Best Practice is Test Practice

Let me set the scene: You’ve just attended a conference and your head is buzzing with new ideas. But there’s one in particular that you have to try! You know your organization’s donors will love it and really respond to it. So you go to your decision-maker and put the idea in front of her. She immediately shuts it down. “Our donors won’t respond to that!”, she says. You, deflated, go back to doing the same old, same old.

Here’s another scene: You just got an email from your favourite charity (but not the one you work at). It has a lot of copy, yet you’re captivated the whole time you read it. You get to the end and can’t help but make a gift. But there was so much copy! That’s not best practice! And yet… you gave. So you start thinking about the charity where you work. You only write short copy emails there; it’s “best practice”, after all. You consider making your next email a bit longer, but the digital experts in your office might say no. And what if it sacrifices revenue?

If you’re like most fundraisers, one or both of these situations is familiar to you. Revenue is precious, and if it’s coming in, then there’s not a revenue problem. If there’s no problem, there’s nothing to fix. If there’s nothing to fix, why try something new?! New ideas have no place in your charity.

But there is a problem! Status quo is a problem. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but at some point things will plateau if they haven’t already.

And chances are, the most senior people at your charity don’t want to see revenue go flat. They want to see it go up.

But how?

We use a quote from Albert Einstein a lot in our office to shake us out of status quo:

So how do you stop being insane? How do you challenge your known best practice without sacrificing (too much) revenue?

You test.

In my opinion, we don’t do nearly enough testing in fundraising. We’re so risk-averse – and understandably so. We don’t have money to just play around with, and for most charities it would be irresponsible to “play” with our money anyway.

But there’s so much to learn by trying new things!

Testing is the way. Testing is the way to convince your organization’s decision-maker to try something new. You go status quo with one group of donors – maybe send them the year-end package you always have. And then with another group of donors – send them the new package! Or the long-copy email you’ve been wanting to try!

6 Tips for Testing:

  1. Test ONE thing. To have a true test, you have to be able to identify the one thing that made one “package” more successful than the other.
  2. You don’t have to do a 50/50 test, you can do 75/25 or whatever you want! But – for the test to be conclusive, you want to have a minimum of 100 responses.
  3. Don’t just test for testing’s sake. If the element that you’re testing “wins”, the assumption is that you’ll roll out that element in future efforts, so it needs to have value.
  4. Digital testing is the same as testing through mail. You’re still testing one thing.
  5. You can test more than just creative/copy elements. You can also test data elements. What would happen if you mailed 50% of your inactive donors a totally different letter than other donors? Would they perform better? Or what if you tested your usual ask grid ($50 $100 $250) against something a bit more aggressive? Would that result in a higher average gift?
  6. Sometimes – even without testing it – it’s time for your longstanding control package to go. (Note: Your “control” is the package that keeps on winning against test packages.) Just because it’s “winning” doesn’t mean it should still go out in the mail. Sometimes it’s time for something new, with or without testing.

(Shout-outs to my awesome colleagues Laura & Sara for sharing their best testing tips!)

Good luck, and happy testing!

~~

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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 ten years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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4 tips to survive the year-end fundraising extravaganza

pace yourself. (6)

OK – Why am I talking about year-end? It’s August!

Well because that’s how our weird world of fundraising works… at least for direct response.

I started presenting holiday campaign ideas to my clients back in July.

Literally Christmas in July. 

That’s what makes the world of direct response marketing agencies extra weird. Because of the lead time needed to do our work, we are generally thinking about campaigns three months in advance of when they drop.

Disadvantage for you, the fundraiser? I may be talking about it to you too early. Fair enough.

Advantage for you? Since I’m already in it, I can share some tips with you on how to survive it.

Here they are:

pace yourself.#1 – PACE YOURSELF — Don’t look at your solicitation schedule for September to December and start pulling your hair out! Take it one campaign at a time. Lay out your critical paths. Get the important approval dates in your calendar. This time of year is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t lose your mind in one go, and don’t forget to hydrate.

pace yourself. (1)

#2 – THINK ABOUT THE DONOR — Don’t lose sight of #donorlove when there are dollar signs in your eyes (because let’s face it – this is the time of year when the revenue pours in more than any other). When you’re looking at the potential creative for your holiday campaign, remind yourself “I am not my donors”. Think about what donors have responded to in the past. What’s inspired them? What’s filled them with the warm, fuzzy feelings of the giving season and moved them to impact your organization when there are so many other non-profits clamouring for their attention? Deliver that. I’m not saying don’t be innovative or try something new, but don’t do it for your sake. Do it for the donors.

