Thursday, March 25, 2010

Presidential presentations with PURLs

I am in the middle of two projects right now, a PURL mini campaign in which I am soliciting members of the president's society (St. John's students who are the most involved) and creating a web presentation on how to utilize PURLS to increase contacts and response.

In both cases, I am looking at how I can creatively get folks to open materials, whom to segment and what methodology to utilize - is best practice an email and then a postcard? I know that mail responses are 300% better than postcard and 500% better then email responses for me - maybe it should be in a letter format? But how?

I had the brainstorm last week for the mini campaign at STJ to utilize an envelope that is wedding invitation reply size - small, simple, cheap and just begs to be opened, if the USPS doesn't lose them on me, with the president's office as the return address. That should solve that.

What to tell folks for 75 minutes about how to implement and utilize a PURL then? I will start off with the simple suggestion that it is simply a new way to raise curiosity. Maybe we should start off with spelling folks who are not connected names wrong and tell them they can update it by logging in. Would engender open rates through the roof - of course they would all be upset but I bet a huge portion of them would correct their information before they quit. Maybe worth trying with hardcore nondonors... have to think about that one!

In all reality, this simple offers a new opportunity to catch folks attention. It can be combined with VDP (variable data printing) to create an eye catching appeal that will generate responses but what I am really going to focus on is what is next - once they open that PURL what value are you providing - most likely only going to get this shot once for the less connected folks so you better make it good. I am connecting mine to microsites that offer a wiki or blog style interface and encourage alumni to interact. I am seeding that site with alumni who are already close to me - don't want folks to have the feeling of walking into an empty room. Maybe I will even be lucky enough to get the president to leave a message of thanks to the alums for their support as students. In any case, I am creating opportunities for engagement, adding value and web 2.0 style interaction to my solicitation. Ask me in June how it went.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Conference Preparation and Ideas

I like to present at conferences on a consistent basis because it leads to much greater thinking and review of what I am doing and why I do it that way. I am presenting at the Northeast Annual Giving Conference (NEAGC) on Thursday on direct mail and am finding that this holds true with my presentation this time. Of particular interest is the subject of PURLS. While I am talking about mail, the PURL is one of many points of integration that I am going to emphasize.

I would really strongly recommend to anyone who has not already done so to try at least a PURL. The campaign can be as simple as a year end email and postcard series that encourages folks to make a gift before the end of your fiscal year. You can get very complicated on the landing page and all of the online components here but that is not my focus this week - I am really looking at how do you leverage the electronic tools to maintain a steady "stream" of fiscal year end communications to encourage donations.

Utilizing the back end of the PURL campaign you can readily monitor who has interest in giving and then follow up with a combination of postcard and emails. Even better, utilizing variable data printing through an on-demand online printer (they are out there) you can provide unique imagery, and focus it on those who have opened the PURL with a "come back we still need you" style message as compared to those who have not done so and then within the groups, match the postcard imagery to that which has meaning to them. ie: athletic alumni get an image showing the athletics facilities full of students and verbiage saying imagine how much less appealing this picture would be without the students - your gift ensures that won't happen.

You can also use email imagery and verbiage to test this - using a/b testing on email identify the imagery that resonates best and then try using that same imagery on postcards. We know a great deal about our constituents and can learn a great about their behavior this way but inherently don't do so in the way that our for-profit colleagues do. The actions are simple and affordable - take advantage of it before another non-profit comes along that will.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Electronic Thank You Messaging

Thank you. Two simple words that can mean everything and the lack of them can make a world of difference in the other direction. As a parent of 3 small children, I spend my fair share of time sounding like my own parents. "What are the magic words?" comes out of my mouth before I even think about it.

How do we ensure that every action is appropriately acknowledged? Big gifts are usually covered, pretty sure nobody has every had a problem remembering to say thank you to donors when there are 5, 6 or more 0s associated with the gift. But what happens when that gift is follow by a dot and two 0s? How are you handling donors of $5 or even $1?

ABC news carried a story recently about an alumnae who left Lake Forest College $7 million in her will and she is typical of many planned gifts - they were unaware that it was on the way, she had little to no gift history and lived a frugal and modest lifestyle. The appreciated assets that provided the basis of this gift do not show up on any screening nor was there any indication that she would be capable of this level of support. We all need to treat every donor as though they are that "secret millionaire" because we just never know who really will be.

I provide donors under $20 with a unique postcard thank you every month. This is on top of what is provided by the stewardship office, coming out of the annual giving budget. I find that this group is in the short term the least likely to renew so the extra expense makes sense and that additional thank you carries more weight with that audience than with donors of larger amounts. It is not expected and that makes it all the more meaningful.

Budget an issue, do this via email - how many donors of less than $20 or even $50 do you have? Can you do a monthly email from you or a member of the annual giving staff to those donors? It can be as simple as a mail merge from outlook and take an hour a month to send but it is personal, direct and will engender responses, opening the dialogue to larger things, you never know who may be the seven figure donor you had no idea was out there.

Grandma was right - "thank you" are magic words!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Reunion e-appeals

Reunion is a great time to use electronic tools to their fullest capacity because you have a similar message to deliver to specific target audiences with only slight content differences. I recommend starting reunion planning with a "version" mindset. With variable data programming you can adjust one primary email template and/or one main Flash video appeal to work for all of your reunion classes. Depending on your reunion program, you may even be able to reuse the appeals for a few years in a row before you need to revamp the design and layout because your target audiences will change each year.

So use variable data programming to your advantage to tap into the alumni nostalgia that Scott mentioned. In your emails, address each alum by name, mention their class year and include a few specific memories from their time at the institution, and if you want to get really fancy, include photos from their time on campus as well. Customization like this will bring alumni back to their days on campus and get them excited about reconnecting with old friends and the institution. Emails could come from classmates leading the reunion efforts to bolster that feeling of community.
Use emails to drive alumni to e-solicitations or e-briefs© that take alums back in time to their college days. Use emails to drive alumni to Facebook pages and web pages with more detailed information. Finally, use emails as simple save-the-dates and reminders to book travel and register for events. In all of these appeals - the emails, e-solicitations, and e-briefs© - think personal and think customization through variable data programming.

Finally, consider a post-reunion follow-up to thank those who attended and to tell those who couldn't make it that they were missed. Photography from the events is critical in the follow-up and an email to a Facebook page or a Flash-based photo book with commenting capabilities is a great way to continue the excitement after reunions and build towards a solicitation to all those who didn't make their reunion gift.