FYI Blog

Case Study: Multi-channel Marketing Campaign for JFK’s Centennial

JFK Giving Logo v3OBJECTIVE: The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is a world-class arts and culture venue and presidential memorial. As JFK’s 100th birthday approached, the Kennedy Center tasked Avalon with creating strategies to leverage the Centennial celebration and events to help fund the Center’s programs, by celebrating JFK’s legacy and enduring impact on the arts.

STRATEGY/AUDIENCE: Avalon designed a comprehensive Centennial campaign spanning all channels, including on-site, social media, email marketing, the KC website and unique landing page, media outreach, direct mail, and telemarketing.

Billed as “35 Days of Giving,” the campaign, which celebrated the 35th president, led up to the 100th birthday of President Kennedy (May 29). The centerpiece of the fundraising campaign was a series of nine compelling emails that Avalon designed—each one building in urgency and with its own case for support. All of the emails also touched on common themes, including The Kennedy Center’s legacy as the nation’s performing arts center and how it has helped to shape the arts across the country and JFK’s legacy and ideals often attributed to President Kennedy: Courage, Freedom, Justice, Service, and Gratitude. The emails also promoted a generous two-to-one matching gift challenge by a Kennedy Center donor. And, as each fundraising milestone was achieved, the Kennedy Center released video content featuring performers highlighting the centennial celebration ideals.

For further branding and a broad reach, we designed advertisements for an online ad campaign that The Kennedy Center managed, and on-site materials, including a campaign brochure, collateral materials for giveaways/prizes (including buttons and tote bags), a banner, and a Playbill insert. We also conducted a telemarketing campaign to reinstate lapsed members, and we added an insert on the Centennial to direct mail gift acknowledgements. The brochure was also mailed to $1,000 current members who the Center could not email and would not be attending any performances during the campaign. Finally, as something new for the Kennedy Center, we coordinated a Thunderclap in the week leading up to the Centennial, in which supporters agreed to let Thunderclap auto-share an update about the campaign, amplifying the reach and visibility of the campaign.

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June 6, 2017

2017 M+R/NTEN Benchmarks Highlights

 2017 Benchmarks Study COVER PAGE

As promised, we’ve got some takeaways from the always-fascinating M+R Benchmarks Study of online giving.

This year’s study included data from 133 nonprofits, including seven Avalon clients. Be sure when reviewing the findings to look not just at overall metrics, but also at the metrics for organizations in your sector and of comparable size.

  • Website traffic grew by 4% over 2015, which amounts to millions more visits.

Takeaway: Since more people are visiting your website, make sure it’s optimized to convert donors—make it easy for people to give by creating a straightforward path to the donation form. And be sure the donation form (and the site as a whole) uses responsive design so that everything looks good on all devices.

  • Nonprofits sent 10% more messages per subscriber in 2016 than in 2015, which accounts for increased email fundraising numbers. However, most email metrics are down. Fundraising email open rates fell by 7% (to 13%), while click-through rates dropped by 14% (to 0.38%). The average response rate is now 0.05%.

Takeaway: With the increased volume in everyone’s inboxes, it’s becoming increasingly more important (and more difficult) to stand out in the crowd. So focus on that.

  • Yes, email revenue has increased, but more organizations are also turning to digital ad spending (which is up 69%!) as a new/additional way to raise money and grow their email lists.

Takeaway: It might be time to explore and test digital ad spending, in addition to your email campaigns.

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May 1, 2017

#17NTC All Hands on Deck! Managing a Rapid Response Campaign

Avalon staff who attended the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) in Washington last week reported that, as usual, the conference didn’t disappoint. New ideas and trends, networking, and collaboration were the order of the day. We had the opportunity to visit with old friends and colleagues, and share with and learn from new ones.

Avalon’s session, All Hands on Deck: Managing a Rapid Response Campaign, was well received, with lots of great questions and discussion. Check out the slides below for some of the insights from our presenters (and Avalon clients): Sylvia Moskovitz (Farm Sanctuary), Sarah Stallings (National Geographic Society), Jack Mumby (Common Cause), and Avalon Vice President Anne Senft.

