Online Giving & Action



If It Works, Do It Again.

Direct response fundraising tends to be consumed in first impressions, rather than in-depth reading of your content. Most of your readers are scanning your work, and not really following the arc of your beautifully created narrative from message to message.

Because of this, being repetitive works.

Rather than scrupulously picking up where you left off Oliver Twist-style after your last fundraising communication, often saying what you just said again works best.

Among the best places to put this strategy to work is in your membership renewal series. In a membership renewal campaign (email or direct mail), you begin by sending a notice to your supporters letting them know that it’s time to renew their membership and sharing all the wonderful things that their membership makes possible.

Some of your supporters will respond and some won’t. Those who don’t respond to this first notice within the response window you set (around 3-4 weeks in direct mail and a matter of days in email), will receive a reminder message from you. And those who still don’t respond will continue to receive reminders as needed over 3 to 10 or more subsequent communications of varied approaches with increasing intensity

Even though membership renewal campaigns are serial in this way, that doesn’t mean each notice needs to be different though. In fact, if one notice in your series is uniquely strong, don’t be afraid to send it again.

For example, many organizations include a membership card in their first direct mail membership renewal notice because it makes sense as the starting place for the renewal dialogue. This technique, which looks a little something like this, also usually produces a very strong response:

Unfortunately, you can’t expect your next renewal notice to non-responders to hit it out of the park in quite the same way. But chances are if you repeat the strategies that worked exceptionally well in the preceding package—in this case the membership card—you’ll achieve better results than you would with a general reminder notice (up to 10% more revenue in testing we’ve done at MKDM).

Here’s what “if it works, do it again” looks like in this scenario:

The same idea holds true in email, perhaps even more so. If you find one particular email in a series surprises you with exceptionally strong results, drop whatever you had planned next and resend it.

Bottom line: be on the lookout for the real stars of your direct mail and email campaigns. If a first act brings the house down, make it the second act too, and maybe even the third.




10 Ways to Improve Your Email Fundraising NOW

With online giving continuing to grow at a faster pace than giving overall according to the Blackbaud Index, it’s more important than ever for nonprofits to get serious about their online communications and fundraising strategies. And with one-third of online revenue being tracked to email according to the organizations represented in the newly released 2013 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study, it’s absolutely essential for nonprofits to develop and sharpen their email strategies. Whether you’re just getting started or want to build on an established program, here are ten best practices in email fundraising that can help you improve your results right away:

1. Use deadlines. Deadlines and goals are very effective motivators for giving in general, and particularly in email fundraising. In the same way that public radio fundraising thrives on goals and the ability to convey on-the-air updates on those goals, email fundraising permits regular updates with increasing urgency and reminders that can be uniquely motivating to constituents.

2. Use NEAR-TERM deadlines. Email is the fruit fly of direct response fundraising. Everything is short-lived. While a direct mail appeal may continue to return over 6+ weeks, email drives giving for only about 24 hours. In the same vein, next to giving on the first day a deadline is announced via email, most donors will elect to give on the final day, even in the final hours, before a deadline when they are reminded via email. Thirty days is an eternity in email fundraising. Generally, you should plan to set deadlines for email campaigns in the 10- to 15-day range, and make sure you send at least one reminder on the final day of the campaign, if not several as the clock runs out.


3. Think multi-notice campaigns. No matter how great your emails are, an individual email message may generate a response rate that’s 10-20 times lower than a direct mail effort. Email fundraising works best when a campaign goal/message is conveyed through multiple email messages under a unified campaign umbrella over a concentrated period of time. Much like a direct mail membership renewal series, multi-part email campaigns make the case for support for a single theme or purpose via multiple varied messages and reminders. A single email fundraising campaign, for example, may be comprised of 3-10+ email messages depending on the time of year and the organization’s email communications program.

4. Don’t ask for money every time you email. In fact, don’t even consider launching an email fundraising program until you have a solid email communications program in place. Capture your constituents’ hearts and engage their brains with a steady stream of informative communications that share your organization’s issues and work BEFORE you ask. As a rule of thumb, for every one fundraising email you send, you should be sending at least three varied, program-related communications as part of a larger communications plan and strategy. Think trust and interest first; giving second.

