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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.

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.

Tech & Data Trends Spur 2019 Fundraising Opportunities

Despite 2019’s many challenges for nonprofit marketers, including competing for attention with political fundraising noise, trends in data analytics and technology offer good news for AccuList’s fundraising clients.

Fundraising Can Leverage Digital Innovations

Consider trends highlighted in this spring’s Nonprofit Technology Conference in Oregon. For example, nonprofit tech pros reported success using Digital Wallets, such as Apple Pay, Paypal and Google Pay, to make donating easier for donors and to increase conversions. AI and chatbots are another boon cited by tech experts, not just because they free up staff from time-consuming interfaces but because they can be used to segment audiences and tailor communications to boost donor acquisition, value and retention. Meanwhile mobile text messaging and mobile giving not only continue to grow in use, but nonprofits are learning to leverage SMS to trigger response, scale donor relationships and engage and motivate communities more fully. Online giving continues its growth path, but there are now more online giving services and their offerings are expanding. For example, Give Lively has free online fundraising tools for text-to-give, peer-to-peer, events, and integration with social media platforms such as Facebook. Finally, virtual-assistant voice services have entered the fundraising arena; for example, Amazon’s Alexa now can help donors verbally contribute up to $10,000.

It All Comes Back to Targeted Data

But for tech innovations to be effective, quality data and data analytics are essential. For example, fundraising efforts can use data to identify and segment those groups of current or inactive donors more likely to increase their donation dollars or flag donors to tap as future legacy donors. And data analytics can combine with real-time marketing automation, triggered e-mail series and variable data printing of personalized direct mail for improved donor acquisition. While the task of data collection and analysis can seem overwhelming, nonprofits don’t need to vacuum up every bit of big data for better results. The key is to collect and track the information in the donor database, or to select the key response factors to target in prospect lists, which are most likely to lead to success. Beyond the basics of name, address/contact, gender, age and date and amount of last donation, data targeting can be enhanced with parameters indicating donor capacity (the ability to give) and donor affinity (the willingness to give). Indicators of donor capacity include personal income/wealth measures, real estate ownership, business title, stock ownership, etc., while donor affinity parameters include the RFM (recency, frequency, monetary) of the donor or prospect giving history, past relationship/interest in a specific cause or affiliated appeal, and political affiliation and giving. Check out this article on donor data from Candid’s Philantopic blog for data management tips.

Beware Assumptions About Donor Data

A good database policy also includes regular hygiene and updating as well as an ongoing check for knowledge/data gaps. Classy, the online fundraising software provider, suggests challenging assumptions of donor knowledge by making sure analytics can deliver on these questions:

  • When are donors most likely to donate?
  • What is the average donation amount?
  • What is the average donation amount?
  • Are there different types of donors?
  • What is the reason for donation?
  • How does the donor liked to be thanked?
  • What is the donor’s communication channel preference?
  • What value does the donor get from donating?

See the rest of Classy’s suggestions on using data for fundraising.

Honoring Channel Preference Delivers Fundraising Wins

Donor control of communications channels is important for efficient fundraising contends DonorVoice’s The Agitator in a recent blog post worth passing along to AccuList USA’s fundraiser and fundraising consultant clients.

Cutting Costs and Boosting Deliverability

Fundraisers fret over opt-out rates in their efforts to grow donor files. Yet failing to learn and honor channel preference not only leads to higher opt-out rates but to wasteful marketing as well. People who opt out of telemarketing or e-mail channels are unlikely to give through that channel, so the resulting file reduction is actually a savings, cutting spending that annoys rather than produces. Plus sending e-mails to people who routinely don’t open them lowers overall e-mail deliverability, reducing e-mails that might get through to those who do want them, for another real but hidden cost.

