Amid Virus Disruption, Direct Mail Has ‘Optichannel’ Advantages

As the majority of American adults hunker down at home, with all but essential businesses closed or working remotely because of the COVID-19 crisis, AccuList reminds marketers of the unique advantages of targeted direct mail, which takes promotions right into homes, has the highest response rate of any channel, and has the ability via print technology to connect with digital, too.

Direct Mail Can Rise Above the Current Digital Noise

Direct-response agency SeQuel Response notes that since the majority of American have responded to state lockdowns and virus fears by increasing their online shopping, many direct marketers have flooded the digital zone with new e-commerce sites, digital advertising, social media promotions, and e-mail. With online channels increasingly overcrowded, direct mail offers an alternative way to reach consumers in their homes and an opportunity to rise above the noise. The agency provides some good tips for direct mail in the time of COVID: 1) Ensure creative elements and messaging align with consumer sentiments and promote social responsibility and even national pride for positive brand awareness; 2) reconsider mail frequency and timing if warranted for a particular product/service, but make sure not to lose touch with the audience; 3) solidify existing customer relations, with increased focus on retention and brand awareness to help survive on the other side of the crisis; 4) integrate direct mail with digital marketing, a proven way to boost campaign performance and reduce CPA, including print technology, such as QR, AR and VR; and, finally 5) plan for the post-crisis world, recognizing that a campaign takes six weeks from list development to creative production to mail drop, and make sure messaging and brand positioning can evolve post-crisis.

Leverage Mail Strengths With Modeling, Digital Alignment

Given the coronavirus disruption of buying processes, “optichannel” campaigning, meaning supporting a prospect’s or customer’s shopping and buying process using the channel that is best for them, becomes essential for ROI. Direct mail adds special advantages to an optichannel mix, especially when combined with modeling and digital integration, argues a recent Target Marketing magazine article. Among the article’s examples is Galileo Learning, which operates 75 children’s summer camps across parts of California and Illinois. The company used tight response-lift customer modeling to identify higher-response prospects on external lists and then used the resulting savings to create even better creative. As a result, response surpassed expectations by bringing in 155 new campers and $66,000 in new revenue. Another Target Marketing case study is especially relevant for nonprofit fundraisers trying to help the most vulnerable in the current COVID-19 crisis. It comes from Meals on Wheels in the Diablo region of California, whose mailed holiday donor appeal garnered $230,000 in donations and 43% new donors. The charity attributes the 75,000-piece mail campaign’s success to, first, defining more-responsive list segments for existing donors, lapsed donors and prospects via demographics and customer-look-alike modeling, and, second, adding targeted digital advertising (e-mail, social and online display). The added digital effort not only delivered a 600% increase in campaign impressions over the mail-only control, the donors acquired by the “optichannel” campaign gave an average of 169% more than mail-only donors.

COVID-19 Crisis Alters Tactics for Fundraising Success

In a previous post, AccuList joined other experts to stress the importance of nonprofit clients staying the course on fundraising despite the coronavirus crisis altering the social and economic landscape. But fundraising tactics will need to alter to navigate that landscape, of course. Recent fundraising pro articles highlight some smart ways to approach existing and potential donors during the crisis.

Adapt by Expanding Digital Communications & Events

In a recent NonProfit PRO post, for example, C.J. Orr, vice president, and Katie Nichols, senior associate director, of the Orr Group fundraising agency, put together some quick tactic shifts for fundraisers, especially those that had been counting on events to tap donors. First of all, don’t panic and cancel events, they advise, but reschedule or repurpose. If an event can be postponed, a nonprofit may be able to transfer tickets/table buyers to the future event instead of giving or issuing a refund, and can add touchpoints with donors and prospects along the way. Or, the fundraiser can switch to a digital event, perhaps with livestreaming. Indeed, this is an opportunity to go digital in multiple targeted ways, they suggest, starting with more social media ads, paid search ads and SEO efforts aimed at the target audience. For example, now is a good time for a digital forum, such as a virtual “fireside-chat” with a subject matter expert discussing COVID-19 and its impact on the mission and incorporating a fundraising ask. Or the nonprofit can tap top-of-mind concerns and promote itself as a thought leader with an article on the COVID-19 impact posted on social media as well as e-mailed to donors and prospects. Plus, remember that over 80% use smart phones, so that mobile-optimized promotion is essential. And don’t forget old-school, nondigital communications, such as direct mail and phone calls. The authors suggest building out a phone-call list of top funders, with strategic talking points, for example.

