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How Will Sandy Alter Your Year-End Campaign?

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

So much has been donated during election season, that many fundraisers have been looking forward to the end of the election, so that donors can refocus on other priorities.  Namely, theirs.  Then, along came Hurricane Sandy.

If your nonprofit’s mission isn’t related to relief effort, then the spotlight has automatically been taken off of you for the holiday season.  The devastation that has hit so many – and domestically – is vast, and being publicized by even the private sector in multiple ways as a need for people to donate . . . to specific causes.

This probably isn’t the time to spend a great deal of effort on acquisitions, then, but to focus on your most tried and true segments, as well as your lapsed donors, reminding them of your mission and your successes – and why they supported you in the first place.  Tell them how their gifts have been helping, and what you plan to do to accomplish even more in the near future.  And, of course, how very grateful you are to have their support.

Another important aspect is how you’re asking for that support.  How easy/difficult is it for someone to donate to your cause?  Regardless of the appeal – mail, phone or email – have you included a (direct) hyperlink for your donor to use?  Do you have a way for them to text, if they prefer?

More is learned during each disaster giving cycle, and a couple of findings keep surfacing:  donors want convenience and respond to it, both via online and mobile.

Another way to help keep your donors loyal to your cause and mission is to have a recurring giving program.  Do you offer a monthly giving option on your online giving form, by mail and with your phonathon?  This is one of the best ways to keep your supporters thinking about you all year long.

Of course, these are all good practices, anyway – particularly having a healthy dose of online giving in your campaign, since many campaigns have barely kept up, while online giving has been steadily increasing.  Many reports show this, including the Blackbaud Indices of overall giving and online giving.

It’s all the more crucial, though, to implement these best practices now, as we head into the most crucial time of year – when donors will be spending the most . . . and probably not refocusing their attention where you thought they would, after the election.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Please Listen To All of the Following Options . . .

                

Please Support Us In the Most Meaningless Way of All

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Most nonprofits are still struggling to get back to their pre-recession levels of support.  While some have made it through unscathed, it hasn’t been easy. They can tell you that commitment to mission and donors is essential.

This is why I get so frustrated when I see corporations taking advantage of the nonprofits that are having more difficulties by offering funds to them in various “contests” that serve only as publicity stunts for the companies, really.

What started out as a national trend has already expanded to local companies, making the same types of offers to the very small – and desperate – local nonprofits as well.

These set ups remind me of various “Are you in debt?” commercials, offering distressed consumers options they might not otherwise take for high interest loans, credit cards, etc.  In other words, easy money.

A nonprofit that hasn’t yet made its goal has a pot of gold dangled in front of its eyes, and “all it has to do” is chant the chosen mantra of the corporation of the month that is throwing this particular bone into the pit of desperation.

Of course, it’s not enough that the nonprofit itself blather the company slogan on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, GooglePlus, and anywhere, everywhere else that the company is tracking it.  No, the organization must use all available venues to reach its constituents to nag, beg and cajole them to do the same . . . for the good of the organization(?)

Never mind that the bank, life insurance company, software developer, etc. has nothing whatever to do with the mission of the organization.

“Please, PLEASE text/post ‘Get 2 Free Boxes of Checks with a Bank ABC Checking Account!’ on every channel – once a day, until [deadline], so we can win the $XX,000!”

Like all scams, the easy money only appears easy.  Not only does staff become consumed with constant reminders to all supporters, then someone has to keep track of where the organization stands each day of the contest.  (“We’ve fallen to 2nd place!  Please remember to keep posting daily!”)

The saturation point of supporters will likely cost you in terms of loyalty down the road, even if your organization does win the contest, not to mention the fact that you’ve disconnected your supporters substantially from your mission.  A great deal will have to be rebuilt in the future.

And, if you plan on “winning” such contests as an ongoing part of your budget, both your staff and supporters will become exhausted and burned out, which means your churn rate will go through the roof.  Additionally, you’ll support the corporate notion that this is an acceptable way to support nonprofits, rather than directly via grants and sponsorships.  (Bad idea.)

Research has shown that the best way to gain long term support for your organization is through telling a compelling story about what you do by who benefits from your work.

Chanting some company slogan couldn’t be much farther off point than this, and is probably working to alienate your supporters more than just about any other activity you could be doing, short of a scandal.

The next time you’re tempted to participate in an easy money scheme, think about the story it tells.  If it doesn’t further your mission, toss it aside.  You’re wasting time and money pursuing it, not to mention constituent loyalty.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

 

The Short End of the Stick

Heads They Win, Tails You Lose

Don’t Sell Yourself Short

Video Is Becoming More Important Than Ever Before!

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

I recently attended a presentation by Chip Dizárd, on the importance of video – good video – to the overall nonprofit campaign.  Chip teaches video techniques to Baltimore City school students, often working with nonprofits.

