Why Can’t Fundraising and Marcomm Play Nice?

play nice in the sandboxI recently came across a blogpost from Nonprofit Marcommunity advising nonprofits to elevate the role of marketing and communications in their organization so that its importance is level with fundraising. As a fundraiser, it was an interesting and thought-provoking post…probably because I don’t work in an organization where marcomm is treated like a service role to fundraising. In many ways, it’s actually quite the reverse where fundraising often takes a backseat to brand and communications.

This can present some frustrating challenges within both departments.

So I get it. When either marcomm or fundraising are elevated over the other, it not only generates tension inside the organization, but likely presents a fractured image to donors, supporters, and the public.

What’s the key to striking the right balance between these two important functions? Maybe it’s not a question of balance but something different. More on that below.

Let’s start with the core purposes of marcomm and fundraising in the nonprofit organization (and forgive this digital fundraiser for any bias and using a very broad brush here). Marcomm is responsible for brand strategy. Fundraising is responsible for revenue development.

Looking through this lens, it’s kind of easy to see where there could be some potential friction. This is particularly true if there’s the appearance of an imbalance of power. This leads to fear and antagonism.

If Brand Strategy sits on top, then fundraising likely has to adhere to strict rules around voice, design, imagery, and even grammar (sidenote: nonprofits are not newsrooms and fundraising isn’t reporting…stop insisting on blind adherence to AP style usage). The imbalance can negatively impact the ability of development professionals to use their best strategies and tactics to motivate donors to give. It can squash innovation and force creative fundraisers into small prescribed boxes where how something “looks” is more important than if something “works.”

On the other hand, if Revenue Development sits on top, then marcomm likely has to struggle to be seen as more than service managers and (ineffectual) advocates for how the public views the nonprofit. The imbalance can negatively impact the ability of marketing and communication professionals to present the organization’s unified voice and brand. And when budget goals are in jeopardy, marcomm doesn’t have the necessary leverage to keep fundraising from making bad long-term brand decisions based on getting some quick money through the door.

Bottom line: both brand and revenue are important and impact each other. So how does an organization deal with this delicate balancing act?

Perhaps it’s better to reframe the question. Rather than trying to balance, how can a nonprofit integrate fundraising and marcomm so each works to augment the other?

Responsibility for revenue development and brand strategy must be shared. Even as I write this, it seems so logical, so obvious. Yet, so few nonprofits actually commit to this in a meaningful way where the two departments are accountable for both money and message. Some of this is due to siloed organizational structure, budget controls, and yes, even job security. But these are just excuses for sticking with tired, antiquated modes of thinking. And it’s far past time for our nonprofits to have the guts to address stupid systems and fear of change.

Here’s what I’d like to propose:
Marcomm – Make your department accountable for revenue. Here in the digital space, marcomm has a huge part to play, but generating likes in social media, writing magazine articles, and producing press releases doesn’t necessarily equate to meeting revenue goals. Please don’t infer that I’m saying these things are unimportant…but ask how they contribute to the financial health of the organization? Funding the mission is everyone’s job.

Fundraisers – We’re not off the hook. Our department needs to be accountable to the health of the brand. That means no intentionally shady business just to meet the quarterly budget goal. We’re better than that. And if you find that your marcomm folks don’t quite understand how to pin their actions to revenue-generating results, then it’s our job to advise and consult. Managing the brand is everyone’s job.

What do you think? I know every nonprofit is structured differently and plays by different political rules. Am I alone in seeing the marcomm/fundraising tension this way? I would really love to hear your personal insights into this organizational dynamic.


Take That Donor Survey All The Way Home

take it homeIn my home, I’ve adopted a phrase that reminds my family to not just leave their empty cracker wrappers, finished Starbucks cups, and used paper towels laying about the house. That phrase is: Take it all the way home. What I’m hoping is that it’ll be just that little nudge to take trash to the trash can (you know…where it belongs). Admittedly, it’s still a work in progress as I currently stare at an empty plastic fruit cup with a spoon still inside that’s sitting on the coffee table in front of me. But we all live in hope.

Now, let me ask a question that has nothing to do with trash and everything to do with your donor surveys. Do you take your surveys all the way home?

