Wednesday, January 27, 2010

iPad the next big thing?

I am sure that many of the "techies" out there spent the last month scrambling, checking out each of the IT sites that claim to provide insight into upcoming technology releases to learn what Apple was going to announce today. Without getting into a longer debate over different technology platforms, one thing is clear - we are watching a race to integrate our household entertainment devices with our mobile entertainment devices and the social communication tools that we have all become accustomed to.

My phone now serves as my primary facebook interface and based upon the tool introduced today, I am not alone. So this raises the question for me, how are those of us in the fundraising profession working to build the communication channels that will allow us to be literally in our donors pocket?

According to the red cross has raised more than $21 million $10 a text at a time this month. I am sure that number is low already as it is several days old and that tragedy has caught the imagination of the american people. How do those of us in higher education learn from that effort?

I see several opportunities - the red cross got their name and opportunity to help out quickly and in many venues. Each time I log onto any mobile platform that is in front of me and they are not limiting the effort based upon who they think will help, rather opening it up to much larger audiences and letting folks who care about that issue self identify. That is something that we do very poorly in higher ed - we spend so much of our focus and effort on predefined constituent groups (alumni, parents, employees) that we often miss that there are many other folks who value what we do - often to a much greater level than our "defined" populations.

Much as Apple released the iPad with the expectation that folks would see that as the next step in social communication, we need to get out there and try some new things - not everything is the next iPhone - anyone remember appleTV? but if you don't try and risk failing, you are never going to hit it out of the park either.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Don't ask till they tell

Stephanie spoke quite eloquently about the need to communicate with constituents on a consistent basis in her last post. I too have found that the more communication that occurs, the more effective the fundraising associated with it is. To those of us who are long time Annual Giving folks this is not exactly rocket science but it is amazing how often we find institutions putting the cart in front of the horse and soliciting gifts in the first or second email a constituent gets from them.

I would take this a step farther and suggest that there should be a established rule within your communications efforts regarding when solicitation via electronic communications should be initiated. To that end, I suggest at least the following structure - most of the following are best practice electronic address maintenance anyhow but are good steps:
  • Only allow opt-in communications - folks who choose to be part of your lists are looking to hear from you and are offering you the chance to continue to communicate with them.
  • If you have addresses that have not chosen to opt-in yet continue to provide them with communications providing them with the opportunity to do so but be mindful that these need to be creative and engaging - you are selling your communication stream to them and if you are seen as harassing rather than communicating, you will only sink the chances of getting what you want - their permission.
  • Introduce yourself to new and renewed contacts via a welcome/welcome back stream of communications. In these messages lay out what you expect to tell them, when you expect to tell it to them and what is in it for them to allow you that access.
  • Ask their opinion and provide opportunities for feedback - the 2.0 portion of the web has dramatically increased expectations that they will be asked rather than told. Use of survey tools is highly effective when mixed with outbound communications and text driven communication opportunities - provide them with the chance to email a person and share their opinions.
  • Just like with a personal visit, asking for support should be a portion of the conversation but you probably don't want to lead with it. If someone is going to visit with you in your office to sell or ask you for something, they are probably not going to shake your hand and introduce them self and in the next breath ask for your gift - don't send a welcome message and a solicitation in the same manner.
  • There is no magic time but I have found that three months of online engagement seems to be a comfortable period for folks. After hearing from you for three months a solicitation as a standalone message is acceptable form. That said, you may want to establish a schedule of some sort that works for your constituents to have a solicitation "in the can" for that purpose - just like the welcome message.
Success in online fundraising is like many of the other portions of engagement - it takes time, care and consideration to gain the trust of our constituents and donors and how you treat them will pay you back many fold down the line.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Staying in the loop

Happy New Year and thank you for continuing to follow our blog in 2010! I hope all of you had a relaxing and happy holiday.

With the start of 2010, MainSpring celebrated its 5th birthday, and so I sat down to reflect on what we have learned. If I can pick only one thing from all of our work, it would be this: frequent touches, reaching out to constituents frequently, leads to success. I think Scott mentioned it in a previous post, but it warrants a little more discussion in my opinion. As I look at all the results we've generated for clients, the best results are linked to clients with whom we've worked for many years building an online strategy based on constituent behavior data and adapted to new technologies. While the combination of tools and messaging may change, one thing stays the same - the frequency of communication. In all of these cases, I can see that we reach out to constituents - donors and non-donors - monthly and in some cases twice a month throughout the year with news and event information, solicitations, and pure stewardship messages. How or why are frequent touches important? I think one reason is that people want to be in the "know," they want to feel like they are a part of something. And when people feel connected, they are more likely to participate by sharing their thoughts, their time and their dollars. Of course the message needs to be relevant and engaging too...

So as you consider your plan for the rest of the fiscal year and look to the new fiscal year, I think it would be worth your time to consider how you are keeping constituents in the loop. A consistent stream of online communications through email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and your website will help bring constituents in the door and will keep them connected.