Testing That Mattered In 2010
As the bad economic news dragged on in 2010, we looked for ways to ensure donors heard the urgent message: "The need is still great, please help." Through the following tests, we found ways to get the message across more effectively during these challenging times.
Return of the Annual Fund
Membership organizations have it easy. If donors want their benefits, they have to renew their support each and every year. However, for groups that rely on annual support but do not have the benefits to go along with it, the case for annual giving is not nearly as clear cut — unless we make it so.
In 2010, we successfully tested an annual fund message for several non-membership organizations, including introducing supporter cards in the packages. The goal was to bond the donor more closely to the organization and create a case for annual support early in the year ("It's time to renew your support for 2011"). This established a story arc for the entire year that made year-end fundraising even more compelling.
To further support this concept, we used "renewal" language in non-membership appeals. Using teasers such as "Its time to renew" on the envelope and targeting a renewal message to those who had not yet given, lifted response rates for many organizations. The underlying message is: We assume you will give each year, now is the time to do it.
Ask for Specific Gifts that Matter
In this poor economic climate, donors and prospective donors are even more careful about each penny they spend. One might think that decreasing the first ask amount would be the obvious way to go when times are tough.
But as we learned from many of our groups, donors don't want to give less — they just want their gifts to be meaningful. In addition to making that case in the letter, we can subtly (or not so subtly) make that case in the way we build the ask string. Here are some successful examples:
- Make it easier to upgrade. Many donors want to give the second ask amount. Maybe it feels more substantial or important if they do — who knows? However, if the second ask is too much greater than the first, they might not be able to make that jump — and might not give at all. Testing for several groups showed that a less aggressive upgrade increased response rates in appeals. By enabling donors to feel more generous, more donors responded.
- "Your gift in this amount will make a real difference." Adding this very upfront teaser to the first amount in the ask string increased the response rate and had no negative effect on average gift. Telling donors that even the smallest gift would make a difference encouraged more giving.
- Ask for more. Sounds crazy, right? But we found that for some groups (particularly those in the Jewish market), lowering the first ask amount actually hurt the response rate, whereas reverse ask strings that listed the highest ask first won. If your donors are true believers (and we hope they are), they want to be generous — so let them!
So with these tests in mind, get creative and good luck!
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Some Good News For A New Year
As a way of saying "Happy New Year," we wanted to share a few real stories of major gifts that arrived from direct mail acquired donors. It's not a miracle, but the result of having a strong mission, targeting the right prospects, good stewardship, and effective solicitations. Here are four "miracles" that any organization — with strong fundraising and stewardship — can achieve.
… $100,000 was given to a local women's shelter in November 2009 from a donor acquired through the mail whose largest previous gift was $100. She sent the check with the reply form from an appeal with a note that said, "I know when times are hard, you need this money now."
… A $300,000 endowment contribution was made to an educational organization by a donor acquired through the mail four years prior (his biggest contribution before the endowment gift? $200!).
… $25,000 arrived in response to a direct mail appeal for an organization that helps families of children who are ill. The donor had been acquired a few years before with a gift of $50. On the appeal reply, he originally checked the box for $25 then scratched it out and wrote in the "other" space "$25,000."
… An international organization received a gift of $30,000 from a donor who had previously made gifts only through the mail, the largest of which was $1,000. The donor told the organization, "Don't call me, just keep doing good work and send me letters," and he has continued to contribute.
So, what unites these organizations who received these large gifts?
1) All of these organizations send warm, personal "thank you" letters out within 48 hours of receiving a gift.
2) All of these organizations send donors a newsletter and other cultivation pieces throughout the year that do not ask for money, but show the donors the impact of their gifts.
3) All of these organizations have staff who call to say "thank you" to donors periodically.
4) All of these organizations send appeals that provide donors with a clear idea of what their contributions will accomplish.
Although it can seem "miraculous" when a donor acquired through the mail (whose name likely came from another organization for their less than $100 gift) makes a significant contribution, you can make it happen.
From all of us at Lautman Maska Neill & Company, have a very happy New Year!
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Learn How To Engage Donors By Buying Shoes
If you've ordered shoes from Zappos (or even if you haven't), you probably know that they take customer service to a new level. How do they do it?
They have made amazing customer service the heart and soul of their company. The Zappos goal is to "WOW" you at every point of service. For example, they upgrade almost every customer's order to overnight delivery at no charge — losing money on this upfront. Zappos believes that this special treatment will turn first-time customers into repeat customers. And repeat customers will more than offset the additional delivery cost.
Not only do they give customers this surprise upgrade, but they tell you by using fun, upbeat messages. The email below stood out in my inbox because the message had the surprising upgrade — and also because Zappos' Customer Loyalty Team spoke to me as a real person.