Pamela Grow wrote an excellent blogpost talking about keeping supporter surveys simple:

Yet most organizations turn a simple survey into far more than it needs to be. Asking your supporter to spend ten minutes reflecting on their answers in an online survey is…well, about eight or nine minutes too much. Make surveying quick, make it easy, make it fun!

How many times have you been asked to answer a questionnaire with so many questions, it would make an IRS employee blush? And then, how many times have you turned around and done the same thing to your donor thinking you have just one chance to ask questions so you better make it big and make it count? Only to then get a response rate that makes you wonder why you put in all the effort in the first place.

I’ve been guilty of this, as well. Even when we know better, it can be a challenge to convince others in your organization that you don’t need to fully interrogate your donors to get quality insight into their interests, desires, and thinking.

So the very first order when crafting a successful donor survey is to keep it simple. However, launching the survey and collecting data is just the first step. You need to know what you will do with all this amazing information. In other words, you need to take that survey all the way home.

Open admission: while I understand the utility of a comprehensive survey of the full donor file, I’m far more in favor of building simple surveys that can glean donor-specific information using forms of progressive profiling. If you’re unfamiliar with progressive profiling, take a few minutes to get acquainted with this method of information collection. Through a series of surveys and other forms of data capture, information is gradually added to a donor’s online profile in your CRM or marketing automation platform and can be used to segment and customize future experiences.

The key benefit of taking your survey all the way home is that it shows we are not just listening but also acting. One of the worst experiences a donor can have is to tell us something important and ignore it. Like, tell us they are really interested in being an advocate for bears, but then we proceed to ask for donations to save spiders. Not only will that appeal not resonate with them, they’re going to wonder if they’re nothing more than an anonymous piggy bank.

But the more we ask questions, the better we get at capturing data and developing an individual donor profile, the more personalized the communications, the more we’re seen as co-creating the donor’s experience with what will start to feel like their organization. And that just may be the key to a life-long partnership. Who doesn’t want to increase their donor retention around something like that?


Want Better Email Insights? Time to Look Beyond the Open Rate

Click throughI’m of an age when I remember when email didn’t exist, but honestly can’t remember how I lived without it. And the fact that I work in email marketing and digital fundraising as part of my job is fascinating since email marketing and digital fundraising wasn’t really a ‘thing’ as recently as 15 years ago. By some definitions, that’s only a half-generation which gives a sense of still how new digital tools are to our nonprofit industry.

While we are always finding new and better ways to measure our success in email, I find that we continue to place too much emphasis and trust on one popular metric: open rates.

I’m not suggesting that measuring and optimizing on open rates isn’t important. It is. However, there are two key problems with elevating open rates above other metrics.

Open rates inherently do not provide accurate data. There are several possible reasons why the open rate on the email you just sent are skewed. The most obvious one is how opens are actually tagged by email delivery platforms. When someone “reads” an email, it opens an invisible html pixel that gets passed back to your email platform. But relying on this pixel to fire in order to indicate an open creates opportunities for error.

For instance, if images are turned off by a recipient’s email app (I’m looking at you Outlook) then it won’t record the open even if the message was read. Or if someone receives an email as plain text rather than html, then there’s no html pixel to fire and it won’t record the open.

Another problem is that many individuals hate to see “unread” email badges on their phones, tablets, and computers. So they’ll mark a message “read” without actually reading the content.
1000 unread emails

This is where I have to confess that I have a particular point of view on email as an effective channel for digital fundraising. Here it is: each email message must have a clearly defined reason to exist. If we don’t have an objective driving our message, then we need to reconsider what we’re doing.

Our donors get dozens if not hundreds of emails a day so the competition for inbox relevance is fierce. Every single message must count. There is no such thing as an unimportant throw away email. If we’re not providing value or inspiring action in each email message, our effort gets relegated to the trash bin (or worse, the spam folder). An unsubscribe is a directive from the recipient that says, “Stop wasting my time.” Good luck getting them to come back again for another shot.

