Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trick or Treat!

Later today our neighborhoods will be filled with children in costumes ringing doorbells and enjoying the fun and games that Halloween provides to children around the country.  Among the key portions of this holiday is the fun of getting dressed up and then asking folks to give you something, candy, for nothing but a smile and a thank you.  Sound familiar?

We all ring houses each night in our phone program and ask them to give us something out of their pocket in exchange for a smile and polite thank you.  We even do it without costumes!  But are you doing a good enough job with sharing that thank you and using appropriate manners?  I have had terrific success in using students to sign the post commitment letters and have also used students to hand write thank you for your time messages to refusals.  We are putting our students in the front line of not only the calls but the follow up communications because that is who our donors are supporting - not a trick but it could be a treat for a donor who really believes in what you are doing.

The next generation of many of these post contact and even outright contact efforts is social media.  We are talking about creating a group of student ambassadors for whom we create "personal" accounts that they can use to communicate and solicit from in much the same way as we provide phones and data to them in the phone programs.  The trick here is for them to engage, not just solicit.  The analogy is to having students attend events where they are making asks on your behalf - you doing that yet?  If not, give it a shot.  In that environment, this works where the student visits with, talks with and shares with the alum as almost a host/hostess and then is responsible for bringing the conversation around to support and making an ask.  I see the same thing working on social media - the trick is going to be to convince the engaged alumni that providing you with a treat is their idea.  I will update this in a couple of months with a progress report - something fun we are playing with today.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

What's next?

So much of what we do in annual giving is working to create the impression of a 1:1 relationship with each of the folks we are soliciting.  That effort may be in the form of a direct mail appeal that starts off with a personal salutation, reflects donation and attendance history and ends with a custom ask based upon amount, recency, and frequency of support.  Or it may be an email that reflects, often behind the scenes, the online engagement and activity that constituent has engaged in.  This may include variable images, text or even entirely different cases for support defined virtually by that constituents online behavior.  The phone program has always provided that 1:1 interaction, in fact that is why that aspect of our profession had such huge success from the 90s through the 00s.

So where do we go from here?  The "next big thing" in marketing has been social media.  That is not about emulating a 1:1 relationship, that is a 1:1 relationship but the parameters of that conversation have changed.  Instead of a 1:1 engagement that is driven by the institution, it is a 1:1 engagement that is completely equal.  Both you and your constituent can start, stop and control the conversation.

This transition has been a boon to admissions and other sales professionals but fundraisers continue to struggle with how to transition this engagement into dollars.  Among the many challenges for much of this is that in typical fundraising engagement precedes solicitation while in social media, thus far we have found that solicitation results in anger as opposed to funding.

It seems to me that a huge part of this is a relative perception problem.  If you had called someone at home in 1965 and asked them to support your cause, odds are good that they would not only not have given but would have reported you to the authorities as a scam.  It just wasn't done and as a result, wouldn't work.   We need to keep that maturation of program and approach in mind.  Back in 1965, if you wanted to raise money, it was local and face to face - door to door actually.  Carrying that analogy forward with social media fundraising, we need to identify who/what a door to door fundraiser is in this environment.  It is my suggestion that this is a volunteer role to start and that we need to identify the tools needed for those volunteers to have success.  I don't know what those are yet but am starting to play with identifying volunteers willing to help me figure it out.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Falling forward

The end of the year is near.  Not only is that rhyming but accurate.  While the end of 2013 is still months away, those months will go quickly.  One of the biggest challenges most organizations face is how to get things started again in January.  If you review your materials going out now and over the course of the calendar year end, they all emphasize giving by the end of December.  It is a natural deadline that is driven from an external source, so our pushing it is reinforced by messaging from the IRS, tax agents and each other.  

This is great for folks who are interested in supporting you at taxable levels and even for many who are not, because it creates a sense of urgency and emphasizes the need to make a decision.  That is good.  But what is the message you are creating for folks who don't give in that window or at levels that matter? 

Consider creating a set of messages that carry the message through to an objective or goal that ends or can't be achieved until well into the new calendar year.  This needs to be matched with segmentation that is likely not to give to you because of the end of the year but is likely to give.  The key messaging factor here is to consider why these folks give.  It is most likely not loyalty but case driven - put a reason and supporting facts together and get it in front of them on a consistent basis.

Doing so will create not only ongoing support from an audience that is not likely to give to you now as a result of the messaging that you are getting in front of them but also creates a consistent book of business that you can count on through the cold days of winter for support and participation.