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This is a Test, This is Only a Test

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Network For Good has dubbed today the first Be Your Donor Day.  It’s a fabulous idea, designed to get nonprofits to test their online giving forms to see how easy – or cumbersome – their process is.  Why stop there, though?

What other aspects of donor interaction could be improved, if only we could get a look at it through our donor’s eyes?

Vanna* is a development officer who wanted to test this theory, so she made an online donation to her organization . . . using her husband’s credit card, during last year’s holiday season.  She wanted to test the data processing department’s speed and accuracy in entering and acknowledging the gift when things were very busy.

“My husband’s last name is different than mine,” Vanna explained, “And, although I entered myself as the joint donor, I thought that this gift might be lost in the shuffle along with many, many others.”

More time went by than Vanna thought should have, and “her husband” still hadn’t received an acknowledgment, so she decided to check in the database, wondering if it had even been entered.  She was surprised to still find nothing under her husband’s name.

“Then, I thought: ‘Perhaps someone did notice my name and gave me some sort of special treatment after all?’” Vanna recounted.  “I checked under my name, and not only was the gift there, but had been for days!  The problem was that it was credited not to my husband, but some other man entirely . . . living in a different state!  Talk about your data entry mistakes!”

It turned out that Vanna’s “false husband” had an ID number close to that of her real husband, and the transaction opened up dialogue for better verification procedures in the processing department, particularly during peak times.

Wyatt* did something similar, but instead of using a spouse’s or child’s name, opted to submit his dead grandfather’s name for mail, email and phonathon lists.  The name was entirely different, and he maintained a separate email account, where he could receive messages for “him.”  It was his way of not only monitoring what his nonprofit was doing, but other nonprofits as well, since he subscribed “grandpa” to multiple lists.

Wyatt was pleasantly surprised when his new mailing went out to discover that his new mail vendor had done a diligent job of running his list through the NCOA database prior to sending it out.  It was obviously a cut above what his previous vendors had done, because “grandpa’s” mail had been returned, marked as nobody living at that address with that name!

“I can’t tell you how many, many pieces ‘grandpa’ has gotten at my address, from dozens of nonprofits!” Wyatt said.  He plans on staying with this new mail vendor.

Checking your website for mobile-friendliness is advisable, too.  Have you tried to make an online donation using your handheld?  Does that ramp up the level of difficulty?  What about other transactions on your site?  How much interaction do you ask of your constituents online?  Registering for events?  Purchasing items?  Signing petitions?

Whenever you are telling constituents to “Go to our website and [take this action]!” try to take that action with your mobile – and encourage the person responsible for that department to do it as well.

The more departments that engage in this activity, the more buy-in you’ll have as an organization to convert your website to a mobile-friendly one!

What other donor/constituent engagement areas can you think of to test that staff rarely uses?

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Which Donors Do You Remember?

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

In Annual Giving, we “Keep the Base of the Pyramid Strong,” as I say, but it’s awfully crowded down here. Unlike Major Gifts, we rarely get to know our donors personally. Still, some become memorable. Which ones are yours?

Although Annual Giving professionals deal in mass quantities of thousands of donors, sometimes we have a memorable encounter with a donor – either at an event, over the phone, or simply from a feedback form or note included in an email or direct mail contribution that makes us stop and smile.  The single donor becomes distinguished from the masses, and we often remember that person . . . perhaps for some time.

When such a contributor makes an impression, it’s a good idea to follow up with them and ask if they would be willing to share their views on your organization, written as an appeal (and/or video).  The most dedicated champions for your cause can provide compelling testimonials on your behalf, and often end up as excellent fundraising advocates.

Some others in Annual Giving have shared their recollections of such donors below:

Olga*:

When I got a personal note attached to a check, explaining that, “Since I’m out of work, this is all I can afford to send, but I want to help…” That’s when I knew I had a great appeal letter!  I modeled a couple of letters after that donor’s feedback, and they were quite successful.

