Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irene's impact and renewals

I am sitting on my couch listening to the wind howl outside and hoping that my power stays on while I watch my 5 year old's reaction to the wind and rain. He asks how long this will last and I tell him that it is supposed to go until the middle of the afternoon. He replies with a whiny that long?

The reality of course is that the storm will end shortly, the immediate clean up will take a week or two and I am sure that we will all hear a very large number associated with the "cost" of Irene. For many a small business owner who is in the construction, landscaping and home improvement business this might be a terrific stimulus, it is certainly going to create some short term jobs.

My focus though is on the fundraising aspect of it. The vast majority of us in the annual giving arena are dependent upon folks making gifts from their checking accounts. While I am sure that a small number of leadership annual donors are giving from assets, most of our support is "current operating" to that donor. My concern with this storm, especially for those of us with an east coast/northeastern centric donor base is on the timing of the storm.

I have every expectation of starting fall calling in a couple of weeks. My second major mail appeal of the fiscal year is on the slate to drop on Sept. 7th and has an email lead and social networking follow up to it already scheduled.

That is all going to have to change. 83% of my donors are in the northeast corridor and almost all are going to have some damage/cost associated with the storm. I am not sure yet what adjustment I will make and thus far it looks like the impact will be temporary. That said, it will put me behind and that is always a concern as you never know if you can catch up.

My approach on the next work day (be it tomorrow or later this week) is going to be to put a proposal in for additional budget to get one more appeal out this fall. The idea is to ask for the money while your managers are still well aware of the concerns and likely to be willing to fund something reasonable to help overcome projected concerns.

That appeal is going to be a monthly approach to folks who missed their renewal month (defined as the month of their gift last year for a LYBUNT or 2 years ago for SYBUNT 1) making the case for participation this year. We already do a month before appeal asking for renewals and increased gifts so this is going to serve as a "last chance" appeal to get them to renew and I expect to see it return between 4 and 5% participation and total gifts of about 50% of their last gift totals.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Video and the Conversation

I have seen a number of terrific videos for fundraising in the last couple of months. One point, with clear messages and a call to action that carries clear meaning weight and importance. In several cases I was interested enough to reach out to the office that was using it and ask about the results.

To my great surprise not one of the 4 that I took this action with had produced more than a small handful of gifts and none of them produced any money beyond participation level support. That set of results is in clear contrast to the message and flow of the videos and this got me to thinking. Why aren't these communications that do everything that we have been taught needs to be included in a piece providing results?

Investigating further, I found a very common theme very quickly - nobody was watching them. In each case, they had launched a campaign using email to push the video and in each case they were planning for that email to stand alone. Rather than utilizing a multimedia cross platform approach to get as many eyeballs on the message as possible each was pushing the video through electronic means to the exclusion of all others. In one case they had sent email to upwards of 50,000 alumni and had a total of 139 views at a cost of more than $7,000 for the video production and a total of 7 gifts for less than $200.

By implementing a simple mailing to those who are most mail responsive and integrating that video into other appeals, be it as a PS or a follow up email or letter from a phone program call, you can leverage your video, utilize it for a much longer period of time and get folks who are warm and interested to watch it. This will dramatically increase your opens and ultimately your gifts.

Friday, August 12, 2011


There are a million ways to say thank you and for the most part non-profits do a good job of ensuring that donors feel recognized. If like me you have given to a charity who didn't make you feel good about giving, I am sure that you have made similar decisions regarding the destination of those dollars the next time they came calling for support.

One of the many things that we all recognize about electronic communication, be it email, text messages, web sites or social networking, is that the cost basis for communications in this medium can be as low as nothing and even at the high end is far and away the most cost efficient method to communicate. Even better it can as closely as possible approximate the feeling and connections of 1 to 1 communication with large numbers of constituents quickly and easily.

And we do take advantage of all of that, when we want money. And that is good. It works. We know that the average online donor gives more than the average mail donor and that they will give more often as well.

What we don't do is take advantage of this all that well to say thank you and keep them tied in. This is evidenced by the transition post online gift to mail gifts, my humble opinion on which is that we acknowledge the gift well and then often drop them into a mail communication stream that slowly changes the nature of the communications.

Some ideas to consider: Follow up survey soliciting opinions regarding institutional issues to all donors providing them with a summary of responses each quarter. A social media page with an invite only approval process that provides insider information on institutional issues (can easily be done using the media communications coming out of the media relations office but releasing the information to the public at the same time as the media.) A "concierge" page for donors that provides them with a person and email address (keep it generic so that anyone can cover vacations etc.) that will take care of campus based issues and connections.

Not all donors are going to take advantage of these and other ideas but for those that do you have an added set of connections that will help ensure that they open and respond to your solicitations the next time you ask.

Now if only I could convince my wife to think of bringing me home a starbucks when she stops to get one - time to start a text messaging campaign of my own!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Back to basics: Renewals

One of the simplest things that you can do to increase your online giving is a monthly renewal email. Many folks do a renewal letter series - letters sent out the month in which the donor gave last year. If you don't already do so, please begin. This is among the easiest appeals and you can expect to see response rates upwards of 10% or more with a very low cost basis.

Whether you have a letter or not, I would strongly suggest a multimedia campaign on renewals beginning with an email the month before they renew that contains a simple message providing an update from campus, the amount and fund they gave to last year along with the date of their gift. One of the regular questions I get on this is what if they made multiple gifts last year. If you have a very large population of donors with multiple gifts then I would create a segment to allow for that in the email, if you don't, call them. Add it to your own list of appeals and make 10 or 15 calls each month to those donors (they are making multiple gifts so most likely are at least friendly toward you) as a remind and follow up with a handwritten note.

The text of this appeal ideally provides "insider" information. Do you have a press release stream or some other information that is being released to the public that you might be able to use as the update? What you are looking for is something that makes the donors feel special in a "I knew about that first" kind of way.

You follow this email with a renewal letter the first week of the month in which that donor gave last year and then a phone program call two weeks later leading with a message reminding them and that you will be calling again. Limit the calling to 3 or 4 attempts - you are looking to make this convenient to them not chase them to the ground. They will give but you need to be respectful not desperate.

Implementing this set of steps will increase your LYBUNT renewals between 10 and 20%. The vast majority of that increase will come from the revolving donors who give for a year or two, then lapse for a year or two and from your newer LYBUNTS who have not yet made you a top priority.

Let me know if you have ideas of steps that are working for you or if you would like to see samples of any of these materials. Good luck!