Seize the Opportunity to Increase & Improve Social Media Efforts

Michael Wasserman, CEO of the stream fundraising platform Tiltify, used another NonProfit PRO post to stress how the current crisis should push fundraisers to boost use of social media as people naturally turn to social platforms to replace the lack of in-person interaction. The potential audience is huge: almost 80% of the population uses social media, with Facebook and YouTube having over 2 billion users per platform. Even newer sites like TikTok boast 500 million, Discord gets 250 million, and Twitch attracts 15 million daily visitors. Note that the Facebook Fundraisers tool has already raised over $2 billion, Wasserman points out, while even newcomer Twitch has raised over $115 million for various charities. So charities that still use elementary fundraising pages with a simple donate button, some text and an image are missing big opportunities to compete for attention in a space that the crisis is making even more crowded. He urges nonprofits to focus more on enticing content, such as video, which can leverage YouTube, the No. 2 search engine in the world with 2 billion registered users. Nonprofits should also consider using social livestreaming events for fundraising. An effort of a few hours can generate more than a campaign of months, he notes, citing the example of a group that raised in a week the amount it costs to run St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for a day, which is about $2.7 million. As an example of how to gin up donations, he imagines livestreaming a music celebrity connecting and interacting with fans online, perhaps asking people to donate in order to choose songs or get signed merchandise giveaways.

Social Distancing Doesn’t Stop Creative Outreach to Major Donors

What about the impact of “social distancing” on the traditionally face-to-face connections that engage major donors? Suzanne Hilser-Wiles, president of philanthropic consulting firm Grenzebach, Glier and Associates, offers some tips in a recent piece in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Start by showing you care and reach out quickly to ask how the donor is faring and discuss how the nonprofit is responding to the crisis. Enlist top executives to communicate with major donors about plans for moving forward, with consideration for the appropriate communication channel; for example, e-mail can quickly provide a direct but formal assurance, while social-media platforms offer a more human touch. Ad hoc “investor calls” may be appropriate for smaller groups of donors. For major donors and prospects, consider developing a specific message with a more in-depth perspective and request for their input. Highlight the nonprofit’s expertise and how gifts support efforts relevant to the COVID-19 crisis. A museum might share national media interviews with staff members, or an academic medical center might point to resources on the university’s coronavirus webpage, for example. And don’t abandon events; get creative with virtual format substitutes, such as a conference call or webinar to let donors stuck at home see a presentation about a gift opportunity. For example, instead of a brunch with a scholarship recipient, donors can have a phone or video call with the student, she points out.

 

How Nonprofit Fundraising Can Weather Pandemic Impacts

AccuList’s nonprofit fundraising clients are facing a novel crisis as the novel coronavirus pandemic shuts down business-as-usual across America and threatens recession. Humanitarian causes such as food banks, homeless shelters and senior-care services are feeling the pinch as food donations from panic-buying-hit grocery stores and dollars from corporations drop, and self-quarantines eliminate volunteers. At the same time, rising numbers of people, especially the old and the poor, are becoming food and shelter insecure. Meanwhile, nonprofits that rely on events for fundraising are especially hard-hit.

