Paths to year-end fundraising success in a multichannel world

AMC_YE2013-Lbox3-Calendar_FINAL copyDirect response fundraising should be multichannel. I say this all the time and while direct causation is sometimes difficult to track, I stand by the principle that truly donor-centric communications allow donors to access information in the channel they choose. We also have the data analysis to prove that multichannel donors are the most valuable donors for an organization to have over the long term. It’s our responsibility to ensure that the messaging is cohesive and coordinated. In the real world of people opening their mail, answering their phones, and checking their inboxes, a multichannel donor is a person who knows what matters to them, consumes information in a number of ways, and dedicates some time and their dollars to the cause that moves them. Maybe it was the person that asked them to make a donation, or the photo on that envelope or at the top of that email, or a headline in large font, or simply the timing of an email that was formatted nicely on their iPhone6 while they were waiting on a train platform – whatever the trigger, later that night they remembered to go on your organization’s website and make a donation. The most important thing about a multichannel donor is that they decide to give and give in a channel different than their first gift. That change and movement to being “channel agnostic” means that they are more likely to give again to your organization and to give a larger amount. So, how do you embrace multichannel messaging when planning for year-end? The reality is that every detail matters when it comes to achieving year-round fundraising success in a multichannel world. Year-end fundraising is a unique challenge because of the competition for dollars among organizations and a limited number of donors. The sheer volume of fundraising appeals by nonprofit organizations is enough to overwhelm any person who opens their mailbox or their in-box. As a direct response agency, we’ve learned to adapt and innovate in the unique environment of year-end fundraising. Below is a quick overview to how we approach year-end fundraising success in a multichannel world.
  1. Create a communications matrix that honors the donors’ perspective. Align your channels by reviewing your year-end calendar for mail, email, website promotion and telephone solicitations. Consider how your donor and non-donors audiences will react to getting multiple appeals for funds in different channels. Adopt a donor-centric approach and make sure your appeal calendar is driven by their needs. Honor and accept those things that won’t cross channels (not everything can be integrated!).
  2. Scour your organization for other opportunities to coordinate messaging. These might include newsletters or magazines, direct mail acknowledgment buckslips, welcome kits and welcome series, videos or other online resources.
  3. Segment your audiences carefully and integrate those segments into the communications matrix. Think about the best way to approach each with the correct ask or cultivation. For example, what about those folks that are getting direct mail during the year-end email series? What about those who aren’t? Also plan for coordination in gift asks – although donors will often give higher gifts online, it’s important to keep gift strings similar across the channels.
  4. Fundraising techniques aside, it’s the content and messaging that you create that will drive your supporter’s attention span and engagement. Donors want to be asked and inspired to make a year-end gift. Take the lead-time you need to produce engaging content that can span across direct mail appeals, emails, videos, year-in-review annual reports, holiday cards, infographics and more. Remember, donors have short attention spans (especially online donors), so highlighting key points are important whatever the channel – direct mail letter P.S. content, reply devices, and email masthead and sidebars, to be exact.
  5. Carefully consider your email calendar in December so you can create the right cadence for your supporters. One message per week and then an increasing number the last few days is the new normal, so jump on board and craft an authentic email series that inspires your supports to give. Consider the dates that your mail will reach donors in-home and if the content is complementary.
  6. Acknowledge the multichannel touches – we often reference or show a visual of a direct mail package that the donor is receiving in an email message. And we’re careful to strategically include dedicated URLs in direct mail packages if donors want to make their gift “immediately online.”
  7. On your website, be sure to use your homepage carousel or above-the-fold content areas to highlight the theme of your year-end campaign online and offline. It’s common for supporters getting your mail to visit your website to make their year-end gift. Deploy a lightbox on your website to catch the attention span of your visitors.
  8. Use paid advertising channels at year-end to reach your supporters wherever they might be. Search engine marketing, Facebook ads to custom audiences, and remarketing to visitors of your website or your donation pages can play a vital role in creating visibility for your year-end campaigns, and increase year-end giving across all of your channels.
  9. Make it social! Using online social networks at year-end is vitally important to connect with the attention span of your supporters. Dedicate staff time to posting year-end content on social media channels, and schedule coordinated tweets and posts on all channels. In your emails and on your Web pages make it easy for your supporters to spread the word about your year-end campaigns.
  10. Keep testing and trying new things. Every audience is different which means it’s vitally important to test to see how your audience responds to multichannel tactics.
  11. Don’t neglect January as an important time to thank donors—across all channels—for their year-end support.
Multichannel fundraising does require more effort and resources. But the end results is cohesive messaging and a larger group of dedicated donors. mwosi-thumbMwosi Swenson is a Vice President at Mal Warwick | Donordigital. She has worked in direct response fundraising for the past 20 years and has managed the direct mail, telemarketing and online programs for some of the nation’s most respected environmental, advocacy, and political organizations.

