Five Thoughts About Integrated Fundraising
Editor’s note: This is the last in the year-long, quarterly series of stories we’ve been calling “The Leadership Series,” where leaders in the fundraising sector speak to big-picture issues fundraisers need to think about, over and above the day-to-day details of their jobs. Not one to mince words, Geoff jumps right in with these “Five Thoughts About Integrated Fundraising.”
1. The Holy Grail: a single, integrated database
Perhaps the biggest challenge those engaged in integrated fundraising face is the effort to use a single, integrated database that shows the solicitations of and responses by each individual. Most in e-philanthropy do not understand the complexities and needs of those in direct-mail fundraising — and vice versa. For example, other than the issue of multiple e-mail addresses for a single person, deduping an e-mail list is easy: Look for exact matches. But deduping a direct-mail list requires various computer techniques so that determinations can be made as to whether Robert H. Smith is the same as R. H. Smith, Bob Smith, R. Smith, H. Smith, etc. Similarly, outputting data for mailings requires computer techniques to assure mailings are prepared according to U.S. Postal Service addressing requirements (e.g., CASS certification).
Some companies are developing integrated database capabilities for very small-volume mailers and a few that are very expensive for high-volume mailers. None of the major e-philanthropy platform vendors offers an effective solution at this time. (They can store data but don’t output information in formats ready for direct-mail processing.) The price of this type of service should drop over time so that more organizations not only can engage in integrated fundraising, but also maintain their results in a single database.
Those whose background is single-channel direct mail or e-mail are used to “clean” tests where the outbound message or package is altered in some fashion but mailed to a random sample of the same prospective donors. This yields an A/B split test, and if the test is designed and executed properly, the results generally are clear. With multichannel fundraising, often the tests are more difficult to create and the results more ambiguous.
For example, suppose you’re testing whether a direct-mail appeal will receive better results if accompanied by a series of ads in general-circulation newspapers. There really isn’t a way to have only some of the citizens of Buffalo, N.Y., see the ad so that you can measure the effect of the ad on response rates to the direct mail. In such cases, you often can use a “matched market” approach. If, in the past, Omaha, Neb., donors and Buffalo donors responded very similarly to the direct-mail appeals, then you might take out the ads in one city but not the other, and see if there are sudden dissimilarities in the response to the direct mail.
Obviously, this isn’t a perfect test because the local news headlines or weather or something else in Omaha might be different than in Buffalo, and the different results might be caused not by the presence or absence of the advertising but rather by some external event. Thus, testing in multichannel and integrated marketing often has to be repeated to be sure the results are truly reflective of the changed marketing strategy and not other factors. This can add initial expense to the costs of developing an
integrated fundraising strategy.
3. Coordination among channels
The key to integrated fundraising not only is to use each channel or medium independently, but also to use them to support one another.
When you’re communicating using a single channel, you can plan your messaging and packages to arrive in conjunction with a holiday or event. When you’re using multiple channels, you don’t want to have the e-mail message that’s delivered a week before the direct-mail package arrives to have a totally different look and theme. You want the two channels to complement one another, and thus you must coordinate them.
Much of fundraising is done by telling stories. These usually are about the people who benefit from the work of the charity. These stories should be engaging, compelling, interesting and motivating. It should be no surprise then that a good story will encourage the reader to learn more about the subjects of that story.
Oftentimes, e-mail messages are shorter than the direct-mail package text, with an invitation to learn more by visiting a landing page (with its own URL) or the homepage on the charity’s Web site. The story on the Web site often contains more information than is in the direct-mail package. This allows the charity to say, “For more information about Maria, please go to www.____” in both the outbound e-mail and in the direct-mail package. Survey research shows this will be done by about 8 percent of the readers of the direct-mail package and by a higher percentage of the e-mail readers, and that it will reinforce the initial marketing.
Thus, you typically want to use some of the same graphics (to create the same look and feel) and the same stories and themes in all channels designed to be read around the same time. Because of typical USPS delivery times, which are lengthening, an e-mail message or display ad designed to coordinate with a direct-mail package often will be sent or published as much as a week or more after the direct-mail package is sent.