So how can a message be considered successful if it’s not actually read (or if it is read and is met with indifference)? By looking primarily at open rates, we’re left with an inaccurate measure that doesn’t tell us whether our message achieved its objective. Additionally, open rates really are at the mercy of the recipient’s app and that takes a lot of control out of our hands.

Think of it this way and we’ll use social media as an example. Just because your organization’s page has 500,000 likes on Facebook, does that mean you’ve successfully advanced your cause and motivated your supporters to take tangible action? What you’ve done is merely increase the potential of your organization to meet your objective, but you haven’t actually achieved your objective. To do that, you need to measure action.

In email, this is the click-through rate. If a recipient has opened an email and then decided to click a link, you now have valuable insight and a result. Let’s take a couple of message types for example.

If you’re sending out an email appeal for a donation, the goal is for the recipient to click through to the donation form. Right? Regardless of whether the email was tagged as “read” or “unread”, if a click doesn’t lead to making a donation, then the message did not achieve its purpose.

Same for an advocacy email. If you don’t motivate a supporter to click through to an action, then the message didn’t achieve its purpose.

What about your newsletter? Have you considered whether it is a vehicle for action? Have you set up links that will help you understand which articles resonate best with your audience? It’s not enough to know that someone has opened your enewsletter…you want to know what types of articles drive a desire to know more and do more for your cause. That data will allow you to focus your limited time on generating value.

One of the key email fundraising metrics I’ve set up for my organization is built on a weighted engagement score where:
An open = 1 point
A click through = 2 points
A conversion = 3 points
In this scoring model, it still counts an open, but places more emphasis on whether a recipient clicks through to a donation form AND submits a donation. (You can do similar with volunteer requests or advocacy petitions.)

Best of all, this model offers insight into a couple of things:
1. We can see which particular email and campaign was successful to achieving our fundraising goals.
2. Because I’m able to attach scoring to a recipient’s record, I can track a supporter’s score over time to see whether they are unengaged, an engaged donor, or a super-engaged champion.

What else have you done to gain insight into your supporters? Anything I’ve missed? Look forward to the conversation.


Are You Capturing Donor Experience in the Wild?

tiger hiding in the jungleThose of us who work in the nonprofit sector have become overly fond of the concepts like donor-centric, donor journey, and donor experience. Nothing wrong with that. It’s what we should aim our organizations to aspire toward in their pursuit of excellence.

But what does it actually mean to be donor-centered? What exactly is a donor journey?

How do we move from our more familiar and traditional modes of communication that focus on how our nonprofit is the central hero of the story…rather than on how our donor is the hero?

It starts with methodically gaining insight into the wishes, dreams, and desires of our donors. Their own unique sense of how to help improve this world. Their own beliefs for how they want to partner with us to achieve more than they could alone.

However, if you think you can get at these insights solely by putting a group of people together in a room to talk as a focus group or shoot out a survey, I’d like to encourage you to expand your thinking.

If you really want to get the deeply held insights of your donors, think: less talk, more action.

In the quickly evolving field of customer experience (CX), researchers know they have to not only be keen listeners of what their audience says, but also observers of what they actually do. Our actions often tell a different story from what we think and say to others.

But we have to get outside our offices and meet our donors in their own comfort zone where they can be most at ease to show us their experiences, act on their own deeply held feelings, and demonstrate their own beliefs.

The ideas underlying customer experience are not new, and historically many successful entrepreneurs have used essentially qualitative research techniques to develop distinctive customer experiences…Developing a new customer experience involves risk, and research techniques – especially quantitative techniques – may be incapable of eliciting a response from potential customers where the proposed experience is hypothetical, and devoid of the emotional and situational context in which it will be encountered.
Adrian Palmer, Customer Experience Management: a Critical Review of an Emerging Idea

Due to the intimate nature of our work in nonprofits, we have an advantage in uncovering these insights. Most often they come from major gift visits, but that only gives us a glimmer of the full donor experience. That comprehensive donor experience has to be captured in the wild and in the moment. It comes from working alongside volunteers, advocates, and supporters whoever and wherever they may be.

Asking questions during sterile focus groups or through emotionally detached surveys simply won’t get us there. So let’s quit guessing and accepting less. Get out there and go get it.


