SLOW DOWN!

At Blakely, we have a step in our process for every campaign called the “variable strategy review”. It’s a meeting when the fundraising strategist (me), the project manager, the data programmer, the production specialist, and one of our senior strategists or a member of our Insights team all come together. We look at the mail package or email or any creative with variable elements and review everything to make sure:

  1. We have the info we need in the data to feed into the variables
  2. The variables make strategic sense

It’s a critical step in the process to catch any issues or “gotchas” as my colleague Jeff calls them. But it’s also an opportunity to strengthen strategy and ensure it’s sound.

We have a busy workplace just like you, especially at this time of year. So you would think we’d have our minds elsewhere during this meeting or be rushing to get somewhere/do something else. But no.

We went through every item. We asked strategic questions. We changed variable copy. We put ourselves in the donors’ shoes and thought about whether what we were saying would really reach them.

I’m not saying all this to note how awesome Blakely is (though we are). I’m saying this to encourage you to slow down even when work is crazy. Yes, “done is better than perfect”, but sometimes we really need to stop, ask questions, and think strategically about the donor and how we can inspire them and motivate them to give.

Take an extra 30 minutes this week to slow down and work through something more strategically. And when you do – share it in the comments. Good luck! It’s fundraising season, baby!

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for eleven years.
Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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Making Data Sexy

MakingData Sexy

Where does the “data person” at your charity have their office?

Is it in the basement? Away from sunlight?

Are they pale? With bloodshot eyes?

No, I’m not implying that “data people” are vampires…

But I am implying that we don’t think of them as the “sexy” part of our organization.

And that’s wrong! Data is sexy!

You know who knows that? The for-profit world. Think of something awesome like… PC Plus.

pccard_registration

PC Plus is my local supermarket’s loyalty/rewards program. So if you don’t have PC Plus, think of the same type of program at your supermarket. Or Air Miles! Same idea.

Here’s the gist: I buy my weekly groceries and when I scan my PC Plus card at the end of my purchase, the supermarket knows exactly what I’m buying. I get points for what I’m buying, and then I get offers for more points based on what I most frequently buy. Because I’m getting points, which turn into dollars off future purchases, I feel I’m benefitting from the process. The supermarket is definitely benefitting because not only are they encouraging more purchases – through the points – they’re also getting oodles of data on buyers’ behaviour, which they can use to make better business decisions, and to make more money.

Are we – charities – using data to raise more money? 

We are way behind the for-profit world in this area. Sure, we have a lot less money to play around with for this type of thing, but we’re still not investing nearly enough of what we do have.

What if we invested money and time in paying more attention to our donors’ behaviour?

What if we tracked what campaigns they do and don’t give to throughout the year and stopped mailing them for the ones they don’t give to, and doubled our efforts in soliciting them for the ones they do?

What if we tested using different messaging and creative for different genders? Or different age groups? If we segmented our data that way, tracked the performance for the different test groups, and then spent some time considering the insights we drew from that… wouldn’t that change the way we fundraise?

And if we found one approach better than another… or different approaches better for different segments, we’d raise more money by implementing those moving forward.

Isn’t that what we want to do?

Raise more money?!?!

The simple truth is that we’re not using our data as well as we can, and we’re missing opportunities to raise more money – and be better fundraisers – along the way.

Some of us can afford to invest more in this than others, but all of us can afford to try something new in 2016. Even something small.

So that’s my first challenge of the new year to you: try something new with your data.

And please report back in the comments!

Good luck, and Happy New Year!

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Written by Maeve Strathy


Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for over nine years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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Can I have your number?

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All fundraisers are closet data nerds. We love to pore over a spreadsheet of data and see what’s going on in our programs.

But if you had to say you focused on one number above the rest, what would it be?

I surveyed my Twitter followers, LinkedIn network, and email list, and here’s what they said:

  • Net revenue
  • Participation (combination of expected retained donors + new donors)
  • # of new donors
  • # of new young donors
  • Difference in dollars raised year-over-year
  • Total dollars raised (this is what I answer to at the board level – they have a finite term)
  • Total dollars raised
  • Total dollars raised
  • Conversion rate
  • Total dollars raised (short-term)
  • # of new donors (long-term)

As you can see, there’s a decent mix of metrics in there. Not to say this is a comprehensive sample, but I’d say us fundraisers are on the same page for the most part in terms of what we look at.

I was most interested by those who referenced the word term – “finite term”, “short-term”, “long-term”. That’s why I wanted to write about this in the first place.

Are we focusing on the right numbers? 

I’m not going to pretend for a second that I know the number we’re supposed to be focusing on. Or that there even is such a number! I’m just observing that more often than not, we’re looking at our programs from a few inches away, rather than from a bird’s eye view.

We need to step back and think big picture. 

We need to say, “Okay, so total dollars raised are coming up short of last year, is there anything I can see in last year’s data that would support that?”

Or even better, “The number of new donors this year is fewer than last; we’re going to have trouble with second gift conversion next year, and therefore total dollars, if we don’t focus more on acquisition.”

And that leads me to another number that no one mentioned, but I think a lot of managers, especially, get caught up in.

Cost. Expenses.

“We’re spending more than last year. We need to pull back!”

But stop – how does your increase in expenses translate into fundraising results? Are you seeing better results? Can you project that what you’re doing this year will translate into better – and more sustainable – growth in future years?

Because if so, try to stomach the expenses in the short-term. The long-term return on your investment will be worth it.

So take a step back. Think critically. Look closely at data, and then look at data from afar. You might not see it the same way.

What’s YOUR number? Share in the comments.

