Are Your Online and Offline Efforts in Sync?
If your organization is like many, you've been living with an unusual compromise for a few years. It works something like this:
- The fundraising or development department is in charge of direct mail.
- The marketing department is in charge of the website.
- The two areas have almost nothing in common.
- This minimizes conflict and pain.
Direct mail is managed by measurable objectives. This makes it relentlessly donor-centric. That means old-fashioned, simplistic and emphatic. It stomps all over the brand guidelines with field-tested abandon. These qualities cause it to be disliked by many people in the organization, but it brings in the money so they mostly let it be.
The website is a different story. It's managed to the beliefs and opinions of people who work at the organization. It is a showcase of brand-compliant modern design that displays the aspirations and self-expression of the organization. It makes insiders feel happy and proud. It's successful when someone who matters says, "This website really captures who we are and what we do."
If you ran your direct mail by marketing department rules, it would crash and burn. Believe me, I know this to be true because I've seen it firsthand. If you ran your website by direct-response rules, a lot of folks at your organization would be very sad.
Thus the Great Compromise. Direct mail has an external audience of donors. The website has an internal audience of influential stakeholders. As long as the two remain separate, you never have to face the wrenching pain of refusing to meet the needs of one or the other.
But something is changing. The Great Compromise is turning into a huge, stinky albatross around your neck. And it's costing you a lot of revenue. It's the donors' fault. They're going multichannel on you. Many, when they get your direct mail, go to the website, either to research your organization or give — or both.
This is not bad. Cross-channel donors have higher value than online-only or mail-only donors. But it undermines the foundation of the Great Compromise.
Think about this now-common scenario: Mrs. Donor gets your direct mail. It's corny and loud, the way effective direct mail is. It grabs her attention. She goes online.
When she lands on your website, she finds modern design and branded, aspirational abstractions. The simple, straightforward call to action that Mrs. Donor was moved by in the mail? It's nowhere to be found.
Often — and there's no way of knowing how often — Mrs. Donor gets lost during her visit to your website. Something like one of these things happens:
- The website looks so different from the direct mail that she thinks she's arrived at the wrong place. She goes somewhere else.
- She can't find the "Donate Now" button because it's camouflaged by a tasteful and congruent brand color. Or there isn't one at all.
- She can't find the offer that came into her mailbox. It was simple, affordable and concrete. The website talks about the conceptual underpinnings of the organization or high-flown claims about how cutting-edge it is. The mail was about meals for hungry children, but the website is about "hope" for "emerging communities." (Don't laugh; I'm not making this up!)
- It's so hard to find, fill out or complete the donation form that she gives up.
Direct-mail response rates have been dropping across the fundraising industry for several years now. One of the things driving this is the new channel-crossing behavior. I've seen figures saying as much as 30 percent of donors who respond to direct mail do so via the Web.
That doesn't tell us how many tried to donate via the Web but didn't because of the Great Compromise.
Many organizations today have falling direct-mail response rates and little or no increase in online giving. Those are the Great Compromise organizations.
Others have stable (even improving) direct-mail results — and skyrocketing online giving. Those are the ones not shackled by the Compromise. If you want to keep raising funds in this changing environment, you need to be one of those organizations. Here's how:
Integrate and align your direct mail and your website, along with any other important fundraising channels. This means making some tough moves:
- Same calls to action in both places.
- Same obsessive focus on those calls to action.
- Same messaging.
- Same look and feel.
You may be saying, "Doing all that means the website won't be nearly as pretty as it is now. Vice President So-and-so will hit the ceiling!" It's true. That's the pain of ending the Great Compromise. The VPs will have to console themselves with the rising revenue.
The Web can do all kinds of cool things that direct mail will never be able to match: interactivity, social connectivity, multimedia messaging and more. Don't forget those things and end up with a website that's as static as your mail. Just make sure they exist in the same conceptual world as your successful offline fundraising.
Test like crazy
One of the advantages of online fundraising is that it's even more measurable and testable than direct mail. You can learn exactly what's working and not working.
Your testing should focus on whether donors are able to do what you want them to do: Are they getting lost somewhere between landing at your site and giving? If so, what are the barriers? Are they jumping ship somewhere during the online giving process?
You can know the answers to these questions. You can fix what's broken and improve what works.
Letting donor behavior guide the way you design your website makes it look and feel more and more like your direct mail.
Your strongest direct-mail pieces are in gross violation of your brand standards. But if you've tested brand-compliant direct mail, you know it doesn't work.
In fact, I strongly recommend that you test highly branded direct mail now. You need to understand just how helpful or harmful your brand is in the real world.
The Great Compromise is coming to an end. If you end it in a smart, controlled way, the only pain you'll cause will be hurt feelings. That's a lot better than the pain of downward-spiraling revenue.
Jeff Brooks is creative director at TrueSense Marketing and author of the Future Fundraising Now blog. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org