Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Survey says...

Do you know WHY a donor decided to give to your organization? Do you know WHAT your constituents want you to improve? Do you know anything about your supporters other than just the basics? If you want to know the answers, you need to ask. And with multiple channels available to survey your supporters, it's easier than ever to ask questions and collect responses.

But before you create that online survey or send a mail piece, it's best to begin at  the end. Before you even begin to craft the questions and set up the survey, think about how you will use the collected responses. Every question you ask should have a use designed to help you better communicate with the responder or help you improve your organization.

How you format your questions is up to you. Multiple choice options allow you to easily group answers together and find the most popular response(s). Open-ended questions allow the responder to answer in their own words and provide options you may have overlooked. And, some questions such as "Why is our mission important to you?" will elicit a different response from each donor.

How can you collect this data? Your website is one of the most cost-effective options. As people join the email list, use the sign-up to gather extra information. Keep the sign-up form brief - if it's too long or asks too many prying questions, it may be abandoned. But a simple question, "How did you hear about us?" can gauge the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.

Mailing a survey or including a survey in your mail pieces is another way to reach out to your donors, ask questions and collect responses. Include a survey in your welcome package as a way to learn more about your new supporter and what compelled them to make their initial gift.

Send your current donors a survey, asking why your organization's mission is important to them and what (if anything) your organization could improve upon. The responses you collect will guide how you communicate with your current donors and how to motivate more prospects to become supporters.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Planned Giving FAQs - Part Two

In part one of our Planned Giving FAQs, we answered why you should establish a planned giving program, who your prospects are for the program and what gift options are available. Now in part two, we address questions about implementing your planned giving program and helping it thrive.

How do we start a planned giving program?
First and foremost, you need to determine if a planned giving program will have long-term support, regardless of initial profitability. You need to have the support of your board and key staff, and your development team needs to have the capacity to take on planned giving.

Once the consensus is made to launch a program, there will need to be some internal planning and training of key staff and your board. Determine program policies, basic goals and objectives and program budget. Create a legacy society for planned giving donors to serve as a cultivation tool and to identify additional prospects.

After you've established the framework for your program, begin analyzing your database and identifying planned giving prospects. This is where data overlay can help you discover valuable missing information such as donor age. Then, draft a cultivation plan for these identified prospects and begin reaching out.

What is the best way to market our planned giving program?
Start by adding planned giving language to current communications:
  • Add a lead generation line to your direct mail remit slips that any donor can simply mark to receive more information about planned giving.
  • In your newsletters, add a space asking donors to remember your organization in their will or estate, and include planned giving stories and articles.
  • List legacy society members in your annual report and on your website, and consider special recognition for this group at events.
  • Create an area on your website dedicated just to your planned giving program.
Take advantage of any time you can offer supporters the opportunity to request more information about planned giving. Informational letters and brochures can be used to respond quickly and efficiently to these inquiries.

Postcards, mail packages and newsletters focused specifically on planned giving are great ways to reach out to your prospects, educate them about your program, give them the opportunity to request more information and notify you if they have already included you in their will or estate.

Just like any donor gift, you need to make a strong ask for a planned gift. Educating prospects about planned giving and your program is the best place to start, but don't forget to actually make a strong, clear ask for the gift. And, with only 22% of people over the age of 30 saying they have been asked for a planned gift, that leaves a lot of potential future dollars sitting on the table.

Show them the impact their planned gift will have on your organization and community, and they will want to leave a legacy for future generations.

How long will it take for our planned giving program to generate revenue?
As previously mentioned, your planned giving program requires long-term support and commitment from your organization because it takes time and dedication for the program the mature. Initial profitability (or lack thereof) should not be the make or break factor in the early stages of your program.

Your planned giving program is focused on building relationships and becoming part of the "family" when final or long-term financial plans are being discussed. This means making a case for how your organization will use planned gifts to advance your mission and benefit the future community and inspiring donors to take action. Plan on committing time to personally following up with and cultivating interested supporters.

Review your program, at least once a year, with your board and staff, and identify areas for improvement. Evaluate your short- and long-term goals and objectives, budget and marketing. Identify what's worked for you as well as the challenges you've faced and ways you can overcome them in the future.

If you start putting in the time and commitment now, you will build a strong, mature planned giving program that will continue to benefit and sustain your organization well into the future.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Planned Giving Programs FAQs - Part One

Why establish a planned giving program?
Planned giving programs focus on the long-term sustainment of your organization. Gifts made through planned giving are typically the largest gift a donor will make, and almost everyone has the ability to make a planned gift.

