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76 Questions. 76 Answers.

One Webinar. A Whole Lot of Questions.

I was a featured speaker for a Chronicle of Philanthropy webinar focused on creating donor engagement plans for 2024. On the agenda: how to start planning, the elements needed, how to prioritize, how to collaborate, and tips on how to keep the plan alive.

There were 1,200 attendees. And over 180 questions submitted during the 90-minute presentation. We only had time to answer three.

Naturally, I was curious to review the questions. They were thoughtfully submitted. And, I decided, deserved a thoughtful response. I identified 76 that I could answer. (Some were directed to my co-presenter or unrelated to my area of expertise.) And so I spent about a week of my spare time doing just that.

You may not have seen the presentation, although you can here. You can also get familiar with the topic by viewing the associated article to which I contributed, “Create a Smart Annual Outreach Plan to Keep Donors Close — and Boost Giving.” But you can do neither of these things and still relate to many of the questions below.

For some of the answers, I reference my new Comprehensive Engagement Guide and, an oldie but a goodie, The Beginner’s Guide to Growth Funnels. You also see references to my book, of course. And if you’re totally new to digital fundraising, get my Beginner’s Guide.

During the webinar, I referred to a few campaigns: Ardently Austen and the 24-Hour Telethon.

I’ve categorized the 76 questions into the topics below. You can jump to any of the sections. Just click on the word.

My thanks to the folks who submitted these excellent questions. I hope my answers help!

P.S. Go Sixers. Congrats, Embiid.

JUST STARTING

The typical annual giving programs include direct response (mail campaigns), monthly giving, events, and email cultivation. Specific campaigns include year-end, Giving Tuesday, or end-of-fiscal year. Check out these articles for more:
The Pick Three Year-End Strategy
Chronicle of Philanthropy Monthly Giving Toolkit
Chronicle of Philanthropy Make the Most of Giving Tuesday

From a digital fundraising standpoint, I’d work on building your email program. Create a monthly newsletter (it can be very simple – just a few updates or a note from the CEO). Implement efforts to get email addresses from donors who do not have one. These strategies can include:
– Promote your newsletter at events or with volunteers.
– Put a
buck-slip (lift-note, small flyer) in thank you letters.
– Add a signup button
and link in multiple places of your website.
From there, focus on launching a digital fundraising campaign at year-end or add a digital fundraising
component to another existing initiative. Following that, focus on build your social media and paid ad program.
 

In this case, I would work your way down the giving pyramid to ensure that your resources are resulting in the most impact.
Before jumping from grants to annual fundraising,
focus on major donors. Cultivating relationships with 10 major donors who might give $1,000 will involve less time and energy than trying to solicit $10 from 1,000 donors.
From there, move down the pyramid to mid-level gifts (converting your frequent small dollar donors to higher levels).
If you
are able to invest a bit of resource into cultivating online audiences, start by growing your email file and focusing on paid ads for acquisition and prospecting.  See some of the other recommendations in this section.
 

Similar to the other answers in this section, start with simple stewardship and retention tactics. Send a thank you video by email from the CEO or a copy of your impact report. Focus on stories of the impact of your mission impact and testimonials. Just a few touchpoints a year can make a big difference. (Also refer to board engagement in the Limited Staff section.) Get more ideas in my Beginner’s Guide to Growth Funnels and in Chapter 7 of my book.

A few ideas to collect data on your audience:
– Create a survey or promote a feedback loop (like a comment link in
your thank you emails) to understand your audience.
– Evaluate how audiences respond to your online activities. What are the comments on your social media accounts, what are they clicking on in your emails, what kinds of messages result in the most donations? Monitor these actions to get a better understanding of what resonates with them.
– Test various paid ads targeted to different kinds of audience interests.
– Use the demographic reports on social media platforms.

My answer to both questions is to experiment! Every organization will have different activities that work successfully with their audience.
For events, try something community or value oriented and incorporate fundraising elements. These include QR codes for donating, brochures that feature donor benefits, a matching gift challenge that you might pre-promote in your event emails. Host a wine tasting or a virtual educational panel with proceeds benefiting your organization.
For major donors, invite them for a tour or host a virtual CEO meet and greet or town hall. Send a “note from the CEO” quarterly or annual email so that they can get to know them. Have your CEO greet the crowd at a
major donor event or have them send a letter asking for feedback and opinions on your various activities.
Get more ideas in my Beginner’s Guide to Growth Funnels
and in Chapter 7 of my book.

LIMITED STAFF

For a small office, I would first prioritize stewardship and retention elements such as a credit card recapture effort (see Definitions) or converting a one-time donor to a monthly giver. These might be two individual efforts that you launch in the spring and fall. Then expand into a thank-you campaign (video from the CEO or special email) and paid ads to drive traffic to your website. 

Getting the board involved is a great way to help! If you have trouble with board engagement, ask for their feedback. Give them a survey in which they can choose how they prefer to help with a fundraising campaign.
Is it social media? Give them a toolkit with easy copy/paste content and links.
Is it mailers? Give them stamped envelopes with cards and suggested language.
Is it an event at their home? Give them talking points and a donor card with instructions and a QR code to the donation form.
 

Absolutely. See the suggestions in the previous question about engaging board members to help with your campaigns. For using volunteers, refer to this post with four simple steps to creating a simple ambassador’s program. It’s an older article but the principles are the same and you can access the slides which go in-depth. 

