Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Happy New Year and all that

Happy New Year to all! With two days left in the calendar year - for many of you likely only 1 (or for the really lucky, 0) working days left, you have probably completed what you are going to do for solicitations in the 2009 calendar year. If not completely sent (I have 1 last segment that goes out on the morning of the 31st to donors who have given on the 31st before) they are at least completed and ready to be sent.

I would suggest that after you enjoy a couple of days off (and I really do suggest enjoying them!) that you should start the new year by adding a task to your calendar - review your electronic communication.

There are two components to this task; what do people receive and what do people open? Click throughs are the third component to the "stool" of email analysis but trail the first two in importance in the nonprofit world as compared to the commercial sales world.

What do people receive is important as we tend to cluster our communications around points of interest to us - fiscal year end, calendar year end, graduation, matriculation and events. Are those what we want to read about as recipients though? Maybe, more likely not as often as they are.

What do your people open? I am looking at and talking about all electronic communications here. Which messages are getting through and what is viewed as priority by your constituents?That this is important can be demonstrated very simply by going back to your own email from the last week - you may need to open the deleted file to find the messages we are looking for - and see how many of them are from places that you have a legitimate relationship with but just did not resonate with you at this time.

Is there a connection between the two? Do folks who get more messages open more? Is there a point of saturation when folks stop paying attention to your messages? Starting to identify who opens and reads your online communications is the first step in expanding your online community.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Calendar Year end and family obligations

I must start with an apology to those of you who consistently read this - or as has been the case for the last three weeks, wait to read this. My wife and I added our third child early in December and as a result, I have been away from work helping to get everything accomplished at home that needs to be done to both welcome our daughter and ensure that both of my sons (who are 5 and 3) have everything that they need for it to be a magical Christmas.

In the time away from work, I have spent a fair amount of time looking at the holiday communications, the calendar year end appeals and the sales pitches that are all competing for attention in my inbox. I have noticed several trends:

Flash is everywhere and not one piece of it was worth the time it took to write it.

Even the best emails (Allegheny College sent me a great piece) have horrible lead emails.Subject lines do matter - not that anyone sending me anything seems to have noticed.

We seem to have a really hard time connecting people to people.

In the last three weeks, I have gotten a total of 17 pitches for me to buy or give based upon the end of the calendar year (or christmas.) Out of those pieces I did not get one complete piece that would have attracted my attention if I was not in this line of work and working on this blog. I am going to focus on the trends above as the starting points for us but they are by no means comprehensive.

Several pieces had terrific looking flash presentations, once I got to them. The problem I find with flash is the lack of personalization - I am getting a wonderful presentation about a non-profit but it is essentially a television commercial. Those places that I give to, attended or have interacted with may or do know a fair amount more about me than other folks in their data yet we rarely create multiple presentations and segment. I got a really nice e-greeting card from one school wishing me "Happy Holiday's", I am not sensitive to the use of the specific holiday or not but this was a religiously affiliated school and the card came from a member of the clergy - wouldn't "Merry Christmas" have resonated better?

Lead emails - like direct mail, electronic mail has multiple points of contact - carrier in mail is to the combination of sender name and subject line on email, body of message is the same in both, if it isn't compelling and relevant, it isn't getting read, links to multimedia presentations can also be in both but the immediacy of email is that the links are clicked the day they are sent and delivery is near simultaneous for the population. Even assuming the best connected community with a strong sense of interconnectedness, only a portion of your messages are going to be read and opened.

The vast majority of the messages were from an entity - "office of xxxx" or Customer Service or just the largest entity - YYY College or University. If, you, like I, get a decent number of requests and sales pitches, this is the first giveaway that this is servicing the sender not the recipient. Primary contacts from an entity are nearly always sales pitches; be it from Amazon or St. Judes, both are asking me to do something for them. Email offers a terrific opportunity for 1 to 1 communication, messages from individuals. These can be from a volunteer - set up a free webmail account to use for it under their name, or from a high level employee - create a mirror account with a middle initial in it to use as a fundraising account from a dean or president.

Try a text message from a named account against the flash or html piece, include variable data and write it like an email, not a mail piece. Keeping your mind and eye on just these three items in your electronic communication stream is crucial to long term success and is a significant part of a donor focused fundraising program.