Not only are videos being shared in greater numbers than ever before

but the types of videos that are among those being viewed most directly relate to nonprofit fundraising:

According to Pew Research, nearly ¾ of online adults are using video sharing sites, and more than 1/3 are now looking for their news in the form of online videos.  Will your organization be there to provide any of the information that people are seeking in this medium . . . or will your competition supply it instead?

These days, it’s not enough simply to have a phone and shoot an amateur video, Chip explained.  It’s essential to have a plan, for one thing.  What are you intending to shoot?  What story are you telling?  What do you hope that viewers will do once they are finished viewing your video?  Donate? Volunteer? Sign a petition?  Understand your organization better?  If you don’t know, it’s not time to hit the [RECORD] button yet.

Consider your audience and the story they want and need to hear about your organization and what you’ve been accomplishing.  You’ll do much better telling a story about – and from! – the people you’re serving, rather than the executive director making a speech for ten minutes.  (“That’s what my donations pay for?!”)

It’s also crucial to consider the quality of the video itself, Chip explained.  The competition for viewing eyes is much greater, so if you post something with poor lighting, sound, etc., you can forget having others share it.  Your wonderful script and passionate speaker will have been for naught.

Of course, nonprofits can’t afford the best equipment in the industry, but a good executive director understands that prioritizing enough to invest in some good enough equipment to get the job done is essential.  A decision will have to be made about how important quality online representation is to the organization.

Some very high quality video production can be farmed out, but quite a bit can be done in-house with relatively little investment initially.

Also, there are many intern programs, such as Chip’s, where students who are learning in the classroom are willing to apply it in the organization and company offices.  Chip suggests searching on Twitter, for example, and laments, “People aren’t using social media to its full advantage,” when it comes to networking and finding one another.

An additional important component that nonprofits should add to their video campaign goals is applying for a YouTube Nonprofit account, which allows for additional features, including a clickable link directly within the video.  This can take the viewer outside of YouTube, to a donation page, a petition, or other actionable web page related to your campaign.

How do you plan to bolster video for your campaign in the coming year?

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Diversity Requires Effort, Not Merely a Posture

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Nonprofits know they need to better diversify their marketing efforts.  New research shows that most companies do a poor job of advertising to ethnic minorities.  (When asked for an effective brand, most respondents couldn’t name one.)

To ensure that your nonprofit is in the forefront of constituents’ minds, what can you do? It will take more than being available for them to contact, donate and volunteer!  You will have to learn how to appeal to the various segments of people in your target markets.  Most likely, they each have their own special wants, needs, likes, dislikes and preferences.

In addition to understanding the ethnic makeup of your supporters, many other demographics are necessary, but it doesn’t stop there – and you shouldn’t presume to know without due diligence.  Many people will make assumptions about age, for example, rather than doing research.

A common misperception has to do with age and technology.  Often, people take for granted that Boomers (and older) are not online, don’t donate online and don’t use cell phones, texting, etc., while Millenials are the primary consumers of all things technical, leaving those in between somewhere in the middle.  This is a dangerous assumption, not to mention full of holes.

Research is showing that smartphone penetration is not only increasing across all markets, but Gen X and Y account for the largest market share.  In addition, all segments donate online, and Convio’s The Wired Wealthy study dispels myths about online gifts only coming from younger, smaller donors.

When looking at differences between the genders, it’s been established that women – particularly wealthy women – drive the philanthropic decisions in most households, so particular attention must be paid here, not only to the type of appeal, but in details such as follow up, acknowledgment, etc.  It’s important to most women donors that they learn about how their donation is being used and what affect it has had.  Not providing personal, meaningful feedback is a sure way to lose women donors.

A subset of Millenials has been identified recently – the Post88s.  GirlApproved has identified this demographic as a separate segment of female consumer/donor who responds differently than her predecessor, and therefore, will require a different marketing pitch.  Would you agree?

Another thing we know is that women spend more time on social networking than men do, while men spend a greater amount of time watching videos online, and the amount of video consumed is increasing substantially.  These are things to keep in mind when preparing your campaigns.

You still may have a couple of annual or semi-annual appeals that you want to send across the board, but clearly, it will help to really study your constituents and understand how they exist in smaller clusters of people, too.  Have they been long time supporters for years, or are they specifically donors to your XYZ fund?  Do they always attend your spring event?  Are they inclined to volunteer?  What sets them apart from other constituents?  How do they typically respond?

The need for segmentation was recently demonstrated by a Dunham + Company study which showed that email length and relevance were the most important factors compelling donors to either respond or disengage from a campaign.  Surprisingly, frequency of communication was not among the complaints found.  Effective, targeted – and concise – messaging is what’s most desired.

Diversity also includes more than ethnicity, age and gender.  How accessible is your organization to people with various disabilities?  When you hold an event, are you certain that it is wheelchair accessible?  Do you ask on your registration forms if attendees will need interpretive services for the deaf?  What about your website?  You may be planning to make it mobile-friendly in 2012, but what about making it equal access for the blind?

