5 Themes From the ANA DC Nonprofit Conference

Today we host a conversation between Stelter Marketing Director & Creative Director Zach Christensen and Editorial Director Katie Parker.

Last week in D.C., nonprofit fundraisers came together to discuss the latest trends, explore issues and share insights at the ANA DC Nonprofit Conference. Zach and Katie were two of Stelter’s attendees and here they help you get caught up on five key themes.

Theme 1: It’s a Donor’s World, We Just Market In It

Katie: Donors today have more ways to come in contact with your mission and more ways to give than ever (but you already knew that). From Facebook fundraisers (appreciated at the conference for fresh funds but debated at the conference for the lack of brand control) to texting to canvasing to direct mail to email to splash pages to paid search, there are an incredible array of touchpoints.

And you’re not always the one in control.

Zach: We’ve talked a lot about the donor vortex and how a donor’s behavior has changed in recent years. Gone are the days of our donors following the traditional “donor pyramid”—starting as volunteers and transitioning to annual giver, major donor and finally ending as a planned giving donor.

Having a presence in a variety of channels has allowed donors to connect their passion to your nonprofit’s mission…sometimes sooner than they would have in the past.

Katie: Absolutely—it’s the good and bad of being out of the driver’s seat!

I also heard an idea from Amy Pawluk of Blakely of basing your marketing tactics on how you want the donor to feel, not what you want them to do. Take, for example, an educational email. You want a donor to feel inspired and maybe a little smarter. That’s the outcome—their emotional response to your touchpoint. If you can speak to their heart first you have the best chance to speak, ultimately, to their wallet.

Zach: I heard this too, in context of stewardship. Kurt Worrell from TrueSense Marketing encouraged people to make changes to their gift acceptance process. His tip: Just ask. Ask your donors how they would like to be stewarded, ask them what types of information and/or impact stories they want to feel informed.

Another thread I heard weaved throughout the presentations was the power of digging into donor data. Understanding each individual donor and developing organizational personas to help paint a picture for your staff and marketing partners.

Michelle Strong from Susan G. Komen gave us insight into how they’ve created donor journey maps to help fine-tune and test their marketing creative. For each “journey” they create a short description and name (example: Sue’s Journey – Suburban Style + Casual Donor). In addition, their journey map highlights a typical experience through awareness, consideration and conversation.

Lastly, each of these maps have all of the touchpoints that might encourage a potential donor to engage with their brand. I really liked how simple SGK made these maps and how useful they’ve become when creating branded content.

Theme 2: Data is Everywhere…and Overused

Katie: What if we weren’t judged by one mailer or one donor or one year’s goals? As fundraisers—and especially as planned giving fundraisers—the timeline is long. A single touchpoint rarely leads to a decision; it’s a long relationship full of small conversations.

The challenge raised at ANA is to stop living in the reply card returns from one mailer and the open rate of one email. Can we use those as testing points to improve our communication, but not as the ultimate judge of fundraising success?

Zach: Agree! And I go back to how important data is when developing personas that inform creative content and messaging. Marketing’s job is to ensure we’re delivering the right message to the right person at the right time—and data-informed personas will help us all get closer to that.

Katie: It’s the move to holistic measurements of engagement. Measuring the outcome versus measuring the channel or the single campaign.

Theme 3: Time Spent With Sustainers Is Time Well Spent

Katie: Much of the ANA conference was for fundraisers outside of planned giving, but I found the overall focus on sustainers meaningful in our space. Someone who believes in your mission so much that they want to give regularly makes a great candidate for PG material.

Zach: We know that donors don’t think of themselves as annual, major or planned givers; they are just interested in aligning themselves with a mission.

Katie: I heard a great quote from Amy Hauser at Children’s Hospital Foundation, “Stop thinking of planned giving as the last ask.” Really, planned giving is part of a donor’s journey and simply one mechanism they can use to express their personal values. I still love the consideration around plannual giving. 

Theme 4: Resend and Repeat

Zach: Lean into what works best! David Onte from African Wildlife Foundation encouraged us to get in inboxes more often and experiment with different “from” lines. Use the same or similar content across multiple sends and channels. Suppress those who opened and took action on the first email and resend with a new subject line to those who didn’t. Test, test, test!

Katie: Yes! Marketing 101 at work. I heard a take on the old Rule of Seven—which states that you need to reach out seven times before someone is moved to action—that claimed we may be entering a Rule of 30. Behind this the overall saturation of marketing.

Think of all the marketing you are delivered in a day: Not only is there a larger quantity, the consumer is savvier to tuning it out or turning it off. We have to be in front of people more frequently (and in a more personalized way) to motivate the next step.

Theme 5: Indices Matter

Zach: Consider the GDP when you consider your giving goals. Carol Rhine of Blackbaud spoke about how giving really hasn’t changed much since the early 50s. The ratio of giving has averaged 2% of GDP. Even in low economic environments, it hovers around 1.9%; in thriving times, 2.1%. Something to consider when you set your annual goals.

Another indicator she discussed is the moment when a majority of your list hits 50 years old. Primed financially to look outside their own family unit, it’s an age where charity can really take off.

Katie: Every topic covered at ANA makes me want to dig in and challenge ourselves: What can marketers effect in 2020, and how can we be in front of prospects who are ready to make a planned gift part of their connection to a nonprofit’s mission? One of my favorite lines from the conference was about global best practices that every nonprofit can win with. The answer, “It depends.”

It’s a great call to make personal, meaningful connections with your own audience, using the unique power of your own brand.

We’d love to hear about a session that inspired you at the ANA Conference! Acquisition, the upcoming political climate, legacy challenges…what was your key takeaway?

BONUS: Looking for more trends? You’re in luck!

Enjoy my recent webinar Understanding the Major Trends That Are Impacting Your Donors Today…and Tomorrow!

In it, I explore the socioeconomic changes that are impacting how donors approach their planned gift decisions and what that means for your marketing.

I look into how advancement in technology and broader access to information is blowing up our traditional donor pyramid. And, I review research that’s showing us a shift in the societal view of nonprofits and how it’s impacting the donor decision-making process.

Get the presentation recording and free handouts here.


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