The Multichannel Renewal Campaign
A fundamental or "bedrock" element of all annual giving programs — regardless of type of organization — is the annual renewal effort. In most organizations, the renewal effort accounts for as much as 80 percent of all net income.
No wonder. The concept of renewal is so powerful because it focuses on the donor's sense of responsibility and accountability. Implicit is the tacit understanding in the donor's psyche that "I made a commitment to support this organization last year, and now it's time to renew that commitment."
No matter what other programs you currently have in place, if you don't have a renewal channel — and especially a multichannel program — you're missing the boat big time. So, let's start by looking at an ideal renewal framework and then move to the multichannel dimensions.
If you have a life insurance policy, subscribe to a magazine or belong to a club, chances are you participate in one or more renewal efforts on the for-profit side of your life. Nonprofit renewal programs work on the same dynamics. The key characteristics:
- Renewal efforts should be designed to operate separately from all other promotional efforts. By this I don't mean ignoring other programs. Rather, the renewal effort has a life of its own with a message stream and schedule designed for a single purpose: to renew the basic annual support gift.
- Renewal efforts are, well, efforts. Plural. As in Renewal Notice No. 1, Renewal Notice No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, No. 5, and on to even No. 10 or No. 12. The general rule is that as long as you're renewing an existing donor at the same or lower cost than you spend to acquire a new donor, keep doing it.
- Renewal efforts are, in many ways, successful exercises in billing and collection. Of course, there's no obligation on the part of donors to renew their annual support. But remember, you have an implicit obligation of responsibility and accountability working for you in the donor's mind. And, often, all that obligation needs to trigger it into life is a "reminder," as in a renewal notice indicating that the time has come to once again re-up support for the cause. This is why so many renewal efforts take on the appearance of invoices or statements.
- Renewal efforts operate on proven principles and formulae. In addition to using the format of an invoice or statement in many of your renewal notices, experiment with the use of long and short copy to accompany the notices. While a simple, one-sheet invoice with nothing else may work quite well, often a bit more is required. Test. Test a short vs. longer message. Regardless of the length, the essential message ingredients in a renewal notice involve both past and present: Tell them what their gifts made possible over the past year; then outline the challenges ahead making the case for why continued support in the coming year is so important.
- Renewal efforts are great opportunities for upgrading, showcasing accomplishments and letting donors know they're not alone. A fundamental need that must be met in all fundraising lies in answering the questions: Why do you need my contribution? Did it make a difference? The renewal series is the ideal platform for answering those questions plus reinforcing the case for support by not only showing what the contributions helped accomplish, but also highlighting some of the donors and volunteers who made a difference.
In short, "yes, your annual support really does matter, and you're not the only one who feels that way and is acting on those feelings."
Now … take the basic principles above and add in the multichannel media mix, and you have renewal on steroids.
The power of integration
The current buzz terms for using multiple channels of communication to raise money are "integrated fundraising" or "multichannel fundraising." Regardless of what you call it, one thing's for certain: Multichannel fundraising leads to better results and deeper donor relationships. Nowhere in the fundraising cycle is this truer than in the case of multichannel renewal campaigns. First, let's take a look at some recent history to explain why.
The near-universal use of the Internet for communications, sales and fundraising has brought the issue of multichannel marketing front and center. In the past, direct mail, TV and the telephone were combined to improve fundraising results. Even before the Internet, there was irrefutable evidence that the use of the telephone — the most active channel because of the power of the human voice — was an effective way to renew and upgrade donors who were floating in the more passive channel of direct mail.
Thus, marrying a direct-mail renewal notice with a telephone call reinforcing that notice and the importance of the donor continuing his/her annual support is the best and most classic multichannel example.
Why is the telephone such an important and powerful channel?
As Canadian fundraiser David Love notes, "No one has ever made wet dash out of the bathtub to open a letter, but they have to answer a ringing telephone." Thus the difference between an active and passive channel.
Now, when you add e-mail, video, conference calls, photo albums, slide shows and a host of other techniques easily and inexpensively available, you quickly see why today's wired world creates amazing opportunities for renewing support.
But what about the old rule that donors who come in via one channel should be renewed through that channel? This belief has been reinforced by the unfortunate existence of powerful direct-mail and Web silos in most organizations where never the twain meet.
However, there is powerful evidence that when the silos are broken down — when data (asking amounts, giving histories) is integrated across channels and know-how/best practices are employed — that multichannel renewals do indeed produce higher results and higher net income.
Based on 15 years experimenting with a mix of direct mail, telephone and online techniques, let me share what I've found to work best.
Let me hasten to point out there is no right or wrong way to integrate the various channels into a productive whole. However, there are some best practices that have worked for me and lots of others. In the end, it's up to you to test, test, test and determine what mix works best for your organization's efforts.
Tip No. 1: Use the same message regardless of medium. I noted earlier the classic renewal notice often appears in the form of an invoice or billing statement. Historically, of course, that's something that once arrived in postal mail (and mostly still does), but guess what? It works as well when delivered by e-mail.
