We don’t care what our donors think of us

home_photoby Guest Editor Tom Ahern It was a moment. Adrian Sargeant—that’s Professor Adrian Sargeant—researcher, author, holder of the first Robert F. Hartsook Chair in fundraising at The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, had just finished explaining how marketers use satisfaction surveys to gauge the contentment of their customers. You’ve seen these surveys. They make statements, then offer the survey-taker five choices: strongly disagree, disagree, neither agree nor disagree, agree, strongly agree. (That particular range of choices is called a Likert scale, by the way; named for the psychologist who invented it. It’s the most widely used scale in survey research.) So. There were at least 150 fundraisers in the room on December 1 in Toronto, at the AFP Congress. And Dr. Sargeant asked that audience, “How many here conduct donor satisfaction surveys?” My head swiveled to sweep the room. Not one hand went up that I could see. It was definitely a moment. A room packed with professional fundraisers had just admitted they didn’t know the first thing about measuring customer (i.e., donor) satisfaction. And yet that kind of measurement is the foundation for predictable, sustainable marketing (i.e., fundraising) success. Welcome to another dark secret of the fundraising industry. Fundraising, stripped of its airs, is technically just a form of marketing. Yet fundraisers do not commonly track marketing’s most basic metric: satisfaction. Oops. Dr. Sargeant has conducted his own donor satisfaction surveys, since charities seem universally disinclined to do so. I’ll give you a moment to fetch a tissue. Here’s his key finding: Donors in general are not very satisfied with the charities they support. Let’s return to the Likert scale. The choice in the middle of the scale is neither agree nor disagree. Another name for that same middle value is neutral. And that’s where the fundraising industry is stuck: neutral. Adrian Sargeant found that most donors have neither a good nor a bad opinion of their charities. Mostly they have no opinion. Happy with that? Don’t be. In a well-run, profitable marketing (i.e., fundraising) operation, most customers (i.e., donors) would say they are either satisfied or very satisfied in satisfaction surveys. Neutral is for losers. And that’s where we’re stuck. Dr. Sargeant went on to enumerate how businesses “lose a lover” (i.e., a customer, i.e., a donor):
  • Ignore them
  • Lie to them
  • Fail to return calls/answer letters
  • Be uncivil
  • Fail to deliver on promises
  • Increase prices
  • Don’t turn up on time
He also pointed out that the #1 reason—by far—causing customer (i.e., donor) defection is this: “lack of interest from the supplier” (i.e., lack of interest from the charitable organization). Translation: The apparently common practice of never asking donors about their satisfaction is suicidal. Takeaway: The predictable result of neutral satisfaction among donors? Shamefully subpar donor retention. According to Dr. Sargeant, in the UK, half of first-time donors do not make a second gift. In the U.S., it’s even worse: Of every six new donors acquired, five depart inside a year, his studies show. Reprinted with permission from the Ahern E-Newsletter: About Donor Communications. Copyright © 2010 by Tom Ahern.

How multichannel fundraising really works

360-view-1852The maxims of multichannel fundraising are becoming clichés. We hear about the importance of building a 360-degree view of a donor’s involvement with your organization. That you should have a conversation with your constituents extending across channels, rather than settling for a siloed series of messages dictated by your structural chart. But the simplicity of these statements is deceptive. To create a truly integrated fundraising program, you must embrace complexity. In a multichannel environment, success relies on much greater sophistication in how we create, track, and analyze donor interactions. This new reality was brought home by our agency when trying to analyze the results of a straightforward test my colleagues and I performed several years ago with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Norfolk VA) in its direct mail renewal series. For those donors with prior online giving history, we modified their renewal notice to put a strong drive-to-Web push on the outer envelope. Our hypothesis was that we could inspire multichannel donors to renew more quickly by highlighting the online renewal option before they even opened an envelope. The risk of the test was that by taking emphasis away from the response device in the mail piece, we could depress overall response—even including any potential online membership renewal gifts. And on the initial review of the results, it appeared that this was the case. We tracked all gifts received through the mail and all gifts received through the special URLs included on both the control and test versions of the notice. The control version, without the strong drive-to-Web push on the carrier envelope, had a slightly higher response rate including both online and offline gifts, although it was not a statistically significant difference. However, as we looked at these results and scratched our heads, we noticed something funny. For both the control and the test, there were only a handful of gifts recorded to the unique URLs we included in the mail piece. Because all of the donors in the control and test had a history of online giving, that seemed wrong. We decided to go an extra step and match back any online renewal gifts received within a month of the in-home date of the mail renewal notice. The result was breathtaking. For both the control and test segments, the overall response nearly doubled. And now, the test segment—those donors who received the same renewal messages both online and through the mail, but who had the online giving option emphasized on the outside of their mail notice—had a response rate 11% higher than the control, a statistically significant difference. When we looked at the overall renewal rates for both cohorts at the end of the renewal series, we saw the same effect—overall, more donors renewed who had the drive-to-Web push on their mail notice. We learned a number of things from this test:
  • First, and perhaps most noteworthy, we discovered our donors were not behaving in the neat and easily trackable manner we envisioned when we set up the test. Rather than type in the special URL we gave them, the great majority of the donors chose to give online in their own way. And who can blame them? It’s a lot easier to type a couple words into a search box than to painstakingly transpose a URL.
  • Second, we proved that offline messaging can influence online behavior in a head-to-head test. The only difference in our messaging between the two donor pools was the stronger drive-to-Web push we tested—and we showed with statistical confidence that more donors renewed their membership when presented with a cross-channel option.
  • And, finally, we discovered—especially with a program as sophisticated as PETA’s—that it’s crucial to analyze the full range of donor interactions when determining strategy, even for a channel as established as the mail. Of course, a simple test like this is just the tip of the iceberg. The old reports and donor pathways are no longer sufficient—you must build a way to see, track, and analyze all the different ways your donors are experiencing and interacting with your organization in order to be able to build and refine a true multichannel fundraising and cultivation strategy.
It’s a daunting task. But be sure to embrace the complexity! Peter Schoewe is a Vice President at Mal Warwick | Donordigital.

BOOK: Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3…: Raise More Money with Direct Mail Tests

testing-testing-cover2Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3…: Raise More Money with Direct Mail Tests By Mal Warwick Published by Jossey-Bass (2003) Fundraising experts know that successful direct mail requires a continual search for improvements in copy, package formats, and lists through trial-and-error testing. There is no doubt that testing—when done correctly—can raise more money for your organization. In Testing, Testing, 1,2,3 direct mail and fundraising expert Mal Warwick shows how the cumulative value of thoughtful, systematic testing can help your organization reach its direct mail fundraising goals. This reader-friendly guide will take you through each phase of the scientific process of discovering your organization’s ideal combination of direct mail offer, package, and postage. Like Warwick’s other, widely quoted books on fundraising, Testing, Testing, 1,2,3 is based on an abundance of real-world examples drawn from his more than two decades of experience in direct mail. Available for purchase at Amazon.com and other retailers.