Monday, May 23, 2011

The Conversation

More and more I find that we tend to get so caught up in the technology that we lose the purpose of our dialogue. I find a number of issues at work that get in our way.

The first is the need to get the communication out the door - so many shops don't have a plan. This is easily corrected of course but requires the dedication to put a plan together. It needn't even be strategic to start - a simple operations plan will at least help to end the scramble from one project to the next.

The second, and more challenging many places is the "silo" effect that is created by having different folks responsible for different parts of the solicitation process. The phone guy has it in his best interest for folks to give through the phone, the mail lady most wants folks to give through the mail the leadership giving folks via personal ask and the email guru needs them to give via the web.

In the ideal world, that is counterbalanced by the overall team effort to get to a goal. The reality is that often doesn't happen the way it should with the result being a very disjointed conversation for the donor.

Take a look at your communications - do they read as a conversation? Each should hit upon a different point and part of the dialogue but they should connect to and through one another. If they do then you are all set. If they don't, where and why does it break down and how can you connect the dots to make the conversation work for you?

Friday, May 13, 2011

email segmentation

More and more I am seeing email campaigns going out the way letters did in 1998 - personalized but generic. They are coming from institutional accounts without a signator. They contain "Dear Name", and may even include a merged reference or two but we make them one size fits all messages.

To those of us on the marketing end, this makes sense - free messaging to a large portion of our databases. Throw as much of that as you can toward the wall and some will stick. Some will even provide decent returns depending upon the time of year. This has been further overshadowed by the growth and increasing comfort level of our donors giving online. If you track the source of your online gifts (and if you don't, I would highly recommend at least the use of tracking links - one for each of the major vehicles you solicit through) you know that overall growth is being overshadowed by cross platform donations. That is to say that more and more of the online donors are doing so as a result of a mail piece or a phone call or a text message while the number giving to direct online solicitations is relatively flat.

From a cost standpoint, email is still far and away the most efficient fundraising tool for most of our offices and results can be grown. Treat email like you would direct mail with a kicked up tracking tool. At the very least segment your message content, language and approach by generation. At the best segment by domain (send me something different to my work than to my home/online account), age, giving history, program, signator, "from" account, and subject line.

I know that I am far more likely to open an email from a person. It is not an accident that a huge portion of the SPAM that I get (take a look in your junk folder to see this) is from what sounds like a person. Now most of the time that name does not match the username for the sending account but that is something you can correct. Have an IT policy that doesn't allow you to do so? That will be the subject of my next post as it is a common challenge I hear all the time and just doesn't hold water.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Young Alumni C(c)hallenges

The reality is that our young alumni give. Just not to us. They support many of the same causes that they did as students, many of the them continuing to volunteer time and effort in addition to dollars to causes that they became involved with while on your campus. What they don't do is give to you. For that matter many of them don't even consider it or for that matter consider you a charity. They have been trained from a very young age to view you (and everyone else like you) as a service provider. They have paid for a service, received the service and are ready to move on.

They don't send in gifts to Samsung after buying their first tv, or to motorola after paying for their phone so why should they send one to you?

There are places that have history to counter that view - nobody walk across an ivy stage without plenty of understanding of the philanthropic component of the institution. Even so, they struggle with a "what do you need my small $ for" response.

Ideally you catch their attention and educate them while they are applying to be on your campus and while they are a captive campus audience on why giving matters, what you do with the dollars raised (you do know, right?) and how they have benefited from the philanthropic largess of others.

Most likely you have tried and have reached some but missed many. So now what? This is where the big C in the title can be an invaluable approach. Identify something that your younger alumni and current students can and will care about - it may not be your priority but MUST be theirs. Find a donor willing to make a commitment of a substantial (we are talking institution changing) amount to that aspect of the experience if and only if, participation goals are met.

Market it. Sell it. Solicit volunteers, leverage them. Make sure that every single young alum knows about it. Hold them to achieving multi year goals of participation growth to generate the payments needed to make that donors support happen. Use Microsites, blogs, social media, social media giving tools, texting and text giving. This is a major undertaking over the course of years - 3 or 5 even.

You can use this approach to achieve cultural changes - include your current students - they will care the most as they are currently the most affected by the possibility of change.