Talking to Your Board About Direct Response
Unexpected conflict can erupt at the most awkward times. I was at a wedding reception recently and found myself sitting next to the vice chairman of the board of one of our clients. When he learned who I was, he declared with some passion, “You’re the agency I’m trying to get rid of. Do you realize you’re the largest line item on our budget?!”
Sensing somehow that “Nice to meet you, too” wouldn’t quite cut it, I replied, “Do you mean that we produce the largest income line item on your budget?”
There are a lot of ways to read a long pause in a conversation, aren’t there? You just never know. In this case, he smiled and said, “I honestly never thought about it that way. You’re right. Your agency produces more revenue for us than any other source.”
Thankfully, we went on to have a healthy dialogue about fundraising channels, about the cost of media and printing and postage, and about how the real measure of success is what combination of channels and strategies nets the nonprofit the most dollars to fund its life-saving programs. And about how beautiful the bride looked on her special day. He turned out to be a terrific guy. Our conversation reminded me that some of the best questions about direct-response fundraising programs often come from nonprofit board members.
In most cases, board members are highly successful in their professions or fields of business. Over the years, they’ve wisely learned to trust their instincts — because they’re usually right. Direct-response fundraising is often counterintuitive, so in this rare case, otherwise successful board members can easily make costly missteps when trusting their non-direct-response marketing instincts.
This challenge is compounded by the fact that most board members are more likely to be major donors than regular donors. They hang out with major donors. They think like major donors, and support causes and offers that resonate with major donors. In other words, they are generally not the audience for your direct-response marketing program and, hence, are not in the best position to pass judgment on your messaging, offers, channels, frequency and even creative approach.