10 Creative Strategies to Cut Through the Clutter
[Editor's Note: During their presentation, “30 Ideas in 60 Minutes: Your Hour of Creative Power,” at the Association of Fundraising Professionals Fund Raising Day in New York on June 11, Jeff Brooks, creative director at TrueSense Marketing; Moira Kavanagh Crosby, president of MKDM; and Dennis Lonergan, president of Eidolon Communications, provided direct-response and online fundraising strategies to make your fundraising solicitations stand out from the crowd. Here, Crosby outlines her 10 strategies from the session.]
1. Scarce or shrinking prospect lists? Create your own.
People are getting more messages than ever, in more channels than ever, at a time when they have less than ever to give. This is particularly troubling in direct mail (the foundation on which most programs were built) because the model in DM is mail out/donors in. Market saturation and fragmentation of communication channels challenge this model.
The good news is that the donors are still there; we just need to expand on the ways we connect with them. One solution to the challenge of shrinking list universes is to create your own list of qualified prospects online.
There are many ways to do this:
- Compelling registration offer on your website
- Online interactive devices, like e-cards, petitions and pledges
- Or a microsite dedicated to a particular angle of your organization’s issues
MKDM worked with the American Legacy Foundation, a smoking prevention and cessation organization, to develop a microsite, My Legacy Story. Through the site, Legacy is creating a space for people to share stories about their experiences with tobacco — whether they're about their struggles to quit, hopes for loved ones to quit or, sadly, people that they’ve lost to smoking-related illnesses. It’s also a very effective list-building tool for people who share affinity for Legacy’s issues and might be interested in giving to the organization through subsequent conversion efforts.
As you think about engagement and registration offers for your organization, be sure to avoid the worst — and most abused — involvement device: “Join our mailing list.” Instead, focus on the many more compelling reasons you can give your constituents to take that first step in their engagement with you — and you, in turn, can begin to build a list of qualified prospects for giving.
2. Test a relevant premium early in membership renewal.
Some favor reserving premiums for new-member acquisition or a notice late in a membership renewal series when you want an added boost to help persuade people to join or renew. But we have good reasons to rethink this these days:
- In this current economic climate our members, even our best ones, are more likely to lapse.
- It’s always easier and less expensive to retain a member than to find a brand-new one, and that’s only magnified in this economy.
Guard against this by testing bringing a good, relevant premium offer into your membership renewal dialogue (i.e., don’t just reserve it for acquisition), and introduce your offer early in the renewal dialogue (i.e., don’t just save it for the seventh notice).
The Friends of the High Line 2010 membership renewal campaign created by MKDM contained a back-end postcard offer (set of five postcards, depicting artwork inspired by the High Line by NYC artists). We tested the offer with and without the postcard offer in an e-mail to donor populations. The postcard offer achieved a 40 percent higher clickthrough rate, doubled the response rate and increased the average gift by 50 percent.
In addition to the higher response rates, this also meant getting membership renewal done faster and earlier in the year, which meant spending less on reminder notices and leaving space/time for members to consider other giving offers later in the year.
Sometimes an incredibly effective way to get noticed in direct mail is to NOT do the things you usually do to get noticed. Ditch the approved fonts, ditch the logo, ditch the official colors and just do words on paper. Unbrand.
Un-marketing can be very effective marketing indeed. This approach can lift your mail results by as much as 30 percent or more.
4. Establish a new-member conversion program to boost second gift and retention rates.
Organizations with tangible memberships like museums traditionally have a harder time soliciting gifts above and beyond membership. After members join, they’re likely to get rolled into the existing special-appeals program. However, the messages you typically find in special appeals/annual fund aren’t truly in step with the new members’ mind-set.
A few months after new members join, and before you solicit them with a traditional fundraising appeal, ask them to give you feedback about your organization. Invite them to share something about themselves with you, and in turn, share more about your organization with them, including the role that gifts above and beyond membership play in making your organization’s work possible.
Virginia Discovery Museum sends a mailing monthly to new members three to four months after joining the museum. It has a friendly tone, look and feel, very much in sync with the organization. It asks members, “How are we doing?” and includes a friendly report card for them to send their comments. It also lets them know a few more things about the museum, including the fact that membership dues only cover 23 percent of operating expenses, and it invites them to consider making an additional gift to the museum.
An approach such as this can generate response rates twice that of new-member response rates when solicited in traditional special appeals. Plus, you might get some helpful feedback and/or identify people who might be interested in deeper engagement with your organization — like volunteering or planned-giving opportunities.
5. Be intelligent, in the mail.
This tip is courtesy of Joe Gomez of Federal Direct. The cutoff date for all mail having the Intelligent Mail Barcode is May of 2011. It’s a long way off, but don’t forget that some donors hold on to reply envelopes for a very long time. Your organization could be mailing reply envelopes now that won’t be returned to you until next summer.
If you haven’t switched over to the IMB yet, you could be risking deliverability problems with your reply mail. For details on updating your reply envelope barcodes with the IMB, go to ribbs.usps.gov and click on the “Intelligent Mail Services” link.