Of course, a nonprofit that does or doesn’t dedicate itself to true diversity in marketing most likely has a parallel situation internally.  Much of the problems an organization has with their prospecting approach begins with internal issues, such as lack of diversity with their staff and board.  This hasn’t changed much over the years.

When all the ideas are coming from one type of perspective, it’s not surprising that there’d be a homogenous approach resulting from the organization.  There’s even a greater danger when all the power is resting with one set of individuals over another, staffing-wise.  This is when power corrupts.  Diversity has many benefits.

Marketing with old stereotypes and assumptions just won’t cut it any longer, even if you do segment.  Consumers and donors are more demanding now.  If you want them to remember you (fondly), you’ll have to work for it.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Direct Mail in 2012 Must Step Up!

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Although year-end mail is always slow, 2011 saw the USPS give new meaning to the word! This was an eye opener for savvy nonprofit mailers who realize that a reckoning day is coming, and that the time to reassess mail campaigns is now.

There’s little question that the post office is headed for some drastic changes, although due to its being stymied in bureaucracy, it may take a while for the deepest of the cuts to be felt.  It seems certain, however, that the results the postal customer will ultimately feel will be twofold:  less service and higher prices.

If we’re going to get less and pay more, why do it?  Well, simply because for most nonprofits, the lion’s share of annual giving income still comes from direct mail, although this slice of the pie isn’t as large as it used to be . . . and it costs more to produce.

Whenever your ROI is affected this drastically (or is about to be), it’s vital to evaluate your overall campaign, to see which areas can be modified, streamlined, combined, improved – or simply need to be eliminated.  Several nonprofits that have strong direct mail programs have done precisely this, and discovered that one of their best tactics is a multichannel approach.  In addition, some have discovered that more resources are best diverted to direct mail for acquisition, while online appeals are successful for retention.

Since it’s unrealistic to eliminate direct mail from your budget or campaign, it’s smarter planning to consider a multitude of factors and be more strategic:

Take care that your database is as accurate and as up to date as possible. The better your data is, the more precise your campaigns are, the lower your costs, and the fewer returned pieces, wasted staff time, etc.

•     Consider sending out smaller, more frequent, segmented mailings. This will take additional time – both to pull the targeted data, as well as to craft the appeals, but it will make your donors/prospects feel special, whether you group them by geography or affinity for a particular type of fund, cause, etc.

•     Schedule your direct mail campaigns sooner than you previously did. Expect delivery to take longer than it has in the past.  Much longer.  This isn’t going to improve.

•     Budget for more direct mail expenses, if possible.  Postage will likely continue to increase, and with other services costing more (e.g., NCOA), this is simply pragmatic.

•     Make certain your appeals are both engaging and get down to business. If your letter is a solicitation, it still has to be interesting, of course, but the ask shouldn’t be buried in paragraph six, either.  Get to the point.

•     Integrate a multichannel approach. Include a direct hyperlink for your call to action (e.g., donation, registration, petition, etc.) on all pieces in the mailing:  letter, reply card, reply envelope, inserts, flyers, etc.  Remember to add a Twitter and Facebook icon and/or hyperlink as well, and QR codes when applicable.  Since a QR code is versatile, it can link to a video, provide a coupon code, or other venue, depending on your campaign.

•     Remember the carrier envelope is the most important, not an afterthought. Mail is typically opened over a trash can, so if your carrier envelope isn’t designed with at least the thought put into your letter, you have drastically reduced the chances of your letter ever getting read.

•     Test at least one variable with each mailing. This can be something as simple as including postage – or not – on your reply envelope, or addressing your carrier envelope on the back instead of the front.  Does a photo on your carrier make a difference, and if it does, do you need to pay for a color photo, or will a black and white one result in essentially the same response rate and average gift?  Perhaps a freemium boosts your average gift or response with an acquisition mailing, but it’s unnecessary when soliciting current donors.

•     Your opinion doesn’t matter! Make sure to track and analyze your data after each campaign.  Just because you personally prefer the bright green font doesn’t mean that it has the best response rate from your constituency.  Until you have several bundles of data from your own organization, a good place to start can be checking sources such as Which Test Won? which gathers and shares a great deal of data on both direct mail and online marketing.

•     Learn from your analyses. Take what worked well, and attempt to extrapolate upon your successes.  For the campaigns that performed poorly, either determine why and fix the errors, or eliminate them and substitute them with the strategies that are succeeding for your organization.  While you’ll probably find that much of what you’re doing follows industry standards, there may be some anomalies that are unique to your constituency.

•     Don’t be afraid to try something new. Annual Giving by its very nature can easily become cyclical and repetitive, and making goal is constantly on everyone’s mind, but great things can happen when you stretch outside your regular boundaries and dare to dream of a different way of doing things.

How can you make the most of what you’ve got – not just with mail, but all of your fundraising venues – and perhaps something new?

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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