey parent donors to find out why they support the institution when they are already sending checks for tuition and then use the responses to build future appeals? I wonder too if we surveyed all alumni to determine who among them have children in college if we could more effectively target those alumni in future solicitations.

Current students - starting with the freshman class - are also an important constituent group to consider because in just 4-3-2-or 1 short year they will be your alumni. As such, we should be considering how to form a relationship with these students while they are on campus. I'm talking about more than just student work opportunities in the call center. The annual giving office has a four year head start to teach future alumni about the importance of giving back. Francine Cronin and the Emory Annual Fund did an incredible job of educating and engaging students with blue piggy banks. If you haven't heard about her Blue Pig campaign, I recommend you check this out today. For the last two years, the Emory Annual Fund has handed out blue piggy banks to all freshman when they arrive on campus. the idea is that they will "feed the pig" with their spare change and help fund book awards for other students. So beginning on the first day of their freshman year, Emory students will be taught the importance of giving back to Emory even if it's just with spare change. And - this is critical - they will have fun doing it! The campaign leverages Facebook and Twitter, and the Emory Annual Fund even staged a "pignapping" last year with a $3500 ransom to increase engagement among current students. It is a great way to educate current students on the importance of giving back and to familiarize them with the annual fund.

All of this life point talk leads back to building and maintaining lifelong relationships with constituents. In order to acquire and
retain their support constitutents have to feel like members of the community. If any of you have success stories like Emory's Blue Pig campaign, please post a comment so that we can share strategies and hit the ground running with current students this year.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Words from the road

I write from a hotel room in Indiana - my family and I are on the way back from a trip to Denver for my sister's wedding. In the course of countless miles of travel, I have had much time to think about many things. What I have learned first and foremost is that there are many rest stops along interstate 80 - everyone of them with a bathroom and when traveling with a recently potty trained 2 year old, you get a great view of every one.

Immediately after that thought had finished processing, I realized that this is a great time to take a look at the priority points in peoples lives and what impact that has upon our fundraising success. By priority points, I am referring to the points in our lives when events occur that impact our decision making process. This trip is a minor version of that - I and my family have extended our vacation this year and allocated substantial additional financial resources to this trip in order to be in Denver to celebrate my sister's marriage with her and her new husband. That decision is going to have substantial impact on our disposable household income for the next 6 months.

While in my case, this was associated with a siblings life event, these priority points would include birth of a child, death of a parent, job change (new or lost), sale or purchase of a house - there are many more that I have not listed but I think that the idea is clear. These points often have dramatic implications on the philanthropic behavior of our donors by changing both the focus of their philanthropic support - think having a child or losing a parent, and the amount of available resource - think my vacation example or losing a job.

Stephanie did a good job outlining how using surveys and other contact points can be of great importance in identifying folks with interest from populations that have not been engaged with you recently. I think that we all need to take these a step further and really focus them on current and recently lapsed donors. Developing the streams of communication that will lead to you being notified about these events so that you can react appropriately (does your alumni office send condolence or birthday cards) and solicit appropriately. If a donor tells you in the fall that they are not going to be able to give that year because of one of these points, think how much more effective your follow up communications can be if you are able to address that reason in future communications. I am not saying not to ask, just to be respectful of their input.

Be it through a PURL, a simple text email leading to a survey of life points, an HTML email leading to a microsite that encourages sharing of these items with other alumni through a mini-blog or even through the phone program, capturing and using these points to increase the value and effectiveness of future communications is an important step to building and maintaining the lifelong relationship that helps to distinguish our alumni relationships from all others.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tomorrow's donors

"Simply because they are your alumni today doesn't mean they will be your donors tomorrow." True. But as your alumni, they have the potential to be donors. You have a leg up on other charities because they have an experience with your institution. Sure, they may gripe about a professor, a parking ticket, or a misspelled name in a mailer, but you can overcome that with an effective message. If you can reach them. We can find new addresses, phone numbers and email addresses until the cows come home, but if we don't start to think about how to better steward our future donors... if we don't try to learn and somehow notate how they want to hear from us and what they want to hear about, well, then they will continue to just be constituents.

Eco-Option™, our comprehensive approach to green fundraising, provides a paperless, eco-friendly communication option for your alumni. I'd bet that many of them are concerned about their carbon footprint and would like to have the option to go paperless with their alma mater. And, after giving them the option, some might even cross over from the "future" to the "current" donor category. By giving them the option to tell you how they want to hear from you and honoring that, you immediately open the lines of communication. Now your messages reach them and the dialogue begins.