6. Extend renewal messaging window with midyear membership upgrade offer.
The most powerful word in fundraising is “renew” because it’s the message that generates the most net revenue in our programs. Organizations develop membership-based programs that give them a basis for renewing their contributors once a year in multipart membership-renewal campaigns.
Throughout the rest of the year, members may receive special appeals, but in strong membership-based programs the special appeals typically are not as productive as the membership renewals. So one can’t help but wish we could simply mail membership renewal notices all the time, allowing us to use the powerful membership renewal vocabulary more often.
While we can’t do this all the time, we can create a platform for using that kind of powerful membership-focused case for support more than once a year, through a midyear membership upgrade campaign. At the halfway point after primary membership renewal, test a midyear membership upgrade campaign against a conventional special appeal.
- Take a democratic approach to your messaging (“Every Member Matters”).
- Value and emphasize an incremental increase in membership level (i.e., increase membership by $15 or $20), though you need to test this.
- Give members a compelling issue-based reason to participate; then, if possible, boost it with a matching gift challenge.
In addition to raising more money than you might raise in a traditional special appeal, there are attractive longer-term implications of the midyear membership upgrade. When your next annual membership renewal cycle begins, all the people who participated in your midyear membership campaign are now starting the renewal process at a higher membership level.
7. Downgrades are nothing to look down on.
As development and direct-response professionals, we are trained to upgrade. But in this economic climate, we need to rethink that.
These days, downgrades are nothing to look down on. After all, a downgraded donor is a renewed donor. And it’s almost always less expensive to renew a donor or reinstate a donor, even at a lower level, than it is to acquire a brand-new one.
Remove barriers to giving by lowering them:
- Test lower ask formulas with problem segments.
- Test discounted membership (and don’t be shy about working this into your messaging).
- Test economical premium offers.
- Explore mobile giving to promote a cheap, fast and easy way for problem segments to contribute.
8. Solicit via e-mail in the last week of the year at least twice and definitely on Dec. 31 (or Dec. 29 or Dec. 30).
There are a lot of reports affirming a massive spike in online giving at the end of the year (just like in offline giving). Convio reported last year that donors giving through its system in 2008 made 13.2 times more gifts on Dec. 31 than the daily average for the rest of the year, and that the charities raised 22.5 times more money on Dec. 31 than they did on an average day. In the last week of 2008, the average gift size was 57 percent larger than the weekly average for the rest of the year.
More recently, Blackbaud’s 2009 Online Giving Trends report showed that among donors giving through its system, 46 percent of online revenue was processed in the final three months of 2009. December accounted for 30 percent of revenue and 18 percent of transaction volume in 2009. The average online gift in December 2009 was $244.17.
What all this means is the last week of the year and especially the last days of the year are huge in online fundraising. If you’re not soliciting your constituents online at this time, you’re missing a big opportunity. Don’t just solicit during this time frame — send a pure thank-you e-mail, too.
9. Sometimes the most effective subject line doesn’t mention the subject.
Often the most effective subject line doesn’t mention the subject — particularly in e-mail and online communication, donors demonstrate a low tolerance for institutional-sounding headlines and messages.
The more intriguing, noninstitutional subject line is almost always the more effective one, the one that gets opened and clicked.
For example, testing the subject line, “They’re easy to make but hard to keep,” achieved a two times higher clickthrough rate than, “A resolution for longer healthier lives.”
A few more examples to illustrate this concept:
- Instead of saying: “Give in honor of Mom this Mother’s Day,” say: “This Sunday”
- Instead of saying: “Stop the number one cause of cancer,” say: ”In case you were wondering”
- Instead of saying: “Help us fight back against The Right,” say: “What kind of dummies do they take us for?”
10. Don’t just reinstate, PREinstate.
Good direct-response membership programs put a great deal of effort into recapturing lapsed donors and constructing dedicated, and often complex, reinstatement programs — and for good reason. But for all the effort our programs put into saying “we want you back” to our donors when they’re practically gone, many don’t put the same effort into saying “stay” to the donors who are on the fence. Nor do many programs define what being on the fence is, for that matter.
Don’t wait for your donors to lapse to focus special analytics, strategy and creative on them. Rethink your reinstatement strategy, and think about starting earlier, by starting a PREinstatement program.
Three steps to get started:
- Know the vulnerable times in your donor relationships with your organization. Preventing donors from lapsing means understanding when and why they typically lapse. Use good analytics to develop a prelapse donor profile.
- Develop and test strategies to prevent donors from lapsing. Now that you’ve identified the vulnerable times in a donor’s relationship with your organization, you can intervene with things like a special anniversary mailing, involvement communications like surveys, phone calls, premium offers.
- Measure your results. Don’t be daunted if it takes a few different approaches to make an impact. Above all, measure your attrition rates before launching your preinstatement program and after so you can track the real impact of your efforts.
Moira Kavanagh Crosby is president of MKDM, a full-service direct marketing firm for nonprofits. Reach her at email@example.com.