Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Focus groups and cavemen

I had to chuckle when reading Jeff Brook's Donor Power Blog today where he manages to get another dig in at the use of focus groups (following on from an earlier post on focus groups killing you).

I once managed to convince a client NOT to conduct a focus group. They (errrr... the "powers that be") wanted to show our latest direct mail pack to their donors, to show them the new approach we had adopted (long letter, with specific asks in the letter, more pieces in the pack) versus their traditional approach (short letter, tear off response form, limited personalization etc).

I was adamant they didn't go through with it because I knew what the outcome would be: less money for the cause.

Why? Because donors will always tell you they like the cheap looking pack, short letter, less supporting pieces.

When hands down every time the long letter with lots of elements will raise more money (I've seen as much as three times).

How do I know this? Because we've seen this actually happen! And I didn't want the decision being made based on what donors had told them. Remember, what people tell you and how they behave are two very different things!

So what's the solution? Continue doing what you should be doing which is ongoing testing - that will arm you with the information you need to make informed decisions.

For a lighter take on this, check out this caveman video taking a comedic look at the value (or lack of) of focus groups.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Brilliant examples of saying thank you

I have a thanking obsession.

In the main because many charities just don't seem to get this right. So today I bring you two great examples of how to say thank you, from different sides of the world, and from organization's spectrums apart.

The first one below is from the NSPCC, the UK's largest child protection agency. This ad featured on mainstream TV in the UK on Christmas Day a couple of years back. I love its simplicity. Use of the word's thank you are very prominent. Very effective.

Granted, the NSPCC is one of the biggest charities in Britain, with income in the hundreds of millions of pounds.

So to prove that you don't have to be one of the 'big boys' with enormous budgets to say thank you genuinely to your constituents, I turn to Toronto based charity Meal Exchange, an organization charged to address local hunger by mobilizing the talent and resources of students.

Check out their trick or eat video (second one below) produced a few months back to thank participants and volunteers who helped their National campaign. Cost them nothing other than a few hours playing around with some images and background music. Again simple, prominent in thanking, and effective. I love it.

I hope there is something to learn from both of these examples.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Practice what you preach agencies...

It’s fairly easy to refer to Jeff Brook’s and his daily musings over at Donor Power Blog. He so often hits the mark it’s frightening.

So I was doing lots of head nodding in agreement as I read Jeff’s latest post on breaking down the walls in charities.

In this posting, he talks about that dreaded and all too common disease within charities, silo mentality. To be frank this exists in every country I have worked in.

But I wanted to take that a step further and talk not just about charities breaking down silos and bringing fundraising, communications and campaigning all together, but what about us in the agency world?

I get annoyed when I hear that “this agency wouldn’t talk to this agency” or “ they won’t let agency X come to that meeting”. Get over yourselves people. The battles about protecting your turf are hurting your clients, they are hurting your clients donors and ultimately they are hurting your own business.

If DM, phone, face to face, TV and new media agencies work together for the greater good, then this can only be a good thing.

Clients get better service, donors get a more seamless journey, clients raise more money, donors help more beneficiaries and guess what? Your agency will likely get more work in the end anyway.

So let’s practice what we preach. If we’re constantly drilling into clients the benefits of a more seamless and integrated approach, let’s walk the walk.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Imagine a world whereby...

.. donors didn't ask that toxic and flawed question "How much of my dollar goes to the cause"?

Well, this is a world that Dan Pallotta envisages if we are to make real impact on global issues. I'm with him on this one.

Dan dedicates an entire chapter (48 pages) in his book, Uncharitable, to this very topic.

The Chapter is called 'Stop Asking This Question'. It talks in detail about how this very question and the one measure associated with it is destroying any hope we have of solving world poverty or finding cures for major diseases.

As Dan says, "To continue using it is like using a broken thermometer to take your child's temperature. It is dangerous. Better to admit you don't know your child's temperature than to believe it is five degrees lower than it actually is. Bad information leads to bad outcomes".

He goes on..

"We must reject the notion that the present measuring apparatus is the best we can do. We must create a dynamic new solution to provide us with the answers to these questions (16 questions he suggests we should ask instead) in a systematic way. Simple measures provide simple distinctions. In the interest of simplicity, the "efficiency" measure allows for two possibilities - good or bad. Its methodology for making that distinction is flawed. Our assessments of charity need to make room for far more subtlety and must be far more accurate".

Some of the 16 questions Dan feels we need to ask include:

- What is the scale of the achievement, and are comparisons being made with achievements of equal scale?

- What is the incremental effect of a donation in the present moment?

- Is the value of the outcome being accounted for?

The list goes on, and I suggest you read the book for 'chapter and verse' on this incredibly important issue.

You may think this is far too big a problem to worry about or that you can't really influence it.

But on a practical, day to day basis you can by doing the following:

1 Stop apologizing to donors for $ spent on overheads, administration, fundraising. These are genuine costs that are actually necessary and part of the work you do to fulfill your mission.

2 Demonstrate genuine impact. Do this by telling stories. Have a bank of case studies available for every staff member to tell donors how their support is making a difference. Update this monthly.

3 Buy a copy of Uncharitable and share it with the entire organization, especially board members/trustees.


Friday, March 13, 2009

How often should I talk to my donors?

The million dollar question.

Which in fact can be answered quite easily by looking at the attached image.

The short answer is as long as you follow this communications cycle then it is doesn’t matter how often you talk to your donors. And for that matter it doesn’t matter how often you ask them to do something, IF you consistently feedback and care.

I’m posting this because I’m regularly asked, ‘how often should I mail my donors’ or ‘how often should I be communicating’?