5. A.B.T. (Always Be Testing). Email is incredibly fickle. A format or subject line style that works one month can’t necessarily be successfully replicated the next. “Hey,” may have been the breakout subject line for the Obama campaign this past fall, but that didn’t mean they could go out a week later with something like “Whoa” (hypothetically) and necessarily expect the same success. You can’t be sure of much in email – but fortunately you can test the waters easily. Always plan to test at least two (and usually more) elements of each email (subject line, header, callout box, sender, graphics, layout, etc.) among a small subset of your file, then roll out with the best email to the rest of the file once you have enough returns to pick a winner, usually in a couple of hours.

Barack Obama campaign subject lines

6. When it comes to subject lines, think personal and pithy (for now). Back to #5, what’s true today may not be true tomorrow, so testing is essential. But that said, colloquial, indirect subject lines generally command the strongest open rates and often the most revenue. For example, in head-to-head testing, a stiff subject line with leading caps such as “Campaign Deadline Tonight” will almost always lose to a simpler, more casual subject line approach such as “6 hours left.”

7. Write emails worth reading. Realize that yours are among many messages interrupting your constituents’ lives every time you email. Not just on their desktops at work or laptops at home, but also – even more intrusively – in their pockets when they’re out to dinner with friends, on the playground with their kids, out shopping for groceries, and so on. That’s not a reason to email less though. It’s a reason to make each and every email worth reading and relevant.

8. Segment your audiences. To be relevant (N.B. #7), make sure you are able to segment your email audiences – at a minimum – by 1) state, city or region, 2) past email responses (opens, clicks, actions taken), and 3) giving (donor vs. non-donor). For example, if there are legislative/policy issues meaningful to your organization that are taking place in a specific state, you should be able to talk to your constituents in that state about those issues. Or at times you may want to tightly target messages that ask constituents to take action to those who have already taken action. And you certainly want to be able to adapt your messaging appropriately for donors vs. not-yet-donors. Your ability (or not) to segment your audience and tailor your messages accordingly has a direct effect on your fundraising potential.

9. Register, subscribe and give. One of the best ways to get email ideas is to get a lot of emails. Sign up for organizations’ email lists for inspiration and ideas – and be sure to convey your thanks and recognize their work by giving when you can.

10. Send emails, not “e-blasts.” I’ll never forget attending a copywriting workshop many years ago in which the direct mail fundraising pioneer Kay Lautman urged us to elevate the medium and not think of our work as “direct mail” but instead think of it as “writing letters.” Her point was that letters are real, considerate communications rooted in respect and trust between the sender and the reader – and that’s the way you should approach any letter, whether it’s to 1 person or 100,000. Direct mail, if you think of it as merely that, is junk. The same holds true with email. “E-blasts” are the junk mail of today – and is that really what you want to send to your very important donors and constituents? Besides, donors respond better to emails that are personal, carefully considered, and stem from a real foundation of trust and respect.

So, do you have any tips to add? I hope you’ll share them in the comments section below! And if you’re not in Minneapolis for the Nonprofit Technology Conference which kicks off Thursday April 11, you can still sign up to attend online and follow #13NTC on Twitter for great insights on online giving and digital donor communications.




Komen’s Antisocial Media

On Tuesday night Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced to the public that it was pulling about $700,000 in annual funding to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening services. The next morning, amid bad press and widespread disapproval of the decision, they gave us what could very well be the ultimate case study in nonprofit antisocial media

Komen says … it pulled the funding because of a policy change prohibiting the organization from funding groups under investigation by local, state or federal authorities. Because Planned Parenthood is the subject of an investigation by a Representative from Florida as to how the organization reports and spends its money, it is no longer eligible for funding under Komen’s new funding criteria.

Planned Parenthood says ... baloney. Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood says Komen’s decision is politically-motivated and that the organization has been “bullied by right-wing groups.” Others point to Komen’s new anti-abortion, anti-Planned Parenthood vice president as the reason for the decision.

As Kivi Leroux Miller details in her post, The Accidental Rebranding of Komen for the Cure, the organization that made pink the new black prepared its donors and constituents for this announcement by doing … nothing.