3 Keys to Persuading Donors to Give

As I work in digital fundraising and talk with other nonprofit leaders, one key question continues to emerge: Why do our donors give? On the surface, the answer may seem obvious, but the question persists because it’s truly difficult to answer. We all give for different reasons and with different motivations.

Yet, the question of “Why?” follows the challenge of “How?” How do we motivate the giving of a gift? It’s fairly obvious that we can’t force someone to give if they don’t want to.

To help answer both questions of Why and How, I’ve started constructing a model called the Donor Persuasion Model. It’s based on the work of Stanford Professor, BJ Fogg, and his Fogg Behavior Model. Fogg’s research shows that “three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements is missing.”

This model attempts to address motivations for giving, as well as how to encourage our donors to take action on those motivations. At a high level, here are the basic components of the Donor Persuasion Model:


There are three core motivators that we all share as part of the human experience:

1. Sensation: Pleasure/Pain
Will our giving lead us to greater pleasure or diminish pain – either for ourselves or for others?

2. Anticipation: Hope/Fear
Will our giving help us provide hope or reduce pain, suffering, or fear in the world?

3. Social Cohesion: Acceptance/Rejection
Will our giving help us to feel more accepted by others or keep us from being rejected from social groups?


Each ability is focused on the notion of simplicity.
1. Time
2. Money
3. Physical Effort
4. Mental Effort

As fundraisers, we must constantly focus on making actions as easy and simple as possible, particularly when it comes to the digital space. Fogg advises us to think of the relationship between Ability and Simplicity like this:

Simplicity is a function of your scarcest resource at that moment. Think about time as a resource, If you don’t have 10 minutes to spend, and the target behavior requires 10 minutes, then it’s not simple. Money is another resource. If you don’t have $1, and the behavior requires $1, then it’s not simple.


Think of Triggers as recipes for spurring action depending on levels of Motivation and Ability.

1. Facilitator: High Motivation/Low Ability
A supporter has just read an amazing story or watched an impactful video about our organization’s work. They’re primed to give, but don’t have the time to complete a lengthy donation form or can’t easily get their credit card. This Trigger is about finding ways to make the donation process simple. Think of Amazon’s One-Click Shopping button as an example.

2. Spark: Low Motivation/High Ability
Another scenario is where we’ve made the donation process easy…now we have to know which message will best motivate and mobilize our donors. This is the most challenging trigger because it demands that we have consistent, current, and deep data on our donors. We don’t just have basic contact data, response rates, and giving history; we also have an understanding of what each of our donors believes is important about our organization’s work. This Trigger urges us to provide an emotional Spark to ignite action and complete the ask.

3. Signal: High Motivation/High Ability
All of our nonprofits have true believers who champion our cause. But life can get busy and they just need a little nudge every once in a while to continue their role as champion.

I’d love to get your thoughts and feedback. This model is currently in version 1.0 and I welcome your expertise as a fellow fundraiser. You can download a PDF of the model below.

thumbnail of inspectiv-donor-persuasion-model_v1

Download “inspectiv donor persuasion model” inspectiv-donor-persuasion-model_v1.pdf – Downloaded 91 times – 351 KB

I truly look forward to the conversations to come.


One Question to Make a Better Fundraising Ask

hang in thereI recently got a card from my 85 year old grandmother. It showed a kitten hanging in a rather precarious position and looking troubled. The message inside was: “Hang in there.” While things are going well for me, it was just her way of showing concern and also expressing a desire for me to give her a call more often. How could I not feel compelled to pick up the phone and give her a call?

It’s not like we don’t talk…she just doesn’t feel like she hears from me enough. She wants to know how I’m doing. She wants to know how my family is doing. She wants to know that we’re safe and feeling good about all the great things taking shape in our life. She wants to know if there’s anything she can do to help.

And it’s really not about how many times we talk, it’s how we continue to build on a loving relationship.

Now while the relationship I have with my grandmother is not quite the same as we have with our donors, there is some relevance. It connects to an excellent question raised by Richard and Jeff at the Veritus Group blog: Are you asking too often or not enough? While they’re largely focusing on major gifts, the question is applicable to digital donors.