If your board is not engaging in the way you want them to, then dig a littler deeper to discover their interests and talents that might best serve your organization. (Refer to the questions above.)
Secondarily, make it easy for them to carry out
your desired activities. Host a board training so that they understand the expectations and how they can best serve. You might also want to re-evaluate your board job descriptions or orientation materials so that they understand the role that is needed from the very beginning.
 

Similar to the other answers in this section, start small. What can you manage? If it’s not an email, can you place a few paid ads promoting your newsletter? If it’s neither of these things, how can you expand an existing fundraising effort? If you have direct mail, can you place an ad targeted to that audience that asks “have you seen this envelope?”
As I noted in this article about The Impact of Integrated Campaigns, the NextAfter Fundraising institute found that “priming articles,” or information about your mission sent prior to a fundraising campaign, resulted in a 196% increase in donations and that year-end donors were 3x more likely to give. Small elements can make a big difference! 

The presentation is meant to demonstrate what is possible with various configurations of staff and resources. All organizations should be in a growth mindset and asking what things might look like in two or three years. Perhaps it will be ten years before you can get to a week-long series of events, but if you know that’s where you’d like to be, what would it take for you to get there? Again, build where you can. And keep building. 

With the fundamentals covered, there are two paths you could focus on: stewardship and retention of existing donors along with acquisition of new prospects.
For retention, see the ideas in this section.
For acquisition, focus on ad strategies. Aim to bring more traffic to your website and increase your e-newsletter file. Use ads to promote your existing campaigns to lookalike audiences or those with similar interests. Or, focus your efforts on one single campaign to maximize results, as Doug did as a staff of one. See this article: “Seventy Hours a Week.” 

I would start with an effort to renew your lapsed donors. Use targeted ads, emails, letters from the CEO, a survey, or event invitation to re-engage them. From there, I’d move onto your prospects who have never donated. You can use the same tactics but expand into other engagement elements. Check out some of the ideas in the answers above and refer to the comprehensive Engagement Guide (and Chapter 10 of my book).

From the fundamental list, I would prioritize your website and donation form experience. Do a “user journey audit.” Are all of the steps for making a donation clear, concise, streamlined and easy? How does it appear on a mobile device? Does your website communicate your mission, programs and value?
Once you feel confident in those areas, move on to enhancing your email communications and focusing on email signups.
From there, turn to social media. This area can be tricky because organic posting is becoming more ineffective. So, evaluate one or two platforms that perform well for you and balance your investment of time versus engagement. More and more organizations are turning to paid ads for promotion but that can perhaps be a future goal. See some of the suggestions from other questions in this section.
 

These examples demonstrate what a robust approach looks like but for a small organization, simply peel away what you cannot handle and launch what you can manage! Perhaps you simply start with a virtual event. Can you add a downloadable reading list? A set of trivia questions? A video greeting from the CEO? Take a mix-and-match approach when creating your campaigns. Start with the theme and go from there.
The Engagement Guide will
demonstrate how to plan an initiative for organizations of any size.
(Also refer to Chapter 10 of my book).

As mentioned above, the key is scaling. Start off with adding one or two engagement elements to an existing campaign or focus on the “evergreen” efforts like renewing your lapsed donors or targeting prospects (those who have not given) with ads to guide them through the funnel.
In the presentation, the calendar mapping exercise will help
identify those gaps. From there you can determine if there are adequate resources to launch something new.
You can learn more about taking these strategic approaches in the free Engagement Guidebook, in the free Beginner’s Guide to Growth Funnels, and in Chapters 7 and 10 of my book.

DONOR STRATEGY

Yes, absolutely. It’s important to recognize that donors fall on a spectrum of semi-engaged to very dedicated. Your semi-engaged, which might be most of your file, probably won’t respond. But the very engaged will.
Evaluate the results from your very engaged group and then consider slimming down the survey to just 3 of the most important questions for everyone else. Maybe even one question: how do you rate our organization compared to others you support? For some organizations, a “town hall” might be attractive. For others, a small group feedback session targeted to your most engaged donors (those that give 2x or more per year) and branded as a “special invitation” will be appealing. The key is experimenting with a variety of approaches to gather as much information from as many people as you can.

I’m of the opinion that most organizations do not thank their lapsed donors in a timely manner! Seriously though, I would not apologize. Simply pick up the thread, offer a gracious letter from the CEO acknowledging their past support. Perhaps invite them to an event or point them to a unique offering (blog post, story, annual report, free download of tips or recipes). Schedule a few touchpoints like this over a period of time (a few months), before you ask for another gift. 

Conventional wisdom recommends six to seven touches in between solicitations. This is where creating a calendar to map all of your efforts is helpful. You can get a sense of the timing of your asks and incorporate ongoing touchpoints either in between, around or even during your campaigns. For example, when executing a year-end fundraising campaign that might last several weeks, consider segmenting donors who have already made their gift and offer something special: an extra thank you, a holiday greeting card, some trivia questions, or a gift. It can be a simple downloadable guide of recipes, New Year checklist, storm preparedness, or family games. 
See a calendar example and get more ideas in the Engagement Guide (and Chapter 10 of my book).

