Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Planned Giving Challenges

Planned giving is a way for donors to continue making contributions to your organization after they have passed on. A planned gift is often the largest gift that a donor will make to an organization. Planned giving is an essential part to maintaining the long-term health of your organization. It includes gifts made through a will, annuities, trusts, life insurance policies, retirement, and more. However, there can be challenges and obstacles that organizations face when marketing a planned giving program.

One of the challenges of planned giving is how to communicate the right message to your donors. Most individuals have beneficiaries currently set up for any assets that are left behind. One easy way to receive a legacy gift is through a change of beneficiary form which will include your agency on their list of beneficiaries. This is the easiest solution!

Beneficiary designations are great to market because it does not involve wills and death. To communicate your message use verbiage such as, “How can your life insurance help our animal friends?” or “Your Retirement Plan can feed our community!”

Retirement plans are one of the most heavily taxed assets if left to anyone other than a spouse. But when retirement plans are left to a nonprofit organization, 100% of the money will go to the cause. Remind your donors that beneficiary designations do not require a lawyer’s involvement and are a simple and easy way to support the cause they are so passionate about.

Another challenge for planned giving is short-term thinking. Many nonprofit organizations can struggle with budget cuts and unstable financial outcomes. When this happens, many programs implement short-term strategies in order to survive, making long-term strategies suffer the consequences. Nonprofits should implement both short and long term strategies to reach financial sustainability and security.

Stop asking for a bequest commitment. A 2014 survey found that out of 1,418 individuals, 23% were interested in “making a gift to charity in my will”. Only 12% were interested in “making a bequest gift to charity”. Just by changing your campaign verbiage, you are doubling your chances to increase your planned giving program! Use donor-friendly and easily understandable language that communicates what the planned giving program is and how it works. Words and phrases like: make a gift, continue your support, and family, as well as using living stories – stories about life, not death – are a sure way to increase your chances of being included in a donor’s will.

Start your planned giving program by creating a Legacy Circle to promote the program and give recognition to your donors who have joined. Rather than just asking for a gift, you can offer to list their name with other like-minded individuals who believe in the long-term security of the organization. This can be done with a plaque in the lobby, a listing in the annual report or newsletter, etc. Donors love getting recognized and it encourages others to join the special program.

Having your donors set up a legacy giving program or gift is a way to provide future income for your organization. An organized planned giving program can be a game-changer for your organization and can be have an excellent return on your investment. Don’t forget to ask regularly and follow up when necessary in order to keep the communication fresh with your donors. Talk to your sales manager about how a planned giving program can help establish endowments, increase community impact, launch new initiatives, and sustain your programs and facilities.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Increasing Retention through Donor Feedback

Retention is always a hot topic in the nonprofit industry. Knowing how to increase donor retention rate and loyalty through engagement is the key to survival of every successful nonprofit organization. Alpha Dog Marketing consistently receives requests for more information and advice on how to maximize donor relationships and lift retention rates. One key path to success is receiving vital donor feedback.
So what is donor feedback?

Donor feedback is the act of giving your donors the opportunity to provide their thoughts and feelings about your cause and current fundraising efforts. It allows your organization to discover what your donors find most valuable and gives you useful information through structured listening. What is structured listening?  It is when you provide donors a clear and organized way to communicate with you either through a survey or direct conversations. Most organizations will only get this type of feedback if they ask for it. So ask!
We all know that the most important factor in retention of donors is consistent use of strong engagement practices. By allowing feedback from your donors, you and your agency’s leadership have the added benefit of seeing your organization through your donors’ eyes. In most cases, donors are more than happy to provide feedback because it shows that you care about what they think and feel.

Surveys allow for qualitative data regarding individual donors, such as:
  • Why your agency matters to them/what inspired their first gift
  • What projects they are most interested in supporting
  • What they are most passionate about
  • What their best gift to a charity was and why
If you are not asking your donors for feedback, you are missing a big chance to add value to your donor base and organization.  If you’ve never surveyed your donors, start with your major donors and record and implement the appropriate feedback.  As you gain information and procedures for recording and use of the data, then you can begin surveying mid-level donors and finally all donors.

