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.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Donor-Centric Fundraising

Dear Supporter,

Here at Anycity Nonprofit Organization, we're pretty awesome. We achieved a lot this year, but we still have more work to do. We need your $50 donation, so we can continue helping our community.
Sincerely,
CEO at Anycity Nonprofit Organization
Would you make a donation to Anycity Nonprofit Organization? Who would really ask their donors (or potential donors) for a gift this way, right? But, unfortunately, a lot of nonprofits approach their supporters and prospects this way, focusing on the organization instead of its constituents. This is a bit of an extreme example, but nonetheless, illustrates organization-focused fundraising instead of donor-centric.

So, what exactly is donor-centric fundraising? Basically, it's focusing on the wants and needs of your donors, not your organization. Donor-centric fundraising is finding that sweet spot of balance between relationships and results. 101fundraising said it best: it's not relationships vs. results, it's about relationships for results.

If you focus too much on getting results and not enough on the person behind the gift, you'll have great results in the short-run but absolutely hurt your long-term sustainability. Nobody will continue giving to an organization that only focuses on getting their dollar.

On the flip-side, you don't want to completely ignore your results either. At the end of the day, you need donations to continue running, and you have to make the ask. Bottom line - donors want to help and want to give, but they also want to be treated like people, not ATMs.

So, how can your organization become more focused on the donor?
  • Responsive web design
  • Yes, it costs money to do, but put yourself in the shoes of a donor, potential donor or anyone visiting your website on their phone or tablet. You find yourself zooming in and out, scrolling side to side and squinting to read the site. Not only is this incredibly frustrating, but there's no way you can make a donation this way. It's 2014 - people access emails and websites A LOT via their phone or tablet, including making donations. Please, make it easy for them to do.
  • Thank-you letters and phone calls
  • Seems pretty basic, but if you read our last post, you know many organizations still struggle to effectively thank donors. Timely, sincere letters personalized to the donor make your supporters feel truly appreciated and valued. Sure, this takes a little more time and effort on your part, but it's noticed by your donors. Take your acknowledgments up another notch by adding in thank-you phone calls. Most organizations have a staff member personally thank their large donors, but phone calls to new and regular donors are just as appreciated and delightfully unexpected. 
  • Easy online donation process
  • It's been proven that the more information a donor has to provide and the longer the donation process takes, the more likely they are to abandon the donation. A lot of clicks = a lot of opportunities to cancel the process. Ideally, someone should be able to click your "donate" button and be taken immediately to the form, where only a couple more clicks will finalize their donation. The only required fields should be the ones needed to process the gift. Yes, you can include other fields on the form, but make them optional. Make the online donation process as short and sweet as possible.
  • Stories, not statistics
  • People connect to faces and names, not numbers. That doesn't mean you can't share your statistics, but find a way to link it to a story. For example, "The Food Bank of Anycity provides food assistance to 20,000 people every week. This is John's story..." Statistics engage the mind, stories engage the heart. Find a happy medium between statistics and storytelling. Put a face and a name to your mission
  • Use "you" as often as possible
  • Instead of talking about everything your organization does, talk about everything your donors do. For example, rather than saying, "Last year, the Anycity Humane Society rescued 10,000 animals," say, "Last year, you helped the Anycity Humane Society rescue 10,000 animals." Adding in the "you" makes your supporters feel connected to and actively responsible for your success. Use "you" more often than "we," "us," or "our" - show how great your donors are, instead of how great you are.
Donor-centrism doesn't mean your results become second priority. Rather, donor-centrism is strengthening your relationships to achieve better results. It's creating fundraising campaigns that focus on the donor experience. It's engaging with donors and prospects in ways that interest them. It's making your supporters feel actively involved with your organization and its accomplishments. Seek to maintain a balance between relationships and results - that's where long-term sustainability is achieved.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

5 tips for donor acknowledgments

Saying "thank you" is a habit that has been ingrained in all of us since we were children - probably as soon as we started talking. So why do some nonprofits still struggle with telling their donors "thank you?"

Maybe it's lack of a plan or person dedicated to doing acknowledgments, or falling into the trap of sending the same letter to every donor, or waiting too long to actually mail the letter. If your acknowledgment program is struggling to stay afloat or could use some help, here are five tips to improve your thank-yous:

1. Acknowledge donors
By far, the number one, most important, necessary part of your acknowledgment program is acknowledging your donors. Did I mention how crucial this is? The current national retention rate is barely 50%, and donors are giving to fewer nonprofits. You cannot afford to slack on your retention strategies, including thanking every donor. If you don't bother to acknowledge a donor's gift, why would they continue to give? You may be thinking, "This isn't a tip - it's a no-brainer.", but you'd be amazed at how many donors report in surveys that they were never thanked for a gift and therefore, stopped giving (not surprising).

2. Create a plan of attack
Just because a donor never received a thank-you, doesn't mean that the organization lacks an acknowledgment program. Sometimes, it's the execution that's lacking. Creating a "plan of attack" for sending thank-yous can keep gifts from falling through the cracks and going unacknowledged.

