Tuesday, November 27, 2007


That would be "Return on Investment."
And we all care about it.
If I spend $500,000 on marketing and communication activities -- what do I get back?
For years Direct Marketing has given fund raisers the tools to track return on investment. We can identify the average gift, the median gift, rate of response and the direct ROI. We can understand the cost of acquiring a new donor through DRTV, DR Mail, phone and print advertising.
What's a little fuzzy is the auxiliary activities we do.
What impact does brand have on the response rate? What impact do loyalty materials make on long term donor value? What impact do regular reports make on increased giving?
Let me suggest that ROI is much more complicated than we may have thought. The impact of brand, word-of-mouth, the momentum of a great campaign are difficult to access and attribute dollar amounts to.
But we know, without a question, that they do contribute.
Last year, Ten Thousand Villages raised more than a million dollars through their Christmas gift program. The literal investment into marketing materials was minimal. But word of mouth, spontaneous national press coverage, the already well established brand identity and the customer recognition at a retail level all contributed to increased donations. Most of those costs were absorbed by other parts of the organization.
So what do we know?
First of all, national press coverage on a specific campaign increases overall donation levels. Rick Mercer raising money for mosquito nets and telling the whole country that on national television impacts donations. Well known media stars, television and film people and musicians raise the level of public engagement. People want to be involved in a reputable organization. The cost of that is often many years of doing good work, integrity in programming and relationship with the press.
Secondly, word of mouth can impact but is difficult to track. Operation Christmas Child is a North American tradition -- probably one of the most ubiquitous Christmas campaigns we have. The "shoe box" is synonymous with children who have needs. For many families, it's the one charitable activity they choose to do as a unit. I can't tell you how often I've heard: "I just picked up my shoe box (no explanation needed), have you got yours yet?"
Momentum is especially important for campaigns -- whether it's UNICEF's Hallowe'en program or World Vision's City campaigns, the hum of excitement helps drive increased donations. The investment to create that hum is high and requires diligent efforts to bring key influencers alongside.
The web may be the most difficult to track. While the data available from web stats is unlimited -- the actual increase to overall donations may not be able to be directly traced to the web. We had one charity that received a large major gift because someone was looking for a place to donate and they found their web site particularly informative. That is a one off. We are much more likely to see people going to the web site to check out the credibility of an organization when they have seen a marketing piece. They often respond through the marketing piece, but the web has clinched the deal -- we can't track that.
The challenge for fund raisers today is that our job is, in fact, more difficult. We have more and more avenues to use to get our message out (I haven't even touched on social media, another day!) We know that auxiliary activities increase overall giving -- we just can't always tell by how much. Our gut tells us that if we would drop the other stuff and just do direct response materials, we have have an overall drop in donations.
Many fund raisers are revamping their language and moving from "integrated" marketing to brand direct. Basically, there is agreement amongst savvy fund raisers that brand, loyalty materials, press coverage and other communication activities contribute to brand which contribute to overall growth.
So how do we evaluate success?
Make sure you step back a little and assess key markers: increase in overall revenue (if you increased your investment by 1% you should see a 3-6% increase in revenue); increase in number of donors who have given in the past 18 months; increase in number of monthly donors (not all organizations are actively acquiring monthly donors); increase in number of press hits. Look at your seasonal activity. Can you see any trends in increased donations and do they coincide with increased marketing and communication. We often see an increase of hits and donations on the web site when the marketing and communications material is increased.
Remember that it's all about cause and effect -- if nothing changes, well, it's quite likely that nothing will change. Increased ROI is a team effort of integrated activities.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


We've heard it from our donors, we've heard it from our friends, we've heard it at marketing conferences... people HATE telemarketing. BUT there are spread sheets and experiences that show us that telemarketing works.
I have just had two traumatic tele-moments. A sales guy had me paged out of a meeting to give me a cold sales call. Paged -- the owner of a company! What was he thinking? First of all, he thought that if he could get me on the phone he could use his suave sales skills to convince me to buy his product or service. But what he did was tick me off. Then he told me this great opportunity for a product that we already were purchasing and actually had a unique customer service person that we dealt with directly. I offered to buy him a copy of Microsoft Access so he could do a bit better job at sorting out his customer list.
Second traumatic moment. I got a cold call from an obvious paid telemarketer who wanted me to participate at her trade show. She launched into her speech -- without a breath -- for more than 3 minutes. Then she told me to open my computer to check out the site -- she hadn't asked whether I was the right person, nor had she asked if I wanted to come to her conference, nor did she ask whether her conference delegates would be a fit for my company. She just read her script.
These people are breaking into my day, giving me a pitch I don't want and not even bothering to figure out who I am. And they are making it much more difficult for others to use the telephone to do business.
Now you and I know that telemarketing can effectively increase donations and build better relationships with our donors.
So what can we learn?
1. Train your phone people to be people first and telemarketers not-at-all. While basing their conversations on a script is critical, they should be well trained to answer off-the-cuff questions and to deviate from the script if the the conversation moves that way. They should understand the core goal of the phone call, but lead the conversation instead of simply reading the script.
2. Script writers -- practice your script with real people. Your donors are happy to speak to you if they really believe you called them to talk to them not to read your pre-written script. Writing a telemarketing script is a unique and specialized skill that encourages conversation. Three minutes without a breath is just silly. You have to write the script to leave room for actual conversation.
3. Invest in donor management software that is web based so that all of the people who phone for you have the same data. Imagine phoning a donor and remembering their grandchild's name or remembering that they gave a special gift 18 months ago. These personal details increase your credibility. It's not enough to label your donor relationship people -- create a climate that creates relationships.
4. Don't interrupt people without permission. Even if that means asking them up front if they have a moment to talk to you. If they say no, perhaps there is a better time to call. But give them the choice. When they have said yes to your call, they will be much more willing to listen to what you have to say.
5. Don't make assumptions on the phone. Both of my most recent calls assumed they knew me (yes, they had my name on a list). If you don't know them, don't act like you do, but open the door to get to know them. Don't talk faster when you are making vague assumptions of the person -- allow them to tell you what they think. You may learn a lot from them (although be careful not to take one person's comment as a trend, you may have hit a bad day).
We recently had a little mailing personalization glitch that required explanation to the donors. Basically the donors received the right personal information -- but the name attached was not theirs. We phoned each of them personally and engaged in a conversation about their donations and the recent mailing they had received. We phoned more than 200 people in a two day period. The calls were amazing. The donors were glad to hear from the organization they invested in and were very happy that we had taken the trouble to call them and make sure they understood the slightly confusing mailing. Our client reports that the donations from this mailing is actually causing problems in their mail team -- too many responses are coming in and they are hard to process!
Cold donation calls are difficult to make, but upgrades and updates are welcomed by donors if they feel that you are phoning them personally. Don't be afraid of using the phone -- but talk to people as if they are people! Engage them and care for them -- the next time someone explodes about a tele-fund raiser they'll share their experience of the lovely call they got from their favourite charity!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Press War