All Hands on Deck! Managing a Rapid Response Campaign from Avalon Consulting

We’ve put together some key takeaways from the conference:

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March 14, 2017

Takeaways from Blackbaud’s 2016 Online Benchmarks

2016-luminate-online-benchmark-report cover image Page 01

Blackbaud’s 2016 Online Benchmarks report is out—fascinating as ever, confirming that we’re on the right track, and giving us some ideas and reminders to run with in the new year. The report analyzes data from June 2015 to July 2016, with year-over-year comparisons to the previous fiscal year. Below, the takeaways I find most relevant to our work:

1. Year-over-year email list growth slowed down to 10% this past year, which may not be a bad thing. The ever-changing algorithms of ISPs demand increased quality, driving the trend for slimmer but more engaged lists. The focus has moved from quantity to quality, which is good news for us as fundraisers, because we know that growing an email list is just the first step in converting those names to donors. Having a huge list doesn’t mean much if the people on it are unresponsive. And although email list growth slowed, the proportion of constituents that donated increased by 13%—confirming that email lists are more productive. In other words, the work we’re doing to convert activists and supporters into donors, and to pinpoint those most likely to give now, is working!

2. Email is still gold, with each address worth $12.30 of online revenue in 2015. This value is bolstered by what looks like a shift of focus from quantity to quality. Again, building the file is important, but once you build your list, it’s equally important, if not more so, to focus on converting email subscribers to activists, donors, and ambassadors for your cause.

3. Healthy email appeal click rates suggest that organizations are creating strong content and targeting supporters effectively. Fundraising email click rates increased year over year 2.11%. This one’s a double-edged sword—even with the increase in clicks, conversion rates didn’t change. But the CTR increase is impressive, given the number of emails sent.

4. Total online revenue grew by 4.89% year over year, which, although much healthier than overall giving, is modest growth compared to previous years. During the same time period, the Blackbaud Charitable Index (which covers the full nonprofit sector) also shows slower growth, especially among larger organizations.

5. First-time giving decreased slightly year over year with 1.3% less revenue coming from first-time donors and the average first-time gift holding steady at $105.81—a 2.56% increase. Disaster and international relief experienced a significant decline, seeing over 19% less revenue from first-time gifts. These results aren’t surprising, given that there were no major natural disasters during the time period covered by the report.

6. Relationships rule, and this year’s data continues a positive trend of strong repeat giving performance, up 8.63% year over year. This is a direct result of nonprofits putting more effort into retention strategies and tailored digital communications. Cultivating online donors always pays off!

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January 30, 2017

Summer Conference Wrap-up

Ann S. Bio Photo170Avalon has been out in force at industry conferences this summer, presenting and attending sessions at the New York Nonprofit Conference and Bridge Conference.

Based on which sessions were overflowing with participants, it seems like many nonprofits are eager for more information on analytics, sustainer conversion, and perfecting mid-level bridge programs to systematically upgrade donors. We particularly loved the sessions that focused on the donor experience—cultivation strategies, storytelling, and how to best connect with donors.

We’ve compiled some of our impressions and takeaways below:

NYNP16-logo-Sharing more data. Of course, we would have liked to have seen more actual data shared in many of the presentations. As always, there were so many terrific ideas presented, but in our industry, those ideas need to be backed up with how they have been tested and proven to improve results. We hope that more hard data—like long-term value, net revenue, and ROI—are shared at upcoming conferences to support all the great ideas we heard about. 

Data visualization. We found that the most effective presentations leveraged data visualization and trend analysis—this separated the good presentations from the great ones.

Co-ops. Avalon has been leveraging co-op databases and modeling for our clients for many years—and they’re rapidly growing in popularity as more and more nonprofits develop ways to effectively expand their donor files.

Bridge Conf. 2016The donor’s perspective. David Rubenstein’s Bridge keynote so perfectly captured his subject, Inside the Donor’s Mind—with excellent points for fundraisers, both major gifts officers and direct marketers alike: Do your homework before making the ask; be patient and have a long-term horizon; be confident, unapologetic, and driven by your cause; and…don’t forget to say thank you!