We’ve done numerous surveys in which donors have prioritized receiving impact reports and hearing about how their gift is making a difference above all else. In whatever communication mechanisms you can execute, I would prioritize those messages. If you don’t have an annual impact report, create one. This can serve as the base for communications throughout the year. Consider these ideas: 

  1. A printed copy mailed to donors or major donors 
  2. If you can’t afford that, put the report online. Use postcards with a QR code to direct donors to it or promote it using buckslips (small flyers) in your thank you letters. 
  3. Have your staff add the link to the impact report in their email signatures. 
  4. Feature snippets from the report in your emails 
  5. Have the CEO record a thank you video that highlights elements of the report. Send the video to donors or use the ideas above (QR codes, email). 
  6. Use it as an acquisition tool – “when you make a gift, all of this great stuff happens!” 
  7. Use it as an incentive – “make a gift and we’ll send you our 2024 impact report.” 

GROWTH

There is a consistent and repetitive approach to cultivation and moving donors up the giving pyramid. It’s the essence of engagement and stewardship.
To upgrade small donors to mid-level, I would start by searching your file for repeat or
monthly-givers at higher levels. Invite them to a special event or send a thank you video from the CEO on a regular basis. Offer mid-level benefits or incentives. Schedule a coffee with a few of them. Take some of the ideas from my post Fundraising Campaigns for Small Gift Donors.
For major donor fundraising, I would recommend you
utilize resources from the Association of Fundraising Professionals (for example, this guide to moves management) or the Chronicle of Philanthropy (for example, this webinar Proven Strategies for Connecting with Major Donors.)
 

Digital tactics can be used for all giving levels! For planned giving, consider paid ads, promotion in emails and on the web. For major or mid-level donors, utilize email or exclusive virtual events. In corporate or foundation support, online ads or email recognition can be used for benefits packages. Get more ideas in my Beginner’s Guide to Growth Funnels and in Chapter 10 of my book.

These are called acquisition efforts! From an online or digital perspective, I recommend search and social media ads, free events, downloadable guides, polls, and surveys. Consider launching a short, automated email series such as a weekly recipe, games, book series, or pet training tips. Also consider your website SEO which is so important for driving traffic to your website.
Get more acquisition ideas in the free Beginner’s Guide to Growth Funnels, along with more engagement initiatives in my Engagement Guidebook, and in Chapters 7 and 10 of my book.

I would imagine your statement “unaware but should be” means that you’ve identified a group of prospects or an audience segment that is most likely to align with your mission. If so, I’m not sure there would be success with a survey unless you have an enticing incentive. (But you could certainly try… always be experimenting!)
For this kind of outreach, I would lean more on paid ads that promote a newsletter or event to draw these audiences in. Consider hosting a panel discussion, town hall, or CEO discussion. You could also try a downloadable guide with content that aligns with your activities but also acts as an educational piece. There are many additional ideas mentioned in the questions of this section but think along the lines of a checklist, recipes, games, expert tips or even a reading list.   

CAMPAIGN ADVICE

The campaigns I shared were meant to demonstrate the tactics at work, not necessarily limited only to public media. For example: 

  • The Ardently Austen campaign reflects the successful way to incorporate elements like events, trivia, giveaways, email and ads into any type of theme or strategy. An environmental organization can create a campaign around forest preservation, host an even with a park ranger, have trivia about the trees, have a prize box with a t-shirt and mug, and have a series of emails on trails.
  • The Great Fall Feast demonstrates acquisition and stewardship efforts with a downloadable book (email required), livestream and the tactics above. An organization focused on housing and homelessness could launch a “home for the holidays” campaign with a kit on home repairs and home care tips from clients (stories and facts about the impact of the organization), a livestream discussion with community advocates, trivia about community housing, and a prize box with cozy-home items.
  • The 24-Hour Telethon was a campaign with a mission-based organization: a regional food bank. You can read more about it here

Check out the Engagement Guide for additional ideas for any type of organization. 

The beauty of engagement campaigns is that they are entirely customizable and work for any type of organization of any size. The campaigns I shared during the webinar demonstrated how the various elements can come together to create a powerful effort
The first step is to create a map of your existing efforts to identify your opportunities, whether you create something new, add elements to another campaign or event, or focus on “evergreen” touchpoints throughout the year. Perhaps you have the time to launch something like the Great Fall Feast but your download is a one-page pdf of fun tips or helpful checklist. If you don’t have time to do livestreaming, focus on an email or two related to the theme. See the Limited Staff section for other ideas.
 
I will also mention that the 24-Hour Telethon was extremely low on budget and was high on volunteer participation and in-kind donations. It was resource-intensive but again, all of these efforts can be adjusted to fit your needs. Learn more in the Engagement Guide. 

There are many creative approaches to engage audiences nationally. Consider a virtual tour of a museum, a famous building, a studio, or a park. Host a wine tasting or cooking class where attendees are sent a package in advance of the event. Create a book club or lecture series. Launch a contest: photo, drawing, haiku! There are platforms that have voting capabilities to allow for everyone to get involved. With any of these activities, pair an email series, trivia questions, and downloadable guide or checklist. More great ideas in the Engagement Guide. 

There are many ways to both blend and separate these campaigns. But first and foremost is viewing engagement efforts through the lens of stewardship and retention. These are touchpoints intended to strengthen the relationship with prospects and donors to ensure future support. (See the related ROI question in the Analysis section.)  

  • You can have a “priming” campaign like the Great Fall Feast to not only acquire new prospects in time for the year-end campaigns but also to offer value to your existing audiences and remind them of your mission before crucial fundraising initiatives.  
  • You can have a blended campaign, or an integrated effort, that combine acquisition, cultivation, and fundraising all into one effort, like the Telethon and Ardently Austen.
  • You can focus exclusively on small touchpoints throughout the year, or “evergreen” efforts which might be consistent e-newsletter promotion, automated trigger series, or consistent thank you messages from the CEO.  

