Feast and Famine: A View of 2018 Year-End and Beyond
There were 35 days between Giving Tuesday and New Year’s Eve last year. No doubt, these were some of the most stressful days of the year for nonprofit fundraising teams, with anything from 30 to 50 percent of annual revenue riding on such a relatively short period of time.
So, it’s no surprise that most organizations invest heavily in ensuring that every donor and potential donor knows this is the time of year to give, urgently, because it’s their last chance—and their generosity could be matched, twice or even five times.
But as intense as this time of the year is for nonprofits, it is possibly even more overwhelming for their supporters who experience a marked increase in the number of nonprofits targeting them, the volume of solicitations they receive and the sense of urgency they all impart.
A review of my email inbox at year-end illustrates well the experiences of many. A leading international human rights organization deployed 20 emails in just over a month, culminating with five deployments on Dec. 31. That was just slightly less than a major children’s aid group that delivered 21 emails, 7 of which went out on the last day of December. These paled in comparison, however, to a national environmental organization that sent no less than 40 emails over the 35-day period, with five of them making their case on the last day of the year.
And email was just one channel. With the strident growth of digital, organizations were able to address their audiences more broadly and aggressively than ever, and they certainly did. Every second scroll of Facebook presented another call for support for a vast array of causes, while display ads of every shape, type and format fought for attention on websites and video channels.
Then the calendar flipped. And cue the silence of January, except for the few groups that delivered their generalized thank-yous, to both donors and those who did not give.
This is how it seems to go in recent years, feast and famine, while numerous experts, reports and surveys warn that the donor universe is shrinking and that donors report excessive solicitation as a leading factor in their dissatisfaction with the organizations they support. It seems clear that the frenzied emphasis around year-end may well deliver short-term gain, with a serious long-term price.
So, what to do? A couple of classic platitudes come to mind; with great power comes great responsibility, and just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Now is the time for nonprofits to seize the technological opportunities available to deliver the donor-centric experience that is so often spoken about in today’s marketing. But it is going to require a serious commitment from organizations’ leadership and boards to ensure that fundraisers have the right tools and resources.
Manage the Journey
First, organizations must become more intentional in managing the donor journey. It’s simply not sustainable to hammer away at supporters all year long, then jackhammer them at year-end, and expect them to continue to sustain the impact and open their wallets.
Well thought out donor journeys should strike a reasonable balance between both the needs of the cause and those of the donor. Through a combination of talking and listening, the journey should offer meaningful stewardship and cultivation alongside solicitation to build a case for giving that lasts all year long.
That means being conscious and coordinated with what supporters are receiving and when they receive it across all channels and touchpoints.
Move the Technology Forward
Organizations must address modernizing the marketing technology stack. These are the systems that collect, correlate, manage, deploy and report, and measure marketing systems. The CRMs, ESPs, DSPs, data warehouses and other, too often disconnected, tools used in marketing to supporters.
With the rapid pace of digital growth, it is evident that many organizations’ marketing ability has leapt ahead of their ability to manage the data needed to deliberately and effectively use all the channels and tactics available to them.
More bluntly put, while many are doing a great job in each specific channel, their coordinated effort falls flat. They are often targeting the same audiences, with limited cooperation across channels, misaligned segmentation and even disjointed creative and offers. The results are donors and prospective donors inundated with unintegrated solicitations with little connection to their giving status or current relationship with the organization.
A robust and modern marketing technology stack will allow organizations to connect the dots across channels, platforms and devices through identity management—the ability to unify all of the interactions across all channels and devices and connect them to a unique supporter. This will ensure that the right audiences are receiving relevant offers and information in an orchestrated and sequenced manner. While these solutions have a cost, they can well justify their expense through improved supporter experiences, with less wasted spend and greatly improved response rates.
It is time for nonprofit marketers to do away with the feast-and-famine approach to donor management and to begin treating supporter marketing as a journey. Failure to do so poses a real risk of leaving organizations starving in the long run, as they slowly but steadily wear away at that special segment of people who are prepared to step forward and financially empower the causes we all care about.