Pierce*:

One of our phonathon volunteers asked me to assist when the questions “got too hard” on the other end of the line.  It turned out that the person we called had a few complaints – about our newsletter, her missing receipt for the last gift, and so on.  I spent at least ten minutes on that call, plus a follow up call the next day, but she was so pleased to have someone listen and respond to her concerns, that she ended up doubling her (fairly small) gift once I fixed the problems.  She’s now a major donor.

Rochelle*:

I remember a boy who wrote to us, saying that he decided to ask for donations to our charity from his family and friends, in lieu of gifts for his bar mitzvah.  That was quite touching.

Seth*:

One donor sent us a check for $2.  We’d gotten cash in small amounts on rare instances, but a check?  I decided that this must be a test, to see if, how and when we acknowledged the gift.  I figured that, based upon our response, perhaps a larger gift would follow, and that he had sent similar “tests” to several organizations.  I sent a very glowing thank you letter promptly.

A few months later, he sent us a check for $5!  Again, I sent an appreciative letter right away.

This went on about every quarter, to the point that when his envelope arrived, we had an office pool, wagering on our “small donor’s” amount:  $5? $3? $2?  In two years, he never gave as much as ten dollars in a single envelope, but he gave regularly – and was still doing so when I left.  I still maintain that I was cultivating a larger donor, but didn’t stay long enough to learn if I was correct or not.

Tamara*:

The donor who asked questions and listened when I said what the money was going to be used for.  When I got to the part about how we needed a new printer, she said that even though she couldn’t afford to contribute much, she thought she knew someone who could donate that equipment, and put us in contact with them!  Even though she hasn’t been able to give a great deal of money, she has been able to procure us several items for the office at a discount, through her connections.

Vinny*:

I remember a certain donor who called to complain about our constant database errors.  It seemed that between our event database and donor database, we continually accidentally listed him as being married to a woman in town with the same last name, although they weren’t even related.  He knew quite a bit about her contact information, and this clearly wasn’t the first (or second) time he had tried to get this resolved, so that her name was no longer on the mail we sent him.

I apologized, and assured him that I would make attempts to correct the matter – in both databases.  I could tell that he had doubts, but was grateful not to have a “fake wife” on his documents any longer.  Later, I noticed a larger gift from him the next time, because I was watching for any problems with this record getting entered incorrectly during the next event cycle, etc.

We saw in the last presidential election how essential – and powerful – the Annual Giving donor could be.  It appears that the same may well be true in this upcoming election as well.  Preliminary results show that 48% of Obama’s primary contributions in 2011 were received from “small donors,” defined as those giving $200 or less.  This same study also listed Obama raising nearly the same amount of personal funds as all ten of the GOP candidates combined, most of whom did not fare as well with smaller donors.

When cultivated properly – and listened to – many Annual Giving donors can be moved up into major donors, or at least mid-level donors.

What do you find helps to keep the base of your pyramid the strongest?

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Please Listen To All of the Following Options…

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

While technology has made many aspects of our lives easier, one only need hear a voice mail menu to know it isn’t always beneficial.  Forcing someone to listen to endless recorded options truly renders customer service a contradiction in terms.

Many email marketing strategies are set up in a similar fashion as well:  Rather than considering what is best and most efficient for the customer, the company constructs all parameters from its perspective, putting much more work on the shoulders of the customer.  (“…if you want to speak to someone directly, wait on the line…”)

To begin with, care must be taken not only with the subject line, but also with the sender name.  Some nonprofits still opt for using strictly an organizational name, while others choose to add a more personal touch and include an individual’s name along with the organization.  Being generic is less advisable if you want to get your email opened.

Upon further investigation, however, we see that the “name” attached to an email may not reflect the true identity found in the actual email address.  If someone reading the message chose to hit the [Reply] button, often times, they find themselves relegated to a generic mailing list or information box.  Too often these days, one is even incapable of replying to the communication sent, since embedded in the address itself is some form of the text, “do-not-reply.”

In today’s world of social media where two-way communication is the expected norm, addressing an email from a “do not reply” sender is tantamount to saying, “If you have something to tell me, I really don’t care . . . It’s my way or the highway.”

