Finding Long Term Value for Nonprofits in a Multichannel World
Posted by Guest Blogger at Oct 23, 2014 07:00 AM CDT

This article was written by guest authors Angelo Licursi, Vice President, Research Advisory Services, Paradysz, and Philip Fertick, Director of Acquisition and New Media, Feeding America.

We live our lives in an omnichannel manner; we consistently, and fluidly, move between online, offline, social, and direct means and resources to achieve our daily demands. In following suit with these evolving cultural norms and habits, fundraising programs are no longer relegated to direct, siloed channels, but now operate in an omnipresent environment where all channels influence and interact with one another. 

In addition to adapting to this multilayer approach, nonprofits now also have to battle fierce and growing competition for fundraising dollars. Donors today have more options to support a cause near and dear to their hearts because of the oncoming wave of nonprofit organizations entering the scene. With more choices and more technological resources to interact, donors are inundated with fundraising opportunities, and nonprofits must continuously strive to differentiate their organization and their ask. 

Nonprofits no longer have the option of dabbling in multichannel campaigns – it is now a prerequisite. However, despite these increasing demands for omnipresent engagement, many organizations are asking their fundraising teams to “do more with less,” to find ways to grow the program without the supporting budget to do so. To meet this challenge, nonprofits need to maximize the potential ROI for every fundraising initiative, channel and campaign.

Feeding America Goes Multichannel

Feeding America, the nation’s leading domestic hunger relief charity, recently underwent changes that resulted in re-focused organizational initiatives around digital and multichannel strategies. Direct mail, while traditionally the most successful avenue for acquiring new donors, and also the most expensive avenue, was still providing the organization with a steady and unrestricted stream of revenue, however, new online donor metrics were performing better. Online donors responded to acquisitions and asks with higher average gifts than their offline counterparts. 

As Feeding America focused on looking ahead to align with donors’ increasingly digital-first mindsets, they also had to accommodate the challenge of not abandoning core components of their audience who still prefer traditional direct mail. Feeding America looked to improve the long term value of ALL their programs. Investing and testing in multiple environments allowed Feeding America to more accurately determine where their higher value donors engaged and how best to facilitate continuous engagement. To implement the testing and deployment of long term value based campaigns, Feeding America turned to their fundraising partners including multichannel agency, Paradysz.

Paradysz, working in tandem with Feeding America and their fundraising partner, Thompson Habib Denison, determined that improving ROI can start with acquiring higher value donors. Lifetime value analysis showed that direct mail acquired donors that give more in acquisition tend to stay on file longer and give more over the course of their lifecycle. 

From there, Paradysz developed a streamlined targeting acquisition solution to upgrade the value of new donors. Offer-to-audience test strategy focused on targeted ask array among high gift prospect segments to maximize their giving potential, and ultimately to improve the ROI on the direct mail acquisition efforts. This implementation resulted in a 40% lift in gross revenue from high value segments as well as a 64% lift in gift averages from marrying higher asks to higher value audiences.

Extending the Giving Relationship

Some organizations make the mistake of thinking that a donor’s established giving value is at maximum capacity, but in reality, it’s possible to extend the giving relationship beyond set giving amounts and enhance the long term value of the donor relationship. Additionally, adopting an acquisition strategy that targets prospects likely to contribute higher long term value can also be implemented to develop more significant and sustainable relationships. To distinguish and cultivate those donors correctly, organizations should follow these three key steps:

  1. Investing in donor analytics that answers the following questions:
    • Who are your best donors?
    • How do you acquire them? 
    • What relationships are you cultivating with them?
  2. Developing streamlined segmentation and targeting practices that build off the key findings from your donor analysis.
  3. Testing new marketing techniques (offer, ask, channel, season cadence, etc.) to maximize the ROI from your segmentation and targeting practices.

Nonprofits should not be afraid to ask for what they want – higher gift values – but in asking for more, they need to consider who to ask, how to ask and how much to ask for. Implementing a sound long-term value plan through analytics, segmentation and continual testing gives organizations the insights they need to develop long term relationships with high value returns. 

