Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Participation campaigns

I am at the RuffaloCody Annual Giving conference this week and spent part of this morning in a session on participation campaigns.  I took away five integral points that were consistently applied in all of the successful efforts and some or all were missing in those that did not succeed.

In no particular order they are:

  • Integrate with Social Media - while renewals of longer lapsed donors often occurred in response to mailings, emails and phone efforts from the institution, the majority of new donor (and not just recent graduate) acquisition came from the sharing with and through social media outlets.
  • Focus upon a common audience - the more narrowly you can tailor your communications, the greater the chances of success.  Trying to do a general fund, entire audience participation campaign ends up missing the motivation target with everyone.  Pick an audience, a purpose and a reason that all align and push hard with a consistent, repeated message for a concise, discreet period of time.
  • Brand it - create a look and name that is unique to the effort and establish a web and print presence that supports and reinforces the brand.  
  • Establish and market achievable, aggressive goals - give folks a reason to join your effort and then ask them to do so.  Once someone has made a gift, ask them to ask someone else to join them.  Repeat.  A lot.  
  • Wrap it up - after the campaign concludes, celebrate your successes.  Even if you did not achieve your overall goal, ensure that you thank those who helped and give them reason to feel good about doing so.
Every campaign that had each of these criteria succeeded.  Be creative, be fun and make it something that establishes engagement beyond the gift - many folks will buy in to helping you accomplish something if you ask them to do so but they won't volunteer unless you give them the opportunity to do so.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Corporate partnerships and alumni engagement

One of the many areas that I have responsibility for is corporate benefits partners.  This creates some terrific opportunities for communication from my office that offers rather than asks.  Clearly, 99% of what we do in the fundraising field from a messaging standpoint surrounds the ask.  This includes most of our stewardship communications as well as our fundraising pieces.  The typical exception is in the giving society based messaging which often does provide benefits in some form based upon the level of support but even that has a component of giving - unless you are a donor meeting the requirements of the giving society, you are on the outside looking in with regards to benefits messaging.

The benefits program messages we send at St. John's are based entirely upon having contact information for you as an alum (email is key on this one) or your following us on social media.  Our program is built around the basic approach that all alumni have access to the benefits by virtue of their connection to us and that allows us to offer multiple discounts, from the traditional insurance programs, through regional dining discounts and national hotel discounts through small stores and businesses owned by alumni and parents.

Twice a year we do a stand alone email to our entire email base providing the current list of providers and discounts with a focus on those that provide benefits to alumni regardless of financial support from either the business or the alumni getting the message.  This creates an uptick in response from the alumni population seeking further information and in many cases offering additional partnership opportunities.  As important, nearly 50% of the folks who contact us for information (many of the programs require you to phone or email for a verified discount code and we have not changed that because of this effect) end up making a gift in the year they utilize the discount programs.  In many cases, that gift greatly exceeds the savings so this is about perceived value and relevance to their life beyond the financial component.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Images schimages

If your office works anything like so many of the places I have worked in and with, an inordinate amount of time is spent planning, choosing and taking just the right picture for each email message.  We have been told forever that this is important, for "a picture says 1,000 words."  Internally these images matter a great deal: Do you have the diversity that you need?  Does the building in the background have the right lighting?  Is that athlete still in school?

Because of all of the internal focus, we assume that the outside world is spending as much time on them as we are.  They in fact are not.  40% of your messages are being opened on a mobile device - how much of that image can be seen on a 2.5" x 3.5" screen?  Out of the messages being viewed, a huge portion are viewed in a reader that suppresses images by default (and design.)  The result? The only folks who are seeing your image are those who already have a connection with you and either have opted into allowing images from your server or who click to view images each time.

So what should we do?  Obviously follow the best practices in message creation and distribution including white listed servers, alt tags and text only messages.   As important, make sure that your case stands alone without the image.  If you want folks to give, tell them why, don't just rely on them seeing why.  Ensure that your message would work in a text only format.  Try a text only format for simple call to action messages.  I don't know about you but when I see images pop up on a message in my inbox, I delete or skip it more often than I read it.  Web messaging is working more like the newspaper than magazine business, make sure that you are printing the daily edition along with the monthly issue to ensure you remain relevant.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Politics and fundraising

It is interesting to see how the world has and continues to change with regards to political fundraising and the impact that it is having on other appeals.  One of the biggest trends over the past decade has been the increase in accountability for the non-profit sector with regards to use of and reporting on donations.  This is something that political fundraising has been able to remain separate from by virtue of how the funds are requested and used.

