Four “Must-Do’s” to Ensure a Strong Mid-Level Program

Nora Millwood
VP, Account Services

Many nonprofits (yours included?) are looking to enhance their mid-level programs, and for good reason. With flat or declining program investments and fewer new donors, focusing on your mid-level is a critical way to increase revenue without a great deal of added expense.

But how do you ensure you’re developing a strong pipeline of Mid-Level donors who are committed to supporting your mission, upgrading their giving over time and, eventually, giving a Major Gift?

At THD, we believe a two-way conversation in central: Talking to Mid-Level donors so they will listen… and listening to Mid-Level donors so they will talk. You may have caught the recent DMANF DC Conference session with Beth Fitch from Mercy Corps and two of my colleagues, Jess Hutchins and Sherri Mayer, on this topic but it’s so important that I wanted to touch on it again.

Mid-Level donors often increase their value to you naturally because of their higher income levels, affinity to your mission and the good work you do. Because of this, too many organizations dismiss the need for greater attention on this audience. But we have seen through work with our clients that developing a strong and well-defined outreach program can actually lead to significant upgrading and improved retention. Increased loyalty? More revenue? Yes and Yes!

From experience we know Mid-Level donors are unique, and we must be sure to treat them that way. They tend to be highly educated, informed about the organizations that they support and intent on investing their dollars wisely. They have a hunger for information and a desire to make an impact on the world. So how must we treat them in order to maximize their value to your program?

We have found there are four “Must-Do’s” in order to ensure a strong Mid-Level program:

#1 – Encourage a CULTURE OF PHILANTHROPY – Organizations who are most successful in building a strong Mid-Level program understand the importance of this audience and are committed to donor cultivation. They recognize and appreciate the value of a donor, particularly a high value one.

#2 – Create DIALOGUE – Asking a donor questions and really listening to their feedback is critical. You can learn so much from what a donor says, both positive and negative. It will help inform your contact strategy, creative and messaging and drive increased donor value and loyalty. As an example, THD Ambassadors develop relationships with donors through phone, email and handwritten notes. They serve as a representative of your organization to answer questions, provide support for issues and educate donors on the impact their giving has had and will continue to have on the mission.

#3 – Always show IMPACT – Mid-Level donors care about efficiency and impact. They want to know their donation is being put to good use and that they’ve made a sound investment. So it’s critical to focus on these key messaging points in every solicitation and cultivation effort.

#4 – Make a long-term COMMITMENT – A strong Mid-Level program won’t be grown overnight. Your organization has to be committed to investing time and money to develop this pipeline of Mid-Level donors. And over time, the rewards will be great in the form of even more Major Gifts.

If you’d like to go deeper with this important subject or have other experiences to share, just let us know. Similarly, be sure to get in touch if there are subjects you’d like to see in future issues of Straight Talk.

Happy reading!

Tax Changes in 2018 – Are You Ready?


The new tax bill signed into law in 2017 has raised many questions – and concerns – among non-profit leaders. Here is a brief recap of what’s changing for 2018:


Downward Chart

New tax brackets have gone down: Highest rate for married taxpayers filing jointly is now 37% on income of $600,000 and above, with similar changes for single taxpayers.

Upward Chart

Standard deduction was increased to $24,000 from $12,700 for Married taxpayers filing jointly, and personal exemptions were eliminated, with similar changes for single taxpayers.

$10000

State and Local (SALT) deduction limited to $10,000.

House

Mortgage interest deduction was limited for new mortgages taken after December 14, 2017. Home equity loan interest is no longer deductible.


The question for most nonprofits is: Because the standard deduction was increased, and the SALT deduction was limited, how many donors who itemized their charitable deductions in the past may no longer benefit from itemizing? Will donors decide to reduce their giving? If so, what impact will this have on revenue in the coming year and beyond?

As you can see in the chart below, donations from individuals and bequests have been on an upward trend for the past 30 years, with an average increase of 1.9 percent per year. The exception was a notable decline in 2008-2009 during the Great Recession. The only other obvious decline occurred during the 2000 dot-com bubble.

Data Giving Chart

There have been several tax law changes in that period, though none as directly related to the charitable deduction as the 2018 change to the standard deduction. From a historical perspective (see Major Tax Law Changes above), there doesn’t appear to be a direct correlation between tax law changes and charitable giving. Individual donors make their giving decisions due to a variety of factors. Our nation’s economic outlook plays a significant role, so the current low unemployment and high stock market valuations should indicate a positive outlook for fundraising revenue in 2018.

