Your Google+ isn’t talking to your Facebook API and the Pinterest account doesn’t match with the impressions you are getting from your analytics. Huh? That’s the life of a fundraiser these days, not a scene from the movie The Social Network.
It’s a highway with a lot of digital debris on the side of the screen. During the 2012 Bridge conference in National Harbor, Md., the trials and tribulations of social marketing were on full display. The NonProfit Times pulled a few experts into a room to talk about recent victories and challenges.
Participating in the discussion were Dane Grams, director of nonprofit services for Care2 in New York City; Carie Lewis, director of emerging media, The Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C.; and, Heather McLean, senior manager, Integrated Fund Development at the Ontario SPCA, Newmarket, Ontario, Canada. The roundtable was facilitated by Paul Clolery, editorial director of The NonProfit Times and Rick Christ, vice president of online fundraising at Amergent in Peabody, Mass.
Paul Clolery: There’s an industry luminary who was slated to give a webinar on multichannel marketing. This person recently told me in confidence that multichannel marketing is not working anywhere. Is multichannel working? Is it not working? Is it working in some cases but not the others?
Dane Grams: It depends on the organization. I have clients that are doing traditional multichannel marketing very competitively. It’s a very effective strategy for upgrading donors and for converting donors into sustainers. For newer organizations that are being very effective with a single channel, acquiring people online, there’s no reason for them to invest in another channel. So again, it depends on the organization.
Heather McLean: It’s essential because we are making the majority of our money through multichannel marketing. It’s becoming harder and more expensive to acquire donors through direct mail in isolation. We’re using other channels to acquire or engage new donors and convert them back and forth between them. Once donors have been successfully converted and or identified as multi-channel they give more.
Clolery: We have done some benchmark donor polling since 1985. It asks donors what they do before writing a check after they get a direct mail piece. Do you send them a check or go online and look at the website or the site of a watchdog group? Are you tracking how people come to your door? Are they being driven by a channel other than mail?
McLean: Our direct mail donors are using the unique URLs we’ve provided and track. We are driving them to landing pages with specific content that is relevant to the messaging in the direct mail package they received. If they aren’t going online to donate, then I know offline donors are going online at least to get more information. We also create extra incentives for them to go online other than just to make their gift — like personalized content or videos. If you are giving online, you’re not going to have to complete all your banking and credit card information or personal information. It’s all going to be presented there for you by using the URL received in the direct mail package. As a result, we are seeing movement to online.
Carie Lewis: We recently put Facebook and Twitter URLs on our direct mail pieces as part of a test. We’re giving people every option that they can possibly be comfortable with to interact with us. We’re giving people who like to donate on Facebook, on Facebook Causes, on our website, by phone, by text messaging, the chance to do it however they are comfortable. Everybody is comfortable with different outlets.
Clolery: Is it an issue of comfort or is it an issue of economics? Are you trying to drive somebody to the most cost-effective method for you or just trying to get the donor in the door?
Rick Christ: The most cost-effective method for you is the one that they want to use. They might not use the channel that might have the cheapest cost. If you use that channel, your cost is lower but you don’t get the gift. If you want to maximize the return, you give them the options and you honor their choice.
McLean: I think it’s convenience and it’s generational. We need to provide other options to younger generations other than mailing in a check. Many young people still prefer to give in that way, but we need to provide other options.
Lewis: We would love for people to donate on our website and that’s it, not go through third-party channels or anything like that because they take a percentage. That’s just not the reality. We can’t force people to donate on a specific channel just because it’s more cost-effective.
Grams: I think the definition of multichannel is changing. If you think about the definition in the traditional sense — direct mail, telemarketing, and the presence of email. But now there are many different channels in the digital space. You have to have a presence on Facebook. Twitter. Mobile communications. Some organizations are doing display advertising. It doesn’t necessarily have to be mail, phone, or online to be multi-channel. You can reach people multiple ways across a single platform.
McLean: I’m hearing people in conversations using the term “omnichannel” instead of “multichannel.” It’s you need to be everywhere, as opposed to just thinking about those more traditional channels and how you would combine them.