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Shriners Hospitals for Children Turn a Teddy Bear into a Brand
Posted by Meg Mader at Oct 15, 2014 07:03 AM CDT

A teddy bear – we’ve all had one. It’s the iconic toy found in the arms of small children, and often adored by people of all ages. 

Shriners Hospitals for Children (SHC) turned an average teddy bear into a well-known brand ambassador, raising thousands of dollars to care for children in need – along with a nomination for the 2014 IMAB Integrated Marketing Award

Shriners Hospitals is a network of 22 nonprofit facilities serving children regardless of their families’ ability to pay. Children with orthopaedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, and cleft lip and palate receive the highest quality care and treatment in a family-oriented environment. Teddy bears may be used by SHC medical staff to educate a child prior to surgery, or children may receive a bear when they enter the hospital to help the patient focus on something other than their surgery. The use of teddy bears has long embodied the organization’s commitment to kid-centric education and comprehensive care, and helps the healing process for thousands of patients each year.

Last fall, SHC wanted to introduce their first brand ambassador – an icon recognizable to children and families that represents the love shown to all children receiving care at any of their locations. A teddy bear was the natural choice. On National American Teddy Bear Day, SHC launched a multi-channel campaign introducing Fezzy the teddy bear as the first Love to the rescue® brand ambassador. But before the big announcement, internal challenges had been overcome. 

Teddy Bear Brings Departments Together 

Like many organizations, most departments within SHC work independently, and rarely do their efforts overlap. The biggest challenge of this campaign was the effort required to bring all departments and stakeholders together to launch a successful campaign. With the help of their direct marketing agency, CDR Fundraising Group, and public relations firm First Degree, SHC staff worked together to communicate, collaborate and achieve their common goal ― make Fezzy the teddy bear a nationwide symbol of love to children and families.

The organization first engaged their audience through a Facebook vote to choose the name of this bear, appealing to online supporters of all ages. 3,000 votes later (with more than 14,900 likes and 2,500 comments), the teddy bear was named Fezzy. SHC then introduced Fezzy as their first Love to the rescue® brand ambassador through a press release and targeted emails to their network of supporters. 

A Toy, a Brand, and a Symbol of Love

Fezzy quickly became popular and was featured on both the Today Show and Fox and Friends. SHC capitalized on this media presence by using targeted keywords in their search engine marketing to help people searching for Fezzy find out more about him, with the opportunity to order their very own bear.

The successful campaign included a custom landing page, drawing more than 11,200 visitors with an average time on page of more than 3 minutes. The email component also contributed to the impressive campaign performance, as the two messages saw high open rates and click through rates ― from an email file that was previously not considered active.

To date, more than 960 four-foot tall bears have been sold to raise funds for the Shriners network of facilities. This multichannel campaign not only raised thousands of dollars for children’s healthcare, but Fezzy has in fact brought love to hundreds of children nationwide.

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Advocates as Donors Part 2: Activation and Conversion
Posted by Guest Blogger at Oct 09, 2014 07:02 AM CDT

This article was written by Molly Brooksbank, Senior Director of Digital Engagement at Sierra Club. Sierra Club is an IMAB Nonprofit Member.

In my last article, I wrote about building your nonprofit’s prospect list as the first part of a strategy to convert advocates to donors. Now, I’m tackling the next steps: activation and conversion. 

Nearly every ROI discussion on this topic I’ve seen focuses exclusively on converting advocates to donors and leaves out retaining people as advocates. Let’s face it, at least in the short term there is going to be a steep drop off between name acquisition and donor conversion -- but let’s not sell advocates who aren’t (yet) donors short. 

Some sources you may work with provide a great stream of solid and highly engaged advocates and volunteers, but have lower conversion to donors. Some provide both. Your mix should reflect your unique goals, so build your ROI model accordingly. You may also be able to use personas or predictive models to funnel advocates of different types into different messaging tracks designed to convert them to donors.

