Wednesday, September 28, 2011

email testing

One of the many things that we do in the marketing aspect of our jobs is sampling. I am sure that better than 50% of annual giving offices test aspects in their direct mail program. Surprisingly, I find that many don't do similar in the phone program. Obviously it is much more complicated to test comparable scripts as you have a substantial additional variable in the caller(s) but it is an area where there is substantial opportunity for improvement and growth for most programs.

Even greater opportunity and less experimentation seems to exist in the email solicitation environment. Email is ideal for testing - it provides short term feedback with clear and direct results that can be tied back to the individual recipient. In addition, many email service providers (ESPs) provide tools that will allow for a/b testing wherein you can test a portion of the message, with subject line being the most common, and then send the majority of the list the more effective test variable. Thus, rather than mail or phone testing where we can make adjustments for the next solicitation, in email we can test and make adjustments within and between solicitations.

If you are not doing or taking advantage of this, start doing so today. Other easy portions to test are: time of day, day of week, sender (consider that many of us send solicitations from generic accounts but in our own actions limit the messages we open from non-people accounts), subject, format (text or html) and within format, the look - again how many friends or business partners send you email with a fancy layout and pictures included.

As a reminder, only test one item at a time and make sure that you send enough to make the results meaningful. Plan on doing one a month for the rest of the fiscal year. Create and layout a schedule for your electronic communications, identifying the audience the message and what you wish to test each month. Track and record your results on that same sheet and give yourself a resource to use in May or June (note that this is before, not after, the end of 2011-12) when you do the same thing for 2012-13.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Renewals in threes

Every fundraising program out there depends upon donor renewals to survive. They provide the base that we build from. But not all renewals are equal. Some are closely connected with you and give of their own accord. Others are more distant than many of your non-donors.

How you communicate with this wide range of folks who all fall under that renewal or LYBUNT grouping needs to match the range of their engagement with you.

Those who have giving to you in their list of priorities before you ask, are of course on your radar to grow gifts from. The most effective way to do so is often a recurring gift program (monthly, quarterly, etc...) and the best time to get them started on doing so is month 11 of the "year" since their last gift. Start by asking for a renewal and then ask them if they would be comfortable doing that each of the next 12 months. Odds are good they won't but try suggesting that they do 1/10th of it each month - you just grew that gift by 20% if they agree! Use the same case for support that you are putting in front of the folks you need to convince to give in the stewardship materials - these folks are inverted in communications with you - they give then you need to tell them why they should. This is usually phrased to them as the impact of their gift, but it is crucial to long term success and truly is the solicitation for the next gift.

Those who are revolving donors (give 2 out of 3 of 3 out of 5 years for example) often need a greater nudge. The challenge with many of these folks is getting their attention. You are not a top level priority which means that you are actively competing with other causes for their eyeballs, energy and money. Identify what is working for you - is it mail, phone, email, social media? Where are these donors coming from and what is the case for support that is having the greatest effect. Build a 12 month campaign around that case just for this audience. In years after they lapse, don't increase solicitations, increase engagement pieces. Most importantly increase not decrease the communication. Give them reason to value you and show them you value them no matter the state of their support. Have a top end board or presidential piece going out? Test sending it to a portion of this audience with the ask appropriately tailored. You may be amazed what shows up as a result.

Those who made either a first gift ever or a first gift in a long time, defined by me as the point when my returns to the population match or exceed future donors (those who have never given) in futility, are a much greater challenge. Start by soliciting them how they gave - ideally match when as well but given institutional fiscal year constraints that may not be the best approach to hit an annual goal even if it is the best approach for long term success. If their gift last year was through the mail, ask that way and try following up with a query based email or call - why did you give last year, do you plan to do so again this year and what motivated you to make a gift style questions. Your goal is to get them to think of you again and do so in a positive light. Follow up shortly after with another solicitation that is clearly tied to the first and serves as much as a reminder as an outright stand alone piece. When that doesn't work (and no matter who you are or how effective you try to be, odds are better that it won't than it will) look at what the case for support they gave to was and write a personal letter from you or a student "volunteer" that talks about why their support mattered and how it made a difference to that case. Follow that up with a phone program or personal phone call.

Three audiences, three simple steps, three populations that will provide the support you need to grow your giving year after year.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

video marketing

I spent a good part of the day today working on the video that will be my calendar year end electronic effort. It is a song parody and we are producing it using student performers and labor such that we can claim substantial student input and effort in the creation of the piece. It is a soft ask - uses the song I need a Dollar by Aloe Blacc as the base so makes a really clear point without needing much case for support in other communications.

We are printing up a bunch of t-shirts that the students in the video will wear at points and we will give away to the students. The shirts will ask folks to scan them and will include a QR code leading to the short string for texting a gift.

The biggest portion of this though is going to be the marketing plan we are putting together. The key to this is to roll it out in a way that will generate social media and viral buzz. Our current plan is to roll it out via a google beta style campaign where we share it with a small number of folks close to us and ask them to share it with their friends. We are going to create a contest to recognize/track the alum who has the greatest impact and are looking at offering them some form of special access to the men's basketball program (our biggest draw.) 10 days after the intial "soft" launch, we will do a social media and email blitz - putting up ads on facebook, emailing the link out to folks and sharing it via the e-digest, internal web digest and creating a second competion using the "forward to a friend" tool for a similar prize.

At the heart of these efforts is the realization that the conversation has moved. It is no longer driven exclusively by the 1.5 way communication that email provides but begins with the 2.0 access of social media which can and needs to be reinforced with email. The video will be loaded to a youtube channel and folks will be encouraged to add their own videos to the channel (subject to our approval/review) and in January a direct mail campaign may also be implemented if success is either huge or minimal.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Meaningful contact

I live on Long Island and recently had the opportunity to experience my second hurricane (the first was Gloria.) As it turned out, we were fortunate and the actual impact of Irene was far, far less than was predicted. As a result, I found myself in my office on Tuesday morning reading my email.

To my great surprise, one of the first messages that I got was from the president of my Alma Mater - Allegheny College. It was a very, very simple message:

I hope this message finds you and your family well after the recent hurricane.

All of us at Allegheny College are thinking of you.

James H. Mullen, Jr.

A couple of key points about it really caught my attention - it came from a "person" address. I can't say for certain that it is actually his email address (and am skeptical enough given bounces and some of the just plain crazy folks we all have that it is not) or a really well created f aux version of his email. It really doesn't matter because it accomplished the first thing they were looking to do - got me to read it. I did so, in great part because it "felt" real. So many of the messages that we get and send in annual giving are from generic accounts, yet looking at my own email and what I respond to on a daily basis quickly reveals that they are almost all from people not organizations.

Second to that, it was about me. Simple statement asserting concern and that people out there care. No expectation of feedback, no request for input or institutional message, just a simple declaration about me. I liked that - made me feel good and a part of the family rather than someone being cultivated. Interestingly it was very similar to the text from my sister: Hope all is ok, let us know if we can help.

Sometimes simple, direct and real means so much more.