A few weeks ago, my brother Jeremy and I met up at the American Council on Gift Annuities Conference in Seattle. Jeremy is Stelter’s director of business development for the Western U.S. and has helped fundraising professionals grow their gift planning programs through research-based marketing strategies for more than 15 years. While together, we talked about what it takes to run a successful donor marketing campaign in today’s nonprofit environment.
Today, I’m sharing our conversation on the changing marketing landscape and what it takes to rise above the noise (hint: It involves prioritizing the list).
N: You’ve been in the industry for awhile now, what do you feel are some of the biggest changes in the last 15 years in how nonprofits communicate with donors?
J: When I first started in this industry, vendors developed generic “spray-and-pray” marketing campaigns that consisted of canned, templated mailings that we would “spray” out to a very broad, undefined audience in hope that we would get some measure of response. Guess what? They would work!
Now, the fundraising environment has changed. More nonprofits than ever—more than 1.5 million, in fact—are competing for a donor’s attention and dollars. Donors don’t respond like they once did to planned giving communication because of fear of increased attention (and possibly more solicitations) and the advent of smart technology. They can now pull out their smartphones to immediately access information about the nonprofit that they’re interested in, so they don’t always need to send back a reply card.
N: Any other factors that you think have played a role?
J: Tightened budgets also have forced organizations to be smarter about who they market to and how. Add to that a desire among donors, particularly millennials, for a more personal connection with nonprofits and to see demonstrable “returns” about how their dollars are making an impact. All of these changes have made us re-examine how we communicate, strengthen connections and continue building donor bases.
So, to sum up donor communications in 2018:
“Sending a generic/canned marketing package to a broad, undefined group no longer works.”
N: If nonprofits need to tailor communication strategies to more sophisticated audiences, what’s the key to success?
J: I see three critical factors in play:
1] THE LIST. More than ever, donor lists must be kept up-to-date and segmented, or broken out into demographic differences that enable targeted, niche messaging that speaks to that particular group and moves them to action. These aren’t simply donor lists; they’re “your people.” Get to know them and speak to them accordingly. (Side note: We talk more about the power of segmenting lists in “Marketing to Jane Differently Than Joe” with a bonus download featuring 4 ways to use your segments.)
2] THE CONTENT. This is “what you say and how you say it” through calls to action, tone, length and accuracy of content. All are crucial and play into overall strategy and branding. The content should also be personalized to each list whenever possible.
3] THE CREATIVE. Packaging content into fresh creative design, backed by marketing strategy, is the “welcome mat” that draws readers in to your story and makes them want to be part of the next chapter.
Time and again, and across thousands of clients, we’ve seen measurable success when these three factors—list, content and creative—are tight, focused and working in tandem.
However, too many times we call on prospects who are not having success because they are sending canned marketing pieces to an unrefined list with content that does not speak to their donors.
At Stelter, we strive to help our clients get the right message (content), to the right group (list), at the right time, in a package that best reflects and reinforces our client’s unique brands (creative).
N: How can nonprofits rethink how and what they communicate?
J: Donors consider themselves partners in your mission and they want to know where their dollars are going. Show them! Tell them! Don’t just highlight your wealthiest donors who made another gift. Highlight your loyal, midlevel donors who were able to make a significant impact with their planned gift that they never thought possible. One story is all it takes for others to feel a “that-could-be-me” moment.
N: You have worked with many of our nonprofit partners over the years, what do you recommend when they ask “how do I flip that switch and ignite our donors to action?”
J: Only one out of every three planned giving donors will notify your charity of his or her planned gift, let alone respond to a planned giving marketing piece. Getting donors to notify nonprofits about their planned gifts is one of our biggest challenges as a marketing partner. A strategy that has recently worked well to generate more response and hand-raisers is targeted marketing campaigns.
Many of our clients have had success creating mini campaigns around a compelling event, such as a school’s anniversary, an outgoing president’s retirement or a capital campaign. For example, a school might be turning 100 years old and they create a “100@100” campaign to celebrate and grow their planned giving society.
For the San Francisco Symphony, we helped launch a 70@70 bequest campaign to celebrate the symphony and its music director’s 70th birthday. The symphony’s goal, which it met a month early, was to obtain 70 new gift intentions in 12 months. It worked, using both targeted and broad-based multichannel marketing, including targeted postcard packages that promoted the campaign, as well as print and digital newsletter highlights. Themed creative unified and polished the messaging.
Do you have events coming up that are campaign-worthy? How does list segmentation drive your content/creative? How have you made your mailings work smarter?