At the highest level though, there are still simple steps you can take to pick the advocates that have the highest likelihood for conversion. Assuming you have an email welcome series in place, you’ll want to map out when conversions are most likely to happen after a name is acquired. For the Sierra Club, we’ve found that two-thirds of the audience most likely to convert will do so within six months. Most come in after three months, but the long tail continues to return new donors for another 18 months. Asking for donations on the acknowledgement screens of your petitions is another tactic you can add to boost online fundraising 5-15% with minimal effort.

Keeping Activists Engaged

Key to both advocacy engagement and fundraising from advocates is keeping activists engaged in the reasons they first came to your organization. That means keeping campaign arcs fresh and focused, as well as introducing messaging tracks specifically focused on activation and reactivation. 

There are a couple of ways to do this depending on the frequency with which you run online advocacy campaigns:

  1. If you do a lot of advocacy, you can send only those actions that have superior engagement (e.g. performing some set level above internal benchmarks).
  2. If you’re broadly appealing actions are a bit less frequent, you might select a regular period to send the best still-relevant actions out to this group.

What’s important here is relevance, to ensure people take actions. However the frequency of those actions has different implications on who you might target for fundraising.

For example, Sierra Club ran an exceptionally large paid acquisition program in 2012, which allowed us to do some good integrated testing of those names. We found that in the mail, people who had taken action 7-12 months prior were only slightly less warm than the four to six months group, which were a smidge better than zero to three months. But the distinction was not enough to not mail any of these groups. Nor did it matter in the mail how many actions they had taken, so long as they had taken at least one action after being acquired. 

However, on the phone in converting to monthly donors , three to five online actions was the minimum to return results on names acquired through paid acquisition. And of course, this varied significantly by the paid source. As we’ve increasingly ramped up name acquisition from other sources, we’re seeing even better results from organic channels -- and as long as paid sources perform, there will always be a mix. 

There’s also a long way to go, for Sierra Club and for many organization, in terms of balancing investment in growing the base of supporters across membership and other important forms of engagement. What kind of conversion results does your organization see? Got a great strategy for managing the balancing act between programs and fundraising? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

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Be Inspired: Join the IMAB Next Week at bbcon 2014!
Posted by Allison Porter at Oct 03, 2014 07:00 AM CDT

Are direct marketing channels siloed at your organization?

Join the IMAB at bbcon 2014 to be inspired by three organizations that have broken down the silos within their organizations and are making a difference by integrating their multi-channel fundraising strategies.

These three IMAB award-winning organizations, have made coordinating their programs a strategic priority, and the proof is in the performance. Their stories of more engaged donors, integrated messaging that's relevant to their donors, and stronger results leveraging all channels are truly impactful and actionable for any organization — large or small.

Mike Johnston, Founder and President of hjc, and I will moderate this session, as representatives from these three organizations tell their compelling stories:

  • The Redwood, an organization dedicated to protecting women and children from domestic abuse, had the unique challenge of needing to shift a holiday gift donation program to a multi-channel fundraising program, to better serve the needs of the women and children that they served. The Redwood deployed a robust multichannel outreach campaign that generated significant improvement in performance, more relevant donations, and a way to connect donors to the items that the women and children really needed. Wendy Bray of The Redwood will share their process and outcomes with us and present their online gift catalog as a case study.
  • Laura Zylstra from the League of Women Voters of the U.S., will share multi-channel data trends and the cross-channel campaign strategies used throughout their acquisition and appeal programs. Having worked diligently for several years as an organization to strengthen the coordination across program areas and build their direct mail and digital campaigns year over year, the hard work is really paying off.  The League's multi-channel direct marketing program is at its highest level in history.
  • The Montgomery Area Food Bank serves one of the most chronically impoverished areas of the country. Their goal was to leverage a challenge match to raise critical support for an underfunded seniors program, allowing that program to serve more seniors in need. Sara Powell will share both the tactics and the results of a multi-level digital engagement campaign that was launched to great success, allowing this food bank to expand important services to seniors in need.  

Join us Tuesday, October 7 at 10:45am at bbcon 2014 as we lead an exciting discussion, Three Award-Winning Integrated Fundraising Campaigns, about what these organizations are doing to break down barriers to creating truly integrated direct marketing programs.  