Stay the Course on Fundraising Efforts

Based on fundraising experience in previous crises, such as 9/11 and the 2008 recession, AccuList joins other experts in urging nonprofits not to cut back on fundraising efforts during this critical period.  Indeed, since event fundraising is likely to be cancelled or postponed, now may be the time to shift resources into high-response workhorses like direct mail. And for some causes directly impacted by pandemic issues (food banks, homeless shelters, elder care, emergency health and medical supplies), fundraising messages may be especially resonant and effective now. Yes, philanthropy has trended at 1.5% to 2.5% of GDP annually since 1978, and it’s pretty clear GDP (and thus fundraising) is going to take a hit in 2020. But as a NonProfit Pro magazine article by Craig Depole, president of direct-response fundraising agency Newport ONE, warns, organizations that pulled back and stopped soliciting after 9/11 and the 2008 recession took years to recover from their losses, “while organizations that continued to solicit their donors with messages of need and impact emerged stronger and healthier.”

Take Steps That Will Bolster Fundraising Appeals

Depole’s NonProfitPro article goes on to outline a number of steps to make fundraising outreach more successful during a national crisis: 1) Double-down on stewardship of donors (more thank-you phone calls, impact reporting, staff engagement); 2) Keep talking with donors and share compelling stories, with humanitarian charities especially able to cite the transformational impact of donations; 3) Acknowledge the fears of donors who are watching stock portfolios decline and engage with them as partners rather than ATMs; 4) Review messaging for relevance, clarity and appropriate tone; and 5) Have alternative plans ready to go, say in case your mail shop or creative team is quarantined, or you need to substitute for promotional supplies from China.

Focus Retention & Prospecting on Weathering the Crisis

As a Network for Good blog post by Kimberly O’Donnell stresses, “In uncertain times, one thing is certain with fundraising—the more you plan, the better off you will be.  Successful fundraising during a recession is two-pronged: 1) Focus hard on donor engagement and retention, and 2) Use intelligent prospecting techniques to recruit new followers and supporters…. When you work to retain your donors while broadening your reach, you hit the nirvana needed to withstand hard times.” A poll of fundraising agencies by The Nonprofit Alliance similarly offers two cogent responses to how agencies are preparing nonprofit clients for the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. One respondent advises, “As this unfolds, my advice will likely be the same as to every other major disruption, including 9/11: 1) Acknowledge the crisis and state how the organization is helping solve it; 2) Stay the course, (and) don’t cut back on acquisition and renewal efforts.” Another adds, “Election fundraising, along with a huge drop in retirement savings, will create a terrible environment for suggesting a donor should consider an upgraded level of giving this year.  Focus on mission, and focus on renewing their support at any level.  You need to fear 2020 donor attrition like never before and prevent it to the best of your abilities.  Focus on how many active donors you will have to begin calendar 2021.”

Election Year Is Double-Edged Sword for Nonprofit Fundraisers

AccuList’s nonprofit fundraising clients are entering a presidential election year, arguably one that is more contentious and partisan than usual. Will that be good or bad for fundraising? What strategies will help navigate the political crosscurrents to reap donations?

Political Ferment Can Churn Up Donations for Some

Research by online fundraising platform Classy has found that an “election effect” can drive an “unprecedented increase” in recurring donations for some nonprofits aligned with politically charged issues. For example, Classy reports that, after the 2016 presidential election, nonprofits directly opposed to President Trump’s policies, actions, or ideology saw a “surge in donations.” As another example, research by the Lily Family School of Philanthropy found donations increased significantly for “charities associated with progressive or liberal causes mentioned during the election” in the week after the 2016 election. Per 2019 Classy research, 46% of respondents said their political beliefs dictate the organizations or causes that will receive their donations. Classy suggests some basic strategies to use political winds to propel efforts to bump up new donors and recurring donations: 1) go back through donor data from the 2016 election to see how donations were affected before and after election day, taking into account political party as well as demographics and the timing of spikes; 2) pay attention to news about political issues that my relate to your cause for timely and targeted positioning of appeals; 3) reach out to existing donors and ask how the 2020 election is impacting plans to donate in order to decide how and when it’s best to ask for a donation; and 4) embrace flexibility in strategy so that you can adjust efforts to shifts in the national conversation.

