FYI Blog

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

Four Signs a Donor Relationship Wasn’t Made to Last (And What You Can Do About It) For all the talk in our industry about donor retention, donor desirability is a rarely discussed topic. But the fact is: Acquiring the right type of donor is as critical to strong retention as any post-acquisition cultivation strategy. Some […]

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February 11, 2022

Do you have the guts to invest in fundraising?

No denying it: donor acquisition is down across the industry. Nonprofits are acquiring fewer donors, and many are experiencing volatile results and declining response rates, according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project’s Quarterly Fundraising Report (June 2019). The number of donors is down; the number of donors who are giving is down; revenue is down. So what […]

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September 26, 2019

Checking All of The Boxes

This summer, I’ve been taking my oldest son to look at colleges. Like me, he’s analytical, so we started by making a list of the critical things he requires: does College X have the business program he wants? Study abroad? The right club sports offerings? I want him to check all those boxes, but my […]

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August 23, 2019

Choose Your Friends Wisely

My preteen son is 12—staring down (and trying on) his teenage years. Since he’s my oldest and this is a bit of uncharted territory, I’ve been reading up on how to best support him through this tumultuous time. If you Google teens and peers, you’ll get findings and advice from thousands of sources, from WebMD to […]

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February 19, 2019

Revisiting a Top Post: Removing the Barriers to Growth

AllisonPorter-21- CroppedOne year ago, I wrote a post entitled Removing the Barriers to Growth: How to Influence Your Organization’s Leadership Through Data. If all of the positive feedback I’ve received since then is any indication—this post definitely struck a nerve.

Over the past year, this is a subject that keeps coming up in my work with colleagues, clients, and boards, as people strive to make informed decisions about the future of their nonprofits. So we’re re-running the original post in hopes that it can help start or further a (perhaps difficult) conversation about investment and strategy, underpinned by cold, hard facts.

Data shows that there is a lot to be optimistic about as the fundraising industry shows clear signs of rebounding and getting back on the path to growth. Growth is not a passive activity however. It requires a clear strategic plan and, more often than not, strategic investment.

Last summer, I attended a leadership conference where some of the leading nonprofit fundraising professionals defined the most common barriers to growth. At the top of the list was the need to educate, inform, and persuade the leadership of our organizations—the CEOs and CFOs, the Boards and Board committees—about the value of our programs in order to clear the way for strategic growth.

As fundraisers, it’s not only our job to raise critically needed funds, but also to educate, explain, and inspire our leadership about why this channel is so effective, and to build confidence in our direct marketing programs by showing the evidence of success.

So how do we do this? Here are a few simple tips for strengthening your communications to your leadership.

Be sure that the goals and objectives are clear. Nonprofits need to proactively hold themselves accountable to the defined goals and objectives, and report transparently to the leadership in their organizations about the successes and failures. Frequently, when we ask leadership if their priority is donors (who represent the reach of the organization), or net dollars, the answer is “all of the above.” The reality is that if you’re trying to make a change, sometimes you can’t have both, and it’s critical to communicate what it will take to meet those goals.

Know your metrics. What are the key performance metrics that will provide evidence of success? Beyond the critical income, expense, and net numbers, report on the key variables that provide a barometer of the health of the program, specifically the variable data around: retention, income per member, donor value, return on investment, and rates of upgrading and overall growth (or decline).

Consider your audience. Like a good direct marketer, knowing your audience is critical to a successful presentation. Think carefully about who’s in the room. Does your executive director have a thorough understanding of direct marketing, or will you need to be sure to use lay terms as you describe your work? Is the board member sitting in the room one who has frequently asked you about retention? If so, be proactive about addressing those common concerns.

Be clear about the story you’re telling. First and foremost, make sure everyone is on the same page about goals and objectives. Defining and articulating these needs to be a group process. It doesn’t help if the executive director of your organization thinks that membership growth and building a broad grassroots movement is your number one strategic priority, and you have been laser focused on net revenue for the last five years. Clearly articulating the strategic goals and objectives at the start of every meeting, and recapping how you got there, will help remind everyone about the process that you’re going through.