Even though most gifts are deferred for several years, they will provide substantial future support if you put the effort in now. Planned giving programs allow your most loyal supporters the ability to leave a legacy and support the future of your community and mission.

Who are our planned giving prospects?
When identifying your prospects, look to your loyal donors, not just your major donors. As mentioned, almost everyone has the ability to make a planned gift, so looking only at wealth indicators to identify prospects will hinder you from growing a strong, healthy program.

Instead, look at the supporters who have been loyal to your organization. Monthly and multi-year givers (even long-term volunteers) are a good pool of prospects. These are the supporters who are truly passionate about your mission and care about the future of your organization.

Along with falling into the wealth indicator trap, don't exclude potential prospects based on age. If you target only your older donors (above retirement age), your program won't reach its potential. Expand your program prospects to supporters 30+, and create different messages for different age groups.

For the younger prospects, focus first on educating them about planned giving and the different options. The average age of someone making their first planned gift is 40-50 years old, so educating and asking for planned gifts from supporters has to start before they hit retirement. Once your organization has been named in someone's estate or will, it is highly unlikely you will ever be removed.

What other planned gift options exist besides bequests/wills?
Hands down, bequests are the most common type of planned gift - about 85% of your gifts will be
bequests. But there are many other planned giving options:
  • Life insurance
  • Retirement funds
  • Stock
  • Gifts of real estate or personal property
  • Charitable gift annuitiies
Even though bequests can be very simple, it is important to educate your prospects and their professional advisors about other available options, so they can choose the vehicle that provides the best overall benefit to your organization and to them. Financial and emotional needs differ from donor to donor, so a bequest may not be the best fit for everyone.

Stay tuned for part two and the answers to starting a planned giving program, the best way to market your program and how long it will take for your planned giving program to generate revenue.



Thursday, August 21, 2014

Asking Volunteers for More than Time

Your volunteers do everything from cleaning, to sorting donations, to fielding incoming phone calls, and everything in between. In fact, they are some of the most committed supporters of your organization - they're giving you free labor! So, why aren't you asking your volunteers to give more than just their time?

The most common response is the fear of offending a key stakeholder - "They're already giving their time; asking for money as well is asking too much." The problem is you're skipping over arguably the most loyal constituents of your organization. They've already proven they believe in your mission and want to help you. Volunteers already know about your organization, believe in your work, give their time to help your nonprofit thrive .... and you aren't asking them for a gift?

Now, I'm not saying to ask a volunteer for a gift the first time they set their foot in the door. But, at the very least, you should be offering information to your volunteers about how they can give more if they feel compelled. If your volunteers truly understand your mission and believe in your organization, they won't be offended by your asking of a donation. Worst-case scenario is a volunteer passes on making a donation, but it's highly unlikely you're going to have a mass volunteer walkout because you asked for a monetary gift.

Here are some ways you can go about making the ask:
  • Volunteer acknowledgments
    These folks are a special group, and they deserve special treatment. Just like donors, volunteers should receive acknowledgments. Whether it's an award, a dinner or banquet just for volunteers or thank-you notes, they should be shown they are appreciated, and their service should be recognized. If you have a volunteer acknowledgment program up and running, then you are in a great starting position to make an ask.
     
  • Volunteer newsletters
    If you mail a volunteer newsletter, consider including a remit slip and reply envelope. Or, if you send an e-newsletter, include a link to donate online. If you don't currently have a volunteer newsletter, think about starting one, even if it's just a once or twice a year thing. Or add them to your mailing list for your regular newsletter.
     
  • Volunteer packets
    Create a volunteer packet that includes more information about your organization and the impact of volunteers, a call-to-action and a response device. Make these packets known and available for volunteers to take.

The key is to ask for a gift and provide a way for your volunteers to make a donation if they wish. It all circles back to the number one reason why someone doesn't give to an organization - they simply were never asked. You never know - you may have a major donor sitting (or sorting donations) right underneath your nose.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Cultivating Monthly Sustainers

Key objectives of cultivation are to increase donor retention and maximize donor lifetime value. A monthly sustainer program not only accomplishes both of those goals but also lowers your cost of fundraising - netting more revenue for your mission.


Becoming a monthly sustainer is also more convenient for both the donor and your organization. A regular donor fills out a remit slip every time a donation is made, which then has to be processed and entered by your staff. A monthly sustainer fills out a one-time remit slip with either credit card or electronic bank transfer (EBT) information, and the donation is processed automatically each month. Your organization also saves money by removing monthly donors from certain mailings (but not
all
of them).