Political fundraising actually functions most of all like disaster relief in terms of the funding requests, sources and process.  The good news for those of us not working in that aspect of the industry is that many of the dollars being spent on political party funding are current household operating dollars - from this months paycheck.  That is good news because it means that most of our leadership donors are still in play for us and because it means that the dollars from the lower end of the donor pool are still available, maybe just in a different month.

Most importantly is the message itself.  Folks are being inundated with messages with a political and social spin, especially those in swing states.  The majority of those messages are targeted to folks who already agree with them.  Support that - focus your messages to the conservative segments on your values and mission, focus your messages to the liberal segments on social supports and engagement with the greater world.  Using that approach, time out your messages to those states where we expect the majority of the contest, and hence the messaging to be strongest and most influential.  These states include, VA, NC, PA, FL and OH.  Segment them out, get to them early and then follow up in the spring.  Use differentiated messaging and make a case based upon mission or impact.

Political fundraising can be of impact if you let it, but take advantage of the background support it provides and you can come out ahead!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Birthdays, Births and Blessings

One of the many ways that we should be using the web to engage constituents is for well wishing. As I phrase it that way, it is intentionally reminiscent of my own grandmother for one of the things that her generation (she is a card carrying member of Tom Brokaw's greatest generation) tried so hard to pass down to mine (gen xer) is the notion of handwritten notes, thank yous and how important the personal touch is. While that world has changed, hand written correspondence still works (in fact, a hand written carrier will out pull a typed carrier every single time - try it if you haven't already.) So send cards. Seems simple. Seems direct. Seems expensive? It can be - if you have even 25,000 constituents with a birthday (we know they celebrate it every year, when they stop I highly recommend a condolence card to their loved ones) and send them a simple card with a short handwritten note, two simple facts come to light right away. One is that this creates a lot of work, 68 cards a day on average, every day of the year. Two is that it gets expensive, even at just a quarter per card plus postage you are looking at $14,000 a year to do this. Add in weddings, births, deaths, promotions etc. and you quickly get why Starbucks only does a postcard. But in today's world, that handwritten card is not needed for everyone. Continue or start to do it for my grandmothers generation. For my generation an email is perfectly fine. For those in their 20s, skip the whole email thing and text them. I would add that the emails need to be personal to work for me. I don't want an email from "University ABC" wishing me a happy birthday. I want an email from the Director of Alumni Relations "James "super" Alumni" from his account personally wishing me a happy birthday and asking me about my plans etc. If I choose to reply, it actually goes to a monitored account and I get a message back. The initial message can be short and direct, personal and does not need to actually come from him but does need to be text, not HTML based. Just like what I get from other acquaintances for my birthday.

This same approach holds true for each life point - let me know you are proud, happy for or otherwise engaged with what is going on in my life that I have told you about and I will continue to feed you those points, growing and expanding our relationship even if I don't or can't give now.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Is social media engagement a stop on the road to financial support?

For several years now the ongoing subject in so many fundraising circles that I am fortunate enough to participate in has been how to engage our prospects/constituents through social media. As more organizations have successfully accomplished that, the struggle for another major outcome is coming to the fore: How do we monetize these connections. I hypothesize that you can't. At least not directly. And here is why: The best social media engagement through a page or organizational site works kind of like a coffee house. By that I mean that you are hosting the conversations and may pass in and out of them but you are not the driver of the conversations. Think about if you go into your local coffee house - you may chat with the barista when you order your drink, and maybe even while you wait for it to be made but once that is complete, you spend your time with the folks who you are talking with/there to see or on the way out, not hanging with the staff. Your Social Media sites are kind of similar, hopefully you are occasionally steering the direction of the conversations going on but allowing the visitors to have their own say and conversations, many of which have nothing to do with you other than your name on the wall. The one area where this analogy breaks down is the coffee - entrance to the coffee house is free, just like your page but folks coming to your page are there for the conversation and don't expect to pay while folks in the coffee house expect to pay for the coffee. That distinction is what makes monetizing the social media presence so difficult. So should we quit? Absolutely not. The long term value of social media engagement seems like it should only continue to grow. Your gift planning folks 50 years from now would shoot you for even thinking about it. But right now, those alumni only engaged through this arena really are not even warm prospects as a result. Those that are donors will remain so and they are your key to reaching those who are not...