Take a look at how Zappos responds to customers who may not be happy. Here is part of an email I received when I wanted to return a pair of shoes:
Do you see how Zappos is turning my "bad" experience into a "good" one? They are making me feel good about returning items. Zappos goes out of their way to tell me how to return the items and how to get my money back. This eliminates me searching on their website or calling to ask a question. Good customer service!
So what can nonprofits learn from Zappos? A lot! Just ask yourself these questions:
- Does your organization go out of its way to make donors happy?
- Does your organization make it easy for donors to donate, change their address, ask questions, or even complain?
- Does everyone in your organization keep donors top of mind?
- Are your communications to donors interesting, engaging and even surprising?
- Does your team spend time constantly thinking of new ways to WOW your donors?
No matter how big or small your nonprofit is, and no matter what issue you work on, you can work harder to WOW your donors.
Unfortunately, donors will not be WOWed by the ordinary: getting their address right or sending timely thank yous. They expect this basic level of service.
But, they may be WOWed by the following:
- Receiving an out-of-the-blue thank you phone call from the organization's founder (no, not a recording)
- Receiving a birthday card in the mail signed by the Executive Director
- Requesting to receive mail only in April, and having the organization respect and follow through with that request
- Receiving special updates on an issue they are interested in (without an ask), because the nonprofit realized the donor had designated their gift to this issue several times
These are just a few examples of how organizations are providing remarkable service. We encourage you to think of your own unique ways to WOW your donors.
As the CEO of Zappos says, "To WOW you must differentiate yourself, which means do something a little unconventional and innovative. You must do something that's above and beyond what's expected. And whatever you do must have an emotional impact on the receiver."
Already WOWing your donors? Let us know what extraordinary things you're doing! Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Ask The LMN"X"pert!
We're excited to introduce a new feature to our quarterly newsletter: Ask the LMN"X"pert! — a column dedicated to answering your direct marketing, membership and fundraising questions.
And with that, here are the first couple of Ask the LMN"X"pert! questions for your professional enjoyment.
Postal rules and regulations are so confusing and hard to keep track of — and they always seem to be changing. Is there a resource to get questions answered easily?
Dear Going Postal:
Fear not! The Domestic Mail Manual is published by the United States Postal Service and explains it all, sometimes in painful detail. Whether you have questions about mail classes, official standards, rate eligibility, mail prep, special services, or just about anything else postal related, the "DMM" is your one-stop source. The Manual is published in hard copy, and is also available online (and keyword searchable!) on the USPS website at www.usps.com.
I keep hearing that direct mail is dead — and that I should shift my fundraising focus (and budget) more heavily towards online, social media and email efforts. What's the scoop?
Snail Mail Swan Song
Dear Snail Mail Swan Song:
We've heard that, too — but we haven't yet seen an obituary.
A recent report from the Association of Fundraising Professionals cited some interesting research findings indicating that direct mail is not only alive and kicking, but actually drives more online gifts than online channels! But don't just take our word for it, check out the report for yourself: www.afpnet.org/Audiences/ReportsResearchDetail.cfm?ItemNumber=4623
As you can see, integration across all channels (mail, phone, email, web, text, etc.) is key to maximum fundraising and marketing success, but finding the right "mix" can vary by organization and the goals of your campaign.
So, let's hold off on planning the funeral for now — direct mail isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Have a question for The LMN"X"pert? E-mail us today at email@example.com — and get the expert answers and advice you need from the Lautman Maska Neill & Company team!
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Client Profile: Center for Jewish History
Over the last 10 years, the Center for Jewish History has become the world's premiere destination for the preservation and study of the history and culture of the Jewish people. The Center opened to the public in October of 2000 as the campus to five partner organizations — the American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University Museum, and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. The collections total more than 500,000 volumes and 100 million archival documents and include thousands of pieces of artwork, textiles and ritual objects as well as music, film and photographs.
Together, these collections comprise the largest repository of the modern Jewish experience outside of Israel!
Working with Lautman Maska Neill & Company, the Center streamlined their direct response fundraising program in 2010. The goal was to create a more profitable program that acquired high valued donors and renewed and upgraded them cost effectively. As a result of strategic changes, the program has produced more net revenue, some of which will be used to help the Center as they construct a new Collection Management and Conservation Wing to preserve precious artifacts of Jewish history and culture.
"We are proud to work with the Center for Jewish History as they celebrate their 10th Anniversary year," says Lautman Maska Neill & Company Partner, Tiffany Neill. "The Center is such a unique place where thousands of scholars, educators, students, filmmakers and everyday people can recapture the modern Jewish experience. We look forward to continuing to develop the fundraising potential of their direct response program," continued Tiffany.
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