More about integrated campaigns can be found in this post. And, refer to the Engagement Guide for a breakdown of these approaches. 

I’m not sure which campaign was referenced in this question but in the examples I provided for the presentation, the Great Fall Feast was not a fundraising campaign. It was an engagement effort designed to prime our audiences and attract more prospects before Giving Tuesday and year-end. (See priming experiment in the Limited Staff section and this post.)
Ardently Austen was primarily an engagement campaign, secondarily a fundraising effort, and you can see the metrics of success in the Analysis section.
The Telethon was primarily a fundraising effort with heavy elements of acquisition and engagement.
To understand more of the strategy with these campaigns, view the free Growth Funnel Guide, the Comprehensive Engagement Guide, and in Chapters 7 and 10 of my book.

Yes! First, you’ll need to have a strong value proposition and benefits package. Clearly outline the impact and objective of your event. Indicate your goals for attendance, email or online audiences, and advertising reach. Then state the sponsor benefits and recognition, including options for trade or in-kind donations. From there, consider these recruitment sources: 

  • Evaluate existing or past partnerships to see if there is alignment with your event. For the Great Fall Feast, we approached partners active on the food scene. For Ardently Austen, we targeted partners who offered regency-era items: teas, cakes, chocolates. For the Telethon, we were interested in partners with a strong social media presence.
  • Ask for referrals from your board, executive leadership, or other partners and volunteers closely aligned with your activities. For the Telethon, our ambassadors pitched their companies and other close community relationships for us.
  • Research fan clubs, associations, or community groups related to your theme that might be interested in partnering.  
  • Identify companies that might have strong alignment with the proximity of the event or theme as well as retail outlets, restaurants, or service-oriented shops that might be a good fit.  

I would first try to understand the resistance to engaging staff and volunteers. Focus on overcoming the objections. If it’s related to something tangible like staff time or resources, create a proposal or pitch that reflects the minimal impact for your request. If it’s a misunderstanding of impact, focus on the concept that staff and volunteers are closest to the mission and inner workings of the organization. They are the best ambassadors. Their testimonials can be the most trusted for any campaign effort. Their energy can boost the performance and overall results. Here are a few resources to help reinforce your goal:
Nonprofit Pro: Every Nonprofit Needs Internal and External Ambassadors 
– Forbes: The Why And How Of Employee Ambassador Marketing 
– Great Nonprofits: Converting Employees into Brand Ambassadors 

In working to overcome these objections, refer to the growth funnel. A comprehensive approach is required to maintain a healthy and robust donor file. It’s not just about giving. That’s only one element of the audience journey. Organizations need to be focused on acquisition, cultivation, and stewardship for retention and stability. We know the importance of thanking our donors and communicating the impact of the support we receive. But it needs to go a step further. We need to be implementing consistent touchpoints throughout the year that reflect the value of donor support: six or seven of them at least. 
While I demonstrated more lighthearted campaigns in the webinar, you don’t need a dunk tank or mascots to create a great engagement campaign. See the examples in other questions in this section. I would also direct you to some of the “evergreen” tactics like consistent e-newsletter promotion or an automated welcome series. Read more about these kinds of efforts in the Engagement Guide. For help with the Growth Funnel, refer to the Beginner’s Guide to Growth Funnels. And these topics are covered in Chapters 7 and 10 of my book.

COLLABORATION

In cases where you have a lot of resistance, I would encourage one-on-one meetings with individuals in each department to ask for their feedback on your ideas. Find out where the barriers lie. Is it related to reporting, coding, resources, maybe even trust? You may have to start off with small efforts to build a rapport. In extreme cases, leadership may be needed to help move things along. 
Additional suggestions can be found in Chapter 4 of my book.

As mentioned above, start small with internal partners and identify where you can make a difference. Perhaps you have a good relationship with the email manager, social media team, or an annual giving manager. See what kinds of collaboration you can work on at a basic level.
Then, expand. Use the examples in the question above, as well as the tips I recommended in the webinar: 

  • Identify which teams you’d like to have involved
  • Create an outline of your concept or ideas and bring the stakeholders together to discuss shared goals, including recognizing that donor growth and increased revenue are organizational priorities.
  • Talk about their ability to support the plan. Do they have the resources? If not, how can you make adjustments so that everyone feels comfortable? Be flexible and build on that goodwill. It may take some time to create trust. 

Use some of the collaboration examples above and start the conversation by mapping possible segments.
Start with the basic big buckets: general audiences, prospects, lapsed donors, existing donors. Then move on to tactics.
For general audiences, you’ll be focused on targeted, paid ads. Use lookalike audiences and target those with similar interest to your existing donors.
Your prospects are those in your database who have never given. If
they’ve opted out of email, use targeted ads. If they’re part of your email list, use incentives. Same for lapsed donors.
For your existing donors, focus on stewardship. Remember that some of the ideas
for an engagement campaign can be targeted to all of these groups. You don’t have to create a separate communication piece for each.

Short answer: Yes. They are one and the same.
Long answer: Audiences that are cultivated through marketing and communications department are prospects and should be cultivated with the goal of converting them to donors. Simultaneously, your donors should be included in the marketing and communications of your organization for the purpose of stewardship, long-term support and retention. They are investing in your organization. They want to know how their support is helping you uphold your mission.
This type of journey can be viewed through a growth funnel model. Marketing tactics are used to attract and engage new audiences. Fundraising efforts work to cultivate and convert prospects to donors. Both are used to steward and retain them. Read more in this post about MarComm and Development collaborationAnd, you can learn more about growth funnels in this free guide, as well as Chapter 7 of my book.