And we know that the single most significant factor in a donor’s giving to any individual non-profit is the donor’s connection and commitment to the mission.

Nevertheless, the tax law changes may have some impact on specific segments of the population. Anticipating those potential impacts will allow us to implement the best strategies to optimize revenue, particularly at the end of the calendar year, when tax concerns are most likely to be in the minds of donors.


Potential Impact by Donor Segment

Share of Tax

Donors with Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of $100,000 or less:

Minimal impact. These donors, who likely make up the bulk of the direct response file for many organizations, itemize deductions less often. However, these donors will see a small increase in their paycheck withholding if they are W-2 employees, starting in February.


Donors with AGI in the range of $100,000 to $400,000:

Depending on circumstances, these donors, who are likely midlevel donors giving $500-$10,000 per year for most organizations, may experience noticeable changes in their tax returns. Most donors at this income range likely itemized returns in the recent past (see chart above, 77% of filers with AGI $100;-$200k, 93% of filers with AGI $200k-$500k), and are accustomed to the benefit of the charitable deduction. It stands to reason that these donors may consider lowering their giving amount by roughly the cost of loss of the deduction (equal to the amount of their 2017 marginal tax bracket of 28%-33%).

However, these donors are likely to also experience a significant reduction in their overall federal income tax bill, due to the changes in tax rates. In particular, the shift of tax rates at the income range of $165,001-$315,000 of 28-33%, down to 24%, should provide a sizeable increase in disposable income. Ignoring for a moment the complexities of the deduction changes and the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), this means a donor with an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of $315,000 will owe $14,987 less in federal taxes in 2018 than 2017.

Every donor in this AGI range will experience slightly different results, depending on their own personal circumstances. We expect that long term these changes should offset one another for this population, but that some of these donors will reduce their giving in 2018 due to the loss of the value of the charitable deduction.


Donors with an AGI greater than $400,000:

These donors likely make up the majority of non-profit Major Gift portfolios. Most of these donors will have deductions exceeding the value of the standard deduction, such that it will be worthwhile to itemize their charitable deductions. These donors will continue to benefit from that deduction, so we do not anticipate changes in tax law to have a significant impact on their giving behavior.


Other Considerations:

Donors on fixed income, specifically donors age 65+, are of particular concern due to their prevalence in many organization’s direct response files. As discussed, donors at lower income ranges are unlikely to experience a significant change. However, the value of the IRA Charitable Rollover provision as a giving tool has increased for donors age 70½ and older now that the charitable deduction is less available.

One trend we do expect to continue, or even accelerate, due to these changes, is the rise in the prevalence of the Donor Advised Fund (DAF). Because these funds allow donors to group their charitable deduction into tax years when it is most advantageous, we expect that more donors will use this tool in the future. The challenge non-profits will face will be in identifying the true donors behind the DAFs, and appropriately cultivating and stewarding those donors to cement their connection to the organizations’ mission.


Thinking Ahead: Insights for Your Year End Fundraising


THD BENCHMARKS

To stay ahead of potential revenue shortfalls, THD will proactively track and analyze year over year performance of total giving for all of our clients in the first and second quarter of 2018 analyzing key demographic indicators, including income ranges and age bands, to assess the potential impact of the new tax law changes.


If you’re interested in hearing how THD’s Tax Impact Benchmark can help you get a jumpstart on protecting your year-end revenue, please contact Eric Johnson.

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.

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.

How to Talk So Your Board Will Listen

I know just how challenging it can be to deal with a Board of Directors.

As CEO of THD, a fundraising agency that drives strategy and regularly presents program results, I appreciate that attempting to predict what your Board needs to hear from you can be intimidating and frustrating. The stakes are high, and it’s essential that your program is understood in the best possible light.

At the same time, I bring a unique perspective to this important topic, because I’m also the Chairman of the Board of Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Arizona’s oldest botanical garden. These dual roles provide me with some insights that might be of use in helping you navigate your relationship with your own Board of Directors.

Fundraising is different. Tell your Board why.
Boards are passionate and typically composed of very talented members. But their knowledge of fundraising is often elementary.

A survey by The Agitator (reviewed in an August 10th blog post) revealed that, when asked to “rate your CEO’s understanding of and commitment to effective fundraising,” 23% responded that they were “more of a hindrance than a help.”

