Steve Streicher, one of my co-panelists at last week’s panel discussion on online fundraising, commented that “good communication starts within your organization.” I couldn’t agree more. Many of us are aware of the importance of communicating well with our constituents, yet we may not take the time to do the same with our nonprofit co-workers.
One way is to cut down a bit on email, and use the ‘old-fashioned’ technique of connecting with colleagues face-to-face. After a series of email exchanges over a week failed to reach a consensus, I spent this afternoon at one of my organization’s remote sites today reviewing what changes were needed to an internal software application. Not only did we resolve the issue, but I learned much more than I would have through email or phone contact. When I completed my visit, my colleagues thanked me for taking the time to visit, saying that others were reluctant to take the time to travel (20 minute train ride from my office).
Earlier this week, I stopped by a colleague’s desk to check on the status of an outstanding issue which had also been the topic of a series of ongoing email exchanges over several weeks. Our conservation probably saved us 3 or 4 email swaps, yet he seemed surprised that I took the time (about 30 seconds) to walk over to his desk, rather than simply send another email.
This doesn’t mean that you should simply show up at someone’s desk or office. Take the time to make an appointment, and come prepared with an agenda of what you will discuss.
So if you want to effectively communicate with constituents, start with your colleagues in your organization, especially those who work at locations other than where you are. As Steve said, if you can’t do it well internally, you probably won’t be effective reaching out to supporters either.
Depending on how you interpret the 2009 statistics, online giving is the greatest thing since sliced bread or is over-hyped and still represents a small piece of overall donations. Today’s Agitator.net post challenges us to think beyond the numbers. Some major points:
Are new online donors simply moving over from other channels, or are they really ‘new’?
What’s getting in the way of some nonprofits that are not seeing increases in online giving?
If your organization has experienced a jump in online donations, do you understand why?
Are you taking advantage of integrated strategies to coordinate your online and offline appeals?
Can new online donors be ultimately upgraded to higher levels of engagement – as you would normally want for offline supporters?
If some donors are contributing because their friends or family asked, can you expect them to have a relationship with your nonprofit directly to encourage future support?
Are you doing enough testing of online messaging, as carefully as you would do for offline?
Online fundraising isn’t a magic bullet, as those who simply add a donation button to their web site without any further effort soon learn. Similarly, if you send out regular email marketing messages but don’t analyze who’s opening and actually reading them (and who unsubscribe), you’re missing the boat. Regardless of your 2009 online numbers, you can probably do better in 2010 by taking the time to answer some of these questions.
Thanks to Katya and Jocelyn Harmon for this week’s session on how to thank donors. It’s amazing to me that some nonprofits still don’t always acknowledge gifts, other than a generic auto reply (and sometimes not even that). And don’t only communicate with your constituents when you’re asking for money – this is a year-round dialogue.
Reconnect with donors by giving new options of engagement
Increase fundraising for participant-led events
Use social media to reach the next generation of supporters
Improve multichannel engagement/integration
Evaluate website’s effectiveness
Some of my thoughts:
Despite the recession, online giving continued to be a strong fundraising source. If you already accept online donations and regularly communicate with your constituents, congratulations. But if you haven’t worked to optimize your forms and don’t analyze how well your email marketing is working, you’re probably leaving money on the table.
Don’t obsess about the ‘best’ tools to use for online fundraising. It’s more important that you select a vendor / product that will likely be around for awhile (ask colleagues at other nonprofits for recommendations) and that you consider how it will connect to your other systems.
Social networking is not a fad. Yes, it’s still better to make sure your web site, database and email marketing strategies are in place first, but don’t overlook tools such as Facebook and Twitter. Remember that conversations about your cause and organization are going on all the time; make sure you’re a part of them.
Fundraising is everyone‘s responsibility, not just the development department. Ideally, marketing/communication and fundraising/development strategies should be planned together since one supports the other.
Still think that your constituents won’t respond to online fundraising initiatives? Think again; use all available channels and let your supporter decide which to use – direct mail recipients often choose to respond online.
Today’s Nten webinar led by Blackbaud Internet evangelist Steve MacLaughlin offered a comprehensive review of online fundraising. See Steve’s Connections blog for links to reports referenced in today’s session. Some of my takeaways:
While online revenue represented only 5% of total fundraising in 2008, online receipts jumped 44% over 2007
Event fundraising emails (e.g. friends asking friends) have an incredibly high click through rate – 57% in period covered by study
Only 16% of event fundraisers send emails – imagine how much more successful these events could be if more participants were encouraged to fundraise!
Donor retention is much worse for online donors than for offline acquisition. More analysis is under way, but this may be partially due to donors having the ability to make ‘spur of the moment’ contributions without having a real commitment to the organization
How to increase donor retention? It is critical to quickly respond to donors / event participants / those who take an action to solidify the relationship. (How often have you not received an email confirmation, or have received a boilerplate document with no customization?)
Senior management must drive integration of fundraising across channels – “We don’t live in a single channel world.”
Facebook and other social networking platforms are still more useful as engagement tools than as primary fundraising techniques.
Small organizations may be able to do as well or better than larger nonprofits since they don’t have the traditional infrastructure and can act more quickly
While most of these points weren’t a surprise, Steve’s summary provides a great overview for nonprofits that still need help in creating online fundraising strategies.
