Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Not your grandma's PURLs

Over the last year I have spoken to a number of folks who have implemented a PURL campaign with great expectations and then gotten a response rate in the single digits and little to no engagement or results. My first question of them has always been "who did you use" and they have almost to a person responded with the name of a printer. Now not holding anything against the commercial print world - have some very good relationships there and there are many things that those folks excel at. This is not one of them. Let me say that again to be clear - printers are NOT the source for PURL creation.

In order to make a PURL campaign effective and work it requires work. This includes a creative implementation, a smart and effective marketing campaign (including but not limited to print) and customization of the PURL program. That customization needs to include expertise in programming and marketing, not print production and that means working with a media company with extensive experience in the digital production environment.

In addition, the campaign needs to be focused and built around a meaningful aspect or reflection on the institution. This can be based on historical role, religion, service, athletics or countless other aspects of what makes the organization or a segment of the constituency similar and interested. What won't work is what carried PURLs for the first 2 or 3 years of their use: novelty and pride.

You need to establish value to the end user - odds are good that they have seen several PURLs already so this is much harder than it once was. You can make inroads into this through planning, selecting a PURL domain and building a campaign around it that shares information and provides as much to the user as you ask them to provide to you.

As you build out the campaign consider the mobile platform and implementation - statistics show that 40% of all emails opened are on a mobile device and you can increase that open on mobile platforms through utilization of QR codes in the print and online materials you market it with. The PURL and associated pages need to be mobile browser friendly and you need to consider that it will be responded to on a mobile platform in an environment full of distractions.

How you market this also needs to change - what works for you already and how do you incorporate this into that? Is it facebook ads? Is it direct mail? Your electronic newsletter? Direct email? Put the PURL into everything that you send for 3 months. Provide incentives for folks to answer it and forward it to friends. Include it in your phone calls and follow up materials.
Finally, the back end of the campaign matters. A lot. Make sure that you have real time access to the data, make sure that you have it programmed to provide what you want. This is not an inexpensive tool, don't cut corners to save a few dollars in exchange for substantial drops in reporting and results.

PURLs can be powerful and useful tools to engage and solicit constituents but the free lunch they were once providing has gotten up and danced away making vendor/partner selection a crucial aspect of implementation.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bumpy thoughts from my deck

Sitting here this afternoon on my deck watching my boys play and looking at the yard. As I listen to the two of them (they are 7 and almost 5) playing a series of made up games, I am struck by the persistence of the younger one. No matter how many times the older changes the rules or makes it impossible for his younger brother to win, the younger one keeps trying.

There are many days when I think that this applies to much of what we do with donors. We each have those donors who are going to give no matter what we do, and usually a couple who really do make that gift each year in spite rather than because of the organization they are supporting.

It makes me wonder if we can get in front of those donors and help smooth the road or if, much like my younger son, who yelled at me for "interfering" in the game when a particularly unfair rule change was implemented they see that as a part of the relationship.

Maybe like with the sibling relationships, the best approach is to make sure that they know you love and value them and if they don't want the road to be smoothed out, leave it bumpy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

8 days and counting

Fiscal year end for most of us is next week. We saw increases in both donors and dollars this year and did so on a reduced budget and hope that many of you are also seeing some positive signs from your constituencies.

I will keep this short as I am sure that many of you have phone calls to make, emails to send and other final push efforts to get the gifts that you usually get this week in the door. I have a simple and direct suggestion for you to implement the second week of July - a fiscal year end/start postcard.

The postcard goes to anyone who has ever given to your organization that you still feel you have a good address for. It contains a fun image of your students (have used thank you images, graduation images, event images, classroom images) and very simple text on the back - Thanks to you or thanks to our donors we achieved our goal of XXXX last year and have begun the new academic year so are once again counting on your support.

Sending this message out has substantially reduced fiscal year confusion for donors, serves as an additional thank you and contributes around 150 gifts each year (include a unique trackable link to your giving pages and watch the mail to see who gives in the week after this goes out.)

As importantly, it allows you to reset the counter with your donors the same way that you do on your tracking reports. It is a new year, we are starting over with an empty bucket and counting on your support to fill it up. This same approach can certainly be done on social media - try running it as a facebook ad and via email if cost is a substantial concern.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

This year or last year?

June is a month of transition. Campuses have, for the most part anyhow, completed the academic year - the majority of commencements are over and done, recent graduates headed out into the world with a degree and for at least some, a job. Others are returning to campus, yours or another, this fall to pursue a further degree. For the majority of us, our fiscal year is coming to a close at the other end of the month and if you don't yet have your final push in place, there is still time (albeit not much) to make a difference in your final numbers. Assuming that many of you are similar to me, you are also 50 or 60% in next year at this point, working on appeals to go out either over the summer (or if your year is like mine, this month which is month 1 rather than 12 out of the year) or early in the fall.

There is another group that you may not have considered yet but perhaps we all should be, it is a whole group of students you have not met yet; incoming freshman. They are beginning the final process of getting ready for school - there will be tons of excitement in their households about your institution and anything and everything that goes to them is read and digested.

Have you considered reaching out to them and welcoming them? For the majority of us, they are our alumni once they set foot on campus regardless of graduation status. The opportunity to set up a relationship with them from the start can be a powerful and meaningful step forward toward building a culture of giving.

Challenges to doing so are often campus based - connecting with admissions, gaining development access to the admitted students, crafting, producing and sending a communication that has meaning.

Consider what you can do and do it. Step at a time. These are your alumni, currently in a student role, but your connection and responsibility for them lasts for a lifetime, nobody else on campus owns the relationship for more than 4 years - make sure that the rest of your campus and your students are aware of that!