Visualize your data. Your audience will involve people who have a deep understanding of the data and the financials, as well as people who don’t. Visualizing your data even as simply as using the charts available in Excel, will make it easier for everyone in the audience to understand even the most complicated reports.

Benchmark your data. It’s extraordinarily valuable for leadership to understand the context of your performance metrics. How do you compare to the rest of the industry? How do you compare to others in your sector? Target Analytics has a ton of publicly available benchmarking data that you can use to provide broad comparisons. You can also participate in their formal benchmarking groups. And you should network thoroughly and reach out to your colleagues and peers and ask them to help you benchmark your numbers. Nothing helps defuse a critical discussion of your performance like being able to say you’re doing better than your number one competitor.

Refresh and repeat. If your organization is making a significant investment in change, this will not be a one-and-done communication. Accountability needs to be ongoing, and reporting back frequently and consistently is critical. Oftentimes the people we are reporting to at the leadership level don’t have their heads in our direct marketing programs on a daily basis, so we need to remind them about where we fit in, what our goals were, and bring them along in the process. Repetition is our friend in this case, being consistent and showing the same views will help to deliberately and methodically bring them along in the process.

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June 15, 2016

Taking the Deep Data Dive

tjhillinger webYour data holds the key to taking your direct marketing fundraising program to the next level of success—but you’ve got to go below surface level to see what’s really going on.

Aggregate campaign-level metrics and benchmarks are great ways to measure performance. But for the most robust analysis of membership dynamics, file trends, and return on investment (ROI), Avalon recommends a really deep dive into your data—an Avalon Inquire™ master file analysis.

This thorough data file assessment can help you meet your fundraising goals by providing the most accurate picture of your file today and identifying significant trends that impact program performance.

Each Avalon Inquire™ analysis is customized to the individual needs of the client, but typically includes an overall health-of-the-file assessment, acquisition analysis, house file analysis, channel analysis, multi-channel giving behaviors (mail, phone, online), segmentation analysis, and upgrade analysis.

Beyond these foundational analyses, we’ve added the following views to help our clients learn as much as possible about their donors, members, and prospects:

  • Age overlay view: Compares the organization’s age trend to the national average and illustrates that fact that donors on most files skew older;
 NMAI MFA Slide 2 - Age Append
  • Break-even analysis: Reveals the projected point at which an acquisition join group will break even—when revenue covers the initial cost and subsequent cost to resolicit;

NMAI MFA Slide 3 - Break even analysis

  • Heatmap/geographic overview: Gives organizations a view of donors’ geographic distribution by zip code, illustrating pockets of donor concentration;

NMAI MFA Slide 4 - Heatmap

  • File stabilization view and trajectory: Projects the current trajectory of the file (growth, decline, or stability) and the number of new/reinstated joins needed to keep the file stable—key data to consider when making decisions about acquisition investment;

2016-06-02 Slide 1

  • Membership vs. giving level/discounts: For membership-based nonprofits, this view provides insight into the member value based on giving levels (compared to discounted giving levels); and
  • Enhanced major gift pipeline: These added views quantify the revenue low-dollar/membership donors provide to the major donor program, underscoring the importance of direct marketing as a pipeline to major giving and the impact of direct marketing beyond the program itself.

If you’re not sure where to go from here with your direct marketing program, an Avalon Inquire™ analysis can help you set a course for the future while giving you the statistical back-up to make your case to stakeholders and leadership. We’ve got your back.

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June 2, 2016

The Acquisition/Retention Equation, Continued

kerrik-newI received great feedback and many follow-up questions about my post last spring on recruiting donors who will stay with you for the long haul. So I plan to build on that conversation with a session at this summer’s Bridge Conference called Where’s the Acquisition Variable in the Retention Equation?

In my presentation, you will learn how to ensure that donors join your organization for the right reasons—namely, passion about your mission and a desire to make a real difference. I will talk about the ins and outs of package, message, and list ROI, so you know what kinds of donors are joining your ranks and how to keep them engaged and giving for years to come.

I will also cover how to move beyond basic campaign performance with more insightful file analysis that will lead to real strategic change. And I will address the ways fundraising programs are adjusting to new data trends and evaluating long-term donor value.

I hope you’ll join me! Bridge runs from July 7-9 in National Harbor, MD—and you can register here.