Feedback can be gathered through personal contact, but also by surveying your donors on an annual basis. This can be done best by mail and can also be offered online for those donors who have signaled they only want to communicate by email.  Finally, telemarketing can also be used to gain the information when internal procedures are in place.

Before an organization starts asking questions, it is important to form a strategy for receiving and implementing the feedback.

Here are a few best practices recommended by Alpha Dog:

  • Have a plan on how to gather and interpret the feedback you receive before beginning a feedback strategy.
  • Quantitative data – demographic and economic - can be gathered through screening reports (i.e. age, household income and assets, marital status, children, etc.)
  • Keep in mind diagnostic and relational measures, like why the donor supports your agency, how a specific interaction made a donor feel, the strength of your relationship with the donor and their commitment to your cause.
  • Do not ask questions that you already know about the donor, such as how long they’ve supported your organization or the amount of their last gift.
  • Avoid asking “double barreled” questions; instead make the question single focused.
  • Use key touch points to gather feedback. For example, when your organization answers an incoming phone call or when a donor is filling out your online donation form. The best time to ask for a donation and feedback is right after a great experience the donor has with your organization.
  • Use a voice broadcast loyalty phone call with a no-ask rule.  If the donor connects with your agency and inquires about how your organization is performing, then call them occasionally with updates; stay in front of your donor in order to not be forgotten.
  • Keep the best follow-up action in mind for situations such as resolving a concern or showing donor appreciation. Prompt response to feedback will further increase engagement and retention. Based on the feedback responses, you can judge what the appropriate follow-up action is.
You will only know about the experiences and the relationships your donors have with your nonprofit organization by asking for feedback. Engagement is about staying top-of-mind with your donors. Bring your marketing campaigns full circle with feedback and use that data to respond accordingly and proactively. Your donors will stay more loyal and will donate more.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Challenging Donors with Matching Gifts

One effective approach to inspire an upgraded gift is to offer a matching gift challenge from another donor. It's a proven strategy to raise money by simply offering your donors a way to make their donation go further. With a clear message in your appeal and a deadline for the match, you can build a sense of urgency for your donors. Securing a matching gift from a donor or corporate participant is a great way to increase your average gift, lift response rate, and increase your donor base.

Be sure to include all of your major players by incorporating grants or challenging your board to commit to a match. One way to target the largest and most effective donor base is to build your match package around a specific project or closing of your fiscal year, and by all means, integrate your campaign. Matching vouchers on the direct mail appeal encourage donors to return their check and double their gift.

A strong call to action and a sense of urgency with a deadline date will lift your response rates. Donor’s need to know their help is necessary to your cause. If you are able to secure a donor or group of donors for the match, using a recognizable name in the community can lift your average gift by as much as 22%.

Let’s take a look at two case studies.  Espanola Valley Humane Society had a group of specific donors who matched dollar for dollar every gift over a 30 day period.  For 2015, they have one donor who has pledged to match every dollar over a 30 day period!  Houston Humane Society gathered several board members and donors to present a fundraising challenge.

Espanola Valley Humane Society
Comparing the Spring 2013 Animal Kindness Campaign to the Spring 2014 1+1 Matching Campaign the increase was:

Houston Humane Society
Comparing the Fall 2013 Save Lives Campaign to the Fall 2014 1+1 Challenge Match Campaign the increase was:


Matching gift challenges can lead to beneficial long-term relationships with companies, but it can sometimes be tough to find that big name partner. A great place to start looking is with your board members. Ask your board about the businesses they serve and if they would be willing to contribute in the matching program. Your local Chamber of Commerce will give you a starting point for which people to talk to in the brand-name businesses.
By working in advance, applying to local foundations for a match is also a winner because of the name recognition. 
It is a good idea to collect Annual Reports from other nonprofit organizations in your area to see who and where they receive support for their agencies. 
Challenge packages are a perfect platform for full integration. We strive to increase overall giving with a “surround sound” approach to integration. Use of social media, email, posters, billboards, voice broadcast/telemarketing and newspaper inserts will communicate urgency and saturate your message for significantly increased revenue. The larger the audience your message reaches, the greater the increase in donors’ matching gifts and additional gifts nearer the deadline. Online and offline communications complement each other and the impact in every channel.