Adding photos to your email is a nice touch, but consider how your message will be viewed by screens that can’t see pictures, or otherwise block images.  Also keep in mind that various screens are looking at your email.  How does it look in a preview pane?  On a pad?  On a handheld?  Be sure you test several versions, and have text embedded behind your photos.

In addition to making emails more inviting to open and reply to, other mechanics that many nonprofits often fail to consider is updating a subscription.  It’s shortsighted to offer only the option of unsubscribing to the organization’s email.

Tiffany* had been subscribing to various trade publications at her office, but they got to be too many and interfered with her ability to see her work emails in a timely fashion.  She decided to create a separate email account, designated just for these subscriptions and move them over to that.

What she discovered was that it was very difficult, in most cases, to change her email subscriptions.  In most cases, they didn’t offer an update option – only unsubscribe.  If she wanted to receive all of the same publications in her new email account, she’d have to unsubscribe from each of them, then open a web browser, find the company, and subscribe all over again with the new email account . . . very often entering her name, company, etc. information as well!

This affected how many subscriptions Tiffany actually retained, and she dropped nearly half of them, keeping only the ones that she deemed were worth enduring the laborious process of resubscribing.  Had they simply given her a shorter process, incorporated within the current system, she most likely would have kept them all.

For your year-end email campaigns, when you take time to craft your message, consider the other components of the email as well.  The mechanics of how it is viewed – from beginning to end – help determine how well received it is, in addition to its content.

Everyone has a full email inbox these days, so the nonprofit that takes extra steps to tighten these loose ends will stand out in the crowd.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Customer Service – Burden or Opportunity?

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Try as we might to provide excellent service to all constituents, problems arise. When they do, the test of an organization’s mettle lies in how it responds – which often depends greatly upon who is the first to respond.

For many nonprofits, Annual Giving is the first stop in the customer service chain for donors with a question, comment or complaint. How do you view your time spent handling various problems, inquiries, revisions, etc.? Do you hope for as few as possible and endeavor to make it go away as quickly as you can? Or, do you take the time to listen to the concerns of the constituent and resolve their issues, rather than follow arbitrary rules that you recite back to them?

It’s essential that the staff assigned to customer service roles view these encounters as a chance to connect, rather than a burden that they must endure. It will make all the difference in how the constituent views your organization.

All nonprofits certainly need to be open to constituents about how their organization is operating, where the funds are being disbursed, and answer questions to the donors’ satisfaction. However, most people are concerned with what matters to them and don’t want to be bored with details that merely come across as irrelevant excuses. There is definitely such a thing as providing too much information.

Several examples of alienating constituents with data, policies and information:

Prescott* had a donor whose name was misspelled in the (printed and mailed) annual report. Instead of ending with “I’m sorry” when speaking to this regular contributor or perhaps asking, “What can I do?” he elaborated on how they hired a new printer this year and continued by telling the donor of the missed printing deadlines, various proofings, delayed mailings, etc., in an effort to demonstrate their best efforts (and lay the blame elsewhere). None of this mattered to the donor and, frankly, in addition to being bored, she felt the organization appeared less professional for attempting to pass the buck.

Randi* had a loyal donor who had signed on to have monthly charges made on her credit card, but there was a problem with both the amounts and the scheduling not being done on the designated day of the month. Randy’s nonprofit’s software didn’t interface very well with the vendor and fixing the mistake meant calling the donor and getting her credit card information all over again, rather than telling the vendor to make an adjustment. Attempting to clarify the situation only seemed to confuse the donor, who didn’t care about software issues. The donor began to wonder if her money was going to an organization that knew how to best spend it.

Sebastian* dealt with a call from an unsatisfied donor by telling him that the problem was due to staffing difficulties that led to a temporary employee causing the problem in the first place, but that he would fix it. The donor felt that he was unprofessional to “gossip” about others in such a negative way, and also wondered how stable the organization must be, if the staff is turning over so rapidly or has so many temporary people who don’t understand their protocols.

