To Make A Long Story Short…

pencils 2“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead”.

Over the years this quote has been attributed to Mark Twain, T.S Elliot, Churchill, Cicero and others, and rings absolutely true to writing digital fundraising copy today.

Inboxes are cluttered, difficult places to navigate, so how do we rise above the noise?

Timing, segmentation, personalization, great offers and great stories to be sure, but we all know that already.

What else?

In M&R’s most recent annual benchmarking study, there are a couple of data points that really stood out for us here at THD.

  • Email attributable revenue, up 25%
  • Email fundraising page completion rates, up 3% (nice job on those responsive forms!)

All great news, but how is this possible when open rates, click through rates and response rates all declined during the same time period? M&R posits volume (more people, more sends) as key factor, and that’s hard to argue against– but is there more?

Is it purely volume or is it a sign that the role of email in the conversion process is changing?

There are more organizations competing for share of mind and share of wallet than ever before. And they are doing so through more channels – email, direct mail, telemarketing, display, search, social, video, native, et al.

The donor is bombarded as a result of all the “multi”, “cross”, “pan”, whatever-you-want-to-call-it-today, channel approach — and they are self-selecting not just the organization but their preferred conversion channel.

That carefully timed and versioned email you’re sending is becoming the final trigger to convert the donor after they have been engaged with your message in so many other channels. Could it be that this is why response rates are down, but revenue is up?  Are your other channels simply teeing up the best donors to respond to your email – and if so, what does THAT mean?

For one thing, let’s start with the premise that fewer and fewer people have the time or interest to read a letter style email.

Also, with all those other channels helping support the campaign narrative, do you really need to say that much? Particularly if we acknowledge that a longer form approach won’t hold the attention of your audience (this is broad strokes of course – through testing you can learn the best approach for your various audience segments).

So, it’s time to start viewing your approach to email more like digital display advertising. Bright, vibrant images that “win the inbox” and the preview panel.  Start looking for ways to dial back copy. Let a headline, an image and a call to action finish the job that all the other work you’ve been doing started.

This is particularly important in mobile, where more than half your audience is opening those emails. Don’t make them scroll and read – give them a compelling visual experience that will drive to action.

Facebook paid $1 billion for Instagram and recently Mark Zuckerberg said he thought Facebook would be mostly video in 5 years. We live in a visual time.

Every day, we all receive dozens of appeals from worthy organizations with incredible stories to tell, but those stories get lost in the sameness of the layouts and paragraph after paragraph of copy. Take this shift as an opportunity to be creative and differentiate your brand visually.

How to Write to a Donor

penDo you remember your first “real” job?

Mine was selling encyclopedias door to door. (Note to readers under 30: “Encyclopedias” are 30-volume sets of books that have information about a lot of stuff. Think “Wikipedia” with better pictures, fewer editing errors, and a 4-figure price tag.)

As part of the training, they had us memorize and practice a sales pitch, then sent us out to the field. Most of the new guys did great. I was the Hindenburg, Apollo 13 and Hurricane Katrina rolled into a massive ball of hopeless disaster. Zero sales the first day, zero the second, zero the third, etc. After a week of wasting perfectly good sales leads on me, my sales manager accompanied me on a call. We went to a home, I did the pitch flawlessly, but … no sale. As soon as we left, I asked the sales manager, “So? What did I do wrong?”

He said, “You lost that sale in the first 3 minutes. You never engaged them, never asked them about themselves. Your pitch sounded canned, because it WAS canned. They thought, ‘he doesn’t care about me, why should they buy something from him?’”

Oh. So sales isn’t a one-way street. It’s matching what the prospect needs with what you can offer.

Which brings me to this blog post. If I am going to engage you, I need to give you worthwhile information on something you care about. Unfortunately, the only thing I know about you is – well, that you’re reading this post. So I’m going to start with an assumption:

If you’re reading this, I am going to assume you fit into one of two categories: 1) you write fundraising direct mail copy, or 2) you review copy someone else has written.

Two principles to keep in mind

I have just demonstrated my first principle of DM copywriting – envision your target audience.

“But,” you say, “That may not be an accurate assumption. Anyone could be reading this blog.”