Donor stewardship. Building on Rubenstein’s points, we know how important it is to form a stronger bond with donors through specialized communications and personal contact. Many conference sessions covered those meaningful touches—personal stories, handwritten notes in mailings, thank you phone calls, specialized email updates—that can make all the difference in moving donors up the giving ladder.

Analytics. At Bridge, Amnesty International USA chronicled its substantial drop in revenue and donors over five years. Cut to the chase: They combined focus group research and analytics to correct course, echoing Avalon’s commitment to deep, forensic analytics and actually listening to your donors to help understand the next steps to creating positive results.

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August 11, 2016

National Museum of African American History and Culture – Successful Online List Building


Creating a multi-channel fundraising program for a Museum that members cannot yet visit presents a unique set of challenges. A targeted, multi-channel approach is the key to getting prospects to support this remarkably important addition to the National Mall.

Challenge: Avalon partnered with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) to build a file of Charter Members throughout the Museum’s construction and grand opening phases. As part of the Museum’s goal of attracting loyal and valuable multi-channel donors, we were tasked with expanding the Museum’s file of online donors and supporters.

Strategy: Avalon approached online list building from two angles. First, in 2015 we initiated a Membership Month campaign to recruit online members with a mission-based case for support for this critically important Museum. Next, after the success of Membership Month, we created an online list-building campaign through carefully targeted online advertising via remarketing and Facebook ads, as well as petition campaigns through Care2 and to engage and sign up new online supporters.

Results: The online list-building campaign was a tremendous success for NMAAHC—and ultimately over 10,000 people took action as a result. The remarketing program had click-through rates well above industry averages and targeted list-building ads that appeared on CNN, Huffington Post, Instagram, and Radar Online, to name a few. Notably, the remarketing and Facebook ad campaign delivered a cost per acquisition (CPA) that returned its investment in just six months, thanks to an integrated follow-up strategy designed to generate additional actions and added gifts.

We continue to work with NMAAHC to engage members across multiple communications channels to further bond members to the Museum, telling stories of what their support has accomplished, and the opportunities for continued partnership that lie ahead.

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July 26, 2016

Big Changes at, which has traditionally been a place for nonprofits to craft sponsored petitions for advocacy/awareness campaigns, announced in early July that it will shift its focus to fundraising. With more than 1 million new users a week and 25,000 new petitions each month, seeks to combine its “citizen-driven crowdfunding efforts with citizen-driven advocacy campaigns…unleashing the true potential of people united around a common cause.”

For now, crowdfunding strategies will dominate as builds out its suite of fundraising tools. The petition campaigns and resulting list-building efforts will continue and evolve from sponsored to promoted campaigns by the end of the year.

As always, Avalon will help our clients leverage the power of the platform (and other petition sites), whether we’re converting petition signers to donors or maximizing the potential of crowdfunding campaigns.

Visit’s website for more details on the changes to the organization’s mission.

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July 13, 2016

Avalon Wins Two MAXIs! Plus… Meet us at Bridge!


We’re thrilled to announce that Avalon client Farm Sanctuary will receive two MAXI Awards from the Direct Marketing Association of Washington!

One MAXI honors Farm Sanctuary’s multi-channel Hudson Valley Rescue Campaign, an urgent fundraising effort that used on-the-scene reporting and videos to tell a compelling story and help fund its emergency rescue program. The second is for Farm Sanctuary’s hugely successful Sustainer Email Invitation and Upgrade Campaign.

Check back in with us mid-July, when we find out what level the two campaigns placed.

The DMAW MAXI Awards Ceremony takes place on the first night of this year’s Bridge Conference, July 13-15 at the Gaylord National Hotel & Convention Center.