Another example of coordination is the reuse of content. Many organizations find it burdensome to create new content on an ongoing basis for e-newsletters and regularly mailed newsletters. One strategy is to take a typical four-page, quarterly newsletter that has been sent by regular mail and divide it into monthly e-newsletters, allowing readers to opt in or out of either channel. Often a four-page newsletter has three main stories and filler material. Each of these three stories can be a stand-alone e-newsletter message, allowing a greater frequency of contact but with new information each time.
Some organizations want to create an Adobe PDF of their print newsletter and then send it by e-mail. It’s a good idea to post PDFs of prior newsletters on the Web site so people can download them if they wish. However, sending a PDF as an attachment to an outbound e-mail message generally is not a good idea. Often messages with attachments are blocked by spam filters. Also, not everyone has downloaded a PDF reader (even though it’s free), so they can’t open the attachment.
Yet another method of coordination is using one medium exclusively to support another, where prospective donors specifically are designated to be addressed in more than one channel. An oft-used strategy here is a pre-mail e-mail or a post-mail e-mail. The e-mail isn’t really a stand-alone message; it’s designed solely to support the direct-mail package. Thus it might say, “Watch for our letter in your mailbox” or “Did you receive the letter we sent to you?”
Research suggests post-mail e-mails are slightly more effective than pre-mail e-mails and seem to remind prospective donors that they meant to send in a donation but hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
The Internet also can support various forms of display advertising, such as magazine inserts, billboards and newspaper ads, by providing a response channel for this advertising so that prospective donors, volunteers or supporters can donate or communicate.
4. Escaping the silos
Frequently, you encounter a situation where the Internet is the responsibility of the IT department; petitions and advocacy belong to government affairs; newsletters and reports on programs are handled by communications; and, of course, fundraising is done by the development department. This can be a major obstacle to integrated marketing.
Often there are rational limits to the frequency and types of communications via direct mail. These are based on costs (which nearly always suggest that every communication must contain a solicitation) and response cycle (amount of time to deliver the mail and receive replies, which often leads to approximately 12 mailings per year).
Limits to the frequency of e-mail communications are based more on marketing concerns (not wanting to be viewed as spam) than on costs or response cycles. Thus, it is common for e-mail communications to include several cultivation messages for each solicitation. The frequency often is weekly or driven by “news.” Direct mailers seeking to integrate with e-mail need to understand the differences in the styles of communication as well as frequency, and those differences need to be communicated throughout the charity in all of the departments that control either the content or channels of messaging that will be integrated.
Multichannel marketing also can involve different silos within a development department. For example, cooperative mailings with corporate sponsors of a charity might be a major budget-relieving opportunity, but often the corporate development staff doesn’t understand joint direct-mail opportunities even when pitching its major-gift proposals to corporations that market using direct mail.
Another example is soliciting bequests, charitable gift annuities and other planned gifts via the Internet, direct mail and other media. Often the deferred-giving staff thinks only in terms of meeting with prospective donors to propose significant and sometimes complex major gifts. Yet the majority of deferred gifts to charities in the U.S. are simple bequests left to a charity that didn’t even know it was mentioned in the will, and the donor’s only contact with the charity had been by direct mail.
So, the development department needs to understand the opportunities for increasing its effectiveness through such devices as putting deferred-giving calculators on its Web site or including bequest reminders in its mailings.
5. Integration with channels other than e-mail and Internet
Direct-response vehicles also include telephones, cell phone text messaging, DRTV, direct-response radio, radiothons, magazine and newspaper inserts, and various forms of response display ads (kiosks, billboards, ads on moving vehicles). Integration involves thinking of touchpoints to reach out and communicate with prospective
supporters in a variety of ways so as to fully engage those supporters in a charity’s programs. Most research shows that while different channels produce varying levels of long-term value, the highest long-term value is produced by donors who are communicated with through multiple channels and media.
Geoff Peters is president and CEO of CDR Fundraising Group located in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.