Anyone who’s worked for a nonprofit knows how valuable Board members are – they play a key role in any organization’s mission fulfillment. And anyone who’s served on a nonprofit Board knows that there are unique dynamics between the Board and the organization’s staff. Staff members are always trying to balance giving the Board members enough information so that they can make educated decisions, but not wanting to bog them down with the nitty-gritty of day-to-day fundraising.
Direct marketing is complicated, and challenges can arise when we try to simplify it, or use our own opinions to drive strategy. The following are some helpful direct response fundraising pointers for Board members to keep in mind when making decisions:
1. Our donors are not unique to our organization. They likely give to a number of nonprofits and trying to be overly controlling of what fundraising communications they receive (and how much) can cause more harm than good.
2. It is very difficult to recruit young donors and change your organization’s demographics. Unfortunately, direct marketing donors tend to be a self-selecting group. They are often older, and not very diverse. But research shows that those younger populations will eventually evolve into donors!
3. We know it’s cheap and easy and quick and everyone’s online – but here’s the deal: online fundraising is not taking over direct mail any time soon. It is still a small part of overall giving, and while online is growing, we cannot give up on direct mail. A solid mix of fundraising channels (mail/phone/online) is most effective to achieve a long-term, steady revenue stream.
4. We can’t make changes or decisions affecting the marketing program based on what we like. There is a science behind direct marketing and it is based on years of data. This data has been tested and quantified and is never based on one data point, or a handful of them. So we need to apply the science and give it time to work.
5. It is important to understand the consequences of our fundraising goal decisions, before we make them. For example, if we want to increase membership by 200%, this will likely come at the expense of the type of member acquired and our net revenue. If we want high net revenue, it will likely come at the expense of our member counts. Each goal should be fully understood before the directive is made.
6. Direct mail is a solid and predictable investment, yet it is not limitless. We cannot pour massive sums into a program and continue to see increased return year over year. It doesn’t expand infinitely, because universes are limited. There is a balance for each organization and careful planning and analysis is needed to determine what the “right” amount is.
7. While direct marketing can respond rapidly to urgent issues, the programs evolve over time and decisions made at any one time often take more time than expected to unfold. Because key metrics change slowly, it’s critical that everyone take the long-term view. For example, a change in acquisition will not be felt immediately – both the good and bad changes may not show up for years. Patience is needed to watch implemented changes unfold.
8. This is an oldie, but still true: if we don’t ask, we won’t get. While a typical direct marketing schedule may look aggressive, cutting those points of contacts can often lead to less revenue. That said, there is a balance of communications that must be achieved, which is unique to each organization based on its mission, message, file size, etc. The professionals in our development departments are experts at figuring out that balance.
9. Remember that the tone of direct mail fundraising letters are intentionally conversational – not a PhD thesis or a white paper. What’s important is to draw the donor in, present a clear and compelling case for support, and convey the urgency of giving now. These are tried-and-true methods for effective fundraising copy, so we shouldn’t tinker with what’s working, even if it seems less businesslike than some would prefer.
10. We telemarket because it works. And it works because many people are happy to talk to an informed person who calls on behalf of an organization they support. Donors can hear about what’s going on in your organization, ask questions, and negotiate a gift that’s comfortable for them. Telemarketing is particularly effective for recruiting monthly donors, since the telemarketers can respond to questions and objectives, and remind donors that monthly giving is a great way to give more over time.