The Not-So-Great Divide
This month I want to discuss a troubling digital divide — and it's not the kind you think. I'm not talking about the fact that some people are wired while others lack access to technology — though that's certainly true, and it's a real divide. I'm talking about a phenomenon within our own organizations: the fact that the people who do online outreach often are separated from those who do offline fundraising. It's not unusual for online and offline efforts to take place in parallel universes, with virtually no integration.
Fundraising studies repeatedly have proven that engaging donors through multiple channels in a coordinated way — online and off — yields the best results, with donors giving more, more often. Unfortunately, most of us work for charities structurally and philosophically unprepared to do that. Folks, this is a problem.
Donors give online and offline. Sometimes they give one way, sometimes another. At times, they may want to read an e-mail bulletin. At other times, they may want to read our printed newsletters. They don't define themselves as living on Planet Online and Planet Offline — nor do they stay in place on one of those outposts — yet we often treat them that way.
In an ideal universe, we would tear down the walls of our organizations' technology, marketing, fundraising and communications departments and rebuild them in a way that creates a completely donor-centric experience.
But given that a complete reorganization is impossible for most of us, we must at least consider how to reorganize our fundraising efforts with a focus on the constituent experience at each touchpoint with our organizations, wherever it may occur. And we want to plan each campaign with a mind to all the ways it will live online and off. In other words, we must close our own digital divide by fully integrating our online and offline efforts. Here are some steps to get started:
Integrate internally. Organize your fundraising team so people engaged in online outreach are closely coordinating with those conducting offline outreach so each campaign has both online and offline components, and those two pieces reinforce and complement each other.
Organize for integrated success. You need a healthy e-mail list and direct-mail list — and you need them integrated. Store donor information in one, centralized place. You need one view into your donors, however they give. This is especially important as donors choose to give in more and more places — offline, on your website and on other websites. Then build that database by constantly collecting all contacts for your community.
Collect direct-mail addresses from online donors. Collect e-mail addresses from offline donors at events and in mailings. Put your website address on all your offline materials.
Plan donor-centric campaigns. Your appeals should always be created from the donor perspective, complete with a compelling story, clear call to action, and a consistent message and look-and-feel online and off. Note: I said consistent message, not identical message. Your offline message needs to be shortened, tightened and edited for tone in order to be ready for online consumption. Similarly, your two-paragraph e-mail bulletin won't work in direct mail. An integrated campaign is one that takes a consistent message and reworks it depending on the audience and outreach vehicle being used.
Reinforce, sandwich and supplement. Your online and offline calls to action should refer to each other and reinforce each other. Try sandwiching: sending an e-mail, then a direct-mail piece and then an e-mail, each supporting and supplementing the others. Follow up on a telemarketing call with an e-mail. Include in a direct-mail piece a teaser about great content only available online.
Monitor results. With a great database with one view into donors (step 2), this should be easy. Learn what combination of online and offline efforts work best — and which don't work at all — and adjust accordingly. FS