Consider adding a booster shot to your postal mail renewal notices by creating an e-mail follow-up to add some gravitas and urgency.
For example, "I've been looking through our list of contributors and notice that you haven't yet renewed." Then continue your message by restating the key points in the postal mail, and include a link to an online renewal form.
Tip No. 2: Make sure to feature a renewal button online and a renewal URL in your postal mail notices. These days folks pay their bills a variety of ways. Sometimes online, sometimes through the mail and often both. So, cover your collection bases and make it easy for folks to renew whether they browse through your website, read a paper renewal letter or are reminded with an e-mail follow-up. Make it as easy as possible to pay!
Put that "Renew Now" button on the homepage along with a message that "even if you're not a member or donor, you can join now!"
Tip No. 3: Don't overlook mobile. I believe it won't be long before the smart mobile phone is the all-purpose transaction wallet in most donors' pockets or pursues. Until that day arrives, use the power of a text message to remind the folks whose mobile numbers you have that you've just sent them their annual renewal notices, thank them for past support and indicate you're counting on their continued help. Some of the pros I interviewed indicated that this technique boosts renewal response rates by as much as 25 percent.
Tip No. 4: Include the renewal concept and renew button in online alerts and urgent campaigns. There's no more certain way to trigger the vital sense in a donor's mind that my organization gets results and is active than to connect an urgent or highly topical Web article or action with a request for renewal. The connection between an urgent need and what's required to transform that need into success — support — is easily made with a "Renew Now" button.
Tip No. 5: Experiment with the mix and timing of channels. Some organizations have seen increases in renewal response rates by sending e-mails or SMS to donors the day the postal renewal notices are mailed urging them to look for the notices in the mail and respond quickly. Others have found greater response in using e-mail as a follow-up to the postal notice. And still others find that a before and after e-mail is just the ticket for boosting postal mail.
In virtually all cases, the use of the telephone — before or after — has worked wonders both in terms of response rates and average gifts. In fact, any renewal program that fails to include the telephone channel on key segments of its donor base is leaving very substantial money on the table and is doing less than it should to insure the retention of the very best donors. It doesn't really matter whether you or your board doesn't like telemarketing. The irrefutable fact is that it works!
A model to work from
To get you started, here's a multichannel schedule I've drawn up based on interviews and my own experience over the years of what works best for insuring that your renewal program is working at peak.
Step 1. Schedule the postal renewal notices No. 1 to No. 12 or however many you feel is optimal, and then interlace the other channel approaches in front and in back of each postal notice. Remembering that:
- The best or most responsive/loyal donors are likely to respond early in the cycle, so use telemarketing early on to both upgrade gifts and response rates at this stage.
- Save the less expensive (frequent e-mail, inexpensive postal mail and lower-asking amounts) for later in the renewal series.
Now draw up a master communications or renewal calendar with each action/date for each channel indicated.
Remember, once you get past the first renewal notice (that one should go out 90 days before the anniversary date of the donor's last annual gift) you can also schedule your regular appeals and other communications. Don't worry about the frequency or multitude of communications, the renewal track, or the appeals track cannibalizing each other.
And of course, if you're using a calendar year as opposed to an anniversary date renewal calendar, it's even simpler.
For purposes of this illustration, I'm assuming a calendar year renewal where every donor is contacted with the renewal efforts at the same time.
Step 2. Perfect your basic renewal message focusing on accomplishments of the year ending, challenges faced in the coming year and the need for continued involvement on the donors' part.
Step 3. Train the telemarketers, your phone-answering personnel. Make sure the renewal buttons and landing pages are in place on the website, and fight to insure consistency and reinforcement of message across the channels.
Step 4. Launch. Unleash the well-trained on your best donors. Send out the most powerful, compelling direct-mail notice along with appropriate e-mail and SMS text before or after the notice.
Step 5. Continue through the notices with a mix of channel techniques.
Use primer or pre-postal mail e-mails and chasers or follow-up e-mails and SMS. Monitor returns on each notice, and change the mix according to what you learn from each experience.
Step 6. Send acknowledgment and thank-you/recognition messages.
To further motivate donors and boost responses to your appeals and other efforts, promptly thank donors for renewing, send them some form of recognition if possible, and make absolutely sure you've answered the key question that lurks in the mind of every donor, "Did my contribution make a difference?"
Finally, carefully track the results from each channel and combine them to evaluate final results. Experiment with adding more or fewer e-mail contacts. Test telemarketing before the first notice, before the third notice or even later in the series. The point is to see how the mix of channels works best for you.
Then share those results and seek suggestions (and bask in the praise!) of colleagues in other organizations. We're all in it together.
Roger Craver is editor-in-chief of the fundraising blog The Agitator, and founder and CEO of DonorTrends. He is also a member of the FundRaising Success Editorial Advisory Board. Reach him at RogerCraver@gmail.com