And when the organization did finally begin to communicate with its supporters a half-day into 2012’s worst nonprofit PR disaster so far, the communication did little more than fan the fire further.

So what was so antisocial about Komen’s handling of this issue?

1. They didn’t talk about it (until it was too late). They left an announcement about Energizer becoming the organization’s latest one-million-dollar-plus corporate contributor twisting in the wind at the top of their Facebook wall until mid-morning:

As of Wednesday night, the post had over 2,000 comments, not about batteries.

2. They deleted comments. Until they posted their own statement on their Facebook wall they deleted anti-Komen comments.

3. They didn’t talk about it well, and they didn’t invite dialogue. When they finally put the Energizer Bunny out of its misery and posted a comment on Facebook mid-morning yesterday, their message was a corporate one about defending their position, not an individual one about having a dialogue:

In a medium known for its low tolerance for corporate-speak (i.e. BS), the closing comment that Planned Parenthood shouldn’t fundraise around the loss of breast cancer screening funding because it would be a disservice to women, is ill-chosen, if not nonsensical.

Planned Parenthood is, of course, fundraising and constituency-building around the issue because they have a great fundraising program, and an intelligent communications strategy.




11 Strategies For Extraordinary Fundraising in ‘11

Nonprofits have been soldiering through shaky fundraising territory for the past several years. With the addition of “fear index” and “double dip” to the mainstream economic crisis vocabulary in the past few days, we can probably expect those challenges to stay around for a while and maybe even intensify.

So what do we do?

First, recognize that a lousy economy calls on nonprofits to be more than merely competent; a lousy economy challenges nonprofits to be extraordinary.

And second, as you roll up your sleeves on your extremely important fall fundraising campaigns against an uncertain economic backdrop, do the one thing you can: Don’t settle for 10. Turn it up to 11.

To get you started, here are 11 ways your nonprofit can turn up your fundraising from great to extraordinary in 2011:

1. Write letters, not direct mail. It’s surprisingly easy to forget that direct mail is really just a letter from one person to another. Often, the best direct mail fundraising doesn’t look or feel like direct mail at all – like a closed face envelope with an un-designed return address and an actual postage stamp. Or a letter that begins “Dear Evelyn,” not “Dear Friend.” Or a message that is driven by substance, not appearance.

2. Write emails, not eblasts. A “blast” is like dropping flyers out of an airplane – not particularly targeted, respectful or effective. When was the last time you heard someone say, “Wow, that mass email advertisement I received really made me feel special and inspired me?” It’s easy to hide behind your email marketing tools and fundraising templates. Remember that a fundraising email you send to your donors and constituents should be just as relevant, personal and carefully considered as an email that you might send from your own computer to someone you know personally. In fact, why not send your next fundraising email in plain text from your Executive Director’s actual Outlook account?

3. Give your constituents options for involvement. It’s important to recognize, create and value ways people can get involved in advancing your organization’s mission. A person may care about your issues and want to take action, but not be able to contribute financially right now. Don’t exclude them. There are plenty of ways they can help – you just need to offer them. And when an involved constituent is ready and able to give financially, you better believe that they’re going to give to the nonprofit that gave them a place at the table when they didn’t have two nickels to rub together.

4. Give your donors options for giving. A commonly used direct response ask array is 100%, 150%, or 200% of the donor’s highest or last gift amount. It’s a good upgrade-oriented ask strategy, but if not targeted appropriately, it can also be brutishly response-suppressing. Target your ask strategies by donor segment (such as current, lapsed, multi, single), and develop your ask around what you want to have happen for each particular donor segment. For instance if you are communicating with active donors who have given multiple times, then the upgrade-oriented ask array would be appropriate. However, if you are communicating with deeply lapsed donors, your immediate goal should be reinstatement, not an upgrade, in which case you may want to offer downgrade options to lower barriers to participation. And for donors who just can’t make single gifts at previous levels, now is a time to consider offering installment options.