pace yourself. (2)

#3 – SELF-CARE — I know we all give the idea of self-care lip service, but seriously. It’s August and I’m already feeling the first bit of burn-out. You need to check in with yourself and make sure you’re giving yourself what you need. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you putting good stuff into your body (and I don’t mean wine and coffee, although there’s a time and place for that, too). Are you finding time to be active? A 30-minute walk (ideally outside) would do you a lot of good. Are you taking time to do things that bring you joy? Cooking? Reading? A favourite TV show? A bath! I know we can’t spare as much time as usual for ourselves amidst all the work, but maybe carve out… an hour a day? Two hours? For you! Because if you aren’t happy and healthy, it’s going to be a much longer season.

pace yourself. (3)

#4 – KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE PRIZE — #DonorLove is absolutely crucial to what we do. But let’s admit it: to allow our amazing organizations to do their amazing work, we need funding. And the year-end time period brings in the majority of our funding for the year, so that’s a huge driver of why we work so hard and have so much output at this time. When you’re tearing your hair out and wondering why you do this, look at last year’s results from September-December. Calculate what percentage of the total year’s revenue it was. Write that percentage or dollar amount on a post-it and let it motivate you when the sheer love of the work doesn’t do it. That impact is worth hustling for.

Good luck!

~~

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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 over nine years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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DIRECT MAIL IS NOT DEAD…

Direct Mail

It just doesn’t stand alone anymore.

 

When I tell people what I do – direct response marketing for non-profits – the easiest reference point to use is direct mail.

“You know those letters you get from charities that ask you for money? I put those together.”

The reaction I often get is shock that there’s still a business for that.

“People still give through the mail?!” people say, incredulous.

But those of us in fundraising know (I hope!) that direct mail continues to be the base of our Annual Giving programs.

Is it dead? Definitely not. Is it dying? Nope. BUT, it cannot stand alone.

So what does that mean?

It means that successful direct response fundraising programs are multi-channel and integrated. You communicate with your donors – and prospective donors – by mail, email, and phone. You invest in media buys, engaging donors on Facebook and Google. You create inspiring video content. You develop sophisticated landing pages.

The list goes on…

Look, I know your budgets are limited. But, direct mail will definitely seem to be dying if you’re relying on it as your only channel. You need to go where your donors are… and they’re everywhere.

So that’s multi-channel. But don’t think if you’re using different messages across different channels that you’re gonna have major success! It needs to be integrated.

You know what happens when it is? You know what happens when you use consistent creative and messaging across all channels?

You drive more giving.

If somebody sends your organization a cheque in the mail, it could be because your appeal was emotional and inspiring.

AND/OR it could be because they saw your video content before a YouTube video.

AND/OR they saw an ad on Facebook and it reminded them about that envelope from there favourite charity on their desk.

Integrated multi-channel fundraising.

HA! No, direct mail is definitely not dead.

~~

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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 over nine years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

What do you need for your mid-level giving program?

What do you need for your mid-level giving program-

If this is your first time on this blog, first of all – WELCOME!

Second of all, although I – and guest bloggers who join me – write about anything and everything related to fundraising and philanthropy, there’s one topic that’s my favourite.

Mid-level giving.

Yes, mid-level. That awkward middle child between the well-oiled machine called “annual giving” and the refined big sister called “major gifts”.

Many organizations have been playing in the mid-level sandbox for years now, but for many others it’s a new frontier.

If you’re one of those “many others”, I’ve got a piece of advice to get you started.

Just one thing, that’s simple to understand, but by no means easy to perfect.

Here it is:

To have a successful mid-level giving program, you must use a hybrid approach of direct response fundraising and personal solicitation.

Translation: You can’t just reach mid-level donors through the mail, and you can’t just try the major gift approach with them.

Why?

Well, we’ve conditioned most of our donors to be inspired to give via the mail, and so we can’t just take that away from them. Moreover, in my experience, a lot of mid-level donors just don’t want to meet with you. When I was running the mid-level giving program at Wilfrid Laurier University, I would reach out to donors and ask them to meet and they would be (a) very nervous about why I wanted to meet with them, and/or (b) appreciate the thought, but were very happy giving the way they always had.

Fair enough! So you have to keep up with the direct response approach. Although, the mail you send your mid-level donors can’t be the same ol’ appeal you send everyone else. But that’s a topic for another day.

But mail on its own isn’t enough. A lot of these donors are dying for more engagement with your organization, and reaching out to them personally, to meet with them one-on-one, is exactly what they need to stretch their giving to the next level.

