Fishing for Donors
I don’t know much about fishing. And while it’s one of those relaxing things I do sporadically on vacation, I have to admit it’s not something I profess to be very good at. Each year, I stop by the local bait shop to pick up some supplies and get important intel from the locals—what type of fish are people catching, what kind of bait are they using and where should I go?
As I headed down to the beach, with my pole in one hand, and a cooler filled with bait and my favorite beverages in the other, I looked into the vast ocean and thought to myself how similar fishing was to direct response fundraising. You see, I wasn’t yet in vacation mode, so work was still heavy on my mind.
But it’s true. When fishing, you attach bait to a hook and cast the rod into the water in anticipation of catching something. Then you just wait and hope you get a bite.
Sound familiar? Fish equals donors, bait equals offer, hook equals requested donation amount. There is also a science and strategy to it all. Just like direct response fundraising, the more you know about your target—its characteristics and behaviors, what kind of compelling offer will attract their attention to the point they can’t resist taking the bait, the more success you will have. Too big and the small fish won’t bite, too small and the big fish will get away.
If you want to advance to fishing 301, 401 or 501, things get a lot more complicated. There are lots of different things you can test when fishing too, including bait options, depths at which your bait sits in the water, weight of the line, time of day and so on. So many different options that you’ll need some type of advanced, multi-variant, statistical model to figure it all out.
Even with all that advanced insight and experience, fisherman are still at a disadvantage. They have no idea whether fish are there and, if so, where. Fortunately, advancements in technology have greatly improved their odds. Fish finder tools have been developed to allow fishermen to locate schools of fish and help determine their size, among many other things.
As I stood there on beach, still waiting for something to bite (even a little nibble would have been nice), it occurred to me that evolutions in direct response technologies and analytics now provide fundraisers with similar capabilities. I wouldn’t go so far as calling it a “donor finder,” but it’s getting there. What’s most exciting to me is that tools are being developed to give us advanced insights by which we can enhance our contact management strategies. Soliciting money from prospects and donors is very much akin to casting a line into the ocean. But nonprofits in search of more revenue believe they have no other option but to continually mail their donors—hoping they will respond.
I’m excited to say that help is on the way! Continued refinements in contact cadence models are being successfully tested in the nonprofit space to determine the optimal contact cadence for each individual donor. These tools provide direct response fundraisers with greater insights into how many times to contact a donor, when to contact them, what campaigns to mail them and what offers they will most likely respond to at that time.
I’ll admit that I was a bit skeptical at first, but I’m beginning to believe what I’m seeing. Contacts are down (by as much as 25 percent in some instances) and net revenue is up, as is ROI (up 38 percent in one example). There is still much to discover in the area of contact cadence, including its impact on loan-to-value and overall donor satisfaction, but I’m convinced that technology will continue to pave the way for fundraisers to create more rewarding experiences possible for their donors, while also protecting organizations financial integrity.
There is a large ocean out there and plenty of fish to catch! And, thank goodness I chose to become a direct response fundraiser and not a fishermen.
Greg Fox is vice president of nonprofit vertical strategy at Merkle. He joined the company in 2000 to establish a data-driven, strategic fundraising agency group. Fox is a 30-year veteran of direct response fundraising, with expertise in developing innovative fundraising marketing strategies and solutions. He has helped raise hundreds of millions of dollars for many of the largest and most respected fundraising brands in America, and while he has broad-based fundraising experience, he is highly regarded as a leader in the national health-charity sector. Prior to joining Merkle, Fox was a founding partner in TheraCom, a leading provider of full-service specialty pharmacy solutions and marketing strategies that served the healthcare and charitable industries. He also served as vice president of direct response fundraising at the National Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, where he started his career and created the organization’s first national direct response program. Fox is an industry thought-leader, frequent speaker at industry conferences and an active participant in the DMA nonprofit federation. He graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va.