Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Netvibes - best free tool you never heard of

I rarely (this would be the first time ever) promote any particular online tool but this is one that I just have to share. http://www.netvibes.com is a free online media tracking tool that provides a wide range of information about what is out there about any particular set of key words. I use it to track the external communications regarding St. John's and find that it provides me with a wide range of current information all in the same place.

As it is free, there is no reason not to try it out - for that matter, you can run a search on whatever you want for free and then create a log in (still free!) after you have seen what it will provide.

There are 5 tabs within the tool and the "main" tab is in my mind the least useful. It contains what amounts to a customizable home page with feeds from each of your personal accounts and provides a terrific customizable set of options, allowing you to view your twitter feed, facebook account, news, etc on a single page. While not a waste of space, it is really about you, not the search focus you are looking for and is all available through other venues as well - nothing unique here.

The next three tabs are the heart of the product and provide news ,videos and conversations on whatever search terms you entered. These are updated consistently, are more accurate than most of the free search services that I have used otherwise and the tab style provision is terrific.

Following my own search terms tonight for St. John's it shows me a couple of pretty cool results. Twitter provides me with a nice blog post on the conversations tab while the news tab leads with a terrific flickr image search and the video tab includes links through to the you tube videos from last christmas and the fireworks on campus as viewed by an alum.

Each tab has multiple widgets that are customizable, placeable and removable. Multiple searches are supported with a drop down allowing you to select a different set of searches such that you can follow either specific terms (ie STJ basketball) or multiple organizations.

The tool is terrific, the cost is perfect and the Netvibes folks don't spam or otherwise harass you once the account is set up. Give it a try, you will be glad you did!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Back to basics - calendar year end

So we all know that people give at this time of year. Lots of them. Many do so because this is when they make their charitable decisions for the year. Others because it is good for their pocket and conscience come April. Still others do so in the spirit of the holiday season.

No matter the reason they give, in the next 6 weeks they do. It is each of our jobs to get as many of them to pick our organization as one of the places they choose to direct some (most of us want as many as possible) of the dollars they are giving away to.

We all do the fancy mailer, the calendar year end postcard, maybe thanksgiving (or thanks for giving) cards the reminders about the end of the year, maybe even an email between christmas and new years with some kind of countdown theme. How do you make yourself stand out and just as importantly how do you get the donors to choose you?

Make a case for support? Center on past donors? Create a video? Thank, thank thank? Yes. You won't go wrong doing any of those but to truly have an impact, you need to make it more personal. Put the time in to identify relationships throughout the year, identify effective solicitors (be they volunteers or internal) and assign each a manageable pool, I would suggest 15 or 20 each, that have both the capacity to make an impact and the relationship that you can leverage to get them to think about doing so. Supply each volunteer with a letter that is pre-written and merged or even printed without a date or signature a suggestion for an email ask and a simple phone script along with the data for each contact method and ask them to solicit that list at minimum through each medium and ideally until they get a response for a gift at the leadership level. Your job is to be the nudge - follow up with your volunteers daily if need be for the month. Identify where they are and what the next step is and remind, cajole, beg, plead, whatever you need to do to get this done. With a short list of 10 volunteers each soliciting 20 prospects they have a relationship with, it is not impossible to get 100 gifts of more than $1,000 each.

Simple math makes that a $100,000 effort - should you start planning for it next year?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It's the conversation that matters

So many of the things that we do require a focus on the masses and getting the case for support and an ask in front of as many folks as we can knowing that our response rates will be pretty consistent from year to year based upon consistency and recency of our donors giving. Because we are having multiple dialogues with hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands depending upon the size of our constituent bases, it is easy to forget that our constituents are only having 1 conversation with us.

Take a step back from your need to get this months phone completed in time to send next months calendar year end letter and follow up email and look at how they read when placed into a direct string of communications. If you reached the constituent on the phone, did you recognize that in the letter? Does your letter continue the conversation or start it again fresh? Does your year end email assume that they read the letter or assume that they didn't? Did you remember the phone call that the alum and one of your students had in November when you wrote the email? You can be that your alum does.

