25 Oct Comes the (Electronic) Revolution
It was bound to happen eventually. I just wasn’t quite ready for it.
I recently delivered two seminars in Pennsylvania on the topic of direct mail. I was specifically interested in helping PA land trusts get more from their membership and annual giving programs by sharing the costs of a robust direct mail recruitment program.
And there it was – buried in the comments section of the evaluations:
“Presenter is 16 years removed from practical work, and some of the suggestions were not current, or I felt were inaccurate.”
I don’t have any context for the comment because no further elaboration was offered. I assume the author was referring to the use of direct mail as an effective method of recruiting first gift donors, because that was the point of the seminar. S/he was the first to blame my age, however, which is why it smarted.
And I’m not going to take this stooping over!
Dr. Stan Temple was a board member with whom I worked closely at both The Nature Conservancy and Sand County Foundation. He shared with me that once upon a time, his doctoral students did all their research work in the Library. Today, virtually no one does. The transition period from all to nothing was two years.
I’m convinced that there will be similar revolutions in all sorts of disciplines – including possibly direct mail recruitment of new annual donors. And I’m ready for that revolution to happen relatively suddenly.
It just isn’t happening now. And it’s not happening yet.
The confusion may very well be related to the stated objectives. I’ve always been looking for people who will give every year, steadily increasing both their emotional engagement and their annual gifts, periodically contributing a major gift to a particular project or two, and ending with making a bequest gift.
I haven’t necessarily targeted Millennials – who reportedly are more likely to respond to an email or social media message than to direct mail. In fact, many people who seem to fit the above description more neatly appear to be in their late 40s and 50s.
The problem as I see it is that we’re not keeping track of data that will support either doubling down on direct mail programs or converting to recruitment strategies that are more dependent on electronic media.
So here’s a thought: why don’t we all start collecting the raw data that will help us recognize the revolution when it happens? Here are the raw data points that need to be collected:
- The recruitment source. Someone makes a first gift. Where did they come from? What did they respond to? Did they receive something in the mail, click on a Facebook ad, find you on the web after hiking on a preserve, or attend an event? And WHICH letter/ad/webpage, or event? Be as specific as you can be. (Sometimes, if you can’t tell, you can ask!)
- The gift data. Date, amount, restriction, form (cash, check, credit card), and so on.
- How much it cost to recruit them. This is easier than it sounds. Simply divide the total costs across the number of members that were recruited.
If you’re like most organizations, you collect data related to the gift only, and ignore data about where donors came from or the costs associated with recruitment. So we really don’t know whether the “suggestions are current” or not, and we won’t really know when and if the revolution actually occurs.
Beginning in January of 2017, I will be working with at least three clients who can begin keeping this data, and I promise to publish their results, even if I have to hide their names to do so.
And I invite you to join me.
In the first year, we’ll be able to report how many first gift donors have made gifts, how they were recruited, how much it cost to recruit them, and how much they gave. By the end of 2018, we’ll have initial renewal rate and upgrade giving information to report. And over time, we can report on the net return on recruitment investment by source.
Maybe we’ll do a Rally presentation together sometime with the data.
Are you “in?” If so, let me know at David (at) DevelopmentForConservation (dot) com.
And when the data eventually does prove me wrong, I’ll respond as hundreds of elders have before me – by pretending not to hear you.
Photo by Redd Angelo courtesy of Stocksnap.io.
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Will I see you at Rally in Minneapolis?
- Booth Table – Come find me!
- Workshop Session C03, Saturday 3:30-5:00pm, How to Write Better Fundraising Letters
- Workshop Session D03, Sunday 8:30-10:00am, Development Committee Makeover
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Here’s what I’ve been thinking about for October. What are YOU thinking about?
For a significant number of organizations, donors giving at least $1,000 as their membership gift account for less than 10% of the donor base and more than 60% of the operations funding. Time to say THANK YOU! Time to get the most out of your appreciation events!
Mailing this early means that you can get a reminder letter out before Thanksgiving, and if you are inclined to send out a third letter, you will still have time to drop it before Christmas. BUT, If you will be mailing after October 20 or so, know that your results will be somewhat affected by the election mail. Mailings dropped after November 15 will have better results that mailings dropped between October 20 and the election.
I am NOT a tax advisor, and I am NOT an attorney. However, with that critical disclaimer:
Acknowledge any gift with a sincere statement of appreciation for what was actually given. For example,
- Thank you very much for your gift of $35.
- Thank you very much for your gift of 25 shares of XYZ stock.
- Thank you very much for donating your 4-wheel-drive truck.
- Thank you very much for volunteering to help us with the mailing last Saturday.
- Thank you for donating a homemade meal for 6-8 people for the auction.
Given what you know right now about what foundations, corporations, and individuals have committed, and what you know right now about what requests are still out there, and what you know right now about the requests you will yet write before 12/31, can you still project meeting your fundraising goals and getting to each of the budget numbers? If not, where will each number end up? If you wait until December 20th to figure out that you’re going to be short – it’s too late. Forewarned is forearmed.