Affinity Marketing: Buy to Give
Unquestionably, fundraising has become extremely challenging given the current economy. However, Americans still want to contribute to their favorite charities, churches, colleges, hospitals, etc. The goal for nonprofits must be to give their supporters ways to do so when money is tight.
One primary way to do that is through affinity marketing, which enables consumers to purchase ordinary products/services and automatically generate contributions to their favorite nonprofits. Understanding the best practices to apply in order to achieve desired fundraising levels from affinity marketing is essential.
In order to understand how affinity ?marketing should work, you need to understand what would contribute to a program failing. Specifically, there are many mis-?conceptions regarding affinity marketing that should be dispelled. Among them:
? The nonprofit has little to do with the success of an affinity-marketing program, and if the nonprofit does actively promote the program, it could jeopardize its ?relationship with supporters. In reality, the nonprofit does have an important role in the success of an affinity program. It must be proactive in communicating the program and educating its supporters. Taking this initiative will not compromise its relationships with its constituents. To the contrary, a nonprofit that demonstrates its use of sophisticated strategies to raise funds is valued and respected more by supporters than one seen as inefficient and unaware of the latest methodologies and technologies to facilitate fundraising.
? Affinity-marketing programs introduce tax or regulatory hurdles. As with any activity involving contributions, nonprofits can be guided by their accountants and other financial advisers regarding how to set up fully compliant affinity-marketing programs that will not introduce adverse tax consequences.
? An affinity-marketing program can replace regular fundraising, capital campaigns, annual pledge drives, etc. Introducing an affinity-marketing program into the mix doesn't mean you should place other fundraising activities on the back burner. It's not a replacement for those activities; it's a tool that works on its own and in support of other fundraising activities.
? It doesn't matter what products/services are involved in an affinity-marketing program, nor does it matter which vendor is selected. The selection of an affinity-marketing partner should hinge on the universal appeal, quality and cost competitiveness of its products/services. Beyond that, the company's shared values, customer-service support and track record in affinity-marketing partnerships with other nonprofits should be carefully considered.
In order to gain strong results from affinity-marketing programs, nonprofits should adhere to proven practices in the areas of program management and monitoring, partner selection, marketing, and ?communications.
Start by designating an individual within your organization to serve as the affinity-marketing program coordinator. This individual should be charged with initiating the search for the right affinity-marketing ?partner, maintaining ongoing communication with that partner, ?making sure the program is being promoted effectively, and tracking the results of the program and sharing these findings with the nonprofit's management.
When selecting the affinity-marketing partner, make sure its products/services fall in the "everyday, commonly used" category (e.g., long-distance and wireless phone service, Internet service, credit cards, insurance, etc.). Inquire about how often new products, upgrades and/or special promotions are offered, and how the company's products are priced compared to competitive products/services. In addition to being brand-name products/services offering valued performance features, the products/services should be backed by strong warranties and sound customer-service policies.
In assessing the company's customer service, pay special attention to its call-center operation. Is it equipped with state-of-the-art voice and computer technology to facilitate customer ordering and tracking procedures? Does the company have a training program to assure that its customer-service representatives are knowledgeable regarding its products/services, courteous and well-spoken? Does the company have reporting procedures (e.g., reports providing a breakdown of monthly or quarterly sales within various product/service lines) in place to help a nonprofit track the incoming revenues from the program?
It's also important to evaluate the affinity-marketing company from the standpoint of its fiscal stability, corporate infrastructure and caliber of staff in key positions, including senior executives in marketing, customer service and information technology. The company should hold similar values and have a corporate mission that includes helping to advance the missions of nonprofit organizations. Checking references of existing nonprofit clients who can share what their experiences have been with the affinity-marketing company is another important assessment measure.
To effectively launch the affinity-marketing program and continually reinforce its importance with members/supporters, nonprofits should rely on multichannel, "piggyback" marketing campaigns. The affinity marketer should be expected to help develop these campaigns, from providing advice on how to position its products/services for appeals to the nonprofit's donor base to offering creative ideas and marketing materials, as well as promoting the organization on its Web site. When working with the affinity marketer in this area, a nonprofit should be candid in sharing its previous fundraising experiences and challenges, as well as offering a good overview of its donor base (e.g., demographics, sizes of gifts, seasonal shifts in contributions, etc.).
Affinity-marketing program campaigns should educate, inform and motivate members/supporters with respect to the program: how it works, its products/services and how their participation will help the nonprofit achieve its goals. When promoting the affinity-?marketing program, be sure to use all channels of media and communications, including your Web site, blogs, social-networking sites, newsletter, special events and networking opportunities, direct mail, and advertisements. And include regular updates on how funds generated from the affinity-marketing program were applied to fulfill various goals (e.g., to fund technology needs or a new program, toward the capital campaign to build a new wing, for an overseas mission to feed the hungry, to build homes or provide medical care, etc.).
On this note, the affinity marketing should be used to boost existing fundraising initiatives. It should be incorporated into communications about the annual gala, capital campaign, alumni event, special fundraising drive to help victims of a recent natural disaster, etc. By continually projecting the program in a current, timely manner, you reinforce its value and give supporters greater reason to continue making purchases that will help your nonprofit.
An affinity-marketing program isn't quite like a field of dreams. If you build it, they will come — but only if you tell them about it … over and over again. It can be as successful as you make it, and definitely a case of reaping what you sow. FS