Consider these donors to a disease organization:

  • She’s a researcher working on your disease. You featured some of her research in your newsletter and she was reminded to give you a donation.
  • She was diagnosed with the disease you are working to eradicate. She found tips on management and coping on your web site and wanted to show her appreciation.
  • A favorite high school teacher of hers just passed away. The obit said in lieu of flowers to donate to your organization.  She did, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to travel back for the funeral.
  • She got a person in the office Secret Santa drawing and, knowing little about him other than his mother suffers from the disease, donated in his name.

All these folks clearly have different identities and motivations for giving – some likely to be repeated and some not.

But to your database, without additional knowledge, they are all $20 donors.

So you ask the questions we talked about in my previous post as soon as possible.  You know who they are, why they give, and what they want to hear about from you in the future.  But how do you adapt your communications for the ones who answer (and the ones who don’t)?  A few pointers:

Topic area.  This is the obvious one.  If you have identities of cat people versus dog people, it’s giving cat content to the cat people and dog to the dog people.  Some of these divisions are less obvious, like making sure the people who are or were medical professionals hear about your work on a cure.  Regardless, it’s important to know what types of people are giving and what types of information people like that want.

One non-profit (who wishes to remain anonymous) segments by animal, whether the donor  enjoys nature inside versus outside, and whether she involves her children in their nature activities.  This 2 x 2 x 2 matrix of communications means that there are – you guessed it – eight different versions of their emails.  The good news is that its usually a few sentences or an image here and there for each email.  The most challenging one is for their gift catalog.  But as Amazon will tell you, it’s much better to sell the nature coloring books to the people who have kids interested in nature.

Much of this can be accomplished by using customization commands within the same email, for those who like if-then logic, or by versioning out emails for the rest of us.

Medium.  Often, the channel by which a person makes their first donation is their primary mode of giving (and is always one by which they don’t mind giving).  But sometimes it’s based on what is convenient.  Someone who prefers to give through the mail may make an emergency donation online.  A person who likes to give online might come face-to-face with a solicitor at the mall.

If you are asking for channel preferences as part of your onboarding, you are no longer limited to welcoming someone through their channel of origin.  Welcoming them in all their preferred communication channels increases the likelihood they will engage you in all of them.

Frequency.  Those who don’t know as much about you need to get more introductory communications; those who are passionate about you need fewer.

This sounds counterintuitive in a direct marketing world where conventional wisdom preaches greater volume to those who love us and more tentative efforts with those on the fence.  However, the data bear this out.

A nonprofit looked at high-commitment versus low-commitment donors and the difference between 0, 6, or 12 introductory non-ask communications.

First, the obvious result: no one wanted 12 additional communications.

Those donors who were highly committed to the organization had their retention go down by nine percentage points when they got additional communications. They said things like, “Stop convincing me; I’m already convinced.”  (There’s also evidence more knowledgeable donors are less likely to donate to awareness activities; study here.)

But for low-commitment donors, the six additional communications corresponded to a 12-point increase in retention. They said things like, “I believe you do important work, but I actually don’t know you well.” The study is discussed in more detail here.

Have a neutral version for those who don’t answer. If the person hasn’t told you whether they are a cat or dog person, this shouldn’t stop the introduction process.  In fact, it makes it more vital, because whatever that identity question is for your organization is probably the most important piece of information for segmentation.

You may already have this control version of communication.  It’s the one you are currently sending to everyone regardless of who they are.  If you don’t have the information from which to customize, you can’t be blamed for not doing so.

I would recommend using the first information ask to determine identity, and doing it again in subsequent communications to increase your chances of getting this vital information.  After all, you wouldn’t ask someone for a donation once, then throw up your hands if they don’t donate.  The same is true for seeking information required for getting to know your donors.

Incorporate non-donors.  This is especially true online.  Through your Google Grant or normal search engine work, you should be getting people coming to your site with no intent of donating.  By capturing and welcoming these constituents, you can learn about them and make an ask that is going to be relevant to their reason for coming to you.

One word of warning here: the ask should come only after you have solved their problem.  Let’s take the person who wants to do something about your issue.  That something is, to them, to email their legislator about a piece of legislation you are working on.

A traditional fundraising approach would be to have a button on the advocacy page that encourages them to donate to your advocacy campaigns instead of taking an action alert.  This is interruption marketing and is mistakenly trying to take them away from what they want to do and attempting to force them to do what you want them to do, which will too often result in their doing neither.

Any asking, whether monetary or for more information about the donor, should come after you’ve helped them accomplish what they wanted to do.  Engage, don’t interrupt.

Other thoughts on how to better customize your onboarding process?


This article was posted in: Breaking Out of the Status Quo, Donor Centricity, Donor retention / loyalty / commitment, Integrated fundraising and marketing, Nonprofit management, Onboarding, Uncategorized.
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