Beware of Veering Away from Mission

Superbowl Sunday.

The day when marketing and advertising people pop the popcorn and wait with baited breath for the annual lineup of new ads. Or in many cases now, skip the football and go straight to YouTube. Over water coolers and coffee pots, the ads are the Monday morning fare.

I like those ads. I do. But every year, I wonder the same thing ...

While these advertisers are busy entertaining us, what are they selling? Making me laugh is one thing ... getting me to pull out my wallet is another. Perhaps the added exposure is enough to remind people that "oh yeah, Oreos are really good." But does that always hold?

Nonprofits are often faced with a similar challenge in keeping the mission front and center.

Not long ago, Pepsi offered nonprofits a too-good-to-be-true chance to get a sizable grant for their nonprofits. It required nonprofits to go out to their base audiences to get "votes." Those who voted had to give Pepsi, you guessed it, their email address. In the end, a few lucky nonprofits walked away with a chunk of change, but the others had diverted attention, resources and eyeballs away from what they're all about.

Beware of any efforts or gimmicks that siphon attention from where it should be: your mission. The real goal should be in developing creative ways to highlight the work you do. The people who are attracted to shiny objects are far less likely to be your loyal, long-term donors.

Print Newsletters: Too Tired for a Wired World?

With all the information that’s available online, does it still make sense to pay printing and postage to send a paper newsletter?

It depends on your content, obviously. But for several of our nonprofit clients, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

As we look at the numbers, two favorable trends stand out.

1. Relatively consistent performance.

Newsletters produce a fairly predictable stream of revenue. It can vary slightly issue-to-issue, depending on the season or the strength of a story. But as the chart below shows, for this client – who has been mailing the same four-page newsletter format once a quarter for the past 10-plus years – the return is relatively stable.

In fact, it has gone up over the past few months, while per-piece revenue from every other format is on the decline. What's not to love about that?

2. Stronger results from strongest supporters.

We recently suggested another client expand their two-page biennial publication to a four-page format. We were concerned less about telling more stories, but wanted to be able to tell more of the stories we shared.

Overall, the test version won by a slight margin. Looking more closely, we discovered some interesting differences, as the chart below illustrates. Among donors with cumulative annual giving of $100 or less (the majority of this file), the rate of response was actually down a bit, but that was offset by a slightly higher average gift; the test package produced just over 1¢ more per piece mailed (not a breakeven proposition, by the way).

The test package produced far greater results among those donors with cumulative annual giving of $100 or more … with double-digit increases in both rate of response and average gift ... and a whopping 92¢ higher return per piece. Our better donors appreciate more information even more!

Why does print work?

I’m not sure. A print newsletter offers a unique chance to provide tangible evidence of the work you do. To tell donors what their support helps you accomplish. To educate supporters. To explain your mission. To deepen the relationship.

Sure, an enewsletter can help accomplish those goals, too. But not in the same way.
  • A physical package can break through the clutter (think of sorting your mail vs. scanning your in box).
  • It may add longevity (yesterday’s mail is still on the counter; yesterday’s email is well past the preview pane).
  • It can reach people who can’t – or won’t – go online (there still are that stubborn few).
  • Maybe people are just more used to giving in response to print (we're seeing enews donations trend up, but not yet close to print).
Granted, the print advantage may not last forever.

But the beauty of watching your metrics is that you’ll know when your print newsletter is truly too tired.

Which Interactions Are Most Important?

I was in Sioux Falls this past week for the AFP MidAmerica Conference on fundraising.

(The South Dakota Chapter did an exceptional job, by the way, which may explain why there were more than 275 fundraising professionals in attendance!)

The tone was set from the opening keynote, given by Bob Carter,  Senior Advisor to Changing our World and Chair-Elect of AFP International.

Broadly, the topic was global fundraising trends  … and how these affect every organization at virtually every level.

But what I found most interesting was Carter's perspective on how to work with "major" donors, (and how to grow them into "mega" donors).

He emphasized three key points in building his argument.

1. 73% of philanthropic support comes from individuals. Even more, if you include the 8% that comes from bequests.

2. The number one reason for giving is because an individual believes in the cause or idea. (The number two reason is closely related; because the individual is involved and sees the need.)

3. As an organization, you must recognize the difference between "transactional" and "relational" prospects. 

Carter defined the transactional prospect as the typical event attendee or direct mail donor. By his definition, this supporter is less likely to want to be involved and less willing to commit to the long term.

The relational prospect wants deeper involvement and expects to see change over time. It is in this category of supporter that Carter sees potential for major, mega and transformational gifts.

And that's where that I have a concern. 

I fear that some organizations may think of relational donors only in terms of prospects for major gifts.

By contrast, I would contend that a broad range of interactions – both transactional and non-transactional – can indicate whether an individual has an understanding of and affinity for your mission.

In fact, it may be the non-transactional interactions – volunteering, non-paid event attendance, Facebook posting or tweeting, for example – that signal a prospective relational involvement (i.e., deeper commitment).

The organization that monitors such interactions across its broad base of supporters – not just at the top dollar levels – will be in the best position to tap both mid-level and major giving opportunities.

While the one that monitors only transactional frequency or amount may well miss out!