PLANNING

The example I shared for the webinar is a snapshot of the annual calendar. It’s simply the first step for identifying opportunities for additional engagement efforts throughout the year. For each event, you will have additional planning documents that address the specific needs of the activity. I have a more in-depth example in a comprehensive Engagement Guide that shows a campaign calendar versus an annual calendar. You can download it here.
Bottom line – you
can’t fit everything into one document. (And if anyone out there can prove me wrong, let me know!)

The campaign calendar example I provided was very high-level and meant for the planning phases of an initiative. They can be (and should be) expanded to include assignments, deadlines, and goals. While it’s ideal that they are regularly reviewed at check-in meetings, often busy development offices don’t even have regular check-in meetings (I speak from experience). So, it might be a case where it’s created at the beginning of the initiative and reviewed at the end of the initiative. But, I can assure you, it’s better than no campaign calendar at all. Especially in organizations with high turnover. The documentation is essential. 
See the answers to other questions in this section for more tips.

Make your communications plan an active part of your campaign planning. Use it to feed your project management documents with roles, responsibilities, deadlines, even goals and metrics. It should be populated by all staff members participating in the efforts so that it becomes an active document that is reviewed in regular planning meetings. 
If the plan is not crafted in a way that can be incorporated into campaign planning, then I would advise reviewing it annually along with budget and annual goal planning so that all teams are aware of the purpose and its use. 

Yes! There is an example in a comprehensive Engagement Guide that shows a campaign calendar versus an annual calendar. You can download it here. Simply use excel to create the same fields and columns.

It took about four months to get all the elements in place. I was the project lead putting together the concept and execution plan while managing other aspects of the digital fundraising department. (In other words, not my full-time focus.) I worked with our email manager to develop the series, our marketing department to place the ads, our graphic designer to create the promotional elements, our events team to launch and host, and our web development team to post the landing page.
While this initiative included a lot of elements and partners,
it’s a campaign that can be scaled to a much smaller effort. I use this example to demonstrate what can be possible from a comprehensive, robust standpoint.
More tips in the Campaign Advice and Limited Staff sections.
And, additional examples can be found in the Engagement Guide
and Chapter 10 of my book.

BUDGET

Each organization is unique in the amount invested in paid ads so the amount can range from 5-15%. It really depends on your audience growth and campaign goals. Consider using benchmark reports to evaluate your program. For example, M+R benchmarks reported a $2.75 return for every dollar spent on search ads and $0.33 return for display.
Other elements can also be analyzed individually, but in
general  I’d recommend consistent brand messaging, urgency, a goal, or an incentive. Experimenting and testing different calls-to-action to targeted audiences will give you the best insight into success for your organization.
 

As discussed in the Analysis section, engagement efforts are primarily intended for acquisition, retention and stewardship: a comprehensive approach to audience and donor growth. Therefore, many of these activities will not have a revenue goal. Instead, you’ll be evaluating performance metrics, as you would in traditional marketing activities.
Expenses will vary. You can host a virtual event with a trivia element and an email series for zero expense other than the cost already invested in email or website forms and staff time.
In the Telethon example,
the first few years our cost was less than $500 for ads and catering. We negotiated in-kind donations and services in exchange for “sponsor” recognition on the website and during the show.
For the Great Fall Feast, we had an in-house graphic designer and used the existing marketing budget for ads. So, I spent less than $75 for items in the giveaway box.
All this to say, there are creative ways to approach these initiatives to keep expenses down while making
a big impact on audience relationships.
 

On staffing: For the Telethon, I was the lead, working with our social media manager. We leaned heavily on our volunteer ambassadors and tapped other staff in our events and volunteer department. (See the Planning and Analysis sections for more.)
For Ardently Austen, I was the lead, working with our email manager. We tapped the marketing department for the ads, the graphic designer for promotional elements, events team, and web development team.
For the Great Fall Feast, the same structure but instead of events, we had an intern who helped with the livestream. 

Budget was minimal. For the Telethon, less than $1,000. For the Feast, even less. For Austen, we had to buy the rights to the program but even so, expenses were less than $3,500. For more on budgeting, see the questions above. 

I was just talking to another organization who has a paid marketing staff member and a part-time social media coordinator. The Executive Director manages all of the fundraising. They are working on a month-long campaign with the goal of raising $150,000, in addition to the year-end campaign they execute. So in this case, yes. But the ED is really filling in for development activities and might as well be classified as such. 
This example reflects the support needed for development activities. If you don’t have an ED fundraiser, or any marketing and communications, and you don’t have volutneers, board members or interns who help with events and donor stewardship then I would say your chances are pretty slim for raising and maintaining $200k/year. I would also warn against relying on the goodwill of volunteers to carry out your development work. This is a very unstable structure that could lead to significant detrimental impact. (Loss of data, workflows, protocols, time, and could be a security risk.)

TOOLS & TACTICS BEST PRACTICES

I agree wholeheartedly that a landing page would be an excellent place for these videos. With your own hosted webpage, you can optimize the SEO for search, you can use this as a destination for any emails or ads that feature the testimonials, and you can add context to the page in whatever design gifts your branding. For printed materials, you can even create a QR code or vanity URL that goes right to the page. You can also track impressions, clicks, and conversions to further optimize the experience. 