Sure, this is all easy for me to say - I'm on the other side with the flashy graphics and videos. If the institutional roadblocks are stopping you from taking a donor driven approach - then I'd say look for external help from a vendor to test out the theory so that you have results to back up the need to change things internally. Three client projects come to mind in which the electronic appeal asked for non-donor feedback - two were PURL campaigns with survey questions and one was an email campaign asking for non-donors to email a response back. The first PURL campaign for client A generated 6x greater completion rate for non-donors compared to a previous solicitation we sent to that same non-donor audience (or we can call it a 500% increased response rate from non-donors to sound even more impressive!). The second PURL campaign for client B generated a 14x greater response rate from non-donors compared to a previous appeal sent to the same non-donor audience (1300% increase in non-donor response). Client C's email campaign generated close to a 9x greater response from non-donors compared to a previous solicitation sent to the same non-donor audience (~800% increase in non-donor response). In all three examples, we saw high non-donor completion rates. Why? Probably because we were asking for them to give us their opinion and not their dollars. Now as we follow through and send materials to them that relate to their feedback, we will likely see greater non-donor participation and giving. With client C we're already seeing improved email open rates and completion rates from non-donors. After the email campaign, we sent an e-solicitation and the completion rate increased by 60%.

I believe that it is difficult to become donor-centered in our thinking and even more difficult in practice, but it's a critical step to ensure that today's alumni become tomorrow's donors.

To learn more details about Eco-Option™, click here.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Donor centered communications - up to you or them?

Much of what Stephanie talks about is good sound fundraising practice - be it online, on the phone or even in person we should all be working to be as donor centered as possible and providing folks with the opportunity to inform you how they would like to be communicated with is a component piece of that. The bigger challenge for many of us is following through on that request. Wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone simply told us that I would like to be called on Tuesday the 1st of September between 7 and 8 for this years gift? (Assuming that they don't all pick that day and time - that would be a whole new challenge.) Of course that is not the reality either.

The reality for the vast majority of us is that we don't have a mechanism in place to allow for that type of preference of communication. Many of us can opt folks out of programs - no mail, no phone, no mail solicitation etc. but few of us have the system or process in place to say "prefers" email or "prefers" mail and then follow through on it. That places us in an interesting position if we ask that question then doesn't it?

The result we have historically gotten is constituents (wish I could call them donors but that is usually a stretch) telling us that they don't object to mail but are less then interested in phone. If you have done any of this type of work in the last five years, you have probably noticed the growth in the percentage of folks who would like to be communicated with via email only.

I advocate a system that allows that stream of communication online only - gives you the opportunity to present an environmentally friendly alternative to mail that can cut costs as printing and postage increase (we all know that postage is going to go up 2-3 cents every May for the next decade) while at the same time pitching this to your constituents as a direct value for them in providing targeted communications in the format that they are selecting. * Start up efforts here require either creating an online version of each communication or removing the constituents from that communication. That said, it can be much more powerful; don't do a letter thanking your donor, do a video of a student who their gift helped, don't do a story about what you have accomplished, bring your donors to campus with a flash or video presentation showing them. Folks who are interested will not only be informed but the online communication stream allows for you to track who is paying attention. Even if they don't give online, you can continue to target and focus on those folks online and on the phone - increase your focus, increase your communications, ultimately increase your dollars.

Giving constituents choices and options for not only where their gift is used but from the very start in terms of how they hear from you will only benefit you. It is a big step to take as we depend upon results from programs that have traditionally returned good value per dollar invested and this requires taking steps away from those programs but in the end, if we don't start to adjust our efforts to match the current communication techniques and expectations, someone else will - simply because they are your alumni today doesn't mean they will be your donors tomorrow.

*In the interest of being direct and clear, MainSpring has developed a program that allows for this style of environmentally friendly communication.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A few simple steps (for starters)

I know... tisk, tisk, tisk - one whole week and no response to Scott. I needed a short break to refresh and collect my thoughts. Time on the beach can be very restorative! I'm going to set aside the social networking topic for now and just address the first portion of his post. I must admit, I may have been focusing on "ideal world" situations a little too much in my last few posts. We'd all like to be, but in reality, we have limits to our time and capabilities. So let's take a step back and consider what we can do. We can focus on our donor. We may not be able to segment solicitations such that the content speaks to the topics they are most interested in (right now), but we can find out how they want to hear from us. And we can take a few simple steps to do this:
  1. Collect updated contact information in every appeal. On the phone,start by reviewing current contact information to get that updated. By mail, include a pre-populated update contact information form and ask constituents to review and update it. Via email, include an update contact information link with a prepopulated form that can be corrected and submitted electronically. We can do a better job of collecting updated information and then ask constituents one simple question - how do you prefer to hear from us -by phone, by mail, or by email.
  2. Scott mentioned this a while ago, but I'll stress it again, when you're asking for updated contact information, provide the information you already have for each person even if it's wrong! It's in our nature to correct wrong information. I've talked with more than one client about filling in blank email address fields with "none" in order to persuade more constituents to add in the correct email address.
  3. Ask for the preferred mode of communication - online, by phone, by mail. This will help you better allocate your resources to the solicitation method that will be most effective for that donor. This doesn't mean send only email to someone who prefers email, but it does mean that we need to consider their preferred mode of communication when sending solicitations. There is no point in sending every mailing to a constituent who tells you he prefers to be emailed information.
It seems so simple, yet so many institutions I talk with tell me they are not doing this. It takes time and resources to do this, but you will see a return on your investment. By communicating with constituents in a way they prefer, you're more likely to engage them, to elicit a response, and to secure a gift. So let's keep it simple (for now) and consider how you can add these steps into your strategy this fiscal year.