Other Fundraising Efforts Can Be Pushed Offstage

Not all nonprofit causes can be linked to political issues. In a Forbes magazine post, Gloria Horsley, founder of Open to Hope Foundation, acknowledges the positive “election effect” for fundraisers that align with political agendas but notes a potentially negative impact on other nonprofits when more politically charged sectors noisily take center stage and siphon donor attention. She urges nonprofits that can’t find a way to make a connection to a political issue to reemphasize why the mission is just as critical despite the election noise. One approach is to illustrate how helping the nonprofit can produce tangible results, in contrast to the less certain outcomes of political efforts. People like to know they are making a difference and to have an emotional connection to a cause. Donors with an emotional connection to an organization will dig deeper and stay longer—even in an election year. That’s where good storytelling content makes a difference. In a post for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), fundraising consultant Linda Wise McNay cites storytelling as one of the top eight 2020 trends that nonprofits should embrace. She urges messaging to provide donors and prospects with a compelling case for support by collecting intimate, personal stories about beneficiaries of the nonprofit’s work, and then sharing those stories in print, online, on the phone and in person.

Taking Sides Can Result in Donor Losses, Too

Of course, McNay of AFP also lists the election as a major trend affecting nonprofits in 2020, but she sounds a note of caution: “Our conversations public and private are filled with comments and opinions on candidates and issues. Be wary of saying anything too controversial to your constituents that may be considered taking a position on one side or the other. Double up your efforts to fulfill the mission and goals of your organization, being careful not to take any political stance that might offend your donors and prospects and thwart your fundraising efforts. Your goal is to be still operating after the election, no matter which side wins the election in November.” One way to stay on the right side of your audience is to know them and target appropriately, and that means leveraging another key 2020 trend cited by McNay: access to, and analysis of, high-quality data on existing donors and prospects. AccuList will be happy to help with that data!

 

 

 

Ticketing and Giving Trends Are Positives for Performing Arts

Heading into 2020, AccuList’s performing arts marketing clients can take advantage of positive trends in both fundraising and ticketing sales according to recent studies.

Performing Arts Giving Holds Steady 

While the Giving USA 2019 report released in June showed declines for many charitable giving sectors from 2016 to 2018, arts fundraising stood out by remaining relatively flat. Adjusted for inflation, giving to arts, culture, and humanities increased 11.1% between 2016 and 2017, declined 2.1% between 2017 and 2018 (though a 0.3% increase in current dollars) and ended up with a cumulative increase of 8.7% between 2016 and 2018, thanks to 2017 donations that reached the highest inflation-adjusted amount for the sector on record. Underneath the numbers are three important lessons for our performing arts clients, as fundraising counsel Alexander Haas points out in a recent post. First, a focus on high net-worth individuals via upper-level membership programs, project-related major gifts, and targeted marketing campaigns is likely to pay off, as proven by 2018’s 2.6% increase in gifts of $1,000 or more, and the fact that, of the 90% of high-net worth households giving, a quarter focused on arts donations. Second, targeted campaigns and quality donor lists are essential as fewer individuals give and a greater percentage of philanthropic revenue comes through larger gifts. Finally, online giving can be a boon to performing arts; for example, the Blackbaud Institute’s 2018 Charitable Giving Report showed that online gifts represented 9.5% of overall giving to arts organizations in 2018, and the 5.8% growth in online giving to the arts outpaced other nonprofit sectors by four times. Making online giving a convenient option for donors and members is one way to offset the decline in smaller gifts.

Marketing Innovations Help Ticketing Upward Trend

An October Reportlinker market research report forecasts a 5% compound annual growth in ticket sales from sporting events, movies, concerts, and performing arts events in the 2020-2024 period. While sporting events and concerts popularity is a key driver of growth, the research also credits a number of innovative marketing strategies for pushing ticket revenue, such as flash sales, early-bird offers, access codes, public discounts and adoption of mobile applications to make tickets more readily available to consumers. The integration of analytics with online ticket platforms–to automate services, to enhance more efficient back-end operations, and to better track and monitor consumer preferences–is also seen by researchers as a positive for ticket sales growth. Meanwhile, the secondary ticket market, especially in sports, is projected to have an even higher 9% compound annual growth rate in the same period despite a rise in fraudulent activities and artist opposition. A positive on this front is the adoption of blockchain to keep track of buyers and sellers in the secondary ticket market, helping to prevent fraud by scalpers, bots and touts.

