Functional Creativity

May 15, 2014 - by Amy Sukol

4 Tips for Achieving Real Creativity in Your Direct Response Fundraising Program

Imagine for a minute that you’re remodeling your bathroom. You’re looking for something new and different. Something exciting! So you ask your contractor to be really creative. You expand the budget, you extend your timeline and the big day finally arrives. You walk into your gorgeous new bathroom, only to find that there is no toilet.

Sounds ridiculous, right? But in so many ways this is what happens in the direct response fundraising world every single day. In our quest for new, exciting and creative, we can sometimes lose track of the goal.

That is why I propose that we, as an industry, coin a new phrase and start using it right away: functional creativity, defined as inventive thinking in which purpose always comes first.

How do you achieve functional creativity (or as I believe, true creativity) in your fundraising?

Tip #1: You’ve probably heard the phrase “begin with the end in mind.” Yes, it's cliché. But it also happens to be the right way to work. So before you write one word … before you call the graphic designer … before you spend one minute brainstorming, decide what you are trying to achieve.

Do you need to acquire more donors? Do you need to keep more of the donors you’ve already acquired? Are your costs too high? This is where functional creativity begins.

Where it ends is measuring the results. If you know at the beginning what the goal is, then you should know at the end whether you’ve achieved it and what you need to do next.

Tip #2: Sometimes the greatest genius is evolutionary — not revolutionary. Take the time to look at what you’ve done in the past and what other groups in your market are doing. What worked well? What didn’t? What have you tested — what have other groups tested? Is there something there that you can build on?

One of the most exciting acquisition tests we’ve done came from looking at what everyone else in a certain market was doing (in this case it was using packages with coins in them) and designing a package that told prospective donors that we weren’t going to send them coins. It was a winner!

Tip #3: Throw at least as much creative energy behind who you are mailing, as you do behind what you are mailing. When people think about creative, they aren’t usually thinking about data and lists. But you should. Some of our most creative solutions to difficult fundraising problems have come in the form of segmentation, list selection and list modeling. For example, if your organization is struggling in a tight list market, and you haven’t tested modeled list products, you are missing out on one of the best ways to expand your market. I could go on for pages with examples, but the bottom line is that audience is everything in direct response fundraising.

Tip #4: Resource management. I know, your eyes are glazing over. But managing how each dollar is spent is a critical piece of functional creativity. You never want to spend even $1 more than you have to in order to meet your fundraising goals. This is not about being cheap. It’s about making every dollar work its hardest for your organization.

The recession gave us plenty of opportunities to develop our skills in this area of functional creativity. One organization we work with needed us to cut $25,000 in spending from the direct response budget. Where was that money going to come from in what was already a lean program? We came up with a plan to gang print the majority of mail pieces for the year. We developed ways to use lasering instead of pre-printing to ensure that we could test and still roll out with winning concepts. Most importantly, we didn’t cut one name from the acquisition program. The result? In a time when other groups experienced deep losses, we helped our client hold the line — and poised for growth when the economy improved.

Take this as a challenge to redefine the way you, your department and your organization think about creativity in fundraising. The result will be a direct response fundraising program that is effective, efficient and enables your organization to do more of what it was founded to do.



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