What Fundraisers can Learn from Direct Marketing

April 8, 2019 Louise Sparks

by Stacy Rooney, Principal Business Consultant at Blackbaud, and an annual giving expert

Prior to working at Blackbaud, I spent 10 years working in annual giving.  I’m embarrassed to admit that it hadn’t occurred to me in those years that all my work in annual giving was really direct marketing. It’s all about crafting a compelling message to convince an audience that you possess something they value.  The same techniques used to sell the latest tech gadget can be repurposed to promote philanthropic giving. Here are some of the ideas you should use to get started:

1. Track the effectiveness of your campaign

First, consider what success will look like for a particular campaign. Is it about the most pounds raised or more specifically the cost to raise a pound?  Are you trying to encourage participation in a campaign, regardless of the gift size?

It may seem like a no-brainer, but it requires careful thought and organisation to track the effectiveness of a many-faceted annual giving campaign. Generate a list of metrics or questions you’d like to know about. Focus your data collection on key areas, such as messaging, channel, audience, and timing. Watch your numbers year over year, and make careful adjustments (see #2). Track your adjustments. Did they substantially improve your ability to raise money? Learning how to collect data, organise it in a useful fashion, and then act upon it takes practice. Many direct marketing operations have this process down to an art form. Fundraisers who can take these best practices and reinvent them for university fundraising will more effectively raise money for their organisations.

2. Apply A/B testing to your materials

Direct marketers don’t just send out one advertisement and hope it works; they run ads against one another to see how audiences respond. Changing only one variable at a time so they can track what works and what doesn’t, direct marketers will use a small part of their budget to test messaging, channels, audiences, and more. For example, perhaps you send the same message out to all constituents, but one test group gets the message from the voice of a current student, and another test group hears from a popular faculty member. Once you’ve dialed in what works with your test audience, use the effective strategy to reach out to the masses.

A/B testing is a great tool for annual giving teams to use, especially when they need to make every dollar count. A/B tests help you to reduce your spend on appeals that won’t work and refocus the bulk of your resources toward sending out appeals that will.

3. Segmentation works

Many direct markers amass vast troves of personal information about their markets. They’ll slice and dice this data and use it to create narrowly targeted advertising designed to optimise conversions. Researching and creating personas of the audiences they’d like to reach helps the whole team understand the market and effectively craft messaging.

As an annual giving professional, you’ll have different resources and different priorities than a direct marketing team, but you’re still trying to reach your constituents in the most effective way possible. First, start by segmenting your constituents based on who is most likely to give.  Getting an accurate read on who is willing and able to donate to your institution is the most important step. Once you’re able to do that, you can subsegment your most likely donors into different personas and use these unique perspectives to influence your messaging, timing, and channel approaches.

4. Harness the power of the personal appeal

Direct marketers are using big data and smart segmentation to deliver personalised advertising to their customers. They’re using powerful automation software to deliver the right message at the right moment to thousands of individuals. This strategy works.

Annual giving teams already know the power of person-to-person fundraising. Phone programmes have traditionally relied on the personalised connections donors make with student callers. The next step is to create a personalised approach to reaching donors across all your channels. Start small. For example, if your institution employs students to solicit for annual giving, have the same student who makes the phone call to a certain group of donors sign off on the emails or text solicitations those same donors receive. Connecting a student name and story across channel types helps reinforce to donors the direct, personal impact of their donation–and provides them with a sense of continuity.

What to take away

Growing your annual fund donors and money takes a tremendous amount of your time, energy, and money. Make every part of your marketing strategy count by borrowing from the for-profit playbook. When you focus on specific, concrete marketing strategies, you’ll improve your ability to bring in more money and donors for your annual fund.

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