So How’d You Do? (Part II)

In the last full-length blog post, we looked under the hood of end of year campaigns at some of the takeaways from the projects we worked on at the end of 2015.

With this installment of the blog, I would like to delve into a few more of the keys that made the projects successful, or could’ve made them even more so if they would’ve been executed as originally planned.

• Pre-campaign momentum. There’s really no replacing a good quality project plan, with plenty of energy and excitement rolling up to the start of a fundraiser. Given the holiday season, a well-executed “pre-launch” is particularly difficult for some organizations to accomplish as there is so much underway and mission critical.

However, if you do have the luxury to spend time on the ramp up to your next fundraising campaign, I would highly recommend having 4-6 weeks which is planned to have periods of donor acknowledgement, mission messaging and of course, the all-important quiet time.

We all get so busy within the constant drone of the have-to-do’s and need-to-do’s which fill our communications that the audience of our messaging might become tone deaf to which messages matter most.

If you can objectively set up the game plan for pre-campaign activity, it will make for a much more uniform and strategic game plan for all involved. Just the right mixture of messages from and about your cause combined with salutes to your donors and volunteers can carry the day. When sprinkled liberally with doses of complete silence, it will make your messaging stand out so much more.

• Retention rates – As most of us know, retention rates are of huge importance if we want to maintain the inertia from previous successes. Holding on to donors is the life blood of what we do, yet the median retention rate is only 43% according to the 8,025 organizations surveyed by Bloomerang. That fact alone tells us we have a long, long way to go.

How does your retention statistic measure up? If there’s one key performance indicator (KPI) that we should all be measuring it is how we fare versus the national donor retention average.

But if we’re measuring the donor, why not as well measure the donation retention? According to the same survey, the median gift retention rate is slightly better with 47% being retained from one year to the next.

As for our 2015 projects, we had a 48% retention rate on donors for the same campaigns… slightly above the average. One note: if you run multiple campaigns based on seasonality or some another specific timeline, it is always important to make sure to track past donors in order to compare apples to apples and to avoid mixing fruits and fundraisers.

On the donation retention side of the ledger, we had a remarkable 43% increase from the same donors year-over-year. That’s a pretty great increase and put us on the road to overall success of the campaign. As I had mentioned in a previous post, we may have grown top end donors at the expense of affordability for lower level supporters and this is something that will need to be addressed moving forward.

Refresher on the tricks of the trade – A few things became very apparent when rolling up the sleeves on the grass roots level of a campaign.

First and foremost, always remember to block and tackle. While you can have the flashiest players or social media platforms at your disposal, but if you don’t do the basics correctly, all the new tech toys will just wind up being a distraction. Here are a couple of the “solids” brought back to my attention.

Social is great for conversations, but never forget the tried and true. Snail mail with all of it’s bulkiness, is still the way for many to give. While many projects have been able to move online and the giving rate has stayed 50-50 for online/offline, you have to recognize it’s a really big 50% to walk away from. Make sure you have budget to use the good ol’ USPS at least for the next several fundraising campaign cycles.

We always hear about personalization – but for many of us that goes not much further than the subject line or the initial salutation. What worked very well in our tests was the suggesting of a specific level of donation for each individual. This is a one of those opportunities where you should take yourself out of your day job and put yourself in the place of the recipient.

Pretend you’re receiving a donation letter from an organization you support. Do you know what value you put on that interaction and engagement and what that brings to your life? Or would it be easier if the organization did that for you? Take the step and do some testing moving some of your smaller donors higher and some of your most significant donors even higher. My guess is you’ll be surprised by the results!

Keep Cleaning – Of course your results will only be as good as the content of the letter, the efficiency of the donation forms online and off, but don’t overlook the importance of constantly maintaining your database. This step is critical, yet many organizations don’t have the capacity internally to have this managed on a daily or weekly basis. I am here to say you need to step up and make it part of someone’s job – and if “someone” no longer works for you, it is probably your job until you find a volunteer or intern to help you in your cause. It’s that important!

Make sure when the mail is received and the bad addresses come back they are immediately corrected in the system. Same with hard and soft bounces through your email system. Remember our motto: Digital cleanliness is next to godliness! What to do with bad emails is a little tricky – but you can try reverting to old school techniques like sending a quick “Was it something we said?” postcard, phone call or even stalking on Facebook and messaging supporters that way. (Not that we’re advocating for stalking).

Whatever trick you use – try everything you can to keep people engaged, however if they’ve moved or god-forbid passed away, keeping your data clean will make it that much more effective in the long term.

Well, that pretty much recaps the high and the lows of our most recent end of year campaigns. We hope we refreshed some of the training you’ve had along the way and possibly even showed you a new way or two to think about your next fundraiser. Good luck and happy fundraising in 2016!

About

Sean King has been consulting with small businesses and non-profit organizations for 25 years. Currently, Sean is a principal in the Aspire Consulting Group providing solutions and training for arts, events and non-profit marketing professionals and their organizations. Clients include Youth Education in the Arts (YEA!) and a growing list of satisfied organizations. Sean speaks regularly throughout the U.S. including at the IFEA Annual Conference, Arts Reach Conference, AFP, 92Y, CiviCRM User Summit, PA Council on the Arts, Michigan Festivals & Event Annual Conference. Sean serves as the Marketing Chairperson for the Hamilton District Main Street, a program of the Allentown Chamber of Commerce in Allentown and is a Co-Chair of the Arts & Culture Committee for the Upside Allentown initiative. You can follow Sean on Twitter @skingaspire or email him anytime at sking.aspire@gmail.com

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About Sean King
Sean King has been consulting with small businesses and non-profit organizations for 25 years.  Currently, Sean is a principle in the Aspire Consulting Group providing solutions and training for arts, events and non-profit marketing professionals and their organizations. Clients include Youth Education in the Arts (YEA!) and a growing list of satisfied organizations. Sean speaks regularly throughout the United States including at the IFEA Annual Conference, Arts Reach Conference, AFP, 92Y, CiviCRM User Summit, PA Council on the Arts, Michigan Festivals & Event Annual Conference.  Sean serves as the Marketing Chairperson for the Hamilton District Main Street program in Allentown and is a Co-Chair of the Arts & Culture Committee for the Upside Allentown initiative. He also blogs a artsmarketingblog.org.  You can follow Sean on Twitter @skingaspire. Sean resides with his wife Natalie and son Haydn in the global crossroads of Fogelsville, Pa.