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Written by Maeve Strathy


Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for over eight years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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5 direct response best practices (and 1 busted myth)

5 direct response best practices(and 1 busted

In my nearly 9 years in fundraising, I’ve been hearing this myth. Maybe you’ve heard it, too. It’s this intangible thing… this concept… this idea…

Best practice.

“Best practice” is defined by Wikipedia as “a method or technique that has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other means, and that is used as a benchmark”.

Have you heard this myth, too? It’s a myth because we hear about it so much, but we rarely see it in actual practice. Why? Budget, time, other resources? There are myriad reasons why, but it seems a shame, because all of the “best practice” ideas sound so great.

Guess what I’ve learned in the 5.5 weeks in my new job? Best practice is not a myth!

I always wondered, what can an agency do that a charity can’t do internally? Now that I’m on the agency side, I realize: A LOT. Hiring an agency to do your direct mail, for example, is a big investment, but the return is huge.

Why? Best practice.

You put in the resources – at least financial – and the agency takes your time (mostly) out of the equation. The agency does the work, and since that’s their sole business, they have the time and resources to make sure the output follows best practices.

What are best practices? Let me share my five favourites – that I’ve learned so far – with you!

#1: STORIES — Donors don’t want to hear much about you. You, the fundraiser, and you, the organization. They want to hear stories. They want to hear about people; people their generous donations supported. Was someone only able to attend your university because of donor support? Did someone survive – literally – because of donor-funded medical equipment? Donors want to hear about that.

#2: MULTI-CHANNEL APPROACH — Every medium you use to fundraise is great, but it’s stronger when it’s accompanied by a number of other channels. People need to be reminded a few times before they take action, so pairing your direct mail piece with an e-blast or your DRTV spot with digital display ads means a stronger campaign. Plus, the more channels a donor gives through, the longer – and more generously – they’ll give.

#3: BEAUTIFUL DESIGN — Inspiring stories and a variety of channels are all well and good. But if all of this goes out in a #10 envelope that looks like your Internet bill, what’s the point? There needs to be design elements in your direct response activities. It doesn’t have to be complex – in fact, it’s often better if it’s not – but it needs to be considered. The paper you use, the size of the envelope, the number of package components… it needs to be well thought out.

#4: VARIABLES — You need to acknowledge each donor along their journey. Is this a new donor? A mid-level donor? A lapsed donor? A donor who gives every September but hasn’t yet and you want to make sure they do? Whoever they are, you need to acknowledge them. It’s good for #donorlove, and it’s good for revenue!

#5: DATA — THE MOST IMPORTANT BEST PRACTICE OF ALL! The power of data cannot be denied or underplayed. You have to know how donors are responding to different pieces/packages/asks/etc. You need to test different premiums and find out what works! You need to split donors by their type and address them – and solicit them – differently. I could go on and on… DATA IS KING.

That’s it from me!

What’s your favourite best practice??? Share in the comments!

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Written by Maeve Strathy


Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for over eight years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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You’ve only got part of the story

you've only got part of the story

As fundraisers, we’re constantly working with partially-told stories.

Last week, Andrew Littlefield showed us how to be P.D.D.D. — pretty damn data-driven.

Data is so important, and I think within every passionate fundraiser lies a bit of a data nerd. I love poring over spreadsheets and analyzing results, but it’s only part of the story.

I went to the Blue North Do-Gooders Summit this year and saw an awesome session called “Inspiring New Ideas with Donor Data”. The presenter, Tim Rowley, said that fundraisers have some issues with correlation analysis; we draw conclusions that we shouldn’t.

Here’s an example: there is proof that going to bed with shoes on leads to headaches in the morning. 

Is that true? Yes, but not for the reason that statement implies.

If you are too drunk to take off your shoes before bed, you’re likely going to be hungover and will therefore wake up with a headache. 

Going to bed with your shoes on is just part of the story.

We have a lot of data, but not enough knowledge. We have to take the time to turn our data into information, and then turn that information into knowledge, which is something we can actually use. That’s when we can be data-driven, as Andrew rightly encourages us to be!

How can we find out the rest of the story? One way is to ask great questions.

It applies to looking at mass amounts of data OR looking at one specific major donor.

If a donor makes a $10,000 gift out of the blue, can we make assumptions about how engaged they are with our charity and how they might want to be involved moving forward?

Well, sure! But that doesn’t mean we’re right! We must ask questions to get the whole story.

As for what kinds of questions we can ask, check out this video I saw on Movie Mondays for some inspiring ideas!

Telling the full story is worth the extra work!

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Written by Maeve Strathy


Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past eight years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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Guest Post: Not Your Momma’s Fundraising — The New Must Have Skill for Fundraisers

Not Your Momma's Fundraising - The New

Graduation season is in full swing, and with it comes an endless parade of advice (solicited and unsolicited) for grads entering the workforce.

For fundraisers, much of this advice centers on relationship building and the art of conversation. Good skills to master for aspiring fundraisers, to be sure.

But in our connected society, there’s an often overlooked skill that can help the new generation of fundraisers conquer the brave new world of online fundraising.

That skill? Data-crunching.

Check out this SlideShare presentation from WeDidIt that explores this new, in-demand skill, and what actions fundraisers can take to be P.D.D.D. (“Pretty Damn Data-Driven”).

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Written by Andrew Littlefield

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Andrew is a marketer and nonprofit fan for WeDidIt, a startup based in Brooklyn, New York dedicated to helping nonprofits raise more money and reach new donors.

Connect with Andrew via:
Twitter |  WeDidIt Blog