I have two teenage sons, both in superb physical condition. As their mother, I feel empowered to set them to mowing grass, painting, sealing the driveway and other character-building tasks whenever I see them in repose.
Likewise, it’s fun to put the bright young minds at Turnkey to work in similar fashion. A frequent object of my "what do you think" spotlight is Julian May. He suffers from the ability to write, which makes him a target. I asked him, "In your mind what’s the most important thing right now in peer-to-peer fundraising?"
He looked down at me from his 6-foot-8 height, and said, deadpan, "That’s kind of broad."
I said, "Yeah, but I’m on deadline, buddy. Get a move on."
A chagrined lip purse answered me, and a well-written email shortly followed. Per Julian, the most important thing in peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising today is the advent of marketing automation:
Every day at work, we turn data points into effective communications. We develop strategies for reaching zero-dollar fundraisers and participants in the earliest days of their fundraising efforts, and pushing team captains to their full potentials. In pursuit of creating more effective programs that put our strategies effectively to work, we always are chasing down the latest tech and looking to leverage every data point we can get our hands on.
When we talk about the success of email messaging campaigns, what are the first two data points that spring to mind? Opens and clicks. These two benchmarks have become the core of how we measure success, as they should be since they are the primal forces of email marketing. If the target opened the message then we have them on the hook, if they click then we have reeled them in. So if these data points are so very crucial and core to our idea of a great campaign, why aren’t we leveraging them during the course of campaigns? Enter marketing automation.
I get excited about technologies that allow us to build more robust strategies and operate more effective programs, so excuse me if I gush. Automated email marketing allows us to rapidly respond to email recipient action on the most basic levels, opens and clicks. With these tools we can immediately identify the recipient inaction of not opening an email and respond with a message whose subject line is tailored to attract the attention of someone who wasn’t engaged the first time. (Marketing automation can respond based on other actions too, like hitting a web page for a certain length of time or downloading a PDF, but we’re focusing on opens and clicks today.)
We can also identify those who opened the message but then didn’t follow through with a click. This interaction between recipient and email, while small, tells us volumes about this participant, like how engaged they are. Automated technologies allow us to react swiftly and strike while the iron is still hot, or alternatively, to be less aggressive.
When someone opens a message but fails to click or convert they are telling us that they are listening and that they probably want to get involved, but the exact ask we made was not what they were looking for. This allows us to expose them to different opportunities to engage that might better appeal to this person’s interests for involvement. If they’re not interested in making a donation, maybe sharing a message on social media better aligns with their self-label as a nonprofit supporter.
The combination of rapid response and reactive messaging is potent. Messaging built in specific response to what our participants are unconsciously telling us with their opens and clicks lets us build the most effective email messaging campaigns yet.
If all of that seemed like the scene in a movie where "the geeky one" talks really fast and no one completely understands then, No. 1, sorry and, No. 2, Google "marketing automation video."
Julian, in every way, being an oversized geekster, understands the interplay between technology and psychology. What he describes is a way to react quickly and appropriately, which has not been a possibility for us before on a mass scale. In the past, we have all wished that we could give each volunteer, fundraiser or donor the personal attention they need and deserve, based on how they feel at the moment. We couldn’t. There’s not enough HR manpower in the world to do that. But now we can.
Marketing automation simultaneously takes a pulse and reacts to it. In five years, variable data, segmented email campaigns will be our new floppy disk. Marketing automation will be de rigueur.
Katrina VanHuss is the CEO of Turnkey, a U.S.-based strategy and execution firm for nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Katrina has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded the company. Turnkey’s clients include most of the top thirty U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns — Susan G. Komen, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ALS Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as some international organizations, like UNICEF.
Otis Fulton is a psychologist who joined Turnkey in 2013 as its consumer behavior expert. He works with clients to apply psychological principles to fundraising. He is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit messaging. He has written campaigns for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The March of Dimes, the USO and dozens of other organizations.
Now as a married couple, Katrina and Otis almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism, and human decision-making – much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P, Peer to Peer Forum, and others. They write a weekly column for NonProfit PRO and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising." They live in Richmond, Virginia, USA.