The TO Star has run a series of articles challenging non-profits to take a closer look at their accountability. I'm not sure how the articles are affecting giving -- the organizations we are working with continue to see increases in donations -- but the press has certainly captured the attention of fundraisers.
How do we respond?
I'm not sure inserting our pie chart of our mandated 80/20 into all our materials is the answer. It won't deter response, but we haven't seen any impact from the pie chart. But we have seen significant increases when we train our front line team on excellent customer service. When donors phone in and receive a caring, informed response, their confidence is increased. Even if their questions are not directly relating to accountability, the reception they receive from your team will make a difference in their ongoing support.
We have also seen increased donor loyalty from honest and open content, using the truth to tell the story of the children, men and women who have unique needs. Using honesty in simple language, truly conveying the need, encourages donor loyalty. They feel a part of the bigger picture, the part that is truly implementing change.
How are you working towards increased donor loyalty?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Shag Carpet

I'm sitting in our little 10x10 booth at the Association of Fundraising Professionals conference staring at the shag rug across from me...yes, shag.

Those who grew up in the 70's or are children of parents who wore bell bottoms are familiar with the varigated green or orange versions. This has an interesting modern kind of varigation that has shiny stuff on it... But my point....

There is nothing new under the sun... Now that was written more than 2000 years ago!

The theme of this year's AFP is innovation - Navion, a major gift consulting firm, has become "Inspire." The keynote suggested that we take time to reignite the dream.

The cynic in me chalks this all up to latent hippies sporting SUV's (because, even though they are not environmental they are practical), using i-pods (Bob Dylan revived) and wondering how they ended up with a remote contol garage door. The idea of play is not new... But play, imagination and innovation are in the power point of each motivational speaker.

The other word was original....

Shag is not original. But shiny varigated shag is.

A couple of years ago we were able to have an original "aha" with The Leprosy Mission. It started with a problem: how do we encourage more engagement with the much ignored middle donor? We looked at the facts - most middle donors gave onc a year and, while they gave $4000 plus annually, their overall engagement didn't change. We started by daring to decrease their annual mail and increase the length of the letter and the offer.

Warning signs going off?

You're right. It defied conventional wisdom. But it worked... Middle donors began engaging in conversation, gave more often and large amounts.

Why did it work?

TLMC was willing to check the facts, interpret the patterns and take the risk.

I imagine if we looked a little deeper we could all tell the story of innovation.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

round tables

People have been asking if the round tables were coming back (Barefoot Creative held a couple of round tables, the idea was that we would pull together smart marketing and fundraising minds to make us all smarter and more effective)
The idea was great... but it's harder than you might think to gather a group of busy executives in one place at the same time...
So I'm trying an armchair version of the round table... a blog...
I admit I have avoided for becoming a blogger for many months. It's a frightening thing to open myself up to a quasi commitment of checking a blog, writing in a blog and having intelligent thoughts worthy of sharing with bright people (the last scary thing is the most terrifying).
But, taking a deep breath, I am wading in to the deep and dark digital waters of sharing information freely and easily.
I hope to simply start conversations -- join if you want, listen in if you prefer.
Here's my first thought (it's harder than you think to pull them out of the chaos of my little mind).
A few of us were hanging out late in the day yesterday and we were debating what true innovation is. As an agency we have high ideals of being innovative and innovators. As an agency focused on helping non-profit organizations we live in the tension between innovation and what works.
For years I have pushed against the traditional direct response approach -- sending out the same mail again and again and again, because it works. Of course, if it does -- you know, why mess with those things not broken.
But maybe innovation isn't the startling new idea -- those are far and few between -- and, realistically, they usually grow out of seeds of smaller things. But taking what works and making it outstanding -- that's innovation.
One of our most innovative projects in the past year is www.medatrust.org... it's a new idea, based on lots of old components: a web site, a data base, principles of gaming; the language of banking; microfinance.
But taking what we know and daring to use it like no one else is -- I think that's innovation. (Thanks Ed for your unceasing brain power to challenge us to push at the edges.)
I think that there are all sorts of innovative ideas lurking in all of our little minds!