The Great Fundraising Mandala

blog_pic_2-3-16_squareThe dynamics of successful direct response fundraising has been described as a three-legged stool: Strategy (analytics) drives Creative (tactics) drives Performance (data), from which Strategy generates analytics. That brings us back to the first leg of the stool.

Remove one leg from the relationship and the stool falls over. Simple.

But there is an inherent weakness in the simplicity of this construct. It leaves out the most integral component, namely the donor. More specific, his or her attitudinal and behavioral fabric.

After all, donors react emotionally and rationally — or not — to the strategically considered, tactically rendered communication sitting before them. That’s the reality behind “Performance,”  and it directly influences the direction of subsequent strategies and tactics.

Perhaps better to visualize the fundraising dynamics as a wheel, or, because of the cyclical, concentric, and interdependent nature of its components, a mandala (to borrow from Eastern philosophies.)

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Slacktivism or Sloppiness?

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There’s a tendency for direct response traditionalists to dismiss the value of social media as a viable fundraising channel. It is clear that social media has an important role to play in mobilizing “movements” (Occupy Wall Street, etc.) but its effectiveness as a fundraising tool is less clear. Hence, “slacktivism: the act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.” (Urban Dictionary)

A study by the journal Sociological Science found that only 0.24% of those who signed onto a recent Facebook cause page for aid to Darfur actually contributed money. Worse, 72% never recruited another member, which at first glance should be a strength of social media.

But what creates this phenomenon? Is it the nature of the channel itself, the behavioral characteristics of its primary audience, or simply the sloppiness with which so many social campaigns have been constructed? Surveying a broad range of social fundraising and activism sites, some observations may be drawn:

  1. Low pain/high gratification. In direct mail and email, we know that a low gift ask (low effort, low pain point) generally attracts more, but less loyal, followers. Throw in a premium (high gratification) and the net effect intensifies.

    High pain/low gratification. Conversely, traditionalists know that asking for a higher dollar value and making the donor engage in some kind of involvement action (high effort, high pain point), without public acknowledgement or a premium (low gratification) will certainly result in fewer, but more loyal and retainable donors. In the end, these donors deliver a high revenue pay-off once the cost to acquire them has been recovered.

    A social media campaign that requires simply clicking a support button (low effort, low pain point) in return for the shine one’s social reputation attains with public acknowledgement (high gratification) will get lots of hits, but probably not net a large number of loyal supporters who will stick with the cause, or do more than was asked.

    What if they were asked to do more for less? Don’t like, give. Give not once, but monthly. Send an email to a friend — not a social share, not a like, but a new effort in a new channel. Send a USPS mailing address of a relative who would also give/volunteer/vote. Number of hits would dramatically drop BUT in all likelihood those that engage will evolve into true long-term constituents.

  2. Deliver the story but demonstrate the solution. We know that emotional stories can create appeals that resonate. However, equally important is the demonstration that the donor’s support can translates to a solution.

    Most social media cause sites are strong in emotion, but rarely give time or space to exactly HOW the donor’s action will be used to remedy the problem. Moreover, it is hard to demonstrate why a “like” will solve the problem. Money, on the other hand, or volunteer action, or referral of others who will donate and volunteer, is easy to demonstrate. Unfortunately, so often it is not.

  3. Especially in a noisy environment, brand does not motivate. Direct response fundraisers continually challenge themselves to establish unique selling propositions, even within individual campaigns, and not rely on organizational brand value.

    Social media, including crowdsourcing sites, are crowded and noisy. Yet I see little attempt to differentiate the voices of the appeals themselves. Instead, social media appeals tend to rely on organizational brand and mission to motivate the donor audience to self-select from the many charitable opportunities.

  4. Donor as star. Traditionalists know that the real star of any fundraising appeal is not the organization or its noble mission. In fact, it is not even the hero/victim of the story. The star of an appeal is the donor. It is no easy feat to cast the donor quickly and effectively in the role, regardless of media and channel.

    The immediacy and intimacy of social media should make it a natural tool to leverage this fundraising construct. I see little evidence of it occurring on social and crowdfunding pages.

Is social media inherently weak as a fundraising channel? Do the generations that use them behave differently? Before we dismiss social channels, or toss around glib notions like “slacktivism,” we should be sure we are at least employing the practices that we use in other media.

Technology changes. User practice may even change as a result. Human behavior does not.

Updated from an earlier post.

The Fundraising 6-Pack: Architecture for Direct Response Appeals

blog_pic_1-24-16When writing fundraising appeals we’re often so focused on media, donor segment, communication channel, content, and offer that can we overlook the 6 essential architectural markers on which any effective appeal is built.

Regardless of media, technology, format or market segment, successful appeals usually hit the following 6 markers:

1. ENTER!
Get them in. Envelope teaser, banner head, email subject line…your donors will never respond if they never see your message to begin with. And to do that you have to get their attention.

2. GO!
Start them on their journey in the right direction. There is always a directional flow in great appeals, a clear starting line, heading to a clear finish line. Do your donors know where to start or are there competing elements in your appeal that are dividing their attention and perhaps sending them to an ask before your persuasive content is fully communicated? Pay attention to sequencing, order of insertion in direct mail and intermediate landing pages in digital as the donor journeys from the starting blocks to the finish line.

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“You are the Winner”: Fundraising lessons learned

blogpic_1-18-16A old friend of mine who works at a Catholic charity shared a letter he received from a donor several weeks ago. It read, in part:

“Last year I sent out letters to about 12 charities that I gave $50.00 or more to, and requested they acknowledge my letter regarding not sending any mail during the year with cards, crosses, statues, holy pictures and other little gifts I could not use.

“All  of you replied you would do that for me. I only wanted one receipt for the donation I gave once a year, [and] nothing more, as I was getting tons of stuff that I could not keep and also cost you guys money anyway.

“Well ‘YOU ARE THE WINNER’, they kept sending me things all year. Since you did not, [you] get a donation of $600.00.”

Lessons learned? Respect your donors’ wishes, listen to what they are saying, and act accordingly to satisfy them.

 

New Media Undies

Untitled-1This idea has been articulated many times, but it bears repeating.

Back in medieval Europe, with the rise of the merchants and craftsmen classes and the growth of urban industry, such as it was in the 10th Century, peasants started a general migration into the cities. With that migration these peasants came in close daily proximity to more genteel types of folks of both sexes. The laid back fashion standards of the fields — basically a simple tunic with one’s nether regions exposed on occasion — simply would not fly in the close quarters of the city where such exposures were the subject of great ribald humor. (Some things never change, I might add.)

So the demand for underclothing grew: shifts, briefs, the occasional undershirt in the colder climates, that sort of thing. Moreover, since they were worn so close to the more, shall we say, sensitive parts of the body, these articles were more comfortable, and therefore more popular, when they were made with cloth that was professionally woven in linen or cotton, not the coarse homespun stuff of the field.

The growth in urbanized communities also created the rise of the Medieval Bureaucrat, and with him came an increased demand for documents, which in turn spurred the development of paper making, because papyrus or animal skins, the accepted “channels” of their time, were expensive and hard to make or procure.

And what do you need to make medieval paper? You need rags, preferably those made from the longer weaves provided by, you guessed it,  professionally woven linens and cottons, the very same materials used in used in underwear. Continue reading