Putting the Science Back in Fundraising
Let me just say it outright. I am not a fan of the email barrage tactic that has been so prevalent in fundraising of late. All too often there is no ask. Instead, the recipient receives what amounts to a threat that “If you don’t donate $X today, then some dire consequence will occur.” To me, efforts like these only reinforce the negative opinions so many people hold about fundraising and fundraisers.
The last election provides a prime example of what I consider to be the loss of science in today’s fundraising campaigns. On any given day, I probably received 20 emails from the same organization. Its “strategy” amounted to nothing more than throwing spaghetti noodles against the wall to see what stuck. There was no conversation, and there was no appreciation of my past giving habits. If there was any strategy involved at all, it likely ended at efforts to predict the subject line’s effectiveness in prompting me to open the email.
Direct marketing professionals who specialize in online–or digital–fundraising know the importance of back-end analysis, front-end strategy formulation, database segmentation and holding conversations with donors. They are rarely surprised by outcomes. They can predict exactly what will happen because everything they do is based in science.
For example, if I launch a telemarketing effort and plan to place 10,000 telephone calls, I know before the first number is dialed that I will reach 60 percent of those people selected from the organization’s database. Of the 60 percent reached, only 25 percent will say “yes.” They will give, on average, $30. Of the 25 percent who say “yes,” some will want to write a check rather than provide a credit card number; 50 percent of these individuals will never send in a check. Knowing these givens, I can build a plan for clients that they can take to the bank. Without science, predictability is lost.
Recently, I did a cross-channel analysis for a nonprofit organization that was experiencing a decline in donor-generated revenue. Donors had historically fulfilled 90 percent of the total required annual revenue, but now barely provided 50 percent of that amount. I asked about the strategies employed. The last unsuccessful effort simply emailed everyone in the database and asked them to send in $3 in order to raise $X. The effort fell well short of its goal.
Kim Cubine is president of Chapman Cubine Adams + Hussey (CCAH), a full-service direct marketing firm with offices in Arlington, Va., and San Francisco. She possesses over 20 years’ experience as a strategist and communicator for progressive causes and political candidates. She has managed the direct marketing programs of some of the largest, most prestigious campaigns and global nonprofit organizations, including Obama for America, EMILY’s List, Clinton-Gore ’96, The Wilderness Society, NARAL Pro-Choice America, AARP and the Democratic National Committee. Since assuming the presidency of the firm, she has been instrumental in developing CCAH into the first and leading, full-service direct marketing agency in the country.