I'm a fundraising nerd, so I love hearing how organizations of all different shapes and sizes tackle year-end appeals, and how they integrate those campaigns into their ongoing fundraising.
I've stopped cataloging and analyzing every direct-mail appeal I get (it had turned into a monumental project). But still, I can't help but poll a few dozen fundraisers each year to find out what they're doing, how it's working, and what I can learn and apply to my own work.
The message I heard after year-end 2010 was clear: One-off appeals (whether letters or e-mails) don't work well anymore. These days, the organizations with the most direct-response moxie are the ones that craft engaging campaigns with many touchpoints. Multipronged campaigns not only raise money — they build deeper relationships that pay off over time.
The best recent example of this from my own backyard is the National Military Family Association, which made the leap into full-on multichannel campaigns with great results in 2010. It raised more money online and off than in any previous year and doubled its total gifts received from the previous year. Because NMFA rocks, the staff has agreed to let me share some of the lessons that contributed to its campaign, which brought in close to $450,000 in roughly two months. (Full disclosure: NMFA is also a client of mine.)
Here are a few of the lessons learned from the NMFA's successful multichannel fundraising worth sharing:
1. Link your campaign to the Mother Brand
Part of the strength of this campaign was that the theme — Stand Behind Military Kids — connected directly to NMFA's goal to be known as the voice for military families. The campaign's look, feel and messages all flowed from the organization's brand, which helps reinforce what it does. While it's fun creatively to come up with new colors, imagery, logos and lines for each campaign, that approach can take more time, cost more money and ultimately doesn't do much to educate your donors about your work beyond that one campaign.
2. Just once doesn't work as well
With e-mail open rates typically hovering below 20 percent, weaving an arc of coordinated messages around a theme can dramatically improve results. NMFA's campaign included a series of five e-mails: one inviting recipients to send photos to be placed on a "wall of honor" for kids with deployed parents, three asks and one thank-you note. The organization also mailed cards with a moving story written by a child about his soldier dad. Pairing online/offline channels with moving messages and activities people can engage in without having to donate makes it harder to ignore and more engaging.
3. If it looks like junk mail, it probably is
Direct-mail donors are changing. They're younger, more skeptical and receiving much more "junk mail" than ever before. A 4-inch-by-6-inch direct-mail piece that looked more like a personal notecard raised $87,000 more than 2009's more traditional letter for the NMFA.
4. People aren't ATM machines
NMFA began its campaign on Veterans Day with a moving story and an invitation to take an action beyond just making a gift. People were asked to share photos of themselves holding signs that said they stand behind military kids. As a result, 317 photos were uploaded, with more than 600 people featured in them. It was inspirational. Entire classrooms, cheerleading squads, 4-H Clubs, even former WWE wrestling champ Bill Goldberg shared photos and messages of support. By giving people alternative ways to take action, you send the message that you care and want them to be involved even if they don't write a check. FS
Sarah Durham is founder and principal at Big Duck. Reach her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @BigDuckSarah.
Sarah Durham is president of Big Duck, a New York City-based branding, marketing and fundraising firm for nonprofits. She serves on the boards of the National Brain Tumor Society and the New York Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).