Check-Up Clinic: Advice

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Shared from The NonProfit Times, July 2020 edition

Changing For The Future 

by Bob Albrecht

Evolving amid unexpected turmoil

Nonprofit managers’ focus for the year changed virtually overnight. They were called to respond to a global health crisis and the needs that grew out of it. Some issues, such as food insecurity and housing, grew more urgent, while others were crowded out.

This world-and industry-wide disruption has threatened the ability of staff at organizations to carry out short-term missions and longer-term strategic plans, but it’s also a reminder of something that can serve as a guide for your work. Change is as unpredictable as it is inevitable. Accepting this, and acting accordingly, carries opportunity.

That’s the best way to look at the level-setting in front of you: a chance to take stock of your program and transform inefficiencies into new strategies to power your work.

It is an especially pivotal time to do so given what lies ahead in just a few months: The upcoming election is projected to be the most expensive the country has ever seen, and this — coupled with a potential second swell of COVID this fall and winter — means it is critical to frontload as much revenue as possible as early as possible in the year. Doing so helps mitigate external factors that might arise later in the year and protects your organization against potentially softer results during Giving Tuesday and end-of-year.

Thankfully, there are a few easy places to start that actually don’t require radical reinventions of your plans. Fundraisers at nonprofits of all sizes and sectors have found revenue in unexpected places — often among their own existing audiences, that previously weren’t being leveraged to their full potential.

While it’s easy to want to look outward for new sources of revenue — and every organization should be focusing on continuous acquisition and growing its donor pool — your existing audience represents a tremendous amount of program-bolstering revenue just waiting to be tapped through the right tactics. (Think of it like nding a crisp $20 bill in an old pair of jeans or, to be more cinematic, a treasure map with an X marked squarely in your backyard.)

By capitalizing on strong existing relationships, customizing user experiences to allow your supporters to see themselves reflected in your mission (and secure more high-value donations in turn), and converting “low-hanging fruit” through emerging reactivation efforts, you’re poised to navigate the coming uncertainties — all while getting to learn more about your audience.

Here are a few ways you might consider transforming your approach for the long-haul:

  • Sustainers have become the bedrocks of charitable giving. But there’s a wide gulf between wanting sustainers and actually securing them. A number of fundraisers have turned to a recurring upsell that asks supporters to make a monthly gift right on the donation page. While this tactic might succeed in converting sustainers, there remains an opportunity to think bigger, with an eye toward increasing the depth of a supporter’s connection to your organization.

The organizations most successful at converting sustainers have made testing tactics and user experiences a priority — including flows to extend a conversation immediately after a supporter has made a one-time gift. This is the moment they’re most primed to give (and give again), and it’s critical to make the most of it.

By leading donors through an open-ended user experience after their initial gift, one that shows gratitude for their contribution and then asks them to reect on what compelled them to make their gift, there exists an opportunity for donors to see themselves in the center of an organization’s story and turn their one-time gift into a monthly contribution. This has shown evidence of increasing sustainer pools without sacrificing one-time gifts, ultimately allowing organizations to increase the lifetime value of their supporters.

Just as critical as it is to devise strategies that compel donors to pledge their support monthly, it’s even more important to retain them. Sustainers represent a tremendously special and committed part of your audience, and it’s important they feel valued as such. Sometimes that can be as easy as custom email segments that reference their ongoing gift before asking them to upgrade or consider an additional one-time gift. Other times, it can take the form of specific content and premiums just for them — anything to show appreciation for what they bring to your mission. One organization implemented a soft-touch sustainer stream that offered a few pieces of custom content a month and saw monthly retention rates increase by 15 percent.

  • A couple years ago, there was an inection point in digital media, where media companies started leveraging the unique capabilities of the internet, relative to the static nature of print. (By way of illustration, think BuzzFeed and its proliferation of quizzes.) Creating content in that spirit can work in direct marketing, too, as marketers leverage the two-way communication power of digital to engage their audiences in real time.

What this looks like is really up to you and your supporters. It might be as simple as a survey that asks your donors about the issues they’re most passionate about, then reflects their interests back to them — or an interactive quiz inviting them to test their knowledge about your work and impact. Even deeper are campaigns that offer a prompt and invite responses, creating opportunities for authentic interaction between you, your community and community members themselves.

Taken together, this all creates more value for members of your community, a key element to keeping them opening, reading, and taking action. Relationships don’t succeed through extraction alone. Doubly beneficial is that you’re able to use these valuable data inputs to influence your future strategy, building a deep bank about your supporters’ interests and motivations that allows you to develop differentiated, personalized content streams you know they’ll be excited to engage with — leading to stronger connections with your mission

  • From your oldest supporters to new acquisitions, everyone in your ecosystem has, at some point, taken affirmative steps to engage with your mission. That means even people who’ve lapsed possess characteristics that make them prime targets for re-engagement. From this premise, organizations are succeeding with what’s been dubbed predictive analytics: essentially, data-informed models highlighting the supporters most likely to reactivate.

It’s a cost-effective form of email re-engagement that uses the most cutting-edge tactics to target familiar audiences — and it can drive eye-popping results: One organization broke even within 14 days and drove a massive 317-percent return on investment in just one month.

These models use predictive, AI-generated lists based on billions of data points (including direct mail response and digital conversion data such as behavioral, demographic, and additional inputs) to identify whom from the list of inactive names could be good targets to email again — and, importantly, who is not a good target and should continue to be excluded from future mailings

Taken a step further, these models can also identify other key elements of an organization’s audience, including sustainer prospects, mid-level prospects, major-gift prospects, donors at risk of lapse, and digital non-donors primed for activation. No matter your intended audience, leaning on advanced data science and predictive modeling allows organizations to cost-effectively deliver tailored communications to exactly the right people.

All of these approaches are beneficial at any time, but especially when nonprofits and themselves in an environment that’s disrupted and unfamiliar. From necessity, comes innovation. And that’s the invitation to you: to challenge long-standing assumptions about your work and look inward for opportunity and unexplored growth, then put plans into place to strengthen both the short-term and long-term health of your organization.

Bob Albrecht is chief operating o?cer of Anne Lewis Strategies, an Infogroup company, based in Washington, D.C. His email is

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