What are you talking about?


SOAPBOX

We like to tie ourselves in knots trying to find the right mix of fundraising and cultivation for our audience segments, but have you ever taken a step back and asked yourself, “Do they care?”

It’s always a pleasant surprise to see a large gift or a number of gifts in response to a cultivation piece even though you ‘don’t ask.’ But, you’re a non-profit, you’re fundraisers and the recipient has become conditioned to anticipate an ask, even if there isn’t one. Of course, when you ask, people give, but the response is as much about a reaction to the impression, is it not?

This is a wild over-simplification, of course, and I’m certainly not saying that the right mix isn’t important. Rather, I’m using it as a way to get us all thinking about how your direct response program should be aligned with your organization’s content strategy more broadly.

Ultimately, your direct response program should be structured to make the right ask of the right people at a certain stage in their journey — online or off. That’s why it’s important that your content and messaging is consistent with or expands upon the narratives and key themes that you’re talking about further up in the ‘funnel.’ Not only will your DR creative in mail, email, social, display, etc. feel more cohesive, but it should be deepening the level of interest and engagement with the constituent; less of a blunt force ask.

The rapid feedback loop inherent in your DR program also gives you a channel to test into some narratives to see how your audience responds. Email and paid social are two channels that come to mind as lower-cost opportunities to stress test some of your messaging ideas.

Let’s not forget there is efficiency in this as well. Whether you’re developing content in house or your agency is doing so, atomizing the content in this way helps you derive more value from its production. That compelling infographic shouldn’t be locked away in a report or a blog post. Let’s leverage that in an email header, a compelling social post and more. Have an important statistic or a quote? Find a way to work them into the design or copy of your DM materials and really drive those impactful points home. That’s what your donor and prospects are looking for, right?

Proof.

By the way, when you’re planning your content development, are you paying attention to what your website is telling you? Are you looking to see what pages people are spending the most time on? What pages are driving people deeper? What pages appear most along the path to conversion? Conversely, are you investing in content that people frankly don’t seem to care that much at all about? There is a wealth of information buried in those web analytics, so dig in!

Start by integrating those content planning sessions, taking learnings from all parts of the organization and letting them inform your plans. Develop a comprehensive content calendar inclusive of your DR schedule and leverage all your content to the fullest!

Timely and relevant: Reaching your donors with news that matters

Beth Mello
Beth Mello
Senior Vice President, Account Services

These days, news travels fast…

Whether it’s a hurricane in Texas, a new drug for a multiple sclerosis, tax reform that could affect the economy or a political event that could cause instability, your donors need to know that your organization is ready and able to respond.

Communication is key…
When external events require an immediate response from your organization, it’s critical that you have a plan in place that you can set into motion. With the right planning, you can respond to an event within hours via Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Responding and communication via mail may take a little longer, but it can also be done within days if necessary.

And so is a solid communication plan
Thanks to our work with health charities as well as international relief agencies, THD has developed a Rapid Response Platform that allows us to respond immediately when necessary.

The foundation of the plan is partnership: in collaboration with our clients, we put an action plan into place that can be executed within hours of a landmark event. Together, we look at:

  • Audience: Determine the audience for your outreach and have the mechanism in place to extract those names from your database. Identify a plan for prospecting efforts and pre clear any media that you may use.
  • Channel: Know the plan for each of your channels. Your email template should be ready. Gain alignment on what homepage assets will be deployed. And ensure you’ve got print on demand capabilities ready to go.
  • Expectations: Who has responsibility for each piece of the puzzle? How is information communicated between each party?
  • Execution: How quickly can the plan be executed? With proper planning, an email can go out within hours. And an urgent mail piece can reach donors within days.

A number of our clients, supported by this Rapid Response Platform were able to provide much-needed support to the victims of Hurricane Irma and Harvey thanks to a timely response and rapid execution.

It’s not all about disasters
You may find that the news you want to communicate is positive – perhaps it’s about a recent discovery, a news article that mentions you, or a bill that you helped pass. It may be more informational. In many cases, it will be something that could have a serious impact on you, your donors, or the world at large.

