If you’re like 90+% of the nonprofits reading this blog, direct mail gifts still make up the overwhelming majority of your fundraising revenue. So it makes sense that your direct mail initiatives receive the lion’s share of your fundraising focus and resources. But as marketers and fundraisers try to reach out to new prospective supporters and look for new ways to keep current supporters engaged, many are discovering that there are great opportunities within a strategic multichannel approach to communications and fundraising. If you haven’t started, it may be time for your organization to pay special attention to how online and offline work as complimentary fundraising channels, rather than competing initiatives, so you can improve overall giving through multichannel marketing.
While every organization these days communicates through email, direct mail, telephone, tabletop, events, etc.; coordinated, thoughtful multichannel marketing is still pretty rare. In most organizations, this is due to limitations in technology and organizational cultural constraints. On the technology side, it can quickly grow wildly complex to manage creative and logistics for targeted marketing through a variety of channels. The ability to create a package that includes email and direct mail, segment it properly, test it, store it, measure its success, and iterate on it, requires heavy-duty management or tools that can automate parts of the process. On the cultural side, instead of having a centralized marketing team that is joined at the hip with a centralized fundraising team, these groups are usually siloed from one another and often are assigned their own discrete channel to communicate through. Could a coordinated blend of messages and channels enhance your fundraising returns?
According to the 2011 donorCentrics Internet and Multichannel Giving Benchmarking Report, online donations are larger on average than offline donations, and donors who make their first gift online and stick around to give again have a higher lifetime value (LTV) than similarly retained donors that start out giving offline. Unfortunately, according to the same study, only 10% of gifts come in online. A broader Blackbaud study involving 1800 nonprofits of all sizes shows only 7.6% of revenue is given online. Yet despite where the gifts come in, I’m guessing your gut feeling (supported by this year’s Cygnus Donor Research survey stating that 69% of donors of all ages prefer electronic over print communication from nonprofits) is that email is more popular than snail mail. So why doesn’t this preference for online communication translate into more online giving? And what can nonprofits do to acquire more of these valuable online donors?
The online giving process allows you to collect more information than a simple direct mail response ever did. Email communications allows instant tests on which messages and language are most compelling. Web site analytics can reveal which pages, appeals, and offers are most likely to drive visitors to take action. And forms can allow donors to choose via simple drop-down menu from every cause your organization funds. The challenge is to collect, analyze, and use this information to tailor the appropriate overall marketing approach to bring in more donors online.
Thoughtful, coordinated online communication can also make your direct mail more effective. And this is important for two reasons: most obviously, direct mail still has the overall ROI to be worth the far larger investment it receives at most organizations; less well known is that online donors who stick around (see higher LTV, above) usually stick around by giving offline after the first gift. If new online donors are provided offline giving opportunities that acknowledge the online relationship, build on the online communication already provided, and offer additional value (tactile experiences, more detailed information) only available or easily consumable via direct mail, the odds increase that an online donor will respond to an offline appeal, improving the odds they will give to you year after year. Meanwhile, the data must be used to continue enriching the online experience for those who choose to stay – or return – online. Additional research is underway to understand the perfect package for combining email with direct mail and for email to drive online giving. Meanwhile, what experiences have you had in this area that we can all learn from? What additional information would you find valuable as you tackle these issues at your organization? Those that figure out winning strategies for multichannel communication and giving hold the key to future fundraising success.
*Allison Van Diest is a Senior Product Manager for Blackbaud.