The next generation of communications and personalization is knowing when you contacted them and what you said in order to keep the conversation flowing. This is easy to do in the phone and online and much more challenging in direct mail so use that - send an email and follow up with different messages for opens than from those who don't. Create multiple click through opportunities and have different secondary communications based upon actions. Make that phone call but pull out the current status of the prospect record and use that in the mail campaign when you create that letter.

While you can't do exactly the same in mail, you can get a pretty good handle on who opens your mail by looking at historical data - find the folks who have made multiple mail gifts - odds are good they are reading you message. Take the risk of assuming that they read the last one and reference that material directly in your email.

Each of these steps will create lift in the prior appeal results and helps to make an annual solicitation calendar an annual conversation with solicitations in it. This increases the readership of your communications and leads to more gifts, which leads to more conversation opportunities which leads to more gifts... nice hamster wheel to be stuck in!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fiscal year end - is video the new norm?

I spent part of the day today working out the details for what our fiscal year end appeal will be. Not the mail - that is long since decided. Not the email - that too was created and designed 9 months ago. I am speaking of our electronic campaign - one of my opportunity pieces that I reserve funds for at the start of the year.

This is one of the times of year when I like to add something fun to the mix. I don't expect that it will return huge donors or dollars, rather I expect that it will create good will and maybe reach some of the folks that our "normal" efforts don't.

I raised this issue last week to my staff and asked that folks think about options. At about 8:45 this morning one of my assistant directors stuck his head in and said he had an idea - The 12 Days of Giving. If we replace each item in the song with a designation, we could have a pretty neat appeal concept. I asked him to research it and come back with options. He found this on google. As a Catholic institution that works perfectly.

So now I have to create something that fits good taste and yet has enough interest to make it work. My writer is reworking the song and I asked our communications team to come up with some executable options for a video. That will be sent on the 20th of December with a follow up communication every day after emphasizing that days item. As an example, scholarship replaces the partridge in a pear tree for the first day and we are looking at highlighting a student who has a scholarship that allows them to continue at St. John's and end with an ask for scholarship.

The original idea was to do these focus pieces via email but I am thinking that we lead and end with an email and use facebook and a special twitter feed for the other 10 days - will keep you in the know as things progress.

Anyone else have something fun in the works that you might want to share as we build toward fiscal year end?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Back to basics - thank you

As I was trick or treating with my kids on Sunday it occurred to me that what I was struggling to get them to do - ask politely and then say thank you no matter WHAT you get (or in the words of my 4 year old - you get what you get and you don't get upset) is really something that many of us struggle with as well.

When you planned out this year, what portion of your budget did you set aside to spend on saying thank you? I can give you the answer for me - .5%. And 90% of that goes to a postcard thank you for donors of under $20 who are not receipted by gift processing.

I imagine that for most folks the answer is similar - a small portion. "But Scott, we thank them on every appeal" you say - as do I. But I don't teach my kids to walk up to the door soliciting candy and say "thank you for the candy that you gave me last year, trick or treat" that would sound fake and really kind of disturbing - yet we all do it in every printed appeal.

Who are your most valuable donors? LYBUNTS would be the simplest answer - I can debate consistency and longevity (and would love to do so if anyone is up for it) but in basic terms, it is your LYBUNT population. Do you do anything to simply make them feel special? Newsletter for donors? Pre-announcements of press releases? Creation of a thank you communication?

I know many folks do this on the phone and many folks are rightfully proud of the effort and speak in strong terms of how good donors and callers feel from this effort. Is there a reason that we don't do the same in the mail? As a portion of the calendar year end effort do a simple mailing from a student thanking them for helping that student achieve their goal. No ask. No reply card or device. Just a thank you.

Do the same for your online folks. Spend the money to thank them - how many times are you asking and how fancy do you get in doing so? Match that level of sophistication with a thank you - if you are using flash video to solicit, send a video interview with a student expressing how much it matters to them to have donor support. Send it in a way that you can track who views it and follow up with a second and even a third message to those who have not yet done so.

Trick or Treat? The real trick is to remember to say thank you for the treat.