Whatever it is, your ability to communicate helps your donors know that you are relevant, timely, and thinking about them. That can make a difference in how your organization is perceived – and ultimately, on the health of your fundraising program.

To learn more about THD’s Rapid Response Platform, contact Eric Johnson at ejohnson@thdinc.com.

Are you tuned into the right channel?

Jeff Ostiguy
Jeff Ostiguy
Vice President, Digital Marketing

Multichannel… Omni-channel… Cross channel… Pan channel. So many buzzwords … and I think I just made up that last one on the spot.

But… wait! Don’t go!

I know you don’t want another blog post about why these buzzwords matter, so I’m not going to write one. I’d rather talk about diversification.

For direct response fundraisers, this is the lens we should be looking through. Trying to be everywhere is great, but if we’re being honest, not always realistic from a budget perspective. So instead, how do we develop strategies that are not quite so channel dependent?

Let’s start with email.

If you’re like most NPOs, somewhere between 15 and 30% of your digital revenue is coming from email. If you’re on the higher end or above, it might look good on the bottom line, but it’s something that should concern you a little bit. No, email isn’t dead, but its role in the fundraising ecosystem is changing. Attrition and deliverability are real problems, and while the tools we have available are helping us be more responsive and strategic in our approaches, we know email still requires a great deal of care and feeding to keep it viable and productive.

Email needs help.

In the grand scheme of things, email is really just another targeted ad impression. Other than search, it remains the easiest to directly attribute revenue to but if you’re judging email on that basis alone you’re doing yourself a disservice. Also, when you factor in platform costs and all the care and feeding mentioned above, I think you’d discover that your real email CPM isn’t that different than other paid digital channels.

We have seen our clients’ email programs without exception benefit from support in display and social. Opens, revenue, etc. all improve with investment in other digital channels.

It’s not just about investing in those channels to support email however – it’s about lessening the revenue burden ON email.

Invest in targeted paid digital media.

Aim to build a program that strategically leverages targeted paid digital media – such as paid display, paid search and paid social – in combination with more rewards or incentive-based cost per acquisition donor programs. Once established, you’ll find these can each become their own revenue streams and pillar strategies.

But what about attribution?

I know this opens a bit of a Pandora’s Box… attribution. Don’t freak out.

If you’re newer to some of these channels, start by establishing some simple time-based attribution models, giving more credit to view-through conversions that happen within hours and less to those that happen within days. Learn and set expectations for the number of new donors acquired through different techniques and model the LTV of these donors against the investment.

With first party data targeting you can send less email and protect the integrity of your database knowing that you’re making your impression in other channels – mail included. The objective, ultimately is simple; increase overall digital revenue through increased visibility and discoverability.

Does it require investment? Yes.

Should you expect a net positive return immediately? No.

Can all this lower funnel spending be more efficient with support from the brand? Yes, but that’s for another post.

Far too often, lower funnel direct response tactics are being asked to do both and as such, expectations for revenue are inflated.

But I digress…

Set achievable goals

You can definitely set goals for your various tactics. A 2 to 4% conversion rate for search, 50 to 60% return on ad spend through paid display, etc.

Track the value of the new donors acquired and the incremental value from renewed and reactivated donors and measure your success against the growth in your site activity and overall revenue generated online.

Over time, you will grow your digital revenue stream and lessen your reliance on email to carry so much of the weight.

And now, a shameless plug.

If you’re going to be in Chicago for the DMA conference, and want to hear more about this, come check out our session ‘Making the Most of Your Digital Program’ at 2PM Central Time on August 29th. You can heckle me if I say omni-channel or multichannel.

7 Ideas to Rev Up New Donor Acquisition

Chad Lucier
Chad Lucier
Vice President, Account Services

New donor acquisition ain’t what it used to be.

While it’s a road that continues to be traveled by most nonprofits, it’s filled with more bumps and potholes than ever, as evidenced by the Blackbaud donorCentrics Index:


blackbaud-chart

There is some positive news: nearly ½ of all organizations realized a positive change in 2016 and the median decline was only -1.2%.