Making the most of your year-end fundraising campaigns

AMC_YE2013-Lbox3-Calendar_FINALIt’s September, and the Year-End season still seems a long way away. Even if you aren’t quite ready to start your holiday shopping for family and friends, you should start planning your organization’s Year-End fundraising strategy today.  Nearly 30% of ALL charitable giving occurs during the last month of the year, and most of that comes within the last few days of December. So make sure you are primed and prepared to make the most of it! Many clients ask us “when is the best time to send our Year-End fundraising appeals in the mail and online? Is October too early? Is December too late?” The short answer is that there is no cut-and-dry timetable—but it seems that organizations are starting to send their Year-End appeals earlier and earlier. Just recently, one of my colleagues received what appeared to be a holiday fundraising appeal in her mail, complete with pictures of Santa Claus and snowflakes on the outer envelope. August is probably too early for your Year-End fundraising to hit households. Once you’ve looked at your organization-wide mailing schedule for the last 2-3 months of the year and decided on the best timing for your Year-End appeal and follow-up (yes, we recommend a follow-up!), then think about the fundraising goals you want to accomplish during this Year-End season and how you will achieve them. Are you aiming to increase your income by a certain percentage over last year? Or is it more important to increase the average gift or upgrade a specific number of donors? Likely it’s a combination! Once you know your goals, you will need to think of tactics that will help you reach them – such as incorporating a matching gift offer or including a premium. Next, take a look at the testing you’ve conducted throughout the year in the mail and online. Any test that successfully boosted your response rate or your average gift is probably worth rolling out in Year-End to maximize your response. Like many organizations, your main goal is probably to get as much money as possible in the door before December 31. In that case, skip the hard press for monthly sustainer sign-ups and focus on one-time gifts.  But, if recruiting new sustainers is a top priority for your organization right now and you don’t mind sacrificing some Year-End revenue for the sake of long-term income, then sustainer recruitment promotions on your website could be some of your best tools at Year-End. Your Year-End appeals are a great opportunity to upgrade your current donors to higher levels of giving, since many are generous during the season of giving. Think about which donor segments you can target for upgrade asks to your mid-level giving group. Add an aspirational gift amount on the reply ask string. Or, consider offering a back-end premium for donors when they increase their commitment to your organization. Don’t let your Year-End mailing get out the door without careful consideration for a coordinated online fundraising strategy. Your fundraising emails can mirror the message in your direct mail piece to create a cohesive campaign. For online donors who were also sent a direct mail piece, it’s a good idea to add a message at the top of the email with a note saying “we wanted to follow-up with you” or “did you get our appeal in the mail.”  Put special consideration into how you select your email audience so you can target donors with email addresses on file that recently got your appeal in the mail. For your website, there are some very simple and effective ways to drive more visitors to your donation page. Adding a Lightbox to your homepage for the month of December is a proven technique to raise money online at Year-End. On December 31 and the days leading up to it, consider redirecting all your homepage traffic to your donation page so that any visitor to the website automatically lands on your donation page. This tactic may seem a bit extreme, but if your leadership is serious about raising as much money as possible during the last days of the calendar year, then it’s worth trying, if even for just one day. A lot of our clients ask us these days about #GivingTuesday, and whether or not it’s worth participating in as part of a Year-End strategy. 2014 will mark the third annual #GivingTuesday online event to raise awareness about charitable giving through social media and online sources. While still a young program, the money raised on #GivingTuesday has steadily increased year-over-year. Compared with your other Year-End efforts, #GivingTuesday likely won’t generate nearly as much income as your direct mail or emails. But if you don’t want to leave any stone unturned, you should consider participating.  Make sure you assemble a strong group of volunteers who will be dedicated to spreading the word about your cause on #GivingTuesday. For further reading, I recommend: Sabrina Sutton Naylor is an Account Manager for Mal Warwick | Donordigital and is based in Washington, DC. She manages mail fundraising projects for Ocean Conservancy, and International Medical Corps.