This approach has worked wonders for major giving for years, and there’s a good reason. It’s personal, it’s intimate, and it gives you a chance to really understand your donor.

However, of course we can’t justify the resources it takes to travel to meet a donor, take them for lunch, etc. when they make a $1,000 gift at the end of it all. So, these face-to-face meetings have to be done a bit differently than they are with major gift donors/prospects. But that’s a topic for another day, too.

So that’s it, folks! The essential approach to start your mid-level giving program.

Let me know in the comments what you want to know more about.

And thanks for reading!

~~

Sign up for my email list and get a FREE E-BOOK on mid-level donors!

Written by Maeve Strathy

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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:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal

It may seem crazy sometimes, but mail continues to be the best way to engage donors or potential donors in our work.

Direct mail is both and art and a science… but it’s not rocket science.

Here are my 10 categories to consider in advance of your next DM appeal.

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal (1)

I know it’s boring and uninspiring, but let’s be realistic: the amount of money we have available to us drives what we do. If we think about what we’ve budgeted for before we get going on a campaign, we can allow the budget to guide us rather than limit us. It can help us determine how many people to mail, how many components to include in the mailing, what kind of paper to use, etc. If we realize that we need to increase the budget to achieve our goals, that’s fine, but think about the budget before anything else… and it won’t become our enemy.

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal (2)

Next (somewhat driven by cost): Who are you mailing? Existing donors? Prospective donors? Females? Males? Both? How many people? Are they in your charity’s geographical area, or outside of it? Are they really engaged and generous donors? Donors who are long-lapsed? Your audience drives so much of what you’re going to do in any given mailing, so let this be your second consideration.

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal (3)

Obviously the main goal for any campaign is to raise money, but we also have the opportunity to get insights beyond the dollars we bring in. Before you start really planning for your mailing, determine whether you have the budget to do some testing. If you do, think about what you want to find out: will a more aggressive dollar amount ask generate more revenue or will it freak donors out? Does referencing your donors’ location in the world lift response, or does it make little difference? Think about it. The opportunities are endless, and it’s worth using some of your budget for.

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal (4)

OK, onto creative. Creative is somewhat dependent on the story you decide to tell in your mailing, but it’s also determined by budget, audience, and testing opportunities. What do you have the money to do creatively? Can you use something more exciting than a #10 envelope? Can you include some full-colour photos in the letter, or an insert to expand on the ask? Or – let’s go crazy – can you create a video to accompany the mailing? The creative needs to be aligned to other things in the package, but it’s better to get a sense of your parameters early on.

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal (5)

I know this seems crazy, but only now is it really key to determine what you’re asking for. You may know already; it may be unrestricted funds like it always is. Or you might have a really urgent ask to make. However your process works, it’s now time to finalize the key priority you want to inspire the donor with, and you also want to figure out the ask amounts and how they might be based on the segment the donor falls into, their past giving, etc.

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal (6)

These things aren’t really in a critical order, but if you haven’t figured it out already, it’s time to determine your story. The more personal, the better. If you can tell an individual’s story, that’s ideal. This story should be determined by some of the decisions you’ve already made; maybe it’s based on the audience you’re mailing. Maybe it’s part of a test. Maybe it lends itself to some creative you want to work with. Or maybe it ties perfectly to the ask you want to make. Whatever it is, make it inspiring!

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal (7)

Just like we have to think critically about who sits across from the donor in a 7-figure major gift ask, we have to think about who “signs” a fundraising appeal. Who’s appropriate? Who matters to the donor? Whose voice do we want to use? We know that people are more motivated to give when someone they know asks, so we have to think about that just as much in direct mail. Have you always used your CEO? Great! Could it be worth testing another signatory? Probably! Just make sure you’re thinking about it strategically. It matters.

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal (8)

OK time for a #donorlove break! Before you actually write this awesome and inspiring letter, think about the decisions you’ve made. Then think about the donor. Are they synced up, or is there some disconnect? If there’s a disconnect between the donors’ needs and the decisions you’ve made, then you need to stop and reconsider. Are you doing a test that could alienate donors? Be careful! Is the ask you’re making inspiring, or just an urgent need? Maybe you can do better! Is there truly a story in your letter, or is it organizational jargon? STOP. Think about the donor. If you need to make some changes, do. It needs to be about the donor.