Blogs are an excellent inbound communication tool! I’m remiss for not including them. Blog content can be repurposed for emails, in ads, and as a part of campaigns. They are excellent “newsreel” types of content and can offer a way to consistently provide updates about your activities.
For those engaged in posting blogs, I would
advise keeping track of your metrics.
For those who have never posted blogs and thinking about it,
I’d make sure some of your other basic communication efforts are in place: emails, social, and ads.
 

My straight answer would be to talk to the web development team about SEO (search engine optimization) and to the development team about streamlining your donation form. However, in a University setting, I would imagine that the groups handling these two areas are burdened by many requests from many competing departments that result in a muddled user experience.
However, if you feel that leadership might be open to your suggestions, I
would research proven examples of strategies that increase conversion and put them together in a proposal for consideration. Do a Google search for nonprofits SEO best practices and refer to the online optimization experiments at nextafter.com. If there is resistance, offer the option of testing some of these proven practices before making them permanent. Recognize that this may be a long and tedious practice, but chip away at the things you can improve. Focus on the low hanging fruit.
 

The most frequently used popup promotes your e-newsletter. If you use a tool like Opt-In Monster, you can control the timing and frequency so that it remains effective without annoying your website visitors.
If you create a downloadable guide like recipes, pet training tips, family games or a travel kit, it can be promoted with a popup to
acquire more emails.
A set of trivia questions or entry for a giveaway (tickets to a museum or show, a t-shirt or tote bag) is another idea for collecting email addresses and using a popup for promotion.
You can use a popup to promote an event in which an email address is
required for attendance.
 

I would hesitate to think of QR codes in terms of independent campaigns. Rather, I would use them as elements to support campaigns. You can certainly track their impact, as you would track the impact of paid ads, popups, form conversions, and other elements. The power of a campaign comes from the execution of many pieces brought together at once, all carefully structured during specific timeframe. I would encourage you to check out my comprehensive Engagement Guidebook that has an example of a robust campaign calendar with many elements. 

I think there is massive distrust in telemarketing for fundraising purposes and I would not recommend it. However, I work with many organizations that utilize telemarketing services for thanking donors and opening the door for feedback. Donors will get accustomed to this type of communication and will be more likely to answer a call from an organization they trust. It all depends on the type of organization and audience you have. If you’d like to experiment with this activity, I would start with using your board or other volunteers to make a few calls to donors and evaluate the impact. If the feedback is positive, you might enlist a vendor to expand your efforts. 
As for replacing a telemarketing campaign that’s used for stewardship, I’d turn to experimenting with text-to-engage efforts or enhancing your email efforts with thank you notes, videos messages from the CEO and impact reports. You can also try postcards with QR codes that point to the videos and reports. 
For replacing a fundraising telemarketing campaign, I’d use some of the tips in the Campaign Advice section. 

If you’re referring to a new donor welcome series, as referenced in the webinar, you’ll need an email platform that can send automated emails. You set up the first email to “trigger” from the first gift date. From there, your second and third (or more) emails trigger off the send dates of the previous emails. Typically, the second email would be sent a week or so after the first. The third might be sent 10 days to two weeks after the second. 
The number of emails in a welcome series vary. Some organizations have a three-email series in the first three weeks after the gift and exclude the donor from all other emails until they have been properly introduced.
Alternatively, I once worked with a membership organization that had a 12-month welcome series – one per month leading up to the renewal date of the membership. Either way it’s important to clearly indicate the timing and cadence of your emails so that the donor knows what to expect.
 

There are a few ways to define paper mailings. If you’re looking to create a direct response mail program (solicitations by mail), it’s probably best to start with a year-end campaign when giving is at its highest. Additional mailings include occasional donor newsletters or sending your annual report with a note from the CEO. You could use a promotional postcard to accompany your campaign efforts, promote an event, or feature a survey. QR cards work well in these cases as they can direct your audience right to your feedback mechanism or landing page. Alternatively, consider using buckslips (small paper flyers) in your thank you letters to promote different activities. 

Of course! I think this is perfectly fine. I would make sure that you have email addresses for those on your mailing list and I might work to collect addresses from your online prospects if you don’t have them.
To do the former, you can send a postcard with a survey, a QR code to trivia or a game, or an incentive like a giveaway or downloadable guide with tips and checklists.
To do the latter, promote your impact report or other appealing offer by mail.
 
If you want to expand your audience touchpoints, even by one or two tactics, see the Engagement Guide for more great ideas. (And Chapter 10 of my book).

There are many CRMs that serve the nonprofit community but there is not one recommended solution, as the needs vary so greatly and some can be cost-prohibitive. You should start by identifying your needs such as source code tracking, matching gift processes, in-kind donations, gifts of stock, pledges, linked accounts, and reporting. Ask questions such as: What is the CRM’s preferred merchant? Do they have integrations with an email platform? What is their security and privacy? What is the migration process?
Once you identify this (likely) exhaustive list, then you can start evaluating, compare features, understand pricing, and ask for demos. I would strongly encourage talking to other organizations who use these platforms to get an idea of challenges they face. And poke around on fundraising community threads (like the AFP, LinkedIn or Facebook groups) for other insights. Research is key. You can find more resources here:
 
How to choose a CRM
Factors to Consider
Donor Management Systems Compared
Another comparison…

Yes. We live in a bombardment age! This is why crafting a thoughtful engagement campaign during a specified period and including as many unique tactics as you can, given your resources, will result in the best impact. (see the Limited Staff section)
But, to answer your question about in-person engagement, I agree wholeheartedly that this is the best way to establish a deep relationship with prospects and donors. But it comes at a high cost, which is why these most effective tactics are reserved for major donors where they reap the most rewards.
 