Year-end fundraising: It’s never too early

End-of-Year-CalendarOnline fundraising programs often raise one-third to one-half their annual revenue in December, especially the very last week of the year. It’s important to start early on your year-end plan, get buy-in, and gather the assets you’ll need.  Here are some basic guidelines. But things are constantly changing online, so be sure to try at least one new tactic this year.
  1. Make sure your homepage makes the case for giving in a powerful and prominent way . . . and makes it easy to find the donation form. Many donors will seek you out in December, even without email appeals. More and more donors who get your direct mail will visit your site to make their gifts, as the tax-deductible deadline approaches. You may want to try a “homepage hijack”—replacing your normal homepage with a special donation page (with a “Go to homepage” link)—from time to time in December and/or a “lightbox,” a highlighted rectangle covering part of the homepage and asking for donations. You might want to feature a countdown calendar during the last week of the year.
  2. Make sure your donation “landing pages” are as effective as possible in converting visitors into donors. Testing now can help improve your pages. You can also look for “best practices” from organizations such as CARE, Amnesty International USA, Defenders of Wildlife, and The Nature Conservancy, which have optimized their pages. (Take care, though: No one landing page layout works best for every organization.)
  3. Email often (but not necessarily early). Most of our clients raise very little before December 15, but emailing around Thanksgiving and in early December puts you on the donor’s map of expectations for later giving.
  4. Email often. The more you mail in December, the more you’ll probably make. While we all worry about irritating donors and prospects by sending them too much email, they’re already inundated by everyone else in December. So they’ll probably not even notice your extra frequency.
  5. Make your best pitch. Be sure you make the case for giving and highlight the Decemebr 31 tax-deductible deadline prominently on the homepage and other high-traffic pages.
  6. Consider a matching gift. This one is controversial because many of us believe year-end is the time you don’t need to sweeten the offer. On the other hand, we’ve found that matching gifts increase response and sometimes average gift, even at year-end.
  7. Figure out what to do on Facebook.  You can create a special page (tab) where you can accept donations via an “API” that sends donor credit card information into your CRM system, such as Convio’s. Few organizations have raised much money this way, but it seems worth trying for year-end, as well as for emergencies and news-driven issues. You might test a lower gift string on Facebook, given that heavy users tend to be younger and don’t normally use Facebook as a place to give.
  8. Last but not least: Consider what to do with your largest online donors, the people who gave you $500 or $5,000 online this year or last year. These folks have indicated they like to give online (though they may give by mail or to your major donor folks, too) —and they can provide a major boost in December. Of course, you should have been cultivating them all year, online and off, but now’s your last chance. Can you send them several Outlook-looking emails from your CEO or ED, trying to speak to them one to one and inviting them to dialogue directly with you? Can you invite them to a phone or in-person briefing on “what your donations accomplished this year?” Can you at least recognize their special importance in your emails to them, and make sure their gift string is appropriate to their giving history?
Nick Allen is the former co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Donordigital, an online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company.