For more detail on performing arts giving trends see the Alexander Haas post.

 

Case Studies Show How Nonprofits Can Improve Donor Mail Results

As AccuList’s nonprofit fundraising clients enter their busiest direct mail season, the team thought it might be worthwhile to pass along three case studies from the CharityHowTo blog, showing some basic ways to pump direct mail performance.

The Case for Donor List Segmentation

Donor list segmentation is essential, and delivers dividends even for those starting from scratch. For example, the blog post cites the case of a new executive director at a human services organization that lacked results of historical appeals in terms of targeting and pieces sent. The executive director decided to develop a recency, frequency, monetary (RFM) segmentation and so exported the donor base and began to divide it into sections by last gift date, amount of donation (high to low) and most recent to older. In this case, the executive director broke out donors who had given a gift of $250 or more at some point; these “best” donors were going to receive the same appeal as the others, but the new executive director was also going to include a handwritten personal note with each letter and send the appeal by first-class mail. All other donors were broken out by recency, treating the 0-24 months donors as  “active” donors, and then further segmenting for those giving below $100 and those giving $100-$249.99. There was a separate segment of “lapsed” donors defined as donors who hadn’t given in the last 3 to 5 years, and even a deep lapsed segment who hadn’t given in 5 years or more. Then all segments, coded for results tracking, were mailed a personalized letter and personalized reply form. Even though just starting out, results improved in terms of total donations and efficiency, with an overall cost of just $0.04 for every dollar raised (compared with an industry average cost of $0.20 cited by the blog). Plus, the nonprofit now had proven segmentation results for use in further improvement of efficiency and targeted messaging.

The Case for Increased Mail Frequency

If you don’t ask, you won’t get, but nonprofits worried about costs and donor fatigue often err on the conservative side when deciding how frequently donors should be mailed. The blog cites the case of a homeless shelters executive director who was initially against mailing more than twice a year, even though they had some 65+ homeless people that they were supporting each day. Because they needed to raise more money, they finally tried adding two more appeals per year. Of course, the added appeals increased costs, but they also increased net revenue by 32%. The cost to raise a dollar with two appeals was $0.12, and with 4 appeals went up to $0.20, yet the overall net dollars after costs rose from $51,227 to $67,590.

The Case for Tapping Recent Donors

Research shows that donors who gave most recently are also most likely to give again. For doubters, try testing a segment of recent donors (0-3 months or 0-6 months). And of course, you will want to segment out those recent donors who give the largest amounts and offer special treatment, such as an appeal with a personal note of thanks for their gift and an indication that you’re just sending the latest appeal for their information only (even though of course you’re going to include a reply envelope). However, the case study of an environmental organization shows why hesitancy to mail a donor too soon is often misguided. The organization typically mails about 5 times a year; once someone reaches the $1,000 level, they go into a personal note stream. Results show that while the 7-month-to-one-year donors deliver the most net revenue and average gift, the next best performing segment is the recent 0-to-3-month donors in terms of net revenue and average gift!

 See the complete article for useful charts and details.

Positive Industry Trends Buoy Museum Marketing

AccuList’s museum marketing clients can take heart from a number of trends that are boosting museum appeal to visitors and donors, according to a recent report on the museum industry from ticketing solutions provider Acme Technologies.   

Demographics, Political Angst, Tech Innovations Boost Museum Interest

Demographics favor museum marketers, the report notes. The baby-boomer generation, the most populous generation still living today, is made up of the most loyal frequenters of museums and galleries among generations, while data shows the tech-savvy millennial generation, which demands stimulation and interactivity, is being wooed by modern museums’ innovative tech and design. Museum appeals are even benefiting from our contentious politics today as conflicting media, heated partisanship, and rapid social change drive the public to seek out museums as safeguards of knowledge, culture, and history. Finally, technology trends are transforming museums from halls of dusty relics to efficient institutions using novel and interactive solutions to improve visitor experiences, with digital systems integration, VR, and greater disabled accessibility for example.