5. Focus like a laser on donor retention. An organization’s donors are its most valuable asset. At a time when it’s more difficult to acquire new donors, and existing donors are most likely to lapse, it’s critical to retain the donors your organization has. Because the single most significant driver of donor retention is solicitation frequency, start by examining the frequency and quality of your organization’s donor solicitations and communications. If you’re only communicating / soliciting a couple of times a year, your organization is unquestionably leaking donors. Pick up the quality and frequency of your communications to help guard against attrition.

6. Start a monthly giving program. Monthly giving programs are powerful tools for retention and upgrading. Let’s say your average active donor gives $60 a year. When they join your monthly giving program with a $10 per month pledge, they double their annual giving. And because their pledge is processed via credit card, they can remain active donors and valuable partners in your mission almost indefinitely. Monthly giving programs are a lot of work to set up and manage, and monthly donors require special stewardship – but it’s nothing your “11” nonprofit can’t handle.

7. Be brave. Are you making the same formulaic argument for support season after season? Now is not the time to blend safely into the crowd. Put yourself out there. Challenge yourself creatively and inject some standout passion, color and personality into your communications.

8. Connect, for real. Development and membership people are trained to make the case for support, to explain. But explaining to donors what your nonprofit does, why it’s important, and what you achieve can quickly turn into a one-way conversation. Instead of building your case for support around what you need from your donors, build it around your donors’ needs. Once you begin to look at your issues through your donors’ eyes you can create a foundation for genuine two-way conversation and connection. This in turn will help you build deeper more lasting relationships with your donors.

9. Get serious about multichannel and integration by getting the help you need. The statistics speak for themselves. Online giving is the fastest growing channel. (To learn more, read Convio‘s Online Marketing Nonprofit Benchmark Index Study.) The mobile web is predicted to be bigger than desktop internet use by 2015. According to analysis from Blackbaud, nonprofits that add social media communications to their constituent communications mix experience increased fundraising results. And so the advice that nonprofits hear over and over is this: if you’re not where your donors, and future donors, are then you may find yourself wondering where they all went a few years from now. But it’s not actually very helpful advice, because nonprofits already know this. The obstacle isn’t buy-in to multichannel; it’s lack of technical resources and mountains of logistical hurdles created by outdated databases and websites designed in 1997. If you have problems like getting interactive content on your website, designing, targeting and sending emails with your current system and resources, or maintaining a meaningful social media presence, then you need to solve them. A great place to begin is by joining NTEN (the Nonprofit Technology Network) which can help connect you with resources to take your nonprofit’s tech to the next level as well as a community of people who eat, sleep, and breathe this stuff – and are generous about sharing what they know.

10. Acknowledge donor anniversaries. We celebrate wedding anniversaries to affirm relationships. We celebrate birthdays to say “we’re glad you’re here.” Why not celebrate donor anniversaries – the anniversary of your donor’s first investment in your organization’s work – to send the same message? Donor anniversaries are a great opportunity to strengthen donor relationships, raise additional funds for your organization, and strengthen donor retention.

11. Think hugs not shrugs. It’s great if you were already a 10 on your donor stewardship. But in this economy you can’t give up – you’ve got to turn up the love to 11. Be positive. Share your gratitude. Say thank you in special ways. It doesn’t cost much if anything, but the rewards are great. Kudos to one near and dear organization who will, literally, be giving hugs (not mandatory!) to each and every contributor to their annual fund this year. That’s what I call 11 thinking.

At the end of the day, we can’t control extraordinary economic events, but we can be extraordinary. How is your organization turning it up to 11?

Thanks for reading and connecting!

P.S. Just for fun, identify the photo reference with this post correctly and then tell us your favorite nonprofit (and why, if you’d like) in the comments section. If you’re the first, The Nth Factor will be very happy to make a contribution to the nonprofit you name.




Best of Bridge 2011

The sixth annual Bridge Conference on integrated marketing and fundraising for nonprofits ended Friday, but the great content will stay with us long after.

Here are just a few words of wisdom from sessions I was lucky enough to attend at this year’s conference:

“I’ve never regretted taking the high road.” – Jocelyn Harmon, Care2 (on online etiquette). Good advice offline too.

