Recently, Blackbaud’s npENGAGE blog gathered tips on how nonprofits can do a better job keeping donors on board from some of the best fundraisers around. Your mileage may vary but each insight offers a little piece of gold bound to help at least a little bit. I was struck, however, by the general message: “you need to do a better job engaging people, acknowledging them, and being genuine, loyal and transparent.”
The message is true and the tactics presented are solid but it’s not enough. We we need to understand why people enter the organization, recognize that many aren’t going to stay, and build fundraising strategies with likely long-term donors in mind. Organizations also need to structure their acquisition and fundraising programs (online and otherwise) for strong collaboration between staff that handle acquisition and long-term retention.
Donor retention is headed downward with a sort of Wile E Coyote falling off a cliff predictability. Blackbaud’s head science guy, Chuck Longfield, reports that new donor retention is around 27% these days. Retention keeps falling while the incentive to keep people on board grows — acquiring a new donor costs five, six, seven or times more than keeping an existing donor. Continue reading “Don’t be the coyote: Falling retention rates can be stopped”→
Online giving is up across all channels. For instance, online giving overall is up 16%, social giving is up 20%, and giving through branded charity websites is up an impressive 36%.
Average gift size grew, including a 90% jump in the average size for social giving. The average is now just under $100.
I think the simple take-away here is that online giving is growing – and will probably continue to grow – in importance relative to conventional charitable giving channels. I wouldn’t dump the direct mail program yet, but I’d guess that having a robust online presence is going to be increasingly important for most nonprofits.
The benefit: changes to a web site or some other user interface are governed by real-world user behavior. If you can determine that your email newsletter signup button performs better with the label “Don’t Miss Out” instead of “Subscribe,” well, that’s an easy design change to make.
The practice of benchmarking – using industry standards or averages as a point of comparison for your own performance – has some strong similarities to A/B testing. It’s an analytic tool that helps frame and drive performance-based testing and iteration. The comparison of your organization’s performance to industry benchmarks (e.g., email open rates, average donation value on a fundraising drive) provides the basis for a feedback loop.
The two practices – A/B testing and benchmarking – share a hazard, however. Because a culture of A/B testing is driven by real-time empirical results, and because it generally depends on comparisons between two options that are identical in every respect but one (the discrete element that you are testing), it privileges modest, incremental changes at the expense of audacious leaps.
To use a now-classic business comparison: while Google lives and breathes A/B testing, and constantly refines its way to small performance improvements, the Steve Jobs-era Apple eschewed consumer testing, assuming (with considerable success) that the consumer doesn’t know what it wants and actually requires an audacious company like Apple to redefine product categories altogether.
Similarly, if your point of reference is a collection of industry standards, you are more likely to aim for and be satisfied with performance that meets those standards. The industry benchmarks, like the incremental change model that undergirds A/B testing, may actually constrain your creativity and ambitiousness, impeding your ability to think audaciously about accomplishing something fundamentally different than the other players in your ecosystem, or accomplishing your goals in a profoundly different way.
The implication isn’t that you should steer clear of A/B testing or benchmarking. Both are powerful tools that can help nonprofits focus, refine, and learn more quickly. But you should be aware of the hazards, and make sure even as you improve your iterative cycles you are also protecting your ability to think big and think different about the work your organization does.
You hear it all the time. So often, perhaps, that you’ve tuned it out…
Use online communications and social media to tell your story, give people tangible reasons to get involved, and engage people…interact with them.
We don’t come across enough examples of this in action. It becomes hard to describe what this really means and how engaging people is different than the traditional ways in which organizations are used to talking at an audience.
Here are a couple great examples from the online fundraising space.
Vasileios Kospanos shares a great story of how Britain’s Wild Futures and the Monkey Sanctuary engaged Twitter followers in a fundraising campaign. Over the course of a couple weeks, Wild Futures shared stories and photos of monkeys that could be ‘adopted’ through a donation. This wasn’t just a call to donate to a worthy cause. That’s an easy pitch to make, though not effective. Wild Futures invited people in, shared photos, told stories. It is a different experience – one that doesn’t assume a potential donor is already convinced to give (which they rarely are).
It was important to us that we give our constituency tangible actions; reasons to continue supporting us and evidence that we were worthy of their gifts. And everything from our design and messaging, to the various channels we chose to engage with our constituency on, reflected just that.
These are just a couple great recent examples of online engagement in action. The tools matter less than the stories you tell, the clear demonstration of value and the ways in which individuals can respond and share. Would love it if you shared your own examples in the comments.
December means the end of the year is upon us and for nonprofits (or, more notably their members and email subscribers) it’s high season for email traffic. The end of the year is a critical time for fundraising. By some measures, up to 30% of donations (online, at least) come at the end of the year. For example, Network for Good has reported that over 30% of their annual online donation processing happens in December. Online gifts in December tend to be larger. These are just a couple stats in Network for Good’s recent Holiday Guide for companies partnering with organizations (worth the read – PDF).
You will see more email than ever this December, especially the last couple weeks of the month, as organizations try to cover all their bases and leave no stone unturned. It can be overwhelming for subscribers but, like political ads on TV, lots of email works. People give to organizations they love AND know about. If they don’t think of you when making those year-end donations, even if they like what you do, you will miss out.
How do we build awareness (and passion), increase the tempo of messages and make people happy, not grumpy, about all this email?
I’ve always been struck by the different ways old and new organizations approach online communications, fundraising and organizing. The two groups could learn a lot by studying each other.
Newer groups aren’t beholden to a certain way of doing things, entrenched hierarchies and well-established silos. They’re likely led and staffed by bootstrapping generalists that are truly passionate about an idea or mission and not much deterred by failures. Their enthusiasm rubs off on those around them and can stir up a hornet’s nest of much-needed action.
Organizations that have been around a while (and let’s say 15-20 years or more) have staying power. They have figured out how to get things done and sustain the business of running an organization. Relationship-building takes time and they have stuck to it – likely carving out strong relationships with the powerful in communities and government.
Most that work in and around nonprofit organizations these days would probably say that adapting to digital networks and online fundraising has been a challenge for older groups. A well-established way of doing things is challenged by the speed and apparent loss of control over message and action wrought by online networks.
Chances are, if you have an email account (and if you don’t it’s hard to imagine you’re reading this) then you have received, oh, at least a couple messages from non-profits today that involve a donation request. Maybe you opened one. Perhaps, if it is a group or cause that touches your heart or just happens to have a crazy interesting pitch, you gave.
The highlight of the report seems to be advertised as this: online donors might give more the first time around but aren’t so loyal (and seem to give via direct mail later on).
For folks that have thought about the generational differences between online and offline donors – or knows that organizations are busy sending mail to online donors but don’t know how to move mail donors online – the report might not be surprising.
But what is there that sheds light on some of the important strategic decisions that need to be made?