Christ: And mobile, which is neither fish nor fowl, is a way to bridge all those gaps. It’s a device that everybody has with them all the time so it becomes a reply device for many things including offline. For example, there are a lot of subway apps now that have a QR code. You can scan and get some information while you’re riding the escalator down into the tunnel. Is that “online?” Well, there’s some kind of ether connection there but I don’t care what it’s called. The point is it’s another way for people to connect. As my boss says as he holds up his phone, “You know, there’s something really cool you can do with this thing, you can actually talk to people on it.” So many people forget that. They think it’s a way to get email addresses, or send a text to give, but a 10-second phone call with a donor is probably worth more than a $10 text to give, you know, sort of drive-by gift. Yet very few people are trying to engage people to make a call.
Lewis: I would never give over the phone.
Christ: You don’t have to give. Call and offer an opinion on something. Call a faith-based organization for a prayer request. Call. There’s a million ways to engage them. Any of those calls are going to increase the donor value, substantially.
McLean: I disagree that the phone is not a great engagement channel for young people. I’ve seen very promising response rates when we’ve attempted to call to convert our online activists — many of whom were on mobile devices. Our first question over the phone was: “Are we reaching you at home or are we reaching you on a mobile phone?” That was part of the engagement. We wanted to know about mobile phones. We’re still learning from it and how we can make it better, but there was enough good response there to keep testing the conversion strategy for online advocacy leads.
Christ: So are you getting phone numbers?
McLean: It’s a combination. The vendor wasn’t offering phone numbers so we were getting the address information. We were doing an SCOA, and then a traditional phone append. In that case we were getting quite a lot of home numbers. Now the vendor is providing numbers of their membership and the majority of those numbers we found out have now been mobile numbers. We’re basically putting them through a welcome series online and then at a certain sweet spot, and we’re still testing where that is, calling to convert them to become monthly donors.
Clolery: I can’t remember the last time I answered the home phone.
Lewis: I can’t remember the last time I had a home phone.
McLean: In Canada, the phone remains a very powerful tool for converting monthly donors – we use it in combination with almost every other channel to find those donors. You can have the conversation. We’re successfully using it for lapsed re-activation even for online donors. We’re using it for monthly conversion, and in connection to other channels for renewal, and it is still one of the best.
Christ: I’ve heard that since the tsunami, calling online disaster donors is most profitable if you ask for a monthly gift.
McLean: Absolutely. There are certain channels that are monthly acquisition channels. It’s the only way that they do make sense economically – face-to-face, DRTV, and the telephone, and those are what we use for the majority of our monthly donors.
Clolery: How close are you to the U.S. border?
McLean: We’re very close actually and yet there’s this huge difference in the way people give.
Clolery: That’s where I was going. Do you fundraise on both sides of the border?
McLean: No. The Ontario SPCA only fundraises in Ontario. I’m lucky enough that I used to work for an organization that has both U.S. and Canadian clients. Canadians are comfortable giving monthly to an organization they care about. The interesting thing about the phone is there’s talk that we’re going to have “text to donate” monthly giving in Canada. People will be able to sign up on the mobile phone for up to $30 CAD a month through three texts of $10 CAD/each. It’s going to be exciting, especially when we start combining that with DRTV and with traditional media and online.
Clolery: What’s your average monthly donor giving right now?
McLean: It depends greatly on the channel. For the Ontario SPCA, right now it’s give or take $15 CAD a month.
Clolery: This mobile piece is double what you get through the other channels.
McLean: The monthly ask amount is different for each charity. You see a lot of $19 or $30 (one dollar a day) monthly asks. I’m sure you see the TV commercials here for child sponsorship programs.
Grams: You mean they have to proactively say “Yes” each month?
McLean: No. It’s automatic. It’s billed to their monthly mobile bill. We’re really looking forward to seeing what will happen with it.
Grams: While monthly giving has been around for quite sometime now it still has yet to take off with the majority of people. When I was working at Greenpeace 17 years ago, they were one of the few organizations here in the U.S. that had a strong monthly giving program. It was mostly because they were heavily influenced by Greenpeace International, particularly European countries and Canada, where monthly giving was a more commonly-accepted practice. Even today, I feel the Canadians are having the best luck because the culture here (in the U.S.) is a little different, people are a little more private.