Regardless of whether you’re in the 51% on the decline or in the lucky 49%, here are a few ideas that might help rev up your new donor acquisition program:

1.    Invest in paid search

The Chronicle of Philanthropy ran an article several years ago that has always stuck with me.

It stated that four out of every five donors research an organization before donating. I imagine this is even truer for new donors than existing donors. This means that optimizing your Google grants and paid search investments will ensure that your prospective donors not only find you, but that they get the message you want.

More importantly, a good paid search strategy is critical to capitalize on the awareness and intent being created by all of your on-line and off-line efforts.

If you want to read more about digital acquisition, check out Jeff Ostiguy’s blog post.

2.    Consider insert media

Insert media utilizes 3rd party companies and publications to distribute your offer directly to individuals. This can take the form of anything from statement stuffers to catalog bind-ins to newspaper inserts.

Insert media has one distinct advantage over direct mail. Because there is no postage or addressing involved, the cost to produce and distribute insert media is significantly less than direct mail. As a result of those low costs, you can reach a much larger audience and deliver a significant number of impressions.

Although response is significantly lower than direct mail, those cost savings can result in a similar upfront CPDR and by all indications life time value is just as strong. For one client we’ve seen a 20% improvement in the CPDR.

If you’ve maxed out your direct mail acquisition efforts, insert media may provide the incremental gains needed to get back on the path to growth.

3.    Use back-end premiums to boost response

Back-end premiums are growing in popularity; most insert media packages utilize them, many DRTV spots offer one for becoming a monthly donor and Peer-to-Peer campaigns are using water bottles, fleece jackets and the like to promote higher gift levels.

More organizations are using them in the mail to effectively increase response rates, and in some cases average gift size.

In three separate client tests, back-end premiums drove significant improvements. Response rates increased by a minimum of 20% and average gift improved by as much as 25%.

If you haven’t tested a back-end premium in the mail, maybe it’s time. I also recommend testing the price point right out of the gate since it can greatly influence both response and average gift.

4.    Consider front-end premiums, too

Hate them all you want. But there’s a reason a majority of organizations use them: they drive response. In many cases those address labels or note cards will increase the number of donors at both ends of the giving spectrum.

Below is one recent example of where a premium was tested against a non-premium and resulted in more new donors at all gift levels.

Compared to the non-premium, the premium generated:

70% increase in $15+ gifts
49% increase in $25+ gifts
10% increase in $50+ gifts

The average gift was $28 for the non-premium and $21 for the premium, which as you can see, can be very misleading. A gift distribution is critical to understanding the value of your premium based acquisition package.

If you aren’t using front-end premiums, they are worth another look.

5.    Use non-premiums for higher value donors

A non-premium based acquisition package won’t increase the number of new donors at the same rate as premium packages. But package costs are low and lifetime value is high so there are plenty of reasons to incorporate non-premiums into your new donor strategy.

To get the most out of your non-premium strategy, make sure you reinvest those cost savings.

While costs vary widely, many non-premium packages cost $100/M less than a premium-based package.

If you are mailing five million non-premium packages, that is $500,000 that you can reinvest in either increased volume or one of the other strategies noted above. By doing so you may actually reap the benefits of both a larger and more valuable donor universe.

Like a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds, a combination of premium and non-premium acquired donors will typically yield the best balance between growth and value.

6.    Retarget website visitors

Most organizations are retargeting their website visitors with banner ads … but how many are retargeting those visitors with direct mail appeals?

By all accounts, retailers and other commercial organizations are successfully using direct mail to convert web site visitors to customers. This usually takes the form of a postcard featuring a product that you browsed online. While application and execution may be different for non-profits, it is an exciting opportunity nonetheless.

Although this is fairly new to the non-profit space, the potential exists to convert a number of returning visitors or donation page abandoners into donors. This could be especially meaningful for organizations with significant web traffic.

At the very least, this is a new way to target a warm prospect universe.

