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Evaluate Your Strengths AND Weaknesses

July 19th, 2010

Certainly, we all want to celebrate what we’ve done well at the end of a campaign, event or year’s worth of fund raising effort.  It’s good for the team and personal morale.  It also helps us to see how to continue on the right path and to improve.

Another area that doesn’t get as much attention, though, is the weaknesses.  Call them areas of improvement if that’s more palatable.  Often, this is due to fear of blame.  If these can be looked at analytically (rather than critically), however, often a great deal can boost income here as well.

Perhaps, if department/event/campaign A isn’t performing as well as desired, it should be discontinued.  More likely, though, upon examination, you’ll discover that factors X and Y could be altered or modified to boost income.  Perhaps the scheduling of the event isn’t quite right?

For example, we realized that the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth phonathon simply could not contact parents during the summer.  Parents were sending their children to our summer camps at this time, and when they saw Johns Hopkins on the caller ID, they immediately assumed their child was injured at camp – or had some other problem.  Once they were relieved that nothing was wrong with their child, this was not the time to ask them for a donation!

For another campaign, I discovered that our ask amounts were too low, as well as the coverage being too limited, and boosted the overall income the following year by 46% simply by expanding the reach and increasing the suggested gift amounts.

An important aspect to remember when reviewing any campaign is that they should be viewed with an overall strategy in mind, rather than seeing each one as its own entity.  Donors don’t exist in silos, giving only to the J Campaign, or merely as a mail donor, or an online donor.  It’s best to treat all donors with a more holistic approach.

Too many organizations are under the false assumption that funds earned in the “online bucket” will simply steal them from the “mail bucket,” so why bother moving money from one to the other?  Studies have shown that the holistic approach will actually boost all of these “buckets,” and that the multi-channel donor gives the largest gifts of all.

In the past three and a half years that I’ve been at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, I’ve worked on boosting the strengths, and hunting out any holes – or weaknesses – that could be tweaked for the better, with the following results [click chart for better view, <Back> button to return to blog]:

Center for Talented Youth Annual Giving Appeal Income History

 Although upon first glance, it may appear that web income did “cannibalize” mail in FY 2009, the shortfall that year was due to our discontinuing mailing our Annual Report.  Moving this mailing to an online report was a decision to “go green,” saving us quite a lot in printing and postage expenses . . . but also costing us approximately $36K in donation revenue received from the FY 2008 mailing.

Another hole or opportunity to improve I discovered was in the way we conduct phonathon.  The changes we implemented helped us realize a 20% increase in income this fiscal year from FY 2009.  It is definitely worth taking a diagnostic look at areas that could be performing better!

It’s always important to review studies of how donors are performing industry-wide, but it is equally essential that you track your own donor data within your specific demographics to see these trends as well – and respond accordingly.

I’ll be discussing such examples when I speak next week at the VFRI about How to Incorporate Online Giving Into Your Annual Fund . . . and Track It!

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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