“Write stronger; someone is going to weaken it.”– Barry Cox

“Blogging without responding to comments isn’t community building; it’s broadcasting.” – Sarah Durham, Big Duck

“Remember: monthly donors are future planned giving donors.” – Steve Kehrli, PETA

“50% of donors who have had a bad experience with a nonprofit don’t complain to the nonprofit … the problem is, they complain to others.”– Katya Andresen, Network for Good

“The message that matters most isn’t what your nonprofit is doing; it’s why it’s doing it.” – Barry Cox

Great stuff – but a woefully incomplete list! What were your favorite comments and advice from the conference? Post them here or email directly, and we’ll compile a complete “Best of Bridge” comments list. Looking forward to connecting!




Religion, Politics and Branding

Want to get a roomful of people who work in fundraising riled up? Forget religion and politics. Talk about branding.

Maybe that’s because branding is a lot like religion. And politics. It has its thought leaders, moderates, fundamentalists, left wingers, independents, evangelists…. And like religion and politics, it stands for different things for different people.

Nonprofit branding gets especially controversial in direct response fundraising. A brown logo-free carrier envelope with your organization’s name and return address in Times New Roman will almost always generate a better response than a meticulously branded one. It will also almost always irritate, and possibly even enrage, your communications director.

Jeff Brooks rails regularly, and rightfully so, over at Future Fundraising Now against the type of narrow branding mentality that kills direct response fundraising.

But this doesn’t mean you have to violate your brand to create really good direct response fundraising. That’s because branding is about a whole lot more than logos, color palettes and font families. In fact, if your brand IS your logo, then you’re in trouble.

Some think that branding is about how you present yourself. But branding is really about how people see you. Or as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos put it: your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

And so in direct response fundraising, true brand integrity comes down to one simple thing: being recognizable to your donors in a way that goes far deeper than your logo and fonts.

What does this mean? Well, take yourself.

You don’t wear the same clothes every day. You mood isn’t always the same. You come up with new ideas and ways of expressing them. But this doesn’t prevent your friends from recognizing you and caring about you when you walk into the room. In fact, they love you. Not because you’re some vanilla version of who you think you should be for them. But because you’re you and you’re interesting.

So think about – or rethink – what it means for your nonprofit to be “on brand.” Being human is a pretty great starting place.




Why Your Nonprofit Should Use QR Codes (Even If Your Donors Don’t)


There has been a lot of talk this year from np techies to fundraising pros alike about QR (“quick response”) codes – those blocky looking codes that, when scanned by your mobile device, take you to a URL or send a phone number or text to your smartphone. We’re seeing more and more case studies of nonprofits using QR codes to successfully mobilize constituents. And for every new case study it seems that there are dozens more ideas waiting on whiteboards everywhere.

But for the most part, it needs to be said, the vast majority of our donors probably aren’t equipped to use QR codes, much less know what they are.

For instance, to read a QR code, you need a smartphone. While the number of smartphone users is increasing, according to Nielsen, smartphone users currently comprise only 28% of the mobile phone market. And it’s the younger part of the mobile market. For example, half of all Andriod users are under the age of 35. Do your donors fit this profile? If you’re like most nonprofits, chances are most of your donors, and your most valuable ones, don’t.

Even if you’re a donor who owns a smartphone though, you need to be sufficiently tech savvy and interested in QR codes to install a reader on your phone. Some Nokia models come pre-installed with a QR reader, but the top selling smartphones – the iPhone and Droid – don’t. At least not yet. True, readers are free, and easy to install, but again, awareness and perceived need are the crucial precursors. You know how your mother has a cell phone, but doesn’t text? Not surprisingly, 25% of U.S. smartphone users don’t even use their data service, according to another Nielsen report.

Are these reasons not to experiment with QR codes in your membership program? No way. The mobile web is predicted to be bigger than desktop internet use by 2015. Though your donors may still be getting there, that’s no reason not to be ready for them when they do, or better yet, help show them the way.

But you need to recognize and understand that simple fact – your donors are still getting there – so that when you do test QR codes in your own program, you do so in a meaningful way.

So have I gotten you thinking about the fact that your donors aren’t using QR codes? Great. Then now is an excellent time to make a list of ways your forward-thinking nonprofit is going to test them. Just start your brainstorming the same place you always do, no matter what the medium:

What do you want to say? Who do you want to say it to? What do you want to have happen?