Need a ‘best practices’ example for how to build an email list? I recently signed up to receive online communications from YAI, and they use a few good techniques:
sign up form requires only first name, last name, email address and how subscriber is related to mission of organization (e.g. have disability, have family member with disability, work in field, staff member etc.)
asking for specific areas of interests – and explaining why they are asking for this information, providing a way for YAI to use segmentation in choosing who will get each mailing
sign-up box tells constituents exactly what they will be receiving if they subscribe – YAI news, events and program openings.
(Although I recently received my first YAI enewsletter, I haven’t seen any type of ‘welcome series’ messages as many nonprofits are now starting to utilize – see my post about online giving earlier this year. )
Finally, I attended a few events last week on nonprofit web sites by Charity Dynamics and Empax. Some takeaways:
organize site for visitors, not by the organization chart (may seem obvious, but many nonprofits still fall short here)
include clear calls to action
provide a variety of ways for visitors to support the organization (but make sure donation button is easily findable)
redesign or refresh? Not always an easy choice, but evaluate site every 18-24 months to determine if it’s meeting needs of visitors – do usability testing.
The benefits of multichannel fundraising and marketing was a major theme at multiple sessions. While I expected my colleagues at the online fundraising presentation to present these ideas, I was pleasantly surprised to hear this mentioned prominently during the direct mail session. When I asked why so many organizations still insist on using different staff / departments to handle different channels, it’s because direct mail has long been a dependable income stream. But now it’s definitely best to not plan and report results from direct mail and email appeals separately
How to introduce multichannel approaches in your organization? Get an internal ‘champion’ or work together with a consultant / vendor that your nonprofit already trusts
How often do you email consituents – when you have relevant content that will be of interest
Make email appeals part of a planned campaign, not as a series of unrelated messages.
Use an integrated calendar to plan all constituent communications in advance, not just email.
Easiest way to secure ticket sales for a special event – include an honoree
How much will special event attendees participate in other organization activities? It depends on how much to cultivate them afterwards and get to know what will most attract them to participate.
Raising money is only one goal of a special event. Other considerations are meeting constituents, finding board members, generating publicity. Are you willing to break even on an event to achieve other objectives?
Segment your list! Communicate with prospects and past donors differently.
Looking for ways to supplement your ‘traditional’ events? Are constituents already engaged in activity with group of devotees who might be willing to make a donation as part of that activity?
I also met Tom & Candy Zackey from Amazing Grace Africa, who described at lunch how they have 17 children, many which they’ve adopted from Liberia, a country in Africa that has been ravaged by civil war for many years. View more details about their work.
When developing online strategies for your nonprofit, be careful if you hear any of these ‘assurances’ from your colleagues:
Everything is being done over the Internet, we don’t need much Information Technology staff. – Whatever vendors or products you decide to choose, you still need someone to not only select the best product for your organization’s needs, and then once it’s implemented, manage the relationship with the vendor. Expecting any online product to just ‘work’ without some ongoing tweaking is a recipe for disaster.
We can get a better deal if we hire web designers from overseas – While it’s a good idea to hire the best web person you can find wherever they are, be careful about basing a decision strictly on economics. Working on a web site overhaul involves much give and take during the design and implementation process, and email isn’t always sufficient to insure that the deliverables match the goals.
We don’t need to do a formal evaluation – I’ve worked with this person / vendor before. – What works for one nonprofit may not work for another. In addition, making a decision based on a personal contact may backfire if that person suddenly leaves for a new opportunity.
Vendor says we can connect our online and offline systems and they will help us to do it. – As I’ve discussed in my recent post, Reporting Across Multiple Systems, integration can be a mine field. Beware of any vendor that says this is easy. Ask to speak with other clients who have already connected their systems successfully – and are using the same products your organization is.
Vendor suggests we should do things differently – Before speaking to any vendor, make sure you’ve outlined your requirements. If you’ve done this, and the vendor questions your specifications and recommends a different approach, ask why. Unless they can give you a satisfactory explanation – and provide alternatives that have worked well for other clients, find a different company to work with.
I will post my presentation after next week’s summit, which will take place Wed, June 3 and Thu, June 4 in New York City. Hope to see some of you there.
If you haven’t yet seen it, take a look at the latest eNonprofit Benchmarks Study released last week where you can also listen to the recording or view slides from the May 14 event. The report covers major ephilanthropy topics: email messaging, online fundraising, and online advocacy. Major takeaways:
email open and click through rates continue to decline, although less than in previous years; but a message that is ‘opened’ may not be actually read by the constituent
the number of online gifts and total dollars raised online continue to increase; the increase in number of gifts helped to offset a decline in average gift from $86 to $71
email lists continue to grow, but at a slower rates than in past studies; almost 20% of email addresses go bad every year due to bounces or unsubscribes
email results vary dramatically by audience sent to; are you still making the mistake of sending everything to everyone?
gifts of under $250 represent 97% of all gifts, yet donations of $250 or more make up 41% of revenue – don’t forget to recruit and acknowledge your major donors
while social media gets most of the buzz lately, email clearly is still king, at least for now.