We often get wrapped up by our own sense of myths and half-truths. In this case, we feel we shouldn’t bombard our donors with constant asks. Well, when stated like that, there’s some validity to the concern. It would be like me hitting my grandmother up for a few bucks every time we talked. Similarly, if those asks come from an organizational “me-centric” perspective which disregards the value and relationship to the donor, then constant asks will not just annoy them, it will drive them away to give their money and support elsewhere.

However, as Richard and Jeff write, if the messages speak from a place of “we” and “us”, if they’re not always about asking for money, if they’re about building stronger relationships, then those communications take on a new level of meaning and power. In their post, they offer an example of a successful nonprofit, which:

“most likely, was continually telling the donor that her past giving was making a difference, was excitedly talking about what “more we can do together,” and was not shy about talking about need at a variety of times and in a variety of forms. In other words, there were a lot of touches and quite a few points at which the donor could engage and give, i.e., a combination of soft and hard asks.”

Think of it this way. It’s less about frequency (too much or too little) of fundraising appeals. Instead, always ask: Will this communication help deepen my relationship with my donor?

If your answer is “No” then reconsider why you’re possibly jeopardizing your relationship with someone who cares about your organization’s mission and their desire to be a part of it. Then look for more ways you can answer with a “Yes.”


The Perfect Time to Be a Heretic

burn the hereticBack in ye olden times, any person who actively preached and acted against accepted dogma was branded a heretic. Unfortunately for these courageous characters it often meant a date with a stake and torches. The penalties (like flaming death) for committing such acts of heresy were enough to keep most folk in line. They figured out pretty quickly that it was far preferable to do what everyone else was doing and conform to the norms of the community.

Funny how things don’t really change. In our nonprofits, we still cling to the cult of Best Practices. We easily swallow conventional wisdom. We seek out industry benchmarks in order to know if our own mediocrity matches up to that of other organizations. In short, we’re scared shitless to take the risk of going against dogma.

Except now, dogma has taken on a much wider definition.

The dogma of not missing revenue targets. The dogma of constantly creating the perfect campaign. The dogma of looking like we’ve always got our shit together. The dogma of needing to please the executive director and Board. The dogma of being an easygoing, likable, agreeable staffer. We all have some sort of dogma getting in our way. Well, that needs to end. Now.

It’s time for a lot more heretical thinking and doing. What does being a heretic mean?

It means giving up best practices.
It means asking “Why?”…a lot.
It means going out on a limb and staying there.
It means having the guts to creatively destroy anything that’s old and busted.

What’s in it for us? Why not just stay easygoing, likable, and agreeable? Why not just keep playing it safe? Because safe is an illusion. Worse, safe is a trap that keeps us from fully igniting the fire of our imaginations and chasing new ideas that can truly impact our causes. I don’t know about you but I’m sick to death of playing it all so damn safe. I’m ready to commit more acts of heresy.

So…what dogma are you willing to give the finger to today? Share yours and I’ll share mine. Let’s go.


Two Tips for Growing Your Email Housefile

first growthI’ve been building and nurturing email housefiles for organizations for over a decade. And I will admit. While it might seem simple, it’s definitely not simple or easy. Growing your email list or prospect housefile takes patience and planning. In addition to some of the usual good advice about subscription form placement (every webpage), email delivery (send consistently), and strategy (have goals for goodness sake), I have a couple of other quick suggestions:

Suggestion #1: Make it as easy as possible for someone to give you their email address. Don’t ask for oodles of information from them at the outset. All you really need is a name and email address. I continue to see far too many nonprofits ask for fields of personal data only to get a high bounce rate. If you want to glean more demographic data from your subscribers, ask for a little to get them through the door and then gradually ask for more data over time.

Suggestion #2: Create email messages that are as personalized as possible. Sometimes what *you* believe is of value may not be valuable to your subscribers. If you find that your enewsletter content is starting to cover a lot of different topics, consider creating multiple newsletters that are more topic-focused. Or, find an email delivery platform that allows you to serve up blocks of conditional content that’s personalized based on what matters most to your subscriber.

What other ways have you found success in building your email housefile?