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Advocates as Donors Part 1: Building Your Prospect List
Posted by Guest Blogger at Sep 24, 2014 07:01 AM CDT

This article was written by Molly Brooksbank, Senior Director of Digital Engagement at Sierra Club. Sierra Club is an IMAB Nonprofit Member.

If you run any part of a direct response or nonprofit digital program (’re reading this blog), you probably know that you can get a lot of bang for your buck through online supporter acquisition. But let’s set aside online whitemail acquisition for a moment -- those individuals whose first known connection with your organization is through a donation online -- and focus on prospects.

What prospect acquisition strategies can you use to build the biggest list without sacrificing quality? Which sources drive the most donations? How can you also measure the value of advocacy? And what does conversion of online advocates to donors look like?

I’ll address the first question today, with more to come in part 2. 

Unpaid Tactics

Unpaid list growth tactics are the place to start, not only financially, but several offer the benefit of an ongoing stream of prospects with low maintenance.

  • Sign ups: Yes, old school email sign-ups are still a thing, and still provide some of the highest quality prospects you can get. It also helps to “activate” them through any kind of low bar action beyond clicking a link.
  • Referrals: These come mostly through people who have actually just taken action, signed something, or made a commitment, and who are motivated to get their friends on board. ShareProgress offers some nifty tools that are optimized to boost referrals. Of course the technology has a cost, but it falls more under infrastructure than advertising.
  • List chaperones: List swaps, or chaperones as they are often called, are all the rage these days--and for good reason. These consist mainly of organizations sending one another’s petitions to their own audiences (either paid, or metered to create an even swap). And, while they can be a little more work, joint petitions (vs. swapped ones) and campaigns like the Union of Concerned Scientists’ “Got Science” quiz can have solid returns, too. The investment in staff time isn’t negligible -- though you often can leverage existing work -- but the payback in qualified prospects can be exceptional if the creative is strong.
  • Sub-branded content: This takes a little more explaining, but essentially, if you have maxed out what you can do on your main program, consider innovating new digital streams targeted to specific audiences. Sierra Club launched a purely online digital advocacy program called Sierra Rise, which focuses its campaigning strategy on audience interest and response. Where to focus is determined through extensive issue and message testing, following up only what really works and moving on quickly from tests that flop.

Paid Channels

If you’re looking for immediate financial ROI, you want to drive people directly to donations through most paid channels, but paid sources can be a great source for reaching prospects and advocates, too.

  • Petition (and other) direct acquisition sites: Don’t let the cost to acquire a prospect dissuade you until you test. Some sites that charge a bit more can do so because they provide better quality leads. Not everything works for everyone, so test a few angles over a few months or a year, and find out which will work best for you. But don't get married to any one source, and DO test old sources again -- quality can change a lot in a couple of years.
  • News and media sites: You’ll find that some news sites -- often the more partisan ones -- offer petitions with email sign up. There are even a few that offer this service at no charge because they generate value and loyalty with their targeted audiences by supporting well-aligned organizations.
  • Social advertising: Facebook ads for acquisition are still a bit more art than science for most (not all) nonprofit practitioners, but they are worth digging into. It’s relatively easy to get started, and you can target on a wide range of parameters including lookalike audiences. Applications like Action Sprout are also useful to capture names in-site.
  • “Traditional” digital advertising: Search, donation form visitor retargeting, household IP targeting, and cookie-based predictive models -- the options can be overwhelming, but a small test will go a long way. Always consider what the minimum test size is. If you don’t have this expertise in house, this is also where hiring consultants can be the way to go.


Once you’ve identified a source is fit for your organization and goals, there’s still always room to improve. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and a solid content strategy are fundamentals to supporting organic traffic and advertising. Web optimization testing tools like Optimizely are relatively straightforward to get started with -- though you’ll want to spend thoughtful time on which tests have the greatest potential. 

More to come in part 2. 

What other strategies have you used to drive large volume donor prospect acquisition? Share your thoughts in the Comments section!

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