Every dollar counts and matching gifts can be an easy strategy to increase the average gift and lift response rates. Your organization has already done the hard work of collecting a strong donor base, so why not take advantage of an opportunity to expand your efforts and provide an impactful, meaningful way for your donors to invest?

Monday, March 2, 2015


In today’s complex marketing and fundraising world, building a robust integrated strategy is critical to your marketing campaign. Integrating your marketing strategy will make a huge difference in your overall fundraising and awareness levels. This strategy is a way to reach potential and current donors through different media channels with the same content and creative. Each time your target audience sees your campaign message, it reinforces your cause and goals.
A combination of Digital/Traditional Media/Direct Mail campaigns will increase:
  • Website Traffic and Online Donations
  • White Mail Gifts
  • Revenue through Increased Average Gift
  • Reactivation of Lapsed Donors
  • Exposure and Awareness
  • Donor Loyalty
  • Number of Donations from Current Donors
  • Your Multi-Channel Marketing Opportunities to Provide Overall Lift
Direct Media
Direct mail packages come in all shapes and sizes and can serve many different purposes. The direct mail packages sent to your donors should reflect whatever your mail objective is for the campaign and include a strong call to action. This direct mail component is the meat of your campaign and should generate the most response. Other campaign messages based on the same theme can include outdoor marketing - like billboards, voice broadcast messages, radio and television ads, newspaper free standing inserts (FSI’s) and advertising, vehicle wraps, etc.  

Digital Media
Your digital strategy should match the direct mail and overall campaign message and creative. Our digital package has exceeded our partner’s goals by as high as 18%. This package includes creative and copy options for three emails, webslide graphic, donation page creative and copy, social media kit creative and guidelines, deployment per email, Google banner ads, retargeting, and full campaign performance analysis. When combined with other direct marketing messages that are circulating to your donors, we have seen a 2-5% lift in response rates from website lightboxes and a 13% lift in response rates from banner ads.

Performance Analysis
When the campaign is finished, it is crucial to conduct a performance analysis. We put together a comprehensive report on how your digital and direct marketing campaign performed. We will analyze how your organization measures up to the benchmarks for other similar sized nonprofits in your sector; then build the strategy to integrate your digital and offline communications. This will create a solid foundation for multi-channel communication that lifts the overall response of your file.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Get Your Donors' Stamp of Approval

Even the smallest elements of a direct mail package can make a big difference to donors. When putting together a campaign, it is crucial to use the most effective language, colors, components, and pictures in order to grab the attention of the donor and increase your gift averages. But what about the type of stamp, or stamps, used for your package?

The best way to analyze which combination of components will work best is to perform a test package against the control that changes one component to see which package gets the best response. We recently performed a test with several clients on remit envelope stamps for $100+ donors and got some surprising results!

Animal Welfare Test Package Results
Each test group contained 1,498 pieces mailed out to $100+ donors, 0-24 months. This test package used three stamps versus the control package using one first class stamp on the reply envelope.

Control Group: Envelopes with one first class stamp received 106 gifts for a 7.1% response rate and an average gift of $171.27.

Test Group: Envelopes with three stamps totaling $0.49 received 128 gifts for an 8.5% response rate and an average gift of $171.48.

The three stamps won by 20%!

Food Bank Test Package Results
Each test group contained 1,498 packages mailed out to $100-$499 donors, 0-24 months. This test package used one first class stamp versus the control package without any postage on the reply envelope.

Control Group: 75% of packages mailed without a first class stamp on the reply envelope and received 288 gifts for a 7.7% response rate.

Test Group: 25% of packages mailed with a first class stamp on the reply envelope and received 181 gifts for a 16.3% response rate.

The remit with a first class stamp won by 111%!

It has long been a belief that if you spend less on postage donors will appreciate the organization saving money. However, these tests have proven that placing a first class stamp on reply envelopes will actually increase both the response rates and the average gift.

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.