New Tactics Help Museum Marketers Leverage Trends

The Acme report notes a number of tactics that will help museum marketers leverage the demographic, cultural and technological trends in their favor. For one, galleries, zoos and other foundations can integrate traditional displays with innovative tools that allow audiences to experience collections in new ways. For example, the Netherlands’ Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is using Virtual Reality to provide a unique view of the famous painter’s works, while the Cleveland Museum offers a digital map that visitors can access via their smartphones to navigate exhibits. Social media is another boon for savvy marketers. Instagrammable selfies are becoming intentional features in museum tours as an attractive souvenir that visitors create themselves. An example is the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s “Snap + Share” show about social media, photography, and “selfie culture” influence on art. One interactive hit is an artwork that encourages visitors to snap a selfie with their head in a freezer, and tag the museum in the resulting Instagram post. Finally, museum and zoo marketers are increasing reliance on data-driven decisions. Data analytics offer insight into museum-goer trends for strategies that widen audiences and increase donations. The report cites the example of The Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, Spain, which hired data analytics provider Synergic Partners to analyze tourist visitation trends for a special Picasso exhibit. Information gathered showed the most common nationalities of visitors, and allowed the museum to better cater to their needs and expectations. For more marketing trends and examples, see the full museum industry trend report.

Brain Science, Industry Data Bolster Direct Mail Fundraising

As digital, mobile and social media expand their donor influence, some nonprofit marketers prepping for the all-important fourth-quarter may wonder about direct mail’s role as a fundraising workhorse. To underscore why it’s essential to keep direct mail in harness, AccuList can not only cite years of success as a direct mail list broker and data services provider to fundraising clients, but also the latest brain science and marketing industry data.

Science Shows Donor Brains Respond to Direct Mail

Marketing channels and technology may be changing rapidly, but the human brain hasn’t changed in size and basic construction for about 500,000+ years, and mail marketers have a brain advantage, notes a recent NonProfit PRO article by Christopher Foster, vice president of business development at Modern Postcard. Neuroscience has shown that direct mail taps two basic parts of the brain: the cerebral cortex and the amygdala-hippocampus pairing. The cerebral cortex
is where we process information, think about messaging and language, and weigh the pros and cons of decisions. Unlike the truncated messaging of digital, e-mail and social, direct mail can engage this part of the brain by describing benefits and citing the objective reasons that a nonprofit is the best choice for donor dollars. Plus, research consistently shows that people trust print/direct mail information more than digital channel info. Of course, recall and emotional engagement are key drivers, and the amygdala and hippocampus, combining long-term memory with emotional response, favor direct mail over digital, too. In fact, research shows that direct mail is 35% stronger than social media and 49% stronger than e-mail when it comes to long-term memory encoding, and 33% stronger than e-mail and social media in the engagement that drives memory encoding. Overall, direct mail’s motivation response is 20% higher than digital media, per Canada Post research.

Mail Spurs Donor Response and Retention in Omnichannel Efforts

While the volume of direct mail has decreased by about 2% each year since 2015, this has actually helped boost direct mail effectiveness by helping it stand out in the messaging blitz of the digital era. In fact, the Data & Marketing Association (DMA) 2018 direct mail response rates were 9% for a house list and 5% for a prospect list, way higher than any other channels (such as e-mail, social media and paid search at 1%). As a result, mail’s median ROI is also higher than most digital channels. Direct mail, of course, works even better integrated into an omnichannel campaign, where it actually spurs digital results; for example, studies show donors are three times more likely to give online in response to a direct mail appeal than to an e-appeal. Plus, direct mail drives donor retention; for example, 70% of donors have restarted a relationship because of direct mail, per DMA data. And direct mail is efficient at retention; the Association of Fundraising Professionals reports direct mail costs $0.25 for every $1 from recurring donors.

