Case Study: Human Rights Campaign
So you've built a universe of online activists who subscribe to your e-newsletter. Maybe they take action on your behalf — signing online petitions or calling their members of Congress. And once in a while, you probably send them an e-mail asking for a donation too.
Good — that's a great start!
But if the vast majority haven't donated, how can you further engage these important supporters and convert them into donors? Is this your big chance to recruit the elusive "younger donor" your board is looking for? Is direct mail an option? (Do "young people" read direct mail?) If so, should you treat them like donors and mail them appeals? Or perhaps include them in your annual renewal series? What about direct-mail acquisition? (Note: We wrote about using telemarketing to convert online activists to donors in the March issue.)
While there is no silver bullet that works for every organization, there are a few that have made this work (and many more that haven't). This month, let's take a look at the Human Rights Campaign's successful online/offline conversion efforts — and the direct-mail package, dubbed "Right Side of History," that also allowed it to expand its traditional base of support.
The Human Rights Campaign has had an active online program since the 1990s, but recently dedicated staff time and financial resources to further growing and expanding its member and supporter base. As an organization focused on advancing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality, its traditional base was largely LGBT supporters. In the last few years, HRC has moved to bring more straight allies into the organization's advocacy work and, in 2010, took that decision a step further and began to focus direct-mail donor-recruitment efforts on straight activists.
With a large online file — built through paid acquisition partnerships (like change.org), aggressive Facebook efforts (HRC crossed the 1 million "like" threshold earlier this year), and other viral file-building efforts (marriage equality petitions, etc.) — HRC has a plethora of data to mine. And to find those supporters most likely to convert through the mail, mine it did!
But it took work
HRC conducted a series of acquisition tests that sliced and diced performance based on number of actions, recency, source, sexual orientation and more. Because of those efforts, HRC learned that self-identified straight supporters who took recent action on a marriage petition for the first time were the most likely to convert through direct-mail acquisition. In addition, those activists who came onto the online file through Facebook — and specifically offers made to Facebook fans to get a free HRC logo sticker — were more likely to respond to direct-mail acquisition.
HRC learned a lesson that has been applied for years in the mail and on the phones — recency is key! Activists were more likely to convert to donors on the Right Side of History package if they not only had taken action in the last year — but were also "new to file" in the last year (a new dimension when considering recency). Further, those who had taken action in the last six months were 15 percent more likely to donate through the mail than those whose last action was seven to 12 months ago. Facebook names performed 24 percent better in response than "regular" activists in the mail — likely because they were already engaging with HRC in two channels and, therefore, more dedicated to the cause.
What does this mean for you? Test recent "subscribers" and recent action takers first. And consider segmenting based on the number of actions (we've found that the more actions someone has taken, the less likely he or she is to convert). Test based on the types of actions your supporters take — are they signing petitions on a particular issue? Do they perform better if you know they "like" you on Facebook? Do they respond to surveys (and are you collecting that data on a supporter level)? Understanding these file dynamics goes a long way in finding the right people to include in your direct mail!
Now, you just know how much we love data …
But for HRC, the story on successfully converting these activists wasn't just about the data. (Creative directors can feel free to smirk.)
After several years of on-and-off message and creative testing, HRC found a winning message in a package it calls Right Side of History. Developed after a series of surveys and focus groups were completed, the package is an in-your-face, oversized (No. 14), yellow envelope with shocking quotes from prominent politicians on the front and back comparing gays to terrorists and fascists. Inside, the package asks the prospect to sign petitions to Congress urging the end of the Defense of Marriage Act and offers not only an up-front HRC logo sticker, but also the opportunity to receive a "field bag" as a thank-you for a membership gift donation.
The combination of this new, standout creative and the list segmentation strategy that focused on engaging straight activists proved to be a winner. In the first test of this strategy, the Right Side of History beat the existing "straight ally" control by 63 percent!
So what are you waiting for? Build that online file, strategically test the names in the mail, look to new channels to feed the old ones, test "out of the box" creative. And then let us know if we should profile your case study in our next column!
(In the interest of full disclosure, Karin Kirchoff works with the Human Rights Campaign on its fundraising programs.) FS