Which brings us to…

7.    Don’t neglect warm prospects

The path to growth isn’t always through new donors. Sometimes it is more productive to mine the event names or memorial donors that are on your own database than it is to acquire a new donor.

The trick is in identifying the ones most likely to respond. For some ideas on the matter, I encourage you to read Brian Murphy’s recent post about uncovering the buried treasure in your database.

What did I miss? Please share your thoughts and ideas about how to rev up your acquisition program by clicking here.

Tax Reform and You. What Does It All Mean?

Eric Johnson
Eric Johnson
Vice President, Business Development

With President Trump unveiling his tax reform plan in recent days, we’re left wondering what it all might mean for donors and those that do the noble work of fundraising to help others.

In short, we don’t really know quite yet.

We do know that the once-feared reduction in the charitable tax deduction is not part of the President’s proposal. At least for now. And that’s a good thing.

Or is it?

The Trump plan holds the charitable deduction as-is, but looks to double the standard deduction. This change might actually reduce the number of Americans that need to itemize the charitable tax deduction.

If fewer Americans itemize the charitable tax deduction will they actually give less? Tim Delaney, president and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits seems to think so and was quoted as saying, “Pronouncements of keeping the existing tax deduction for charitable giving create the impression that the status quo would remain, but proposals to double the standard deduction would effectively eliminate the tax incentive for millions of individuals and couples to give to support the work of charitable nonprofits in cities, towns, and rural areas across the country.”

The President’s statement was released on Wednesday, April 26th and has been described as “skeletal” and “a single page filled with bullet points.” In other words, there are plenty of holes and questions outstanding.

As the details of the President’s tax plan become clearer, so will the potential impact on your donors and their financial support. Until then, we recommend these articles for perspective and opinion:

New York Timeshttps://nyti.ms/2plNwHw

The NonProfit Timeshttp://www.thenonprofittimes.com/news-articles/initial-tax-proposal-leaves-charitable-deduction-alone/

Forbeshttps://www.forbes.com/sites/ashleaebeling/2017/04/26/trump-tax-reform-save-for-charities-is-illusory/#7094dfda7888

Beyond the obvious of keeping close tabs on potential changes, nonprofits must strive to be highly-relevant to their constituencies. This will help ensure that contributions won’t decline, even if the tax plan impacts the charitable deduction directly or indirectly.

While THD doesn’t have a crystal ball, we know using data, being nimble and responding swiftly ensures organizations continue to deliver on their missions when donors are faced with issues like tax reform.

To weigh in on this important topic click here.

Is there buried treasure in your database?

Brian Murphy

An interview with Brian Murphy, Senior Vice President, Marketing Analytics & Technology

Q: Brian, acquisition is getting more expensive by the day. And as many as 70% or more of new donors won’t ever give a second gift. But what are the alternatives?

A: Well, a number of nonprofits own an asset that isn’t being utilized to its fullest: their database. There can be hidden treasure in a database – names that have been acquired and paid for but for all intents and purposes are buried.

treasure

Q: What kinds of treasure are we talking about?

A: Untapped revenue sources.

One of the largest sources may be donors who have been lapsed for a decade or more. But they could also include event participants and donors, advocates, and people who were engaged in other types of peer-to-peer programs.

We’ve found that if we approach these audiences a little more creatively, they can be cost-effective alternatives to acquisition in many cases.

Q: You say that you’ve been able to reactivate donors who’ve been lapsed for 10 years or more? How?

A: It’s hard to reactivate long lapsed donors when you’re using RFM, which treats everyone within a segment the same way. But a number of nonprofits have experienced great results through modeling at the individual level.

Q: How about modeling for lower dollar donor records? Those that have given before, but gave a small gift.

A: I’m glad you asked about that and you’re right. While the “M” in RFM – monetary – is really important, a well-built model looks well beyond the amount of a previous gift and identifies donors with both the ability to give again and give at a higher level.

Q: What can modeling do that RFM can’t?

A: To give you an example, THD’s lapsed reactivation model leverages thousands of data points – psychographic, behavioral, transactional, engagement, motivations, preferences and far too many more to name – to pinpoint with surgical precision the lapsed donors most likely to renew their support.