The Right Fundraising Tactics Capitalize on Mail’s Strengths

However, direct mail’s fundraising success is certainly not a given. A recent NonProfit PRO article by Jen Linck, chief marketing officer for Corporate Giving Connection, cites some important strategies, beginning with list segmentation and targeting to avoid wasting time and resources sending costly direct mail to bad leads. We would note here that, for effective segmentation, data quality is key, which requires prospect lists from reputable sources and good hygiene of house lists (note that 20% of addresses in donor databases are out-of-date, per research). Then get creative to capture attention and drive envelope opens via tactics such as dimensional mail and a large or unconventional sized envelope, urges Linck. And make sure the direct mail pieces add value to the audience’s lives by including a special offer or a promotional gift of branded materials for everyday use, such as a notepad. But remember that content needs to tap both logical persuasion and emotional connections in donor’s brains! Because 63% of donors want to know how their donation will be used, use specific donation amounts to tell donors how they help and quantify how previous amounts donated have been used, but also inject emotional examples into the dollar results. Finally, remember that direct mail works best when it is integrated into an omnichannel campaign, so be sure to incorporate digital technology by including QR codes, short links or text keywords for use across all channels. Plus, links should direct donors to a branded, campaign-specific landing page, since 38% more donations happen when landing pages are branded and campaign-specific, and 66% of those same donors are more likely to come back and donate again. For more tips on integrating direct mail with digital fundraising, see this MobileCause infographic.

Most Nonprofits Upbeat on 2019 Fundraising Growth

The most recent survey of nonprofits and donors by the Nonprofit Research Collaborative (NRC), a coalition of professional fundraising associations, finds that 60% of respondents expect to raise more money this year than they did in 2018! That’s encouraging news for AccuList’s many fundraising clients as they head into their key year-end giving campaigns.

Tax Law Impact Not As Averse As Expected

Many fundraisers feared the new tax law would undercut giving, but the survey found that only a 17% minority reported a negative impact from the tax changes, and only 16% of donors said they would change the amount or method of their gift this year because of changes to the tax law. It is true that certain continuing tax trends prove challenging for fundraisers, such as bundling or bunching, in which donors provide multiyear support but give a large donation for an itemized filing in just one tax year and then skip contributions in the following year or years. Since most nonprofits rely heavily on year-end gifts from loyal donors, the bunching is problematic. Still, only 30% of nonprofit respondents reported that some donors were bundling.

Feared Donation Drop Doesn’t Materialize

Based on various reports of reduced giving, many nonprofits were concerned about fundraising growth, yet the NRC online survey of individual donors in March of this year found 56% said they gave the same amount in 2018 as in 2017, 33% gave more, and only 11% gave less. As a result, 63% of fundraisers said their charities did raise more money in 2018 than the previous year. Overall, 73% said they met their 2018 fundraising goals. It’s no wonder most fundraisers (60%) are confident they will raise even more in 2019. Not all charities participated equally in 2018 growth, of course. Charities with budgets of $3 million to $49 million reported the most fundraising increases in 2018 over 2017 levels. And environmental and animal charities in particular were most likely to meet 2018 fundraising goals.

Multi-Channel, Multi-Contact Strategy Remains Key

Melissa Brown, author of the report and manager of the NRC, stresses that the upbeat forecast for fundraising needs to be undergirded by targeted, relevant, engaging direct mail and e-mail contacts. While most channels remained essentially flat in 2018 in terms of dollars raised compared with prior years, direct mail fundraising growth dipped slightly, with 41% of charity respondents saying they saw growth in fundraising through direct mail compared with 50% in 2017. Overall, the survey supports both the need for a multi-channel fundraising strategy and frequent contacts with donors. On average, after the first gift, organizations send about 3 more appeals by mail, an average of 4 appeals by e-mail, and invitations to events, including stewardship/recognition activities. However, both direct mail and digital communications are most effective when they go beyond dollar demands to provide meaningful connections with the mission and explanation of the impact of a gift, per the survey “One of the biggest reasons people stop giving is they feel like they’re becoming ATMs instead of being partners,” Brown warns. See the full survey 