Tom* was refunding a donor who was mistakenly charged twice when contributing online. Rather than focusing on expressing gratitude for the gift, Tom spent most of his time explaining how the problem occurred. Apparently, their website often double charges if the [submit] button isn’t clicked just right. His repeated disparaging remarks of the website’s abilities ultimately led to combat the organization’s effort to get more online giving.

Vanessa* fielded calls from several perturbed people after a mailing went out that mistakenly addressed “Mr. Smith” as still being addressed to his ex-spouse . . . at both of their current addresses. As Prescott did, Vanessa felt the need to explain and blame the mail vendor with each constituent, elaborating on the programming difficulties in the mail merge, etc. None of this detail mattered to those who called in. They simply wanted an assurance that it was fixed – and an apology.

Certainly, there are examples of constituents contacting an organization to say something positive as well, whether significant, or briefly in passing.

Do you make a point to acknowledge a note or comment included with a contribution that mentions a tribute gift, or a statement of why your organization is meaningful to the donor? Adding a personal response in the acknowledgement letter (or phone call) that shows you are listening to the donor’s needs and concerns will go a long way toward building an ongoing relationship.

Taking the time to address a constituent’s concern or problem can certainly make a favorable impression, but why wait until then? Making an extra effort to show supporters how valuable they are while things are going smoothly works wonders, too.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Speak To Your Audience

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

I always have a great time at the NTEN & AFP conferences, catching up with old friends and making new ones, as well as learning new techniques I can apply in my job. I was shocked at what I saw, though, at one of the vendor booths at NTEN:

Like many of the vendors, PayPal was trying to entice visitors to their booth with a giveaway. People who entered the drawing had a chance to win a Nook. Many electronic devices were being awarded at the NTEN conference: iPads, Kindles, etc. Experienced attendees always bring many business cards for these drawings.

But how was PayPal – the company promoting online fundraising – accepting entries? Not with a business card, but with a paper questionnaire! (click to make larger)

Complete this survey for a chance to win 1 of 3 Nook e-readers.  Winners will be notified at the phone number that you provide below.

I asked one gentleman who was at the booth why a company that makes its living selling online commerce would operate in such a fashion and how they expected to compete with all the other vendors who were offering giveaways without requiring this much effort on the part of the conference attendees.

He shrugged and explained that he didn’t actually work for PayPal, but was just “helping out” for the day.

A couple of aisles later, I saw another vendor that was working to meet the needs of a busy attendee . . . on their terms:  The Chronicle of Philanthropy

In addition to providing free paper copies of the Chronicle, they were offering free sign up for people to subscribe to issues online, with the screen facing passersby, so that they could create an account immediately:

It makes a great deal of difference to your constituency how you engage them, and how much you ask of them. Prizes are nice, of course, but most of us left each conference without a new iPad – and will unsubscribe to all of the new emails we’ll be getting . . . unless they provide value and convenience to our lives.

The AFP conference in Chicago was held at McCormick Place, which is akin to a large airport! LOTS of walking is necessary to get from one session to another. Even the convention center itself has moved with the times to try to provide service that is convenient to its customers. I noticed this sign in a women’s restroom:

McCormick Cares   Please text the "Keyword" below: MCE3504F  followed by any Restroom needs to 69050

What can you do to keep your finger on the pulse of your constituent base? Have you been measuring your areas of growth, so you can address them and meet those needs? Online giving has increased in nearly all sectors, for example.

Mobile giving and texting are going to show explosive growth in the next year. While smart phones are currently only 13% of handhelds, they account for 78% of the handheld traffic. Does this impact how you might alter your strategy? Would you consider adding a graphic like the one below to your next direct mail appeal, for example?

QR codes are becoming very useful for a variety of things. You can search for a (free) QR code app on your smart phone to decode the one above, and if you wish to create a code of your own, it’s very easy. The code can translate into a word, phrase, phone number, hyperlink, or sms – and be in various sizes. Give it a try!

Just as with any new venture, the response rate will be smaller and slower than something already being done, but the segment of your population that uses this venue will appreciate your catering to them – and they will grow with you over time.  They will also remember who responded to their needs earliest.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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