To continue the buried treasure analogy, it’s the difference between sweeping the ocean floor with a net or using the most sophisticated radar technology available. With the technology, you have the equipment you need to find exactly what you’re looking for.

Q: Beyond long lapsed and low dollar donors, where else have you seen success?

A: Over the last few years, we’ve also seen a dramatic fall off in nonprofit peer-to-peer programs like Family and Friends Drives and Neighbor-to-Neighbor Campaigns. This is another area where modeling can make a huge difference. We can model participants as well as donors.

Q: The same basic principle applies to event names as well, correct?

A: That’s right. And for nonprofits who do a great deal of advocacy, those names could be another source of untapped revenue.

Q: Isn’t modeling costly?

A: I think there is a real misconception about the cost of modeling. Many modeling vendors, including THD, will build a model and execute a test to measure model performance at little expense to the client. Test costs are typically much lower than other alternatives – for example developing and testing a new creative package. And the risk is very low because you only need a test panel with enough volume to get a statistically valid read.

But the exciting element of modeling for me is the immense VALUE it is driving for our clients’ programs. The return on investment (ROI) is usually very high.

Q: So you consider modeling a low risk and high value method of mining your database for “buried treasure.”

A: I couldn’t have said it better myself.

To continue this conversation with the team at THD, click here.

Show Your Donors the Love

henry-youngman-quote
Hey!

You spent a lot of money acquiring those donors! And they’ve already shown you that they care.

So this Valentine’s Day, make a commitment to spend more time telling your donors, advocates, and all your constituents how much you love and adore them.

Here are a few simple yet effective ways to show them the love:

  • Thank them. The president of one nonprofit that we know takes time every, single day to make phone calls thanking donors for their support. It inspires him to speak to real live donors, and it makes each donor feel special.
  • Thank them FAST. When you order an item online, you want it delivered right away. Amazon Prime members pay $99 a year for that privilege. Responding immediately is a critical way to cement the goodwill that comes from making a gift.
  • Report back. No one wants to see their funds go into a black hole. Report back to your donors on how their money was spent and all the good it did.
  • Don’t always ask for money. Donors are not ATMs. Sometimes, they just need to know that you’re thinking of them as human beings. Send a card congratulating them on their anniversary as a supporter. Give them a poem that one of your clients has written. Show them a picture of someone they’ve helped.
  • Tell them what their donation means. Every donation is a choice – and often, a sacrifice. Let your donors know that you appreciate and value every dollar they send.
  • Remind them how it feels to give. Scientific research supports the fact that people get an endorphin rush from helping others. It can’t hurt to remind donors that giving actually feels good even while it does good.

When you express your appreciation to your donors, you get loyalty in return. So don’t hesitate to tell your donors how much they are valued, Valentine’s Day and every day of the year.

To continue this conversation with the team at THD, click here.

It’s Not Political: How World Events Impact Fundraising

Jay Denison
Jay Denison
Executive Vice President
Founding Partner

It was April, 1980.

I was a young, enthusiastic account manager responsible for a new member acquisition program for a Zoological Society on the eastern seaboard.

We had a solid, proven list plan. A tried and true offer. Flawless execution.

The mailing arrived in home as scheduled on April 24, 1980 – the same day when a bold attempt to rescue 52 American hostages held in Iran ended in disaster. And our membership campaign resulted in less than 10% of our goal.

That was the day I learned that national and international events can hijack even the best laid fundraising plans.

Predicting revenue in an unpredictable world
Despite our methodical approach to budgeting and projections, the world around us simply refuses to be predictable. And that can throw all our finely tuned revenue targets out of whack.

When the Dow slumps over 1,300 points in a month’s time as it did between December, 2015 and January, 2016, fundraisers feel the pain. When the airwaves are held captive by a contentious presidential election, our donors can get distracted.

The best strategy, the best creative and the best execution can be significantly impacted by external events. All too often, many of us as fundraisers forget that we do not operate in a bubble.

The outside world does have an impact – positive and negative – on the great work we all do together.