Fundraisers obsess about this. To the point where fear of ‘saturating’ donors creates a paralyzing situation where we do nothing. Created by fear and anecdote and nothing else. The organizations I have seen that have the most robust and healthy programs are those that communicate the most often (not ask, but communicate).

And within that, those who have the most successful programs follow the attached diagram.

Asking when you need the money.

Thanking genuinely and promptly.

Caring in between. Telling people how they made an impact, getting people involved, treating them as they were your friends.

You get this right and you have cracked it. You now know the answer to the million dollar question.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Longer is still better

Last week I talked about testing.

We often at Pareto Fundraising test letter length. Time and time again, the same result occurs - a longer letter beats a shorter letter.

Jeff Brooks wrote about this topic today at DonorPowerBlog. And as we have come to expect he is spot on, again.

I often joke that if I had a dollar for every time someone had said to me (in response to perusing a long, say 4 page letter), "I wouldn't read this", well I would be a lot wealthier than I am right now.

But why do longer letters work? Surely it is counter intuitive?

Yes it is. But they regularly out pull shorter letters because you need a longer letter (usually around 4 pages) to tell a compelling story, use case studies to illustrate, repeat personalized ask amounts, tell the reader how much you need, how and by when.

Let's face it: we like to be told what to do and how, whether we like it or not. Well certainly when it comes to direct response fundraising.

Making it easy by telling the donor what we want them to do, how we want them to do it and by when takes some time to do properly.

Hence why long still beats short.

Of course with anything, if you're unsure, test it. Although referring to my earlier posting, I wonder if this is one worth really bothering about.

It's been tested to death and the results are invariably (regardless of which agency or charity you speak to), the same. There are few exceptions. And when I have seen exceptions, the copy is usually crap.

So keep fighting hard for the long letters. They will continue to help more benefactors. And that's what it's all about.


Friday, March 6, 2009

Testing is necessary, but be warned.

I love testing things.

But I also believe that it's easy to test things for the sake of testing. I've been guilty of this in the past.

Don't get me wrong: testing is great, and for direct marketers, essential. But time and time again I see test results that read something like this…

‘There was an observed difference in response, but the difference was not statistically significant’.

This can happen for a number of reasons but typically because either the sample sizes were too small or the test was just too tactical and not likely to produce a meaningful or different result. In other words it was just stupid.

I’d implore you to consider some long term (say, 12 month), strategic tests that will have a big impact on your program. The barrier to doing these is time, cost and direct marketers being incredibly impatient. We want to know everything yesterday, not in a year. Be patient my fellow fundraising friends, the longer term tests are likely to provide the most value for your program. And ultimately those brilliant causes you support.

Think about undertaking one/some of the following over a fixed period, not just one appeal:

• Testing the impact of different streams of donor care materials for different groups of donors and measuring the comparative value of those groups at the end of the test period.
• Testing the impact of treating different value donors differently. For example spending more on mid value donors to see whether they behave like high value donors. In other words, do they give you more?
• Testing the impact of varying ask strategies to try and find the optimum ask prompts for various donor group.

Don’t obsess with meaningless testing. They might seem like fun things to test but assessing whether blue font at the top of the response form out pulls red font ain’t going to change the world.

Oh and finally, for those of you interested in my little furry friend Ricky the raccoon. He’s doing well. But even more exciting was my spotting of three deer last night on my brief trip to the breathtaking Banff, Alberta. Didn’t see any grizzlies, but the deer sighting was memorable.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Your bullet proof plan to effectively talk about bequests

I’m regularly amazed at how much bequest/legacy materials focus on the mechanics of making a Will or leaving a gift in a Will .

Yes, this is important. Yes, we need to get it right. But frankly, if you can’t convince someone why they should do it in the first place, this is a waste of time.

So, when developing your bequest materials, consider the checklist below. Side note: the most effective combination of materials is a long, personal and emotive letter with an accompanying bequest brochure.

Within these two pieces, ensure that every time we:

Use empowering imagery. If you’re a medical research agency, I don’t want pictures of lab coats and test tubes. I want images of people whose lives have been changed a result of the lab coats and test tubes.

Make the case. Why do you need me to leave a bequest? Make it compelling. Make it concise. Make it clear.

Tell a story (and back it up with those empowering images). Don’t be afraid to use emotion, tell me how someone’s (could be a cat or dog by the way) life has been or could be changed because of a bequest/legacy you have received.

Provide a testimonial. They shouldn’t just believe you (the organization). Tell it from ‘the horse’s mouth’. Let one of your amazing supporters tell other supporters why they decided to leave a gift in their Will, and why they should follow suit.

Include an ask. Don’t tippy toe around the subject. Use language that specifically asks them to change/update their Will to include your organization. Specifically promote residuary bequests (whereby someone leaves a residue or percentage of their estate). Data we have looked at for our clients at Pareto Fundraising shows that a residuary bequest realized is worth anywhere from 4-12 times as much as a specific bequest, simply as it maintains it relative value over time.

Show the impact. You’ve told a story, but actually use a real example of a beneficiaries life that has improved because of a bequest.

Provide a response form. Make it easy for the donor to respond. Promote residuary bequests as the thing you most want them to do. Include a prepaid reply envelope to eliminate an excuse not to return the form.

Provide your details. The dull stuff, but still important. Let them know how they can contact you, mention that they should consult with their lawyer.

If you get these things right, you're well on your way to developing brilliant, compelling and effective bequest materials.

Refer to my previous post about surveys which talks about the best way to cultivate prospects for bequests.


PS - The covering image is a bequest brochure I worked on for a client in Australia, a disability organization, Scope Victoria. I loved the simplicity of this piece, combined with some fantastic imagery.