Increasing Opt-ins and Donor Value

Giving channel control to donors can produce more quality file growth. DonorVoice has done two different tests of what causes people to opt in, and both show that donor communications control is the single biggest factor in whether someone will want to learn more from a nonprofit. Plus, another recent study by DonorVoice and the DMA Nonprofit Federation found that allowing donors control of their communications makes them more likely to donate, and that donors who provide and receive a communications preference tend to be more valuable donors. For example, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare coded people who requested less mail and sent them half as many appeals as those who stated no preference.  Those donors who requested and received half as many contacts actually gave more than the group that didn’t express a preference, per the DonorVoice article.  Catholic Relief Services also found that donors who requested a specific mail preference gave 6 to 8 times more per year, notes the same blog post. By asking for communications preference and honoring it, fundraisers identify more quality donors and make them more likely to stay.

Direct Mail Channel Still Leads With Donors

Despite the growth of online giving, channel preferences continue to favor direct mail, which is one reason it is still alive and kicking as a fundraising tool.  In fact, 73% of consumers say they prefer mail for brand communications, and that includes nonprofits, and 62% like checking the mail, per Epsilon research. Plus, mail gives nonprofits an edge in getting their message across since “brain science” research shows that printed appeals leave a deeper impression and stimulate more emotional processing. Plus, direct mail donors have higher retention rates; 31% of first-time offline donors are retained compared with 25% of new online donors, according to Blackbaud. For more on the case for fundraising direct mail, see this DonorVoice blog post.

Direct Mail Still Powers Fundraising, Especially Planned Giving

At AccuList USA, nonprofit interest in our direct mailing lists and services for fundraising remains strong despite the growing share of donor dollars collected via online giving. Some of the reasons that fundraising pros remain committed to mail power are cited in a recent article for The NonProfit Times by Mark Hrywna.

Direct Mail Is Vital in a Multi-Channel Mix

It’s true that nonprofit organizations are beginning to see a growing share of donations attributed to online giving, but as Steve MacLaughlin, vice president of data and analytics at fundraising tech firm Blackbaud, stresses in the article, online giving is still less than 10% of all charitable giving. Fundraisers need to avoid confusing the channel of engagement with the channel of transaction, he advises. Direct mail response certainly is no longer limited to mailed donations as many direct mail recipients go online to give; similarly, a mobile-device outreach or e-mail appeal can generate offline gifts. Even in an increasingly digital world, a good multi-channel mix will include direct mail.

Direct Mail Keeps Proving Its Power

Hrywna cites Make-a-Wish Foundation as an example of continued direct mail investment. When Chief Financial Officer Paul Mehlhorn started with Make-A-Wish Foundation in 2009, he recalls that he was told direct mail was a dinosaur that would be gone in five or six years.  Yet last year the national office exceeded 2009 direct mail revenue by several million dollars, going from $13.9 million to $15.3 million. “It looks to me like a program that can stay very strong for the next 10 to 15 years,” Mehlhorn asserts to Hrywna. In fact, Mehlhorn says he may expand on that direct mail success: “We continue to increase our investment in online giving. However, we are reconsidering our approach to direct mail and may increase our investment for direct mail in future years. As you get past the low-hanging fruit, [online] becomes almost as costly as direct mail. Unless you enlarge your donor pool, you’re going to be spending about the same.”

Direct Mail Has a Key Role in Planned Giving

Plus, while the revenue ratio of direct mail to online giving has gone from 3:1 to even at Make-a-Wish, there are some areas where direct mail retains an edge, such as planned giving. Make-A-Wish Foundation has seen revenue from planned gifts just about triple during the past four years, growing from about $2 million to $6 million, and Mehlhorn credits part of that success to actively promoting planned giving in direct mail as well as online campaigns. “A lot of the folks now making end-of-life plans are still in that generation that likes getting mail,” he points out.

For more, see The NonProfit Times article.

 

 

 

 

 

Use Digital Donation to Turbocharge Fundraising Direct Mail

AccuList USA would like to pass along some key facts to marketers planning fundraising direct mail: 1) 35% of all donors say they like to respond to direct mail by giving online (with 50% of Millennials and Gen Xers saying they prefer online response); 2) 51% of website visits are made via mobile device, and 3) mobile devices are now used by the majority to read e-mail (54% of opens) and access social networks (80% of social time spent). Bottom line, if you want to get the most from your nonprofit direct mail (still the best channel for capturing donor dollars), a multi-channel, mobile-optimized approach is essential.