How can fundraisers protect themselves?
We’ve seen good times and we’ve seen bad times. And while we understand that you can’t control external factors, you can mitigate them. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Keep senior management apprised of the trends, both when they’re in your favor – and when they’re not. Be prepared to deliver a modified message. Take advantage of the digital channel that allows for a more nimble reaction to external conditions.
  • Don’t overreact when times are tough. Many organizations significantly cut back on investment programs during an economic downturn. Those decisions have a long-term impact that can be difficult to reverse. Understand your numbers and the potential impact of investment decisions made today on the future. Those that stayed the course during difficult economic times are reaping the benefits today with a healthy donor file that is delivering increased revenue.
  • Capitalize on opportunities. The most successful groups know that when the wind is at your back it is the best time to be even more aggressive. Results may be up, but that doesn’t mean that this is the time to cut back. Keep pushing, keep growing, continue to innovate and don’t let up.
  • Be agile and prepare to change course. You may not be able to plan for all external factors or events, but you can have an understanding of what levers may need to be pulled or pushed on relatively short notice.

This past year has been filled with surprises – some pleasant, some less pleasant. The outcome of the presidential election and its impact on our efforts to fund important missions is yet to be seen.

It may be a boon, it may not, but the better prepared we are for any eventuality, the better equipped our fundraising programs will be for the year ahead.

To continue this conversation with the team at THD, click here.

Five Phrases That Can Stifle Creativity

Sherri Mayer
Sherri Mayer
Senior Vice President
Creative Services

In case you haven’t noticed, creative people are sensitive souls. (Aren’t we all?)

You’d think we’d be used to having our work critiqued. And yet, we never seem to develop a thick skin. We wear our feelings on our sleeves, pour our hearts into what we do, and go into every creative presentation with high hopes.

creative-circle

And when you comment on what we’ve so painstakingly labored over, we take it personally.

Wonka

Sometimes, it can be frustrating to know just what to say to help your creative team deliver what you need them to deliver. I should know… I’m both a creative type and a manager of an entire department of creative types.

But here’s the thing: you don’t have to walk on eggshells. You can be honest and forthright. At the same time, there are a few phrases that can stifle a writer or designer’s ability to give you their best work. They are:

I’m not wild about it
It’s perfectly fine that you don’t care for what we presented. (Well, actually it hurts our feelings a little bit. So it might be good to start with what you DID like then get to what you didn’t.)

But as you know, we delivered what we thought was our best work. So help us understand exactly what it is that is bothering you. It’s o.k. if you don’t have the language to describe it… we can help there as well.

In order to fix what’s wrong, we need direction from you.

I want something out of the box

outside-the-box

I’ve been a creative director for more than a decade and a copywriter for 30 years, and I still don’t know what that means.

It can’t be that we’re not supposed to consider budget, the donor, or all the many creative constraints put upon us by format and medium.

There’s always a box. And we can always be creative within it.

Here’s how I want it done
According to an article entitled “How to Kill Creativity” from the Harvard Business Review,

Creativity thrives when managers let people decide
how to climb a mountain; they needn’t, however,
let employees choose which one.

Of course, creative people need structure. We know that there are constraints. But we can’t let those dampen our passion for the job or our ability to be creative.

Telling a creative person exactly HOW to be creative actually diminishes their enthusiasm.

Back in the day when I used to teach business writing to non-writer types, the first thing I would tell my students is simply to write. Just write and keep writing. Don’t edit, don’t hold back, don’t think of all the things you can and cannot say.

Because all those limitations will prevent you from finding inspiration.

So let your creative folk find their own path to a solution. We can always edit it later.

We tried that once

innovate

Perhaps we did. But…

  • Was the timing optimal?
  • Was the creative excellent?
  • Was it executed well?
  • Has the marketplace changed?
  • Has our constituency changed?
  • Has the economy changed?

According to Founders and Funders, James Dyson created 5,126 prototypes of his vacuum cleaner before succeeding. Steven Spielberg was rejected by famed USC Film School three times. Even the founder of Pandora approached investors 300 times before he got funded.