Facebook Both Boosts and Challenges Fundraising Efforts

AccuList helps its nonprofit clients with fundraising via direct mail and events as well as digital channels, and online giving certainly has seen tremendous growth in recent years. But the latest M+R Benchmarks report shows a distinct slowdown in nonprofit online revenue. After years of steady growth (a 23% increase in 2017), online fundraisers reported just 1% growth in 2018. Exploring the why behind that drop yields some important lessons for fundraisers moving forward, especially when it comes to Facebook campaigns.

Facebook Changes the Game, But Are Nonprofits Ready?

M+R cites multiple trends underlying lower online revenue growth—from declining e-mail response, to more low-dollar mobile traffic, to falling online donor retention. But the report starts by noting how rising Facebook usage has both undercut revenue measures and signaled potential for future growth. Yes, changes to the Facebook algorithm resulted in, on average, only 7% of followers seeing any given post, but use of Facebook Fundraisers’ peer-to-peer giving really took hold for the first time in 2018. However, because of the way the donations are processed, the Facebook Fundraiser dollars were not included in M+R online revenue calculations. It’s an important missing piece for revenue growth: The Facebook Fundraiser tool for hosted fundraising now accounts for about 99% of all nonprofit revenue processed on Facebook, with nonprofits raising $1.77 through Facebook for every $100 raised through other online channels, per M+R. The impact is big for some sectors. For example, health nonprofits received $29.88 from Facebook for every $100 in direct online revenue in 2018, accounting for about 30% as much revenue as every other source of online revenue, including e-mail, web giving, monthly donors, digital ads, and search. To turn the new Facebook Fundraiser use into a bigger revenue boon, notes the M+R report, nonprofits would need to make an effort to get more individuals (the average now is 56) involved in hosting fundraisers and in attracting both more donors and higher-dollar donors (now the average per hosted fundraiser is seven donors and a modest $31 gift per donor).

Ignorance of ROI Is Far From Bliss

Another recent study pointed to a deeper issue with nonprofit Facebook efforts. The 2019 Digital Outlook Report—from care2, hjc and nten—found that nonprofits surveyed reported spending anywhere from $0 to $100,000 on Facebook and Instagram campaigns. But the majority (over 75%) answered “don’t know” when asked about any resulting revenue! Clearly, the report urges, staff need training in analytics, whether using Google or another tool, as well as calculating not only resulting donations but the value of lead generation, e-mail signups, event attendance, etc. If there is any good news from this kind of ROI blindness, it is that Facebook probably has untapped potential.

Tips for Optimizing Facebook Fundraising

CauseMic recently offered some helpful tips for fundraising with Facebook. In using Facebook Fundraiser, in order to benefit from site traffic and donor information as well as dollars, start by disabling the “donate” button and direct supporters to donate on your website rather than through Facebook. Donors will learn more about the mission and fundraisers can stay connected with them for better retention. Second, nonprofits shouldn’t focus only on the Facebook tool hosting fundraisers; they can use promoted posts and ads to grow the support base, interact with supporters, promote events, etc. When a breaking news story or emergency occurs that impacts giving, it can be incorporated into social media outreach to spread the word and raise money more quickly. Just make sure to use tracking analytics and calculate result values to avoid the ROI ignorance identified in the Digital Outlook Report noted above! Plus, make sure that Facebook is a consistent piece of a multi-channel strategy, and remember that it offers a proven response driver to multi-channel campaigns: video. Use the platform to post videos about donation impact, to host live videos, to publicize upcoming events, and to tell the organization’s story with visual/emotional resonance. Finally, pay attention to timing in planned Facebook campaigns; M+R found that nearly a quarter of all Facebook revenue is raised in the month of November.

For more on general trends in online fundraising, see the latest M+R Benchmarks.