How Nonprofits Miss Mail-to-Online Giving Opportunities

MobileCause has developed a powerful infographic laying out the case for a nonprofit direct mail-digital marriage. Unfortunately, many fundraisers fail to make an easy connection between direct mail and online response, and are discouraging donations as a result. As the infographic points out, 84% of donation pages are not mobile-friendly, 73% of nonprofits do not offer social sharing, and 65% of nonprofits require three or more digital clicks to donate.

Smart Practices Give Mail Multi-Channel Power

At the same time, the infographic data highlight ways to correct that digital lacuna in fundraising direct mail. First, commit to making direct mail part of a multi-channel campaign–because donors are 50% more likely to give when they receive multiple reinforcing messages via multiple channels. Fundraisers can even optimize response by catering to generational preferences: Millennials like text reminders, Gen Xers like e-mail reminders and Boomers like call reminders, per MobileCause. But for goodness sake, mobile-optimize e-mails, landing pages and donation pages! Then maximize donations by promoting QR codes, shortlinks and texting keywords across channels (and let the U.S. Postal Service reward that mailer QR code with a discount). Plus, data shows that by branding landing/donation pages to promote a specific mailer campaign or gift rather than a generic message, there’s a 38% increase in donation amount and a 66% likelihood that the donor will return and give again. Of course, don’t forget the basics: Make the call-to-action clear and giving easy to execute, whether by check or online.

Download the infographic for more tips.

E-mail Regaining Its Lead Role in Fundraising Digital Strategy

In 2017, e-mail is expected to regain its lead role in the digital efforts of nonprofit fundraisers, per numerous nonprofit marketing pros. Certainly, AccuList USA is ready to support that trend with a proprietary compilation of the top fundraising direct mail and opt-in e-mail lists  (check out our free download). In addition to smart list selection, fundraisers and fundraising consultants can make the most of a renewed e-mail focus with tactics like those provided in a recent post for thedatabank.com by Michael Stein, a nonprofit consultant and digital strategist.

Plan for a Successful E-mail Reboot

To maximize response, e-mail outreach in 2017 may require nonprofits to reboot, refresh and rethink, says Stein.  He urges marketers to address four basic issues before blasting out e-mails: Check to see if your e-mail template or e-newsletter needs a creative refresh; make sure the e-mail works well for mobile viewers; consider a rewrite of your welcome e-mail to new subscribers for better engagement; and develop new creative and messaging ideas to test for boosted e-mail fundraising appeal.

‘Mobilize,’ Personalize, Automate

Mobile readiness is essential for wooing donors, especially given, as Stein cites, the recent Movable Ink report that, across industries, 69% of e-mail opens were on a mobile device. A good mobile experience should extend from the e-mail subject line to the website landing page and, most importantly, to the donation page, advises Stein. Personalizing is another proven way to maximize e-mail response, and that means more than dropping in a first-name greeting. It means digital messaging with relevant, timely content based on smart e-mail list segmentation, using data such as event attendance, website downloads, and donation amount or frequency. Finally, marketers need e-mail automation, especially for timely engagement of new e-mail subscribers and donors. Automated responses should include key transactions such as e-mail subscription, event signups, and online giving, since these are often the most opened and read e-mails, says Stein.

Make It Graphic & Multi-channel

Testing by nonprofits has shown that use of graphics and video significantly boosts fundraising response rates. So write fewer words and show more images, urges Stein. Use a graphic to present a call to action or embed a video to replace a paragraph, for example. Finally, e-mail’s fundraising effectiveness is higher when it is part of an integrated multi-channel effort. That should include social media platforms since including social media advertising in digital campaigns often delivers a lift in revenues taken in by e-mails and websites.

For more advice from Stein, go to https://www.thedatabank.com/2017/03/harness-the-latest-giving-trends-for-digital-fundraising-success/ And if you like infographics and want benchmark data on what other nonprofits are doing with e-mail, check out http://blog.winspireme.com/nonprofit-email-marketing-infographic-ebook.