For a small organization looking to capitalize on the rewards of in-person efforts, I can offer a few suggestions for consideration.
– Host a behind-the-scenes tour, a CEO meet and greet, a town hall or some other on-site event such as a picnic (food donated), a young professionals networking mixer, a family fun afternoon with inexpensive activities such as a coloring stations, bubbles, photo booth, or a doggie costume contest. Tap your volunteers and board members to help execute these efforts.
– Consider an event like a group hike, a day-in-the-park event, a coffee chat or happy hour.
– Partner with local festivals or fairs to have a booth or table. Effectiveness and visibility are more of a concern, but you can get creative to ensure optimum outreach.
– Build an ambassadors program. See the Ambassadors section and Chapter 9 of my book.
 

Fun question!

  • For engagement: I love trivia with a prize box. It really moves the needle from an acquisition standpoint and is an excellent donor stewardship activity. Putting the prize boxes together can be tons of fun for the team and it really doesn’t cost very much.
  • For fundraising: I love a matching gift challenge. Donors are truly motivated to give during a match and the concept of doubling or tripling your gift is a great incentive. It’s excellent exposure for your sponsor and helps enhance that relationship.
  • For stewardship: While my expertise is digital and most of my advice is too, I really love a good old-fashioned donor thank you event. But not fancy. An informal one where you get a chance to authentically connect with your donors, get to know them, and for them to get to know you. This is a great way to recruit ambassadors, which might be my second favorite stewardship tool. 

For references to these tools, see the Campaign Advice and Ambassadors sections.

ADS AND SOCIAL

Donor engagement is really stewardship in action. So, your paid ads will revolve around something of value or benefit to your donors, as they are already supporting and invested in your organization. I’d recommend investing in paid ads for events, surveys, polls, or interactive elements that act as touchpoints. Messaging that reinforces the impact of their donation will keep your organization on the radar and lead to higher retention. See the Campaign Advice section for more ideas. 

Social media is largely a pay-to-play landscape as brands are becoming diminished in algorithms that favor influencers. I’d be thoughtful about the amount of time and resources you invest in creating personalized experiences. For organizations debating these topics, I’d focus more on enhancing your targeted, paid ad strategy to promote your events, activities, and e-newsletter promotion. You can use the Google Ad Grant to experiment with various types of ads and audience targeting to get a sense of what works well, then make the investment. 
If you are a larger organization and looking to expand on social, I would experiment with different content on various platforms and monitor the performance. Tools like Sprout Social can give you great insights on these audiences to help inform your strategy.   

We have not found social media to be particularly effective for fundraising so our teams are focusing more on engagement to cultivate audiences and convert them to prospects for fundraising initiatives. We use paid ads in social to promote activities and fundraising campaigns. You might also consider building an online or digital ambassadors program.  (See Ambassadors section and Chapter 9 of my book..)
You can learn more cultivation and conversion in my free Beginner’s Guide to Growth Funnels, as well as Chapter 7 of my book.

EMAIL

The campaign calendar presented in the webinar is intended as a snapshot of a possible approach. To be most effective with email, I agree with your counterparts: it is best to segment audiences and target them with the content they find most valuable. Certainly, cross-promotion is recommended and elements in the donor newsletter might be appropriate in the organization publication. But having an exclusive piece of content for donors is an excellent conversion tool promoting the “benefit” of receiving a donor newsletter by making a gift. Some organizations go a step further with a volunteer or events newsletter. Larger organizations may have a newsletter focused geographically or on specific topics like family and parenting, dogs or cats, parks and hiking, etc. When I was at WHYY, we had 10 e-newsletters. You can view them here. 

I would hesitate to recommend pouring more efforts into social media and dismissing email. Your email list is an owned audience. On social, you have no control of the algorithms that can impact your efforts overnight. So first, check out some of the experiments on nextafter.com to make your email efforts more impactful. And consider creating special emails for unique audiences. As mentioned above, check out the email offerings of WHYY.

Every organization is different. There are organizations who send monthly newsletters and those who send daily newsletters (typical at an NPR station, for example). There are organizations that have two major fundraisers a year (with email) and those that have ten. Some organizations send one email on Giving Tuesday, others send six over the course of a few days. 
To understand the effectiveness of your efforts, monitor your email engagement (opens, clicks) and unsubscribes to understand how much is too much. You can also ask. In a survey to one of our monthly newsletter audiences, we discovered they wanted to hear from us more often. We increased to two a month and the results were incredible. 
Also consider segmentation as a way to target specific audiences with content related to their interests – this can even include geography (cities or counties). 
Of course, all of this is based on your internal resources, so don’t be discouraged if one a month with a quarterly solicitation is all you can do right now. See the Limited Staff section for more tips on balancing resources. 

These would be related to acquisition efforts: giveaways, downloadable guides, polls, surveys, feedback, or a short, automated email series such as a weekly recipe, games, book series, or pet training tips. The offer must provide significant value to the recipient as not only an incentive to signup, join, or participate, but also an incentive to provide an accurate email address. Get more acquisition ideas in my Beginner’s Guide to Growth Funnels, as well as Chapter 7 of my book.