You never stop communicating with your monthly donors. You still need to steward your sustainers; otherwise, they will just feel like an automatic transaction every month. Newsletters, quarterly/annual reports, event invites, VIP tours and special thank-you events are great ways to keep your sustainers engaged and show them your appeciation. Your monthly donors are also a prime group to survey and get feedback about how your organization is doing.

So, which donors are strong sustainer prospects? The answer is in your database. Looking at recency, frequency and monetary (RFM) history, your organization can pinpoint which donors should receive a monthly sustainer appeal. Even though not every recipient of your appeal will become a monthly donor right away, many will still respond with a gift and are now aware that your organization has a special monthly giving program.

For donors that are already part of your monthly giving program, mail an annual upgrade appeal. If you are stewarding your sustainers, they will likely increase their monthly gift to your organization. Once a donor has joined your sustainer program, continue to communicate with and cultivate them. Sustainers make great prospects for your board, volunteer opportunities and peer-to-peer fundraising. Clearly, they love your organization and are committed to you, so get them involved in other areas.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Give Your Website a Facelift: 7 Ways to Digitally Renovate

In today's world, the fastest way to get information is to simply go online. Type your organization's name in a search engine, and within milliseconds, you have a list of results, including a link to your website.

Your website serves as a first impression, an educational resource, an engagement tool and a donation method. Keeping your site updated and user-friendly should be a digital priority, especially if you're driving people to your website.

Here are 7 ways to renovate your organization's website:

1. Pull the "donate" button out of hiding
Potential donors don't want to work to make a donation, so they shouldn't have to hunt for your "donate" button. A "donate" button should always be positioned on your homepage before the fold - scrolling to find the button is a no-no. This doesn't mean throw the button smack-dab in the middle of the screen, but it should appear toward the top of the homepage.

The button itself should contrast with the rest of the page. Contrasting doesn't need to be neon yellow, hot pink or even red. But it should stand out from the rest of the links, buttons and tabs on the page. If the dominant color on your page is red, then your "donate" button should not be red. Make it any color (within your brand's palette) that stands out and catches the visitor's eye. But stay away from obnoxious colors and designs.

2. Keep your homepage clean and uncluttered
Putting too much stuff on your homepage can overwhelm a visitor and drive them away. Light copy and large graphics are both appealing and easy to follow for newly landed visitors. Three to five callout features that encourage them to learn more, read more or do more on another page is a great go-to layout option.

Rotating homepage slides can be used to highlight a success story, upcoming event or campaign update. Just be sure to keep the slides updated - an emergency call to action shouldn't be featured for 6 months.

3. Regularly update your content
If you want people to keep coming back to your site, you need to provide them with new, valuable content. Whether it's a new article, press release, educational material or client story, give your current and prospective donors a reason to regularly check your website. If your content is the same every time they visit, they will eventually stop viewing your website as a source of new information and updates.

Plan out your website content for the year and get a head start now. This will help you avoid going weeks without making an update to your site. If you know a certain month is slower for news, events and campaign updates, then plan to write a client story or educational piece and start gathering and writing info now. Not only will this ease your stress level, but you will produce higher quality content when you have ample time to brainstorm, research and write.

4. Review your donation form
As previously noted, potential donors don't want to work to make a donation. Making a gift to your organization should be easy and enjoyable, not frustrating. So your online donation process should be short and seamless.

The number of required information fields should be kept to a minimum. Any info not required to process the donation should either be optional or not appear on the form. A prospective donor faced with 50 blank information fields probably isn't going to bother taking the time to make a donation.

Keep the number of clicks to a minimum as well. As soon as your site visitor clicks on the "donate" button, they should be taken directly to the donation form. From there, it should take just a couple of clicks to finalize the donation. The more times a prospective donor has to click and go to another page, the more opportunities they have to cancel or leave the donation incomplete.

Make a donation online and test the usability of your form and process. How long did it take you from start to finish? How many clicks did your have to make to process the donation? Was the form streamlined and easy to follow? Testing the form yourself will help you identify areas for improvement.

5. Redirect outside links to a new window
From time to time, links on your site will redirect to a different website. Whether it's your social media buttons or a reference to other sources, somewhere within your site are outside links. When one of these links is clicked, it should always open in a new browser window, making it easy to return to your site. Visitors should never be directed away from your website.

It's also a good idea to regularly verify that your outside links work and are valid. Remove or fix broken links or ones that go to incorrect pages or websites.