And then imagine how this new medium might be uniquely helpful in achieving those goals, now, next year, and the year after.




A Lesson in Online Constituency Building From … Major Gifts



The tools of traditional offline direct response fundraising produce terrifically concrete and immediate results. We solicit our donors, they respond, we measure our results. As the name itself implies, it’s a direct, largely black and white, medium. We either meet our fundraising goals or we don’t.

While direct response produces wonderfully immediate and measurable results, it can also produce not-so-wonderful linear thinking when it comes to membership development strategy. Every new media breakthrough brings out our dreamers just as much as it brings out our skeptics: “Sure (insert new media here) is all good and well,” they say, “but how do I actually raise money with it?”

Direct response is an excellent membership development tool, of course. And I believe that a healthy measure of skepticism can serve us well too. But we can also benefit from approaching new prospective membership development tools with a little imagination, and a little patience.

The good news is, as online constituency-building establishes its place in membership development, the direct response world is doing just this. It’s recognizing that there’s more than simply drawing a straight line from Solicitation to Gift. Our programs now embrace, or at least accommodate, the in-between state of participation – i.e. non-giving relationships centered around action, conversation, or other engagement – now made possible on a large scale online, as a deliberate first step on the path to giving.

Revolutionary? Not really.

Major gift fundraising – one of the earliest forms of development to be defined as the field became organized and professionalized many decades ago – has long practiced a staged approach to fundraising that is at the heart of today’s online constituency-building strategy. Its best practitioners share a number of qualities that can be uniquely instructional to us as we shape our approaches to identifying action-takers and converting them to donors online.

For instance …

Major gifts people are patient. They don’t look at their watches when they’re talking to a prospective donor. They never interrupt a good conversation with an ask.

Major gifts people embrace the journey. They trust that if they make it a good one, and travel with the right person, they’ll arrive at their destination.

Major gifts people are strategic. They always have a plan, and they are always thinking three moves ahead.

As we establish new models for direct response membership development encompassing online constituency building, let’s not forget that sometimes the most valuable models for our future aren’t actually new at all. They are alive and thriving in our present.




Activism, Slacktivism or Something Else?

ProtestRecently, there’s been some chatter in the press about the value of digital advocacy, including this article in the Washington Post, and this post by Foreign Policy blogger Evgeny Morozov.

The term that comes up frequently is “slacktivism.” Born of “slacker” and “activism,” the term refers to supporting a social cause by taking an action that is easy to do and feels good, but is unlikely to make a difference. It could be something like signing an online petition, like the one I got a few months ago petitioning North Korea to release journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling. It could be joining a Facebook cause. Or it could be changing your Twitter avatar green, as many did in support of this summer’s Iranian protests.

Some worry that this so-called armchair activism might take the place of real activism. Rather than showing up at a local protest, or taking the time to personally call our senators, perhaps we will feel we have already done enough, just by signing this petition or joining that cause.

But those concerns seem to miss the point. Do we really think that North Korea, a government known for repressing its citizens, is going to respond to a petition? Do we think Iranian President Ahmadinejad will resign if we can get #iranelection to become a trending topic on Twitter? Would we call ourselves Activists?

Probably not. [If you disagree, check out this article from DigiActive, which contains comments from Twitter users about why they changed their avatars green.]

So why exactly are we inspired to take action? We suggest it is because — however effective or not — this type of action allows us to …

1) Respond to a situation that has triggered an emotional response — anger, sadness or hope

2) Publicly express our desires about the world we want to live in

3) Feel a sense of belonging in a larger movement

4) Get involved — in a simple way — in a hugely complicated issue

And that’s the encouraging message for fundraisers. People really do want to change the world, to be part of a movement that makes a difference.

But it is our responsibility to get people involved — through communicating the emotional impact of our work and creating easy ways for donors and prospective supporters to become engaged in our complicated causes.

As we enter the fall, think about what your year-end fundraising effort has in common with the last digital advocacy campaign you took part in. If the answer is nothing, you might want to think again.