Tom Ahern Wants To Know … And So Should You
Lots of great questions and comments popped up in response to The Dangerous Dictum of “Mail more. Make more”.
Especially appropriate was a question by Tom Ahern: “Is there a bottom line for various sized groups?”
Of course, as other commenters noted, there are different approaches depending on the organization or type of organization. For example, as Chip Heartfield noted, the political or advocacy organization in the midst-of a hard-fought, time-sensitive campaign is likely to use different or special approaches.
HOWEVER … none of what I tried to convey has anything whatsoever to do with organizational size. My points apply equally to all organizations.
Clearly I needed to be far more explicit about the issue of frequency.
You see, the argument/discussion about ‘frequency’ is a red-herring, a distraction from dealing with two essential elements in building donor commitment and value — donor identity and donor preference.
‘Frequency’ doesn’t figure in, except that almost always fundraisers mistakenly believe that somehow it’s key to the bottom line. And too often they claim — without careful testing — that frequency is the answer to an improved bottom line.
One of the reasons I used the example of a large organization (Union of Concerned Scientists) in my earlier post is simply because it is generally the large organizations that have the resources and the need to engage in quality research. After all, once a group is bombarding its donors with 15 to 25 appeals a year the volume of donor complaints and sheer financial waste demands attention.
[Coincidentally, it is the abuse of frequency and other donor abuses by the large organizations — what Tom Ahern calls ‘established brands’ — that is to blame for a good deal of the current attrition and disgust by donors in the U.K. and the U.S. Thus, the need to explode the myth of frequency.]
One other note on ‘big’ vs. ‘small’. Big groups start small. Every group I ever worked with in my direct response career was small when I started. ACLU had 12,000 members, the Sierra Club 9,000, Greenpeace less than 4,000 and on and on. They grew for a reason, and not just because of me.
They grew because they harnessed the power of building a relationship and honoring donor preference.
Do you want to be a real fundraising rock star? Let’s define ‘rock star’ as having your donors give an average of 2.0 times a year instead of the average 1.4 times a year that is average in the Blackbaud Chritable Index.
If so, the first question you should NOT ask is, “How many times a year should we contact our donors?”
That’s the type of question or mindset that quickly takes an organization from 2 to 4, then 6 to 8, then 10 to 12 or more contacts, and on and on to as many as a planning schedule allows. Ultimately a doomed-to-fail scenario as witnessed by the assembly line approach employed by far too many large organizations.
If you want to grow your organization — and most fundraisers want growth — there is a better, sustainable way. (Mercifully, most small organizations haven’t reached the ‘assembly line’ stage of donor abuse and can easily avoid it.)
In our upcoming book, Start Over, Kevin Schulman and I urge young organizations, start-up organizations and groups in need of renewal to set aside the ‘how often’ question and follow these proven principles in building your plan:
- Other than a ‘thank you’, you have no right or permission from the donor to send anything more until you know the following:
- Why that donor gave in the first place (donor identity); and,
- What types of information and contact does the donor want (donor preference).
In Do You Want to Be Wanted Tom notes the recent Wunderman study that “56% of US consumers and 54% in the UK say they feel more loyal towards brands that show a deep understanding of their priorities and preferences. More than eight in ten are more loyal to brands that share their values.”
In short, organizations that are guided by the precepts of donor identity and donor preferences attract and hold their customers and donors.
I’m a big admirer of the skillful work of pros like Tom Ahern and many others (with apologies for neglecting to list them here) perform for organizations large and small.
But, for the life of me, I can’t help but think about how much more fully their talents could be utilized if their clients could provide them with information on donor identities and preferences.
The absence of this key information is like flying a 747 through a mountain pass in a snowstorm without radar. Lots of intuition and dependence on ‘best practices’, but no compass. No radar.
As Lisa Sargent notes, “A huge problem I see with nonprofit communications (every channel) is that no one mentally walks through these ‘donor journeys’ before sitting down to create: so when the donor actually starts across the chasm from potential giver to repeat giver, or from casual giver to bequest (the ultimate destination), etc., they’re forced to leap over broken boards in the communications bridge — and daunted, some turn back. Our job is to make the path beautiful, clear, and easy to follow, with the full understanding that at any time, they can choose to take a better-maintained one.”
A quick recap from The Agitator on the importance of Understanding Donor Identity:
“It’s not just that ‘no one mentally walks though these donor journeys before sitting down to create’, it’s that almost no one has the slightest inkling of what that donor’s identity is and how she’s feeling about your organization.
“In short, it’s difficult to create a journey if you don’t know anything about the traveler.
“And so we push out communication after communication in as many channels as possible with little positive effect on retention or lifetime value.”
“It’s really time we all understand it’s not about the budget, it’s not about time. Organizations that don’t bother determining their donors’ needs and preferences are doing so because they don’t want to.
“They make a choice not to spend money and time surveying, seeking feedback from donors and understanding preferences simply because they don’t think it’s important enough.
“Bottom line. The sad truth is that most organizations don’ think this sort of activity is important enough. The reason? They don’t care enough about their donors to find out what they should be delivering to them by way of communications, appeals and services. Donor experiences that meet the donor’s needs and preferences, not the needs and preferences of the organization. Not experiences derived from the fundraiser’s own hunch, nor the collective hunch and conjecture of so-called industry ‘best practices’.”
When fundraisers take seriously the importance of donor identity and donor preference, the issue of frequency becomes an ancillary, unimportant by-product of building out a plan for a year or several years.
In short, if you have a group of donors for whom you know identity (what motivates them) and preference (what do they want from you to reinforce that identity), then you’re well on your way to sustainable growth in ways that don’t abuse your donors.
Cats and dogs
For example, it may be that Hypothetical Charity X that helps cats and dogs has two identities: ‘Cat people’ and ‘dog people’.
For the dog people, Charity X has a kennel they run, a volunteer program, a robust advocacy program and of course, ways to give both monthly and one-off.
But within the dog group there are some folks who are very turned off at the thought of advocacy and they’ve made it clear they only intend to give one time a year.
For this group, where we know identity and preference, we have 8 things to send over the course of the year – not all asks for money but all very relevant to the donor.
For the other dog group, who is into advocacy, the list of touchpoints is 12.
For the cat people, where Charity X is less well developed, there are really only 4 things that match identity and preference and so that group has fewer touchpoints.
What do you think raises more money? Marketing in a way that increases donor satisfaction and commitment and reinforces the decision to stick around? Or sending every donor 4-12 things based on some subjective, naval gazing exercise or internal arm-wrestling among staff over the number of touchpoint items?
Without the knowledge and insight that spring from understanding the donor’s identity and the donor’s preferences we end up with what Kevin described in his comment as ‘one hand clapping‘.
He asks: “But what about this ‘other hand’ to clap with? It is the one answering the ‘what’ question, as in what do we send/create/make available by way of touchpoints, interactions and experiences and how should this differ by segment?
“This answer, also fundamentally misunderstood by the tribal wisdom, is very knowable. You get to the ‘what’ by understanding the ‘why’ of donor motivation, preference and need. This answer will never come from behavior data alone. Nor will it come from the ‘best practices’ of today (that were made up many decades ago).”
This article was posted in: Breaking Out of the Status Quo, Communications, Donor retention / loyalty / commitment, Fundraising analytics / data, Innovation, Starting Over.
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