Decide who will be responsible for sending thank-yous, how often they will be sent, which donors will receive what letter and how all of this will be tracked. Taking the time to nail down a plan will ease the panicky feeling that can come from not knowing when the last time thank-yous were sent and not knowing whom to ask. Make a plan and stick to it.

3. Have a sense of urgency
The sooner an acknowledgment goes out, the better. Waiting too long to send a thank-you can make the donor feel unappreciated or forgotten. And, if you wait way too long, they may even forget giving you a gift. Within two weeks of the donation is an ideal turnaround time - within a few days is even better.

Quick turnaround time also eases the burden during peak donation times and for organizations with a high volume of gifts year-round. Set aside time every other week, once a week or several times a week and get acknowledgments done and in the mail. Staying on top of acknowledgments will keep you from becoming buried underneath an endless list of thank-you to-dos.

4. Show genuine appreciation
A great way to speed up your turnaround time is to send the exact same letter to everyone. But, do you think you donors are going to feel genuinely appreciated when they receive the same exact letter every time they make a gift? Having one generic thank-you template that you send to everyone with zero personalization may be easier on your schedule, but it does nothing for your retention or donor relationships.

Start by doing away with any type of universal salutation ("Dear Supporter") and address your supporter by name. Weave-in personalization throughout the letter. Are they a long-time donor? Recognize it. Did they give to a special fund or appeal? Mention it. Take the opportunity to tell your donor how their gift will be used. These little things add sincerity to your thank-you letter and make the donor feel special.

5. Add an ask
Yes, you read that right. Go ahead - slip a reply envelope and remit in with your thank-you. What most people consider a 'don't' is actually a 'do', and best of all, it works. Why does it work? First, it's a soft ask. In the body of the letter, you're not explicitly asking for another gift, but you are providing a way for them to make a gift if they feel compelled. And, they're going to feel compelled. Why? Because you followed the first four tips! Your donor received a personalized, genuine thank-you right after making a gift, so they're feeling special and valuable. Now, they're going to give you another gift because you showed and told them how important they are to your organization and the community.

Just remember, your acknowledgments shouldn't be seen as a burden or a task to check-off your list. Use your thank-you letters as an opportunity to show your genuine, heartfelt appreciation as well as keep your donors connected with your organization and build a long-lasting relationship.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Testing, Testing 1-2-3

"If you keep doing what you've always done, you'll keep getting what you've always gotten."


Do you keep emailing the same subject line to supporters expecting a higher open rate? Do you mail a donor the same ask array every time expecting a higher average gift? Do you make the same social media post expecting a higher engagement? Test driving different strategies against a current approach can help you discover new ways to boost static or declining results.

So, what can you test?
  • Direct mail packages
    Multiple pieces on a direct mail package can be tested – the outer envelope, copy, photos, colors, call to action, ask arrays, letter length, type of package and premiums are just a handful of testable items.
  •  Email campaigns
    Just like direct mail packages, multiple items on an email campaign can be tested, including subject line, send time/day, "from" name, donation landing page, copy, photos, length and the location of buttons and links.
  • Segmentation
    Segment donors and test sending different groups different packages. You can segment donors by location, recency, frequency, monetary or demographic information. Then, test different packages within a group. Or see if the same package performs better in one group than another.
  • Social Media
    Social media is a bit harder to accurately test, especially items like Facebook posts because Facebook’s algorithm shows your post to only a small percentage of your followers. And typically, those are the followers who already engage with your page regularly. Their engagement with your post determines whether or not more people will see it on their feed. You also can’t truly test against a control because you can’t segment your audience, and you can’t show different posts to the same exact group of people.
     
  • Nonetheless, you can get an idea of whether posting during a certain time or day has better reach. Or if a type of photo or story has higher engagement. Maybe adding a question to your post lifts your followers’ response. If you pay for Facebook’s boost options, you can test targeting different groups.
  • Anything else you've ever wondered about or wanted to try
    As long as you can create a test version, have a control and have an accurate way to measure the results, then try it. You never know if something new will outperform a long-standing control piece unless you test it.
Before you dive into testing, here are a few things to remember:
  • On the test version, change ONLY one thing at a time. Shortening the subject line, sending the email at a different time and changing the donate button to green is not an accurate test. How will you know which modification on the test email caused the lift (or drop) in results?
  • Compare overall results, not individual indicators. Maybe a control package resulted in a lower response rate than the test but generated a higher average gift. Or perhaps the test had a higher response rate and average gift but cost significantly more to produce and mail. Look at big picture indicators such as net income, cost per dollar raised and cost to acquire a donor to get a more accurate assessment of whether to keep a package or toss it.
  • Make your tests as accurate as possible. Comparing a name label package you mailed this January to a certificate package you mailed two summers ago is not a test. Selectively choosing who receives the control and who receives the test is not accurate either. And mailing a test without a control won't work either. You can't compare apples to oranges and expect relevant results. Conducting accurate testing can be time consuming and sometimes expensive but you'll know the decisions you are making are based on correct and reliable information.
Testing can give you answers to some of your burning questions. Does shortening my subject line increase the open rate? Do I get more donations if I make the donate button bigger? Will a black and white mail package give me a higher response rate?