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal (9)

So the letter’s written, the creative’s created, and the package is nearly there. Time to consider variability (if not before this stage). Variability is your chance to speak to different donors within this larger group you’re mailing. Maybe you’re mailing regular donors and you want to acknowledge whether they gave recently, last year, a few years ago, or it’s… *cough*… been a while. Or maybe this is an acquisition mailing and those receiving it are made up of internal people (a.k.a. really inactive donors) AND external people (a.k.a. rental lists). You might want to acknowledge those groups differently. Make sure you consider this before you go any further; the more a donor – or potential donor – feels like you’re speaking to them, the more moved to give they will be.

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal (10)

And finally – YOU. No, not YOU… the donor YOU. This is the final step. Take out the package, take out your red pen, and “circle the you’s”. This mailing isn’t about us – the fundraiser or the organization. It’s about the donor. It’s meant to speak to them, inspire them, and move them. So review your package and make sure you’re seeing many more “YOU”‘s than “WE”‘s. If you’re not, be prepared to start again. It’s worth it.

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So that’s it! 10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal.

If you’re excited about this post, you probably want a chance to win one of these beauties!

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That’s right! Your very own red pen, ready to circle the you’s in your next appeal (as per #10)!

How can you win one? In one of two ways:

  1. By subscribing to my newsletter! OR
  2. Sending me an email with a quick message about what you liked about this post.

Do that, and a pen is in the mail!

Thanks for reading!

~~

Sign up for my email list and get a FREE E-BOOK on mid-level donors!

Written by Maeve Strathy

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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:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

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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Guest Post: Psychology Secrets Every Fundraiser Should Know

Secret #1: The Eyes Have It!

Have you ever noticed how the eyes on a cereal box follow you down the aisle? It’s not an accident! Research by Cornell university has shown that we are more likely to buy cereals that make eye contact with us. The eye contact improves sales!

The lesson for fundraisers? Make sure the photos on your direct mail, emails, newsletter and annual reports are making eye contact with the reader! No artistic shots of people gazing into the distance.

WG_eye contact

Lesson #2: Scarcity Motivates!

When human beings perceive that a resource is limited – they want it more. Psychologists call this the scarcity principle. When people are able to anticipate the regret of not taking advantage of a limited time offer, they are more likely to act.

The lesson for fundraisers: put deadlines special offers – a special window of time for matching gifts, or the approaching end of the year can be powerful factors to motivate a donor.

WG_scarcity

Lesson #3: The Consistency Principle

Simply put, people like to act and behave in a way that is consistent with how they have acted and behaved in the past. A Princeton study found that asking people if they hypothetically would be willing to volunteer before asking them to volunteer dramatically increased the number of people willing to volunteer.

The lesson for fundraisers: Every year at Christmas the SPCA sends me an ornament to hang on my Christmas tree that says I support the SPCA – right before their year-end pack. It’s no coincidence! Prime your donors with ways they can show their support for your cause: signing a petition, sharing something on social media, a bumper sticker for their car. Referencing a donor’s past giving, or that they are a monthly donor are other ways to take advantage of the consistency principle. Establish that supporting your organization is something they consistently do.

WG_consistency

Want more psychology secrets to help you raise more money? Join Leah Eustace and Scott Fortnum as they take you inside the mind of the donor in their June 17th webinar: “The Psychology of Giving – What makes donors tick & WHY they give!”

What if you could spend a couple of hours inside your donor’s head?

What if you knew how she thinks and what she thinks?

Would you become a different fundraiser?

You know you would. 

Get inside a donor’s brain and discover neuroscience secrets to raise more money.

For only $24.99 you can sign up for this webinar:

  • Find out how emotion overrules reason.
  • Learn how impulses are created.
  • Discover how lightning-fast thoughts and images can drive decisions.

You’ll come away with new tools and a new donor understanding.

You’ll never, ever see your donors the same way again.

Seats are limited – sign up now!

Can’t make it on the 17th? Don’t worry – we will record the webinar and send it to you to watch as many times as you like! Sign up to save yourself a spot.

Leah Eustace, ACFRE, is Chief Idea Goddess at Good Works. Scott Fortnum, ACFRE, is the Executive Director, The Living City Foundation. They are both international sought after speakers, thinkers and #DonorLove experts.

Our last webinar sold out! Don’t miss your chance to get inside your donor’s brain!
SIGN UP NOW!

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Written by Rory Green

rory

 

Rory is a Senior Development Officer by day, and FundraiserGrrl by night. As a major gifts fundraiser, she connects donors with an opportunity to invest in a better future. FundraiserGrrrl is a blog about her cheeky observations about life in fundraising.

Connect with Rory via:
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