Bridge Conf. 2016

We hope you’re planning to be there, where Avalon staff and clients will make the following don’t-miss presentations:

All-Day Pre-Conference Workshop:
What You Need to Know About Direct Mail in 2016
Wednesday, July 13, from 10 AM–4 PM
Speaker: Kerri Kerr, Senior Vice President, Avalon Consulting Group

Using Cutting-Edge Data Analytics to Revolutionize Your Membership Program
Thursday, July 14, from 8:15–9:20 AM
1. Allison Porter, President, Avalon Consulting Group
2. Laura Zylstra, Senior Director of Development, League of Women Voters
3. Myles King, Manager of Annual and Digital Fundraising, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

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June 24, 2016

M+ R Benchmarks: 2016 Report Highlights

MR Benchmarks Study Cover Page - 2016

M+R and NTEN is out with its annual study of online benchmarks — always a source of interesting facts and food for thought. Here are some highlights:

  • Online revenue was up 19% overall in the last year; email revenue grew by 25%.
  • Monthly giving increased by 24% and accounted for 17% of all online revenue in 2015 — not a huge surprise, since many organizations now make it a priority to recruit and steward highly valuable sustainers. One-time online giving was up 18%.
  • Email frequency is increasing — nonprofits in the study sent the average subscriber 49 email messages in 2015 — but segmentation is also likely being refined. So nonprofits are figuring out how to get more bang for their online buck.
  • With 24% of subscribers considered inactive, segmenting out your inactive folks will improve your email metrics and your sender reputation.
  • Email list churn, at 11.8%, is being outpaced by email list growth at 14%.
  • Last year, 13% of online gifts were made from mobile devices — another reminder to make your mobile giving experience seamless for donors.
  • For every $1 of online revenue, nonprofits invested $0.04 into digital advertising. Organizations with larger email lists (500k+) spent more than small groups.
  • Nonprofits that saw largest year-over-year growth in money raised online had three strategies in common:
  • Email is becoming a larger piece of their fundraising pies;
  • They send more fundraising appeals per subscriber;
  • And they invest heavily in digital advertising.

It’s not magic; diligence in these key areas and a focus on aggressive digital acquisition lead to success.

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May 3, 2016

Case Study: Recruiting and Upgrading Sustainers Digitally

FS Case Study grouped

Given the long-term value and loyalty of monthly donors, sustainer recruitment and upgrading are crucial strategies for ensuring steady, reliable income. Traditionally, Avalon has found that telemarketing is the best way to recruit and upgrade sustainers, even though costs are high. But the less expensive digital approach we recently tested and honed for our client Farm Sanctuary has proven to be a real winner.

Objective: With ongoing pressure to increase revenue to fund more animal rescues and ongoing care for sanctuary residents, Farm Sanctuary sought to add 200 new monthly donors to its sustaining membership. Budget was a concern, given the high costs of telemarketing and/or mailing to recruit and upgrade monthly sustainers. To bring down expenses, Avalon created and deployed a multi-effort digital sustainer invitation campaign. Using its compelling case for ongoing support, Farm Sanctuary was able to build urgency and engage new sustainers.

Strategy: To reach Farm Sanctuary’s ambitious goal, Avalon applied a new approach to Farm Sanctuary’s more institutional, traditional sustainer invitation—giving storytelling a lead role in the online strategy.

Urgency was the primary call to action in the two-week, three-email series. The first email introduced readers to a newborn lamb, Romy, who had been clinging to life when he was brought to Farm Sanctuary. The email described Romy’s plight and recovery, as well as “…Farm Sanctuary’s work on behalf of suffering farm animals—rescuing the abused, caring for the sick and injured, educating the public, and advocating for an end to the horrors of factory farming month after month.”

We broke down the ask, explaining that sustainers’ monthly donations go further and help daily. And we emphasized the fact the smaller increments sustainers give over time—even as little as pennies a day—make a tremendous difference. Additionally, sustaining gifts provide a steady stream of critical revenue so Farm Sanctuary can better plan for and fulfill its mission.

The second email ramped up the urgency of reaching the goal of 200 new sustainers by the deadline; introduced readers to another rescued animal; and presented a thermometer-style progress report showing how many sustainers had joined since the first email. The third email was brief and to the point, highlighting the themes of the first two emails and urging supporters to put the campaign over the top by becoming a sustainer before the 24-hour deadline expired.

The campaign’s message was reinforced through other channels, with an ask in Farm Sanctuary’s monthly e-newsletter and on its home page.

The final component of this campaign was a sustainer upgrade segment. To bring down creative costs, we used a version of the first sustainer recruitment email and added a layer of back-end customer service to ensure quality control as Farm Sanctuary updated its data.

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February 22, 2016