Friday, October 26, 2012

Why I like to be a speaker

Next Wednesday, I am doing a webinar on direct mail with a focus on mail and engagement strategies for prospective donors, assuming that the Frankenstorm doesn't take away our power up here in the Northeast. As I am going through my preparations for that presentation, I tripped over a comic that was intended to provide humor regarding social media:

It struck me, as I was reading it, that this is not as funny a concept as it seems.  In fact, I like it. I like it a lot!

So here is my plan - identify younger alumni who are engaged with us, defined by taking an action to engage - attending an event, giving, working with career services, etc... and having at least an email and a phone number on our system and go back until we either hit 10,000 or 20 years from graduation (my definition is young alumni gets a year longer every year for some reason.)

We are going to create a 6x9 carrier that looks like our alumni facebook page and then create a halfsheet sized postcard that says "like" just like the facebook button on one side and looks like a facebook status feed on the other side along with a message that asks them to show us and the rest of the world that they like the university by making a gift of any amount to either the area of the university that made a difference or in honor of the person at the university who made a difference to them.

We will provide them with both a personalized, digitally printed BRE and a trackable link to the giving pages.   These will be accompanied by a promise that anyone giving from this card who indicates such will be provided with a link to a facebook donor badge.

Different, fun and should be cost effective for an acquisition piece.  This is why I like to be a speaker.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Leadership giving online

For more than a decade now folks have been touting online giving as the "new" direct mail and predictions that direct mail was dying have come and gone and come and gone again.  Much has been made of the increased giving of online donors as compared to direct mail or phone program commitments.  This typically seems to be less an effect of folks giving more online than off and more and effect of the primary donors whom we see online - loyal, engaged donors.

So if we are seeing our most engaged donors making a transition from mail and phone toward comfort with making online gifts to our causes why don't we work hard to engage and further that relationship with our leadership donors?  The general responses that I have both heard and received in my work have been that we "feel" that online is still too impersonal or cutting edge for this use.  I would advocate that it is exactly the opposite on the personal/impersonal spectrum and that while it can be perceived as "cutting edge" by a portion of your population, it is most likely no longer viewed as anything other than another channel of communications.  In fact, the older, retired audience is likely quite active and capable online as they have the money and time to learn and wish to connect to their grandchildren so have motivation besides.

I advocate a four step strategy for moving leadership donors into web giving:

  1. Give them an option to opt into online communications specific to leadership giving.  This assumes a general communication stream exists (think electronic newsletter.) Create a version of this communication that goes out to your leadership donors prior (need only be hours, just make it clear that they get it first) and that contains some additional communications - maybe a monthly update from an academic or campus leader.
  2. Provide them with real time updates on crucial news items - add this group to the news feeds that your institution uses to push information to the media.  This automates much of the process and gives them the perception of really being on the "inside" because they learn the news from you today that will be on the news tomorrow.
  3. Ask.  Don't be afraid to treat them as donors.  Ask them to take the actions you want them to take.  Do so with confidence and direct language, make it clear what you want them to do and why and when they take the action you seek thank them in line with that communication effort (online gifts should be getting online thank you and receipting.)
  4.  Thank, thank, thank.  If they are tied to a development officer, make sure that officer knows the gift was made and ensure they follow up with an email NOW, not next week.  If they are not connected to a development officer of their own - here is your chance to step up and start to build a personal relationship.  Send them a personal thank you email from your account - take the 5 five minutes to actually type it out, not a mail merge or communication piece sent through an ESP or other tool but an actual email from your own account.  The difference will be noticed.
One of the real powers here is that you can observe and track actions of your prospects - have an alum who graduated from the business school but reads every article about the fine arts department or a parent who gives to the school their child goes to but consumes every piece of available information about campus life?  They are "telling" you where to follow up if you want to grow their gift, you have but to put the program in place to ensure that you are able to listen.

Monday, October 1, 2012

note your students are great stewards

We are working on a series of communications utilizing student writers this fall.  The idea originated in a scholarship thank you letter that an incoming freshman at St. John's wrote to a donor who gave to her scholarship.  He happened to be her younger sister's teacher.  He had no idea when he made the gift that it would come back around to support the older sibling of his student and she had no idea when she was awarded it that it came from someone she knew.  In any case, she did what grandma taught her to do and wrote out a short note as a thank you, signed and mailed it.  

The donor shared with our office how touched he was that she did so and it sparked the idea for us to do a series of notecards from students to donors.  These are simple handwritten notes that the students are doing for us - each is reviewed before sending of course but we are finding that we get some moving stories and other than a few students who can't spell (really who can anymore without digital help?) have not had a single message that was anything but earnest and well intended.  

Donors love them and we are working on creating a blog to post donors responses paired with the student thank you note image.  This shares the student story, often adding the donor story, costs little to nothing to create and execute and provides terrific connections and good will.  We are currently looking to see how we can expand from there into a greater level of communication between our alumni and current students outside of the typical thankathon calling program - saving that for our donors who have given through the phone for 5 or more years in a row - reach out via phone to those who have demonstrated that they actually like to hear from us that way.  

We ask on behalf of our students but they can say thank you in a 2.0 world - leverage that as a great way to increase engagement and interaction today.