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.

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