Friday, March 27, 2015

So you have a plan....can you report it?

Or at least the plan to plan your plan.  What are your major efforts?  You can view it by approach - mail, phone, email, social media/web, personal visit.  You can view it by program - Senior gift, Employee campaign, Alumni participation, Leadership giving, Parent program, Reunion class gifts, Volunteer/Class Agent.  You can view it by audience - alumni, students, parents, employees, friends, boosters.  No matter which you choose, and likely it will be at least somewhat of a mix of all, you are going to face resource allocation and prioritization challenges.

One of the key functions of having a plan is the audit of expenses to return that you will need in order to prioritize where you spend the assets that you have to put in play.  In order to do so, you need some reporting on the past.  For the few lucky enough to have a great database and helpful Information Systems coworkers, this is easy.  For the rest of us, it is a matter of identifying what we want and then creating ways to collect that information.

The reports that I consider crucial are; direct mail tracking, phone program contacts, donor loyalty and campaign tracking.  Notice that I have omitted overall results.  While I am not discounting the obvious value of and need to know, progress toward top line goals, those are likely being tracked and monitored elsewhere.  As a result, you often won't have much ability to change or affect those and they rarely tell much of the tale of your efforts at the program level anyhow.

Mail tracking is simple and clear - record the counts, costs and drops and then track the returns and use some simple math to determine the return rates, cost per dollar raised, return on investment on a per segment, per piece and per program basis.  Phone program contacts likely can come out of the software that you use in your program.  If not automated, simply keep track of the number of folks you actually reach, the number of commitments you garner and how many yes, no and "I'll thinks" you get back.  Donor loyalty is the most complicated as it divides your donors up into categories based upon their last gift by fiscal year and their behavior immediately before that if they are a LYBUNT and immediately after if they are a SYBUNT (lapsed.)  There are several common versions of this report, with variations often occurring in first time donors and future donors (never given)/long lapsed donors.  I have a version of this I am happy to share if you are interested.  Campaign tracking can be complex showing multiple gift donors as unique categories, or what  I prefer which is simply a tracking of the last gift method (ie: mail, phone, online, personal visit) for each transactional donor.

If you can create these plus any others you think are meaningful, you have two options, establish a baseline this year or if possible, apply them to last year and start using that baseline as the starting point for this year's plan.  Either way, the resultant plan will benefit substantially from having a solid, data driven background.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

As I suggested in my last post, I am going to try to run through a number of different approaches to annual giving and while I will get more specific about mail, phone, face to face and electronic tools in future posts, I feel like I need to start at the top and work my way down. 

So what is the top?  I see it as planning.  Planning for next year.  I see this as the most critical activity you can undertake for long term success.  For a year or two, you can throw out the plan and just shoot from the hip.  In fact, if your plan is to move on to your next destination before the end of the second fiscal year, that is the way to go.  For the rest of us, a plan is absolute.  

While I can't help you with a specific plan or even a general outline here, I can make some simple and actionable suggestions.  
  1. Create time dedicated to planning before the first actions need to be taken - this is important and can't be done in between phone calls from donors, processing data for the next mailing and writing the text for the follow up email.  I plan the upcoming year 3-4 months out so I have plenty of time for the first project.
  2. Plan for your plan - do some research ahead of time, collect your numbers, update your reports, have an idea of what is and is not working before you sit down.
  3. Know where you want to be - what are your goals?  Look 5 years down the road and do your best to project what you will need to be accomplishing.  It won't be perfect but will give you some guidance on where you need to build and what you may need to make the case for in resources.
  4. Include folks from the teams that support you as well as the areas you support.  Often they have ideas they don't get to share that can be valuable and it helps to get everybody on the same page and bought in to what, how and why you are doing what you are doing so you get support rather than doubts later in the year.
  5. Create an outline of what you want to accomplish in each program and then fill it with the steps to accomplish that.  Include assets required to accomplish it on a per step basis - we are going to mail 400,000 pieces this year may be a great mailing effort but if you only have a $50,000 budget it is going to impossible to do.
  6. Once you have your steps established, create an implementation calendar.  If you have a new staff, go through this exercise for each step on each project, assigning a due date for each action.  With a more experienced staff, this may simply be an implementation outline - what are your expectations for each effort,what are the steps you expect to be accomplished and what is your expectation for the amount of time and effort associated with each.
  7. Be flexible.  Learn from what is working and what is not.  Simply because you planned to do a year end letter from a trustee in March, doesn't mean that you can't change that to a student in November if that is what is working or who you can get the support from to get it out.
While the devil is in the details for you and your organization, everyone and everywhere I have worked this has provided me with what I need to calmly answer questions, build credibility with staff and supervisors and raise funds and donors.