For using conditional content in automations, I’d reserve these communications for things like membership renewals or credit card expirations in which you are referencing specific fields that align with specific messages and pull from reliable data.
I see conditional content working best in campaign messages when you’re speaking to donor status (prospect, lapsed, current), interest-based communications (dogs, cats, food, history), past involvement like event attendance or volunteering, or geographic location either based on city, county, or state related to your services. It really depends on the messaging for your communications, but all of this relies on clean and reliable data.
 

AMBASSADORS

An ambassadors program is an excellent way to extend your online promotion and marketing efforts through those who really believe in your organization’s mission. Like any volunteer program, it requires an acquisition plan, a strategy for engagement, instructions for promoting specific activities, and ongoing communication so that your ambassadors feel recognized and valued. Incentives help! 
See this post on building advocates. While it’s a bit older, the concepts are the same and the slide deck gives more detail about program development.
I also cover this in my book, Chapter 11.

For finding ambassadors, there are a few sources:
– Start by evaluating your existing volunteer file (board members included) and identify those who are active on social media.
– Evaluate your social platforms and identify individuals who engage most often. Extend invitations to them.
– Put a call out for ambassadors to sign up for the program.
Maintaining an ambassadors program is similar to any volunteer initiative. It requires ongoing communication, specific instructions for participation, incentives and recognition.
Refer to the slide deck in this post. I also cover this in my book, Chapter 11.

ANALYSIS

Measuring the success of your campaign efforts by revenue only will stunt the growth of your overall development program. Engagement efforts are intended for acquisition, retention and stewardship: a comprehensive approach to audience and donor growth.
For example, in digital efforts, you may be examining page conversions (impressions and clicks or views and action), event participants, email subscribers, or new followers. Other metrics include renewal rate, number of upgrades, or percent of change from the last campaign.
All of them are necessary to monitor the performance of your efforts. I go into campaign metrics in detail in this comprehensive Engagement Guide and in Chapter 13 of my book.
 You can also get an idea of metrics to use for online fundraising from M+R Benchmarks.

This campaign was designed as primarily an engagement effort with revenue as a secondary goal. Therefore, we evaluated the following: email signups and clicks, event conversions and participation, trivia participation, paid ads and website popup clicks and conversions, livestream views and engagement, lapsed donor reengagement, new donors, existing donor participation (stewardship metric). You can read more about the results here. And you can view other engagement metrics in the comprehensive Engagement Guide and Chapter 13 of my book).

As mentioned above, this campaign was primarily an engagement effort. The fundraising element was secondary and related to the unique offer in public media of “Passport,” which is a member benefit. The program on which the campaign was based, Pride and Prejudice, was a Passport program, which means that people had to make a donation to the public media station in order to watch it. While this revenue stream is unique to the sector, I use this as an example to demonstrate the creativity that can be applied to any sort of engagement effort. You can view more ideas in the comprehensive Engagement Guide.

It’s important to remember that engagement campaigns such as these are cultivation tactics for prospects, conversion efforts for lapsed donors, and touchpoints for current donors with the goal of ongoing or upgraded support. Can we pinpoint the ROI of a thank you letter? Not exactly. But yet we know the value of thanking and stewarding our donors.
Consider this experiment launched by NextAfter, the Online Fundraising Institute: An organization launched a series of “priming” articles before a large campaign. None of the articles asked for a gift, they simply spoke to the impact and mission of the organization. When the campaign launched, they saw a 196% increase in donations from the audience served the articles and this group was 3x more likely to give at year end.
 
For many of these campaigns, we’re looking at the metrics mentioned in the questions above to evaluate success. Conversion rates (either conversion to an action like newsletter signup or event attendance, or conversion from prospect to donor) is an excellent performance metric. 
You can read more about integrated campaigns and the priming experiment here. And you can read more about engagement metrics in the Engagement Guide and in Chapter 10 of my book.

Refer to the answers above for ROI on these campaigns and in the Planning section for more about staff time. Again, engagement efforts are meant to have an impact beyond revenue and are squarely focused on acquisition and retention.
As far as staff time, specifically for the Telethon (which was primarily a fundraising effort), I was the lead, working with our social media manager, and started planning about 6 months out. We leaned heavily on our volunteer ambassadors and tapped other staff in our events and volunteer department. This effort raised $50,000 every year but the community visibility, online engagement, and partnerships were invaluable.
 

You’ll be evaluating different types of performance metrics for these efforts including conversion rates (impressions to clicks, landing page views to email signups), participation numbers, video views, social media metrics like reach and engagement, and email growth.  
Use M+R Benchmarks as a starting point for evaluating online efforts not necessarily related to dollars.
More engagement metrics are in the Engagement Guide and Chapter 13 of my book.

  

TERMS & DEFINITIONS

This simply means a fundraising campaign effort, or any initiative that is solely focused on generating revenue. 

This relates to monthly or sustaining donors who have provided their credit card to be charged on a regular basis. Often, the cards expire and the donors are lost, then classified as lapsed. A “recapture” series means that you scrape your database for these expired or rejected codes (often provided by your credit card merchant) and create specific communications to reengage them. In some cases, systems integrated with an email platform can automatically generate these notices

Yes indeed! Segmentation is used to deliver conditionalized content in an email or a letter. Example: a donor will have copy related to their previous gift whereas a non-donor will receive solicitation copy.
Segmentation is also used in a variety of ways beyond conditional content. These can include targeted ads, emails based on interest or geography, event invitations for specific groups, or determining member benefits like print newsletters.
 
You can read more in the Housecleaning Challenge and in Chapter 8 of my book.

 

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