In a day of constantly evolving hyper-innovation around technology, it’s easy to get sucked into the glamour of the latest trend, thinking it is the wave of the future. This is especially dangerous for fundraising programs.
I can remember in the early days of the internet when one agency was prognosticating that direct mail would soon disappear and online communication would replace it as THE way organizations would generate broad-base donor support. It seemed like a “forward-thinking, wave-of-the-future” kind of idea that charities should quickly adopt.
Fast forward nearly 15 years later, and how has that prediction panned out? Well, based on our latest research, direct mail plays a much more vital role in driving online giving than does online communication. In fact, more than three times as many donors say they were prompted to give an online gift in response to a direct mail letter compared to when they received an email. In 2010, the ratio was two times as many donors. So it’s fair to say that direct mail is playing an increasing role in generating online revenue. You read that right. Increasing. (Here’s a link to the entire study: Direct mail growing as source for online donations).
This is supported by the Target Analytics 2011 donorCentrics™ Internet and Multichannel Giving Benchmarking Report which states, “The Internet is a successful [donor] acquisition channel but it has not proven to be an effective one for [donor] retention. It is the ability of online-acquired donors to become multichannel donors—that is, to start giving through direct mail—that significantly boosts the retention and long-term value of this group of donors far beyond what they would be if online giving were the only channel available” (see the Target Analytics Multichannel Giving Report).
A more recent example is the explosion of social media. Many organizations have moved resources to the social media platform thinking, “This is the wave of the future and we have to harness it.” But, a recent study by Reuters/Ipsos showed that 34% of people on Facebook now say that they’re either bored with it, it’s not relevant, or it’s not useful… and they are using it less. And study after study has shown that social media just is not a driver for donations.
Here’s the problem. Too many nonprofit leaders or development directors… even agencies… are enchanted by the lure of some new idea, thinking it will be the next breakthrough. The tried and true, in their estimation, is boring. It’s old and stale… like a worn-out shoe that needs to be replaced.
But they are making the fundamental error of putting tactics ahead of the strategic principles that drive long-term funding.
Each medium of communication… direct mail, email, social media, telephone… is just a tactic. The principles that should drive the use of any tactic are how well that medium will:
- Drive current donor engagement and support, and
- Help form a genuine relationship with that donor that will stand the test of time, producing long-term revenue.
We know from the research that direct mail is still a vital driver to a healthy donor file. And that there is a place for online communication as well as telephone and even social media. But each channel must have clearly defined metrics and support the underlying principles stated above. It’s critical for any fundraising program to do the hard work of strategically integrating multichannel communication that is most appropriate to their environment in order to most effectively grow donor commitment and support.
So when a new and innovative use of technology comes along, avoid the urge to part with the tried and true. Instead, test your way into it and determine if it is a good fit for you and your organization and how best to integrate it into your donor communication mix.
Oh. About that agency that thought direct mail would soon disappear and online communication would replace it as THE way organizations would generate broad-base donor support? It’s no longer around.