But are you helping them?

We already know that many of your Board members (including your CEO) aren’t necessarily fundraisers. One is a high tech entrepreneur, another is an accountant, a third is from a big corporate foundation and so on. They’re all over the map and have little experience in your field.

But one thing they do have is opinions.

It’s logical to assume that they’re going to try to fit their professional experience into fundraising. Unfortunately, the dynamics are often totally different. While they may understand their own customer acquisition numbers, they believe that for nonprofits, people should just magically support the mission. They’re emotionally invested and engaged, and it’s hard for them to understand why their commitment doesn’t necessarily translate to a broad pool of donors who are willing to give.

That’s why you need to proactively educate your Board in order to gain legitimacy.

The only way to do that is to sit down with your Board and explain the data that goes into fundraising. Once they see how the numbers work, it’s no longer a question of opinion, it’s a question of facts.

For example, Board members sometimes put too much stock into the opinions of those outside your organization, like watchdog groups. Sound familiar? Educating the Board should often center on an actual ‘fundraising curriculum;’ a series of lessons on what numbers really matter and which mean a whole lot less.

“The insights shared [by THD] help provide our board a more complete understanding of our fundraising work.”
Lori Seader
Director of Development, The Fresh Air Fund

Context is key.
We’re fortunate that fundraising has entered an era when we can easily give our Board the context they need in order to hear you. A number of organizations like Blackbaud provide excellent quarterly benchmarking so that Boards can receive comparative data in terms of how their program is doing. You have to start with the “industry” and then narrow in on the organization on whose Board they serve because that gives them context.

They need to understand that there are really only four ways in which they can raise unrestricted revenue:

  • Acquire more donors
  • Retain more donors
  • Get them to give more often
  • Encourage them to give a larger gift

And because the marketplace has changed dramatically over the past decade, new ways of measuring progress have been developed.

Show them how much the competition has exploded, what it now costs to acquire a new donor, and what the long-term value of a donor can be. Ground them in the metrics of today’s fundraising landscape so that they can understand the challenges and appreciate them.

Provide them with long term impact.
I cannot emphasize this enough: Most Boards think in terms of your fiscal year when it comes to measuring fundraising performance.

They may not be happy with a 2:1 ROI in this fiscal year, but if we could show over a three year time frame or some longer extended period that we’re actually at a 5:1, 6:1, 7:1, they may be more accepting of today’s ROI.

In addition, if you can provide them with concrete examples of how you turned a $10, $12, $30, $50 gift into a five million dollar planned gift, it can elongate and change the perspective that Board member has on the day-to-day or year-to-year work that’s being done.

Even at a very basic level, they have to understand that finding new donors is an expensive proposition which can only be looked at over the long term. Then, when you turn around and start to look at how your existing donors behave, you’re able to really show that the ROI is actually quite good.

Identify a champion.
It’s always valuable to find someone on the Board who appreciates and values fundraising. It really doesn’t matter where they come from as long as they’re open minded and willing to learn. Then they can serve as your advocate in meetings, helping to lay down the foundation of understanding for the development process and the numerics.

If you can find them quickly, they’re going to be a key asset to you when it comes to helping educate their fellow Board members.

Most Boards have committees where the lion’s share of the work gets done. One of the most important is the Development Committee, which is typically tasked with fundraising oversight.

It’s important that its members get exposed to all facets of your organization’s fundraising programs, and that they be kept informed of progress on a regular basis. They are your conduit to the rest of the Board – along with other key committees such as the Executive and Finance Committees.

Friends, supporters, and advocates on these committees are going to be a key asset to you when it comes to helping educate their fellow Board members.

Be prepared, be bold, be authoritative.
Boards meet infrequently and have demanding agendas. What they value most is someone who will state his or her case simply, get to the point quickly, and be declarative.

Always have your facts straight and always be prepared to answer the question that you know is going to be asked. Don’t overwhelm them with data – be concise.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in Board meetings and the data is too detailed, too granular and simply overwhelming. Sometimes, we think that the more data, the better, but often it’s just the opposite. Lots of data can obscure what you’re trying to say.

And finally, ask for help. You can turn to an agency partner, someone like us, for a helping hand. We are all invested in your success, and will be happy to help arm you with the information you need in order to get your Board’s support.

ian-sig
Ian Thompson
President/CEO, THD

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