Creating, testing and analyzing new ideas and strategies helps you discover what works (and doesn't work) for your organization, your supporters and your community.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Creating a newsletter that works

For many organizations, newsletters are a dreaded part of their mail program - and for good reason. Even though they only go out a few times a year, they can take a significant amount of planning, time and work. And, unless you're creating a newsletter that actually works, they're a drain on your resources (at best, breaking even).

But have no fear! Creating a newsletter that works isn't difficult - in fact, we have some super tips on how to compose a newsletter that not only is a vital component of your stewardship program but is ALSO a fundraising tool.

Set it up for success
Consistently time your newsletters - three times throughout the year - and always include a personalized remit device and return envelope. Perhaps a donor is moved by a story in your newsletter and feels compelled to give a gift - make it easy for them to do so. If you aren't already including them, these two pieces alone will lift your response rate.

Don't forget to ask
Just because your newsletter educates your donors, it doesn't mean you shouldn't ask for a donation. If you are describing a capital campaign or a new program that needs funding, be sure your article includes a clear, strong ask for a gift. If you don't ask, donors will assume you have sufficient funds.

Use consistent formatting and branding
Have a content and placement template and follow the format each time. Regular readers will come to expect certain content in the same location. A consistent layout allows donors to easily get the information that most interests them. Consistent branding also makes your publication easily recognizable and will integrate with the rest of your marketing materials.

White space is mandatory
For each column or story, keep the length brief and to the point. Use strong headlines, compelling pull quotes and clear calls to action.

Optimize your prime real estate
The front and back covers of your newsletter are prime real estate! Use your front cover to focus on a specific, positive story that is breathtaking and/or heart wrenching. The back cover can showcase your next event, highlight a program that needs special funding, feature naming opportunities or thank your recent planned giving donors. Consider placing the executive director column on page two or three.

Paint the picture
Let photos tell your story, but don't forget to use copy to paint the picture as well. Most people will not read every article, so concentrate on writing strong, captivating content through your headlines and captions. Readers tend to skim over your newsletter and are drawn to items that stand out on the page - photos, call outs, pull quotes, headlines and captions. So what you place at the "skimming level" is crucial because some readers will only look at these items.

Use verbs written in active rather than passive voice - they are key to your strategy. Provide website addresses where more information or videos can capture their interest and further engage them.

Make another reduction
Edit your content ruthlessly, revise often and proofread. Never lose sight that your newsletter represents the best of your organization. Avoid giving your supporters a negative impression due to typos, poor grammar or outdated information.

Please do this next
Make certain there are calls to action that engage the reader and move them to immediately act. Invite them to donate, volunteer, register, tell a friend, learn more, write an email or make a call! Engaged donors are retained longer and become stronger advocates. 

When done correctly, your newsletter will grow your relationship with donors and keep them engaged with your organization. And, it will become a successful fundraising tool. Your newsletter can and should serve more than just one purpose for your organization ... but does it?
 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Spring is here - and so are the benchmark reports

Believe it or not, one of the first signs of Spring is all of the benchmark reports popping up like daisies. It's around this time of year we start to see a flurry of studies compiling nonprofit results from the prior calendar year. These numbers tell us the direction of nonprofit fundraising, areas on the incline (and decline) and what's on the horizon.

Most recently, Target Analytics, a subset of Blackbaud, released their 2013 Q4 donorCentrics Index of Direct Marketing Fundraising. This study compiles data from 76 nonprofit organizations representing 77 million gifts and $2.4 billion in revenue. Overall, it's a great comprehensive study of year-over-year changes if you want to see how your organization stacks up to overall and sector benchmarks. 

And you can download the full report right here. 

But in the meantime, here are a few key findings from this year's study:
> Number of donors dropped another 2% from 2012 
This downward trend has been going on for several years now, and since 2008, the number of donors has dropped 9.4%. In fact, there hasn't been a positive year-over-year change since 2005!
> New donors acquired declined 3.2%
Contributing to the first point, the number of new donors acquired by organizations decreased again, and only about one-third of organizations saw a positive change. Over the past 5 years, new donor numbers have declined a hefty 16.4%.

> Overall revenue increased 2.2%
A slight increase but an increase nonetheless. Why? Because even though the number of donors dropped, the revenue per donor (and new donor) increased, leading to an uptick in overall revenue. And, a full 82% of organizations saw a positive change in their revenue.

> Retention rates stayed relatively steady
The overall retention rate went up a hair - 0.4% to be exact - but first year and multi-year retention both declined slightly. But with the overall retention rate still at 50%, the small increase doesn't mean much when nonprofits are still losing half of their donor base each year.
....So, now what? What does all of this data mean and what do you do with it?

Start by comparing your organization's numbers with the benchmarks - this will give you an idea of where you're excelling (or falling short) compared to the national index and your sector's index. If you're struggling in certain areas, you can implement strategies and solutions targeted at lifting those numbers and improving your overall fundraising program.

To view the 2013 Q4 donorCentrics™ Index of Direct Marketing Fundraising, visit Blackbaud.com.

As always, feel free to contact us if you need help tackling the data or want to talk about your numbers - we're here to help.