Case Study: MEOW!
Randomness: “Having no specific pattern, purpose or objective.” Could there be another word that strikes greater dread in the hearts of nonprofit fundraisers? Sure, it’s nice to get that unexpected, random gift. But how — HOW, you fret — do you get that person to give again... and again... and...?
Such was the question facing the development staff at The Fund for Animals, which runs the 25-year-old Black Beauty Ranch sanctuary for abused and neglected animals in East Texas. A monthly giving program seemed to be the answer, but President Michael Markarian and his staff wanted something that tied in closely with the organization’s mission.
There aren’t a whole lot of ways to get innovative with a monthly giving program, but pithy campaign names are important — both for the program itself and for the giving tiers that comprise it.
So what are we looking at here? A monthly program, to be sure. An Electronically Withdrawn Monthly program that results in an Orderly way of normalizing donations. E.W.M.O.? Oh, come on ... M.E.O.W! The Monthly Electronic Orderly Withdrawal program.
There aren’t house cats at the ranch, but there are some bobcats and they probably do a little meowing, especially the little ones.
The M.E.O.W. program is broken down into 16 giving tiers, each named for the animal that a particular level of giving will support. Everything from $5 a month for a prairie dog to $10 a month for a horse, $17 a month for an oryx to $50 a month for an elephant.
“We based it on the average amount of money it costs us to care for an animal at the ranch,” Markarian says. “People can choose the type of animal they’re interested in. There are a lot of people who choose their giving level because they really like a certain type of animal, horses for example. But there also are a lot of people who just choose the giving level they’re comfortable with, no matter what animal that it’s attached to.”
The original invitation to join the M.E.O.W. program went out in 2002 to around 3,000 donors who had given three or more gifts in the preceding 12 months, according to Markarian.
Chad Lucier of L.W. Robbins Associates, the agency with which The Fund for Animals worked on the program, said the initial mailing was conservative and that the ask was based on donors’ cumulative annual giving.
“We wanted to make sure that we weren’t downgrading anyone from an annual revenue standpoint,” he explains. “While the average gift may be down, the frequency more than makes up for it.”
Small numbers, big gains
According to Lucier, the initial mailing generated a 7.41 percent response with a $23 average gift, and it just about broke even with a cost of fundraising of $1.03. (Those numbers don’t reflect subsquent gifts made by members of the program.)
The 420 donors who joined the program initially, Markarian says, constitute 2.4 percent of the organization’s overall contributions.
“It’s not a huge number, but it’s a list of donors who we know we can count on to give every month,” he says. “The people who responded to the program gave to us numerous times, but we never knew how frequently they would give. [M.E.O.W.] normalized that. It gives us a chance to know what we can expect, and it gives donors a chance to budget and plan their contributions.”
One surprise that came out of all this, Markarian says, is that some donors wanted to give more than the $50 a month. As of late 2003, there was no animal category for higher pledge amounts, but he says that’s something the organization is looking into this year.
Based on the 2002 success, The Fund for Animals in 2003 expanded the mailing to include people who donated twice in the preceding 12 months. While the response rate for that mailing was slightly lower, at 6.81 percent, it more than doubled the size of the prospective pool.
According to Lucier’s numbers, the monthly average M.E.O.W gift for 2003 was $16.72, with the estimated annual revenue per monthly donor at $200.64. That’s in comparison to an estimated annual revenue per donor outside of the M.E.O.W. program of $40.84.
“I believe that these numbers are on the high side for monthly giving programs because we didn’t eliminate mid-value or major donors from the solicitation,” Lucier says.
One important indicator as to the success of the program, however, is retention rate. And that remains to be seen. The Fund for Animals hopes to start gathering that data this year.