Fundraising best practices become best practices because they've been proven to raise funds. At the sixth annual Bridge to Integrated Marketing and Fundraising Conference held in National Harbor, Md., last week, two fundraising professionals shared 11 best practices and discussed how implementing them helped the Coast Guard Foundation (CGF) and Lighthouse International achieve tremendous results.
Here are those 11 tactics that Bradley Sisley, chief operating officer at the Coast Guard Foundation, and Andrew Laudano, account director at LW Robbins, provided in their session, “7 Proven Strategies for Jump-Starting a Small Fundraising Program,” — plus four bonus tips — and what they helped CGF and Lighthouse International accomplish.
- Mail enough names to acquire a meaningful number of new supporters.
- Test new audiences in acquisition with new messages and offers.
- Test your acquisition gift ask strategy. Lower entry points may increase participation.
- Mail at least six to eight times per year in renewal. Be there when your donors are ready to respond — because your competitors will be.
- Use your strongest campaign themes (pillar campaigns) each year in renewal.
- Test strong acquisition campaigns in renewal and vice versa.
- Use personal stories to create an emotional connection with donors. Testimonials and photos bring stories to life.
- Use long-term value analysis to identify the best acquisition lists.
- Develop a midlevel strategy to strengthen donor loyalty and upgrading.
- Create a new donor-welcome touchpoint to increase new donor retention.
- Offer donors a premium appeal in the renewal program if you acquired them with premiums.
Coast Guard Foundation
In 2010, CGF achieved rapid breakthroughs in its annual fund. It expanded active donors by 35 percent, increased the number gifts by 50 percent and increased gross revenue by 40 percent. Sisley shared how.
For starters, CGF hired a third-party direct-response fundraising agency partner. Then it embarked on new acquisition list strategies, which had a dramatic impact on response, and implemented new creative, frequency and timing approaches to boost acquisition and renewal.
As a result, CGF increased acquisition mail volume by 73 percent from 140,000 direct mailers in 2009 to 243,000 last year and mailed at different times of the year to avoid the “all eggs in one basket” scenario. CGF also increased the number of renewal mailings from six to seven and increased mail volume by 800 percent. The thinking there was that the increased frequency and volume would keep donors aware of CGF, make sure the organization was hitting donors when they were ready to respond and help CGF reap the harvest of year-end giving. In both acquisition and renewal, CGF incorporated personalization, continual testing and multichannel integration.
The results spoke for themselves:
- More than three times the response rate of the acquisition mailing from the previous year.
- Acquired 680 new donors with a $64.37 average gift — this after reducing the ask string from $50 to $25).
- The strong acquisition results netted a profit of $14,649 for CGF when acquisition is typically an investment with an initial loss.
- Significantly increased the donor base.
- In renewal (using a pillar package with personal stories), donors responded with a 5.28 response rate and $86.53 average gift.
For Lighthouse International, its mature fundraising program was in decline. Due to a combination of inconsistent management of the direct-mail program in previous years, huge expansion in acquisition at great cost in 2005, and then the resulting acquisition program being halted while the renewal program was cut resulted in a dramatic loss of donors. Obviously, Lighthouse International was in desperate need of re-energizing its program.
So, it undertook a strategy based on best practices to do just that. Lighthouse International:
- Increased its number of renewal appeals from six to eight per year.
- Refined audience selections to improve cost efficiencies.
- Added a premium appeal into the renewal series.
- Tested different creative messaging — those new themes and messages generated higher response rates and annual revenue per donor.
- Added a midlevel strategy.
The midlevel strategy was designed to upgrade donors and strengthen loyalty. Thus Lighthouse International created a midlevel donor club called “Beacon Society,” which helped develop a group of donors who generate more gross and net income, and offers major-giving prospects.
Once it began to strengthen its relationships with current donors, Lighthouse International reignited its acquisition program. It expanded acquisition by using long-term value analysis to ID the best lists, unearthed new dual control packages — a mission-focused appeal and an address label package — and introduced a new expanded state/national strategy. That coincided with an emphasis on new-donor retention.
As a result, both the renewal and acquisition programs are in much better condition and continue to grow.