That’s true. But I still think this is the right approach. Why? Because you should write to the people who might respond, not the entire world (my second principle).

“But, but, but …”

This is painful for the person paying the bills. “I’m paying good money to reach 100% of the mailing list! I want to talk to them all!” I get that, and I sympathize. No-one likes to knowingly waste money.

But, think about the arithmetic of direct mail. What would be a great response rate for your mailing? 2%? 4%? TEN percent? If you got a 10% response rate, people would be turning backflips and swigging champagne (OK, maybe not the champagne … and, at my age, maybe not the backflips either. But you’d all be pretty happy, right?)

The flip side of response rate and why it matters

The thing is, a 10% response rate means a 90% NON response rate. The huge majority of your target audience is not going to respond. How depressing! Actually, it’s sort of liberating, because, as a writer, my advice is: forget about them. There is nothing you can do or say or show that will convince them to respond. They are “no’s.”

Conversely (and happily!), there are a small percentage of people who will respond to anything. You could scrawl “send money” on the back of an old shopping list and a check would be on its way. They’ve completely internalized your mission, they love you, and they just need a reminder to give – the idea behind “collection plate” DM. These folks are “yes’s.”

The sweet spot for the writer

But, for a writer, neither of these are your REAL audience. Instead, write to the “maybe’s.” These are the people who might respond if you say the right things to them. If I’m back selling encyclopedias, these folks haven’t slammed the door in my face, but they haven’t called in an unsolicited order either. They’ve invited me into their home, but told me they only have a few minutes.

That’s your audience.

“But,” the bill payer from a few paragraphs back protests, “What’s the HARM in creating messages for everyone? Why not at least TRY??” The answer is, it can sabotage your mailing: the less specific your message, the less it will appeal to the REAL audience, the maybes. Stated another way, you’d have to reduce the effectiveness of your message to the people who might respond, in an effort to appeal to people who won’t respond anyway. When you say it like that, it’s an easy call.

OK. What next? “What” next.

So that’s the “who.” Let’s talk about the “what.” As in, WHAT should we say in our mailing? There are, roughly, four things you have to answer for a prospect before they send you a check. I will describe them in my next post. Stay tuned!

Your Flux Capacitor Needs Service

Flux Capacitor
Today is October 21st, 2015.

It’s the late Dizzy Gillespie’s 98th birthday, Kim Kardashian’s 35th, and THD’s own Sherri Mayer and Cris Parisi are celebrating today.

The USS Constitution “Old Ironsides” was launched on this day in 1797, cement was patented in 1824, Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb in 1879… and in 1985 Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox traveled through time in a Delorean.

As Marty and Doc, they got their hands on enough plutonium to generate a charge of 1.21 gigawatts and set the date to October 21st, 2015.

The movie, released in 1989, made some pretty bold and surprisingly accurate predictions.

Some have come true…

Flat screen TVs, drones, 3D, Holograms? Check.

Artificial Intelligence? Hello IBM Watson.

Some seem close…

Hoverboards? Getting close, thanks to Lexus. Flying cars? Not so much, but probably only off by a decade or so. They also predicted fax machines on every corner… whoops!

All this got us thinking about, well, 1985 and what we, as fundraisers, might have predicted.

“My fundraising program won’t survive – my donors are dying!”

Here we are in 2015 and charitable giving is at an all-time high. Your audience has shifted, sure, but a huge number of baby boomers are just entering the most charitable stage of their lives.

“I just added an 800# into my last direct mail piece! My fundraising practice is REALLY integrated now!”

None of us could have predicted that “integration” would grow to include such an incredible, ever-evolving mix of channels. Or that good ol’ direct mail – whose demise has been forecast for decades – would continue to thrive as a cost-effective part of your marketing mix.

“My brand? What do you mean, my brand?”

In 1985 we were organizations. Not “brands” with stories, unique voices and instantly recognizable wristbands, clothing lines… or ice buckets.

Fundraising databases were stored on mainframe computers that covered the area of several football fields. Imagine telling someone in 1985 they would be in a “cloud”.

In 1985 “Omnichannel” was likely to be a new venture brought to you by Ted Turner. “Cross Channel” was a swim from England to France. A “viral” campaign was something you probably wanted to avoid. And “mobile” was… well, moving.