There are so many factors that go into the success of a direct marketing effort that if an idea and strategy are really solid, they’re going to naturally rise to the top. So even if it’s been tried – and failed – it may be worth looking at again.

They won’t go for it
I’ve been surprised again and again what people will say “yes” to if the strategy and the execution are on target.

Sometimes, it’s even good to show something that is, perhaps, a little left of center. It proves that you and your team are not letting roadblocks stand in the way of innovation and creativity.

So what CAN you do to inspire your creative team?

Who's awesome?

  • Ask us why. If your creative team is as good as they say they are, they can tell you why an execution hits the mark. And it should always come down to strategy.
  • Say “thank you.” We all need props from time to time. It feels good to know that our efforts are recognized.
  • Be specific but encouraging in your critique. Help us understand what isn’t working for you. Then engage us in coming up with a solution. That way, we’ll approach the revision process with energy and enthusiasm.
  • The bottom line? We put a lot of love into what we do. It means that we may be a little sensitive. But that’s precisely what makes our creative work stand out… and often, outstanding.

We hope this helps! If you have questions, comments, or other things you’d like us to discuss in Straight Talk, send us a note.

Taking the Guesswork Out of Digital Acquisition

Jeff Ostiguy
VP, Digital Marketing

Let’s play a little fundraising word association.

When I say, predictable, reliable, formulaic, you think?

Digital, right?

Of course you don’t. You think time-tested direct mail.

When I say digital you probably think, costly, unproven.

Well…
erroneous
It’s true that we don’t have the same kind of return models developed for digital just yet but that doesn’t mean that you can’t go into a digital campaign without a set of expectations for your return on investment. The key is setting the right expectations.

More on that to come, but before we get to how… let’s talk a little about why investing in digital is important.

First and foremost, the digital fundraising landscape is shifting – constantly. Email is a mature channel and other platforms are starting to play increasingly important roles.

In M&R’s wonderful 2016 annual report they pointed out that email attributable revenue was up across the board some 25%, but most email engagement metrics (open, clicks CTR, etc.) are in fact, down.

How is this possible?

It’s simple really. There are more organizations competing for share of mind and share of wallet through more channels than ever before. Realistically, you can’t be everywhere of course, but you have to acknowledge that the path to conversion is not linear. Instead, people bounce back and forth between channels, looking for more than a picture and a call to action. They have high expectations for the organizations they support and the opinions of their peers shared and consumed through social platforms has tremendous sway.

Now, we could easily veer off into a conversation about content (I see a future Straight Talk post about content strategy), but for now, let’s put that aside as table stakes and focus more on how to be in the right place at the right time and feel good about your investment.

6x-graphic

Six times.

That’s what the top 25 organizations in M&R’s report spend on digital per dollar raised online – $.12 to $.02.

Is all of that money raised directly from response to a display ad, or paid social post? No, not even close. But, those strategies – as well as your mail program – are having a direct impact on the performance of your email efforts by surrounding the donor as well as driving new donors and prospects into the pipeline for you to cultivate.

Quick aside, are you measuring site
traffic and organic gift trends around the time
a mail piece lands in mail boxes or
when an email deploys?

We are all getting better at our email programs. Segmentation is better, design is better, we’re learning the right cadence and messaging approaches to maximize the return from our best and most responsive donors.

But, those same donors are being bombarded with messages across channels. This bombardment isn’t just coming from other organizations. Your donors are no doubt receiving other communications from you as well and they don’t distinguish a newsletter, from an advocacy request, from an appeal. As this happens, your emails may start to get “tuned out” by an increasingly large percentage of your database. So, while you might be seeing solid returns from email in your current program, there are warning signs you should be paying attention to.

Is your active digital donor file getting smaller? Better retention and increasing average gifts are great, but they could be masking a bigger issue.

Have you noticed emails going to spam when they weren’t before? Are your open rates declining? These are symptoms of issues related to your sender reputation and if you keep sending to an increasingly disengaged donor, lapsed donor or prospect universe this could become a HUGE problem.

