Bring Back That Loving Feeling
Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about declining results for direct mail and flagging e-mail open rates. Our outreach apparently is not sparking the passionate responses we want.
Don’t our donors and prospects love us anymore? Why don’t they take our calls?
If this is starting to sound like an “advice for the lovelorn” column, then that’s appropriate. As fundraisers, we’ve got a lot of the same problems as the people writing Dear Abby. And I think our response-rate heartache is based in the root causes that the advice columnists so often cite. Really. The relationship we have with our donors and prospects is not transactional; it’s deeply human. When it goes wrong, it’s for the same fundamental reasons we might find strain our other relationships, like taking someone for granted, not listening to his or her perspective, and neglecting to show our feelings.
And I’m going to prove it — right in this column.
Dear Marketing Maven:
My e-mail list isn’t what it used to be. People aren’t listening to me anymore, and each time I ask for their help, they’re less responsive. Why doesn’t my list love me anymore?
— Despairing in Development
I suspect you’re getting the silent treatment for three reasons. First, you could be a stalker. Do you have permission to e-mail your list? Are these people who’ve said they want to hear from you? If not, don’t expect them to greet your spammy self with open arms.
Second, I suspect you’ve probably been taking some of your list for granted. Just because some people once were generous doesn’t mean you can keep asking for more and more. You need to be giving back — thanking that list and showing it a great time with fabulous stories about the great things it has accomplished. Make it feel loved.
Third, are you really connecting with your list and its feelings, or are you just talking about yourself all the time? Nothing turns off a list like narcissism, and nothing turns it on like showing your emotional side and appealing to its perspective.
My advice? Only reach out to your list when you have permission. Treat your list with great care and gratitude. Start true conversations with your list, and be responsive to its feelings. Chocolates and flowers may help, too.
Dear Marketing Maven:
My teenage daughter has a pierced nose, and I hate it! But she won’t listen to me when I tell her to remove it, or when I tell her what to wear. How do I get her to listen to me? Oh, and please tell me how to get all those young people on social networks to listen to me, too.
— Floundering on Facebook
A family friend (let’s call him Dan) recently told me his daughter called from college to say she’d pierced her nose. She conveyed this news with defiant glee. When Dan said that sounded nice, his daughter sounded disappointed. When she came home for winter break, he picked her up at the airport — wearing a big, fake hoop through his nose. She removed her nose stud that night.
My point? You’ve got the wrong message. If you have a rebellion on your hands, stop being the autocrat everyone is longing to overthrow.
Which brings me to a larger point: In addition to having the wrong message, you’re the wrong messenger. Social networks are no place for an autocrat — they are messy democracies and even anarchies. They are not places where you post your mission statement and expect everyone to flock to your page to await your orders. They are places where people congregate to be seen and heard themselves and connect to each other.
You need to listen to these folks, not talk at them. And you need to recognize that you’re not the primary messenger; all those other people are. Some of these people might already be talking about your cause or be willing to champion it within their own circles of influence. These are the messengers you want. You need to find them (easy with technorati.com or Google.com/alerts), support them and let them speak for you — in their own words, in their own ways. Even if they have multiple piercings.
Dear Marketing Maven:
I feel like I’m always playing catch-up with the cool crowd. First, it was those wristbands. So I got one for my cause, but no one is wearing mine. And then it was blogging. Once I figured out what it was, I had my executive director start a blog because this other executive director had one. But no one is really reading ours. How does a poor organization like mine get ahead of the style curve and stop feeling left behind?
— Can’t Catch Up
You are falling into the most common trap in our sector: playing copycat. Stop it! You don’t get ahead by being like other organizations — you get ahead by: 1) focusing on your audience and what it wants (instead of what other organizations are doing); and 2) being your unique self in front of that audience. Don’t throw wristbands and blogs at your audience unless that’s what it wants or those things are completely aligned with what makes you special in your audience’s mind.
We don’t win popularity contests by reacting to our competitors, but rather by outperforming them in meeting our audiences’ needs and wants. Focus on being cool in your audience’s mind, not in the marketplace. You do that by focusing on what’s important to your audience, what your strengths are and what makes you — not the organization next door — truly special.
— Maven FS