What hasn’t changed?

Americans continue to be among the most generous people on earth. They might lend their support differently than they did in 1985, but their ability to feel compassion – and act on it – remains the same.

Say what you want about the impact of modern technology on our lives. But no one can challenge the fact that it has provided us with new and innovative ways to support the things that mean something to us.

It’s an exciting time to be a fundraiser! Imagine what we’ll have accomplished when Marty and Doc land in 2045, in their fully electric, self-navigating Google Delorean.

BTW, the movie also predicted the Cubs would win the World Series in 2015. As of this writing…

Social Media Advice… From Winston Churchill

winston-churchill_1202859c

“It’s a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

Ok, he didn’t say that about social media, but… he said it.

Social has become second nature to all of us. As much a part of our daily lives as getting our morning coffee. In fact, ask yourself, what comes first in the morning? Getting that coffee or checking your feeds?

So does anyone else see the irony in how much talking we do in the non profit world about how to use social?

The bad news? Ol’ Winny was right. Social isn’t easy, it takes resources, careful thought and planning.

The good news? I’m not going to give you yet another case study in all the things we’ve done right in social under the headline of “Look how easy it is…”

Instead, I’d like to share a couple reasonably simple, useful tools that you can take advantage of today. Tools that can in fact make things just a little bit easier for you.

Let’s start with Facebook.

In late August Facebook introduced a new “Donate Now” call to action option for ads and pages. All NPOs should have this CTA appearing on their cover photo but that’s really just the first step. More significantly you’ll be able to test multiple CTAs including “Donate Now.” With this extra flexibility you’ll be able to design your posts to align with the CTA and hopefully improve conversions. You’ll no longer be forced to use “Learn More” as the CTA in an appeal post.

Facebook has also begun testing lead gen ads that will allow people to subscribe in stream – without needing to click through to your site. Any time you are trying to acquire new leads, simplicity and minimizing the number of clicks is key. So between Facebook’s ability to target and this kind of seamless experience, it’s hard not to be excited about this.

Finally, while it’s not necessarily new, it’s worth spending some time getting familiar with Facebook custom audiences. We all know that changes in Facebook’s algorithm have made it hard to rely on organic reach so combining some tried and true segmentation strategy with a small investment tailoring posts to your constituents could go a long way.

#WhatsNewWithTwitter

Twitter’s lead gen cards aren’t new but may be new to you as they have flown a bit under the radar. Like those being tested by Facebook, Twitter offers these custom tweets that allow you to collect email addresses within the tweet. Twitter offers targeting and the ability to promote to constituent lookalike audiences like Facebook as well. On a cost per conversion basis it’s worth testing as part of your acquisition strategy.

Just a couple weeks ago Twitter announced it had lifted the restriction on characters in direct messages. This won’t have any impact on the way you currently post to Twitter but it could have a profound impact on how you engage key influencers. Instead of a short note thanking someone for their support and asking for more, you now have the ability to send a more personalized note and make an impact at first contact. A relatively small functional change in the grand scheme of things but a large opportunity for you.

#Donate

Finally, remember when mobile giving was supposed to change the way people give? Ultimately it was done in by limits on gift sizes and the carriers taking too large a share of each gift. It seems, however, that a new startup might have developed a platform that could be what text2give aspired to be.

GoodWorld has a program that makes it fairly simple to give to a participating charity using just a #. How does it work? The first (and probably hardest) step is that donors will have to sign up and register a credit card with GoodWorld. If someone attempts #donate and they aren’t registered, GoodWorld will send them a link.

Once registered, all they need to do is go to your Facebook or Twitter page, enter #donate followed by the amount they want to give. Simple as that.

Yes, there are some fees per transaction (4.8% to GoodWorld and 2.2% to the donor’s credit card company) but they aren’t excessive. As an NPO, to participate you can register at http://goodworld.me.

Since I started with a quote from Sir Winston, I thought I’d close with one that’s apropos as well:

“Never, never, never give up.”

Keep testing, keep learning and find what works for YOU. Social is not a one size fits all platform.

BTW, our blog is new so follow us for more fundraising news, insights and advice from deceased world leaders.