Bottom line, you have to diversify your channel approach and you must keep acquiring.

free-lunch

I love this cartoon. It’s such a great representation of where we are now.

Email isn’t “free”, but it’s a low cost way to reach younger, high value donors, and we are all really good at it, right?

Social is a fantastic “free” platform to tell everyone about the incredible work we’re doing and better still, our followers will tell everyone how amazing we are…FREE.

Right?

sad-trombone

(wah-wah)

Nope.

The best email programs are those that are reinforcing the messaging of a multi-channel strategy and are written and delivered strategically to convert.

“Free” social no longer exists. The audience that sees your organic posts is getting smaller and smaller.

Google is making it harder and harder for an org to get into an inbox at all, let alone the “primary” folder. If you haven’t already, do a little research into the number of people on your file with Gmail accounts and how many of those people are never seeing your message.

They have also sunset Google Grants Pro and we can expect more changes to Grants in the future.

great-expectations

Ok, so we have discussed the whats, the whys, the challenges and the realities.

One absolute reality is that investing in digital is not just a critical part of your future, but a huge opportunity in the present. With so many options, many of them fairly low cost, take advantage of digital’s unique ability to allow you to test and learn – not just tactics and vendors, but messaging and creative.

Everybody loves a good list, so here are the top 8 things to consider as you gear up to invest in digital.

  1. Have An Attribution Model. No one clicks on banner ads, and if they do, it’s probably on a mobile device and it’s probably an accident. Odds are, the vast majority of the response will come from people who saw the ad, not those who clicked on it. There is no standard industry practice for view through conversion attribution. Some apply a blanket 20%, but we don’t find that to be appropriate. It’s more than fair to give significantly more credit to someone who converts within a day of seeing your ad…or an hour. 2, 3, 4 days, that’s where a 20% attribution is more fair, particularly if you account for other things in the market. Once you get outside of a week, you can think about giving that revenue back or attributing a much smaller %.
  2. Be Fair. Do you make money on direct mail acquisition? With the rare exception, we know the answer is no. So don’t expect to do so in digital. If anything, you’ll lose less money in digital and you will have significantly greater ability to adapt and test into what works. Not to mention the fact that we know that the donors you do acquire through digital are more valuable.
  3. Re: Google. Google is not so much a problem as it is a challenge that we have to acknowledge and accept. Like social, Google is increasingly becoming a pay-to-play platform. Google Grants is great, but limited. The $2 bid cap lets you keep the lights on from a discoverability standpoint but severely limits your ability to get aggressive on donor-centric terms or execute strategic conquesting. The same applies to social. To move the needle, you have to target your message and to target your message, you have to invest.
  4. Paid Search Matters… A Lot. See above. Search indicates intent. Get to the top of the consideration set if someone is signaling intent. Grants won’t get you there in competitive environments. Optimize your campaign mix between paid and Grants and a small paid investment can go a long way.
  5. Pay For Performance. If you want predictability, there are plenty of CPA based lead and donor gen opportunities that give you the ability to set your budget and get a return that you are comfortable investing in.
  6. Think Incrementally. Far too often, the answer to “how do we pay for digital acquisition?” is to move budget from another program. We get it, budgets are limited, but push for incremental funding for this work. Don’t rob Peter to pay Paul as they say. The best performing programs let channels support each other, don’t ask one to fund the other.
  7. Be ready. Once you acquire a lead or a donor, remember that the work doesn’t end there. If you bring someone on through a particular tactic or partner, be sure to a) onboard them deliberately and thoughtfully, don’t just drop them into the ongoing stream of appeals and b) have the infrastructure in place to measure their performance over time. This data will be critical in informing future investments.

That’s it. Easy right?

I’ll leave you with one final thought, #8.

Don’t. Stop.

The six most dangerous words in digital?

“We tried that, it didn’t work.”

It’s true, sometimes it won’t work, but you have to keep testing, keep learning and finding the right mix of tactics and partners for your audience.

We hope this helps!  Questions, comments, or other things you’d like us to discuss in Straight Talk, send us a note.