How I Screwed Up Our Marketing (and What You Can Learn From It)
OK, the backstory: As a promotion at the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) International Fundraising Conference and 2016 Nonprofit Technology Conference (16NTC) in March, my team at CharityEngine had the idea to give away pedometers to the more than 4,000 nonprofit attendees. If they walked 33,000 steps at the conference, and sent a picture confirming their totals, we’d make a $25 donation to their nonprofits. It aligns with our message that collecting data is easy if you use the right tools (which, obviously, we think CharityEngine is).
I loved the idea. I thought this would become the Ice Bucket Challenge of fundraising conferences.
It was a warm glass of water.
Do you know how many of the more than 4,000 fundraisers signed up? 147! And guess how many actually turned in their scores to get the donations? 31! That’s less than 1 percent.
Stop for a second and think about what my poor performance says about how hard your job is: In a pre-screened target audience of more than 4,000 people who literally spend every day asking people to give them money for their organizations, I only could find 1 percent to take mine!
Folks, how in the world do you do your jobs?
You have to somehow find enough people who would even care about your mission, and then convince them to give you their money for nothing but good karma in return. I couldn’t even give away money to people who wanted it.
Yo. Respect. Mad respect.
I believe fundraisers and marketers have the same job—we both convince people to spend hard-earned dollars on something that we believe will make for a better world (and, be confident that I truly believe CharityEngine improves the world).
But there’s no question that your job is way harder.
And if you aren’t even doing the marketing basics right, then you can’t grow. So here are three things I flat-out did poorly and, recognizing the advantage I have of giving away money, realize you simply cannot afford to.
1. Not enough marketing. This seems obvious, but the fact is I didn’t want to spend additional money on communications, so we used our own email list, a few posts on the conference app and a few Twitter posts. Spending more time and money on smart communications to reach my target audience almost certainly would’ve driven a higher return on investment. I at least should’ve purchased the marketing list ahead of time.
And there is no doubt that better use of Facebook, Twitter, Google, search-engine marketing and the conference app—which doesn’t have to be a high cost, by the way—would have helped.
Tying that into trackable metrics to identify the success of each individual channel would validate whether it is worth a continued investment in the future or if I should cut my loss. But not investing and not measuring was more harmful than spending. And, by the way, this is particularly frustrating because CharityEngine (which I use for marketing) makes it easy to track those multichannel metrics and see which led to conversions. I could’ve done it so easily.
2. Not enough face-to-face. A development officer I spoke with mentioned that unless people stopped and spoke with our representatives, they didn’t know the promotion even existed. Simply getting in front of more people one-on-one would have helped. I should have had shirts for my team made with something like, “Ask me how to get a $25 donation for your organization,” and had us wear them during the entire conference, with pedometers ready to hand over.
3. I didn’t follow up. Honestly, this is the most embarrassing part. Of the 116 fundraisers who registered but didn’t submit their scores, I am positive that if I had scheduled a reminder by email, prior to the deadline, to send in their scores, my numbers would have been higher. And the sad part is, again, I could have done it in my own CRM. That’s exactly what my software does—integrated email campaigns. And I didn’t use it!
Or, based on what I learned at AFP from the brilliant Tom Ahern about “loverizing” my constituents, what I really should have done is followed up the very next morning with an email saying, “It’s day two! Remember that today you are doing something awesome. Every step you take today will help get your organization another $25 donation toward your mission! March on!” Because the truth is, I had assumed they were still into what we were doing. But in hindsight, I am sure that they already had forgotten about our program.
The 116 people who signed up, then never finished, and those who heard about our promotion but never came over—that is what fascinates me the most. Think about what that says about what you are up against to be a fundraiser.
Again, fundraisers tell donors $25 is nothing and yet it can do so much. “Just $25 can buy X amount of animals’ food.” “Just $25 will buy books for X classrooms.” And yet, hundreds of fundraisers literally weren’t motivated enough to grab an easy $25 for their missions—for books, food, medical supplies.
The lesson is: You really have to work hard to motivate people—even those who care. And I am not criticizing. After all, I just blatantly told you how I screwed up. The data proved it.
Cool ideas or great missions are just starting points. You have to be strategic, you have to market, and you have to work really hard at identifying and motivating the right people. And, like Tom Ahern’s "loverizing," you have to take every opportunity to show why it’s awesome for them, too.
So I’m going to try again at Bridge Conference 2016. Can we give away more money to nonprofits by following my findings? (It’s pretty sad if we cant.)
But, do not forget the lesson for you.
I was giving away money and I didn’t have any room for poor marketing strategy. There’s just no way you can get donations if you aren’t 10 times more strategic with yours.
Leigh Kessler is VP of Marketing and Communications at donor management software platform CharityEngine and a frequent speaker on branding, fundraising, data and technology. He is a former nationally touring headline comedian and has appeared on numerous TV shows including VH1’s “Best Week Ever”, CNN’s “Showbiz Tonight”, Discovery Channel & Sirius Radio. He has overseen and informed research and branding strategies for some of the most well known brands in America.