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Where’s the Acquisition Variable in the Retention Equation?

So we’re all on the donor retention bandwagon, right? Treat your donors well; use their personal information to show that you know what interests them; thank them promptly and frequently; describe the impactful results of their support, etc.

But what about the acquisition variable in the retention equation?

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June 24, 2015

How to Be an Acquisition Hero

List Roi Post - March 2015 - TJ

Do high up-front returns guarantee that a list has delivered valuable donors? Not necessarily.

We have all experienced the struggle to find viable acquisition lists and packages, as well as the exhilaration that comes from strong up-front performance and an influx of new donors. But there’s always the nagging question: Will those new donors stay with us and keep giving?

As my colleague Kerri Kerr has explained, donor retention begins at acquisition. Smart fundraisers balance quality and quantity to acquire donors who will keep giving for years to come—and upgrade their support along the way. How do we do this? With strong acquisition mail plans that prioritize the long-term quality of new joins.

This balancing act, between engaging donors on the front end and ensuring their long-term value on the back end, is all about measuring performance. We don’t give too much weight to a strong list that isn’t returning your investment, but we also don’t leave lists behind solely because they might cost a bit more on the front end.

Donor analytics are essential for finding the acquisition sweet spot. In particular, nonprofits should understand their list and package ROI. This sophisticated analysis digs into your long-term data to create a comprehensive picture and extract actionable information. It connects the dots between up-front list performance and return on investment, as well as other key donor-level metrics in a five-year period, such as retention and donor value.

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March 23, 2015

Museum Exhibits Are All Eyes

Mona Lisa headcropAre we creeping into Big Brother territory, or is this just another way to ensure you fully enjoy your museum experience? An interesting article by Ellen Gamerman in the Wall Street Journal, entitled “When the Art Is Watching You,” discusses the innovative tracking technology that some museums are using to make marketing, fundraising, and curating decisions.

Gamerman writes about the Dallas Museum of Art’s program, in which frequent visitors can use their smart phones to check in throughout the building and win points toward rewards “like free parking, special-exhibition tickets or private use of the museum’s movie theater. The museum then filters the data to better understand guests’ behavior, like how often they visit, which shows they flock to and what art they ignore.”

According to Gamerman, “Across the country, museums are mining increasingly detailed layers of information about their guests, employing some of the same strategies that companies like Macy’s, Netflix and Wal-Mart have used in recent years to boost sales by tracking customer behavior. Museums are using the visitor data to inform decisions on everything from exhibit design to donor outreach to gift-shop marketing strategies.”

We’re all for knowing your donors’ and visitors’ habits and preferences, and for using this information to determine new ways to engage and excite museum-goers. And what better time to engage them than when they are having a positive on-site experience?

Of course, this cutting-edge technology is outside some venues’ budgets. So in this same vein, but without the Big Brother vibe, we’ve put together a checklist of some of the best ways to ensure that your on-site visitors are receiving your membership message—because there is no better time to convey the need for support than when someone is having a firsthand, positive experience with your organization.

• Prominently display membership materials at your information booths or kiosks.
• Integrate membership messaging into the “Plan Your Visit” section of your website and/or your online advance ticket purchase process.
• Display signage promoting member discounts and current promotions at entrances and exits, points of purchase (e.g., tickets, bookstores), and frequently visited places (e.g., restrooms, parking lots).
• Print membership messages on tickets/passes, will-call envelopes, receipts, and programs.
• Offer complimentary membership bookmarks (or another appropriate giveaway) at gift shops.
• Display membership table tents in bathrooms, lounges, and dining areas.
• Visibly recognize current members via a banner or rolling electronic sign.
• Conduct on-site membership canvassing with mobile devices.

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February 12, 2015

Growing the Political Donor Base

markg-new-copyCongratulations to Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) for winning re-election in November!  Avalon was thrilled to manage the campaign’s direct marketing fundraising program.  This case study outlines our strategic fundraising approach, combining targeting, analytics, and messaging to help the Warner campaign to re-engage past donors and attract new donors.  We are very excited to see the Senator return to Washington to continue his groundbreaking, bipartisan work.






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December 12, 2014