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.
There are several problems with this approach. First, the people asked to give $3 may have had the capacity–and the desire–to give $150 each, but only gave $3 because that was the ask amount. Money was left on the table because no one strategically segmented the database to determine capacity for giving or past giving practices. Worse still, no one made a case for giving. Absent these actions, an organization can send out 20,000 more emails than ever before and still bring in three times less money.
Past donor behavior must form the basis for the next fundraising strategy. And, the ask must rely on a conversation, not a threat. People will only give their hard-earned dollars when they are vested in an organization’s mission. To achieve this level of engagement, organizations must have meaningful conversations with donors in which they make a case for giving over time.
It is important to know the issue that precipitated a donor’s first giving action and be mindful of it when similar situations present. Consider activist women’s organizations, for example. Some women are very involved in what is happening legislatively. So, when a key issue is occurring on the state or national level, it is important to reach out to those women in the database. Other donors, based on past response, only engage in times of a high-profile presidential election. Therefore, it is best not to spend a lot of time reaching out to them during off-year elections. Then, there are high-profile legislative bills. A good example can be found in the five bills aimed at abortion restrictions that the Republicans introduced in the first three days of the 114th Congress. Because limiting women's access to this procedure is an issue to which most progressive women will respond, a wider net would be cast.
The science of direct marketing gives us the ability to know our donor base, what motivates their giving and what their past giving practices are. In turn, this knowledge provides a basis for conversing with supporters in a meaningful way on issues that resonate with them. Armed with this knowledge, direct marketing professionals can construct a credible plan, often relying on fewer telephone calls, direct mail pieces and/or emails, with predictable results.
As the old saying goes, it is quality not quantity. Direct marketing science delivers quality and results. It’s time to return to science.
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.