6. Place contact info on the homepage
Your physical address and contact info should appear somewhere within the footer of your page. Many people will visit your site specifically looking for that information. Make it easy to find and readily available by placing it in your page footer. You can also include hours of operation, emergency phone numbers and a site map.

7. Consider a responsive design
With an increasing amount of website traffic coming from mobile devices, responsive web design is becoming more and more necessary. A responsive design automatically resizes and rearranges your website when accessed from a tablet or phone. Instead of having to zoom in and out and scroll side to side, mobile visitors are greeted with an easy-to-view site.

However, before you jump into this major overhaul, do some research and discover if investing in a responsive design is the right move for you. Your website analytics will tell you how much of your traffic is coming through mobile devices. If a relatively small portion of your traffic is from mobile, then hold off on making the jump into responsive design. If a substantial portion of traffic is coming through mobile devices, then responsive conversion should be on your docket within the year.

Your website should be a reflection of your organization and brand, where donors, prospects and the community can regularly visit for valuable, up-to-date information. Periodically reviewing your site, identifying problem areas and proactively making improvements will make your website a key part of your engagement, retention, cultivation and education strategies.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

4 Steps to Better New Donor Retention

Congratulations - you've got new donors! Now what? You've made it past the first major hurdle of securing the first gift, but what about the second gift? Currently, the national median first-year retention rate is 27.3% - so roughly three out of every four new donors won't make it to year two.

This is a disheartening stat for any organization, especially when you've invested valuable time and money into acquiring these new donors. But rest assured - there are easily implemented strategies that will help you retain more new donors and get that crucial second gift.
  1. Acquire better donors
    It's simple - if you want to improve your first-year retention rate, start by bringing in higher quality donors. These are the folks who are not only more likely to make a second gift, but will also pay back their cost of acquisition faster. Yes, it is important to have revenue now, but bringing in a ton of donors at low giving levels (think under $25) doesn't help long-term value because you're not getting maximum return on your acquisition investment. Not only are those donors less likely to make a second gift, but they'll take substantially longer to pay back what it cost to acquire them if they stick around. Prospect smarter and focus on quality over quantity.

  2. Say "thanks" quickly and sincerely
    I can't stress enough the importance of acknowledgments. Promptly and genuinely thanking a new donor for their first gift sets the tone for the relationship. Asking for a second gift without thanking them for the first one sends the message that your organization is only after their dollar. And that's not a good first impression.

  3. Any donor (not just new) will stop giving if they feel their gift isn't appreciated or doesn't make a difference. You've likely lost your newly acquired donor if this critical part of stewardship is missed. Bonus points if you acknowledge new donors beyond the traditional letter. Thank-you videos on your digital platforms (or via email) and phone calls are additional ways to show your genuine appreciation to your new donors.
     
  4. Welcome new donors into the "family"
    Donors want to be connected to and engaged with your organization. Consider sending new donors a welcome package following their first gift. A welcome package thanks donors for their recent gift and gives them more information about your organization - programs, services, statistics, financial overview, etc. You can also include an invitation for your new supporters to come tour your facility. Or include a survey with reply envelope, asking them to tell you a little bit more about themselves, how they would like to interact with you and indicate if they would like more information about other ways to get involved or give.

  5. Another way to welcome new donors is with a phone call. Whether done by a staff member, board member, volunteer or recorded message, a welcome and thank-you call to new donors is delightfully unexpected and can make a real difference in getting that second gift. Donors want to know they're making a difference, so this is your opportunity to tell them how that first gift made an impact as well as invite them to come see their dollars in action.

  6. Ask for another gift
  7. So, you've brought in a new, high-quality donor, you've promptly thanked them for their first gift and you've welcomed them into your "donor family." What's left to retain them? Asking for the second gift! And, you shouldn't wait too long to make the ask. The more recently a donor gave, the more likely they are to respond to an appeal for another gift. This is especially true if you've made them feel special and valuable not only to your organization and its mission but to the community as well.

    Even if you don't get a second gift right away from the first appeal you send, continue your stewardship efforts. Don't chalk it up as a lost new donor. Most long-term donors don't respond to every single appeal you send, so don't expect every single new donor to respond to your first ask after their initial gift. Leave them on your mailing list, continue your retention strategies and keep them engaged with your organization. Patience and persistence will pay off, abandoning your new donors will not.
The first gift from a new donor is basically testing the waters of your organization - they haven't yet fully committed to you. So, your actions (or lack thereof) following the initial gift are what is likely going to convert them into a multi-year donor or send them (and their wallet) packing.