Clolery: It’s funny you say that because, with all the list brokerages and all the list demographics you can get in this country, privacy seems not to be the issue. Yet in Europe where security is tighter, they’ve been using mobile to buy Coke at a machine. It seems to me the U.S. would be slower to adapt than Canada, and you’re saying it’s the other way.
McLean: Canada has some of the strictest privacy laws in the world. You can get more information about your donors in the United States than you ever could in Canada. The Canadian banking system has also made setting up monthly programs very easy for decades. There is a predominant culture in the U.S. fundraising industry to not focus on monthly giving programs. But child sponsorship has been huge in the U.S. for decades. There is clearly willingness from all donors.
Grams: There’s got to be a reason why I feel like most donors are skeptical and organizations in the U.S. have smaller giving programs comparatively to the Canadians.
McLean: I’ve been looking at several studies. Younger generations, like GenX and GenY, were really interested in monthly giving. They like the idea of that convenient no-hassle monthly give to a cause they care about. Something like a $5 or $10 monthly gift seems manageable. I wonder if there is an opportunity in the States to engage younger generations to become the monthly donors. That’s why I’m excited about this mobile option, because it is a micro-donation that can get people involved. The complication is going to be engaging them to give their contact information to do traditional management, like upgrading them to other channels.
Christ: There’s nothing so micro about a $60 a year or $120 a year donor. There’s also the opportunity to communicate monthly. You thank them and engage them. That’s a great model. I haven’t been young in a long time, but my view is that young people are the most mobile and least forward looking, least loyal in terms of brand. Yet, they’re the ones saying, “Yeah, I’ll make this commitment for a certain amount of money a month.”
Lewis: It seems so small at the time to people and that’s what draws them in. It’s like an impulse purchase.
Christ: It’s great.
McLean: I’ve seen some interesting movement from online donors into the more traditional channels like direct mail, too. In the end, it’s not just one way. That’s why they say “omni” and “multi” or “migration.”
Clolery: Tell us a little bit about donors who went the other way, who went from online to direct mail.
McLean: I already mentioned the online activists conversion through telemarketing. We’re also testing which combination of channels works best for our second gift strategy for online donors. I’ve seen increased loyalty in the online segment when they’re not just welcomed online, but also mailed a traditional welcome package. Rick, we were chatting yesterday about testing new types of acquisition given how expensive direct mail is. The team at Ontario SPCA has developed a few pledges on Facebook — very mission-focused pledges — where the person taking the pledge will receive a small premium only if they provide their mailing address. We are then taking those folks and testing them as a segment in direct mail appeals.
Lewis: Are you using APIs (Application Programming Interface) or a custom Facebook app? McLean: We’re using an API on Facebook.
Clolery: Somebody needs a decal to remind them to take their dog out of the car?
McLean: It’s a statement saying: “You’re not going to find a hot pet in this vehicle.” It’s a reminder, but it’s also a call to action.
Christ: It’s a reminder to everybody else, too. It’s a really good way to integrate the mission with the fundraising.
McLean: When you have campaigns like this, you get more people across the organization involved in fundraising because they see the connection between philanthropy and public awareness and between philanthropy and their ability to do their jobs. Our agents who go out on these distress calls are saying: “We helped spread the word about this campaign. You’re going to raise more money for the organization, and ultimately we’ll be able to hire more agents.”
Clolery: Carie, your organization has been involved in some rather loud spitting contests with people. Whether it is involvement with Michael Vick, or whether it be the donors who don’t think you’re doing this or that or the other thing, how do you convert that into an opportunity?
Lewis: We’ve done it a couple of times. An ad was shown against us during the Olympics. It was only shown in the D.C. area, we think. Still, when something like that happens or an ad gets put in the newspaper we hear about it everywhere. The call center, social media especially, is where we get the brunt of it because it’s so easy. A lot of times we’ll use our CEO’s blog to fire back. Did you know (CEO) Wayne (Pacelle) writes his own blog? We’ll use his blog to say “Thanks for bringing attention to this issue!,” and turn it into a fundraising or an advocacy campaign. They work because we show just how ridiculous these kinds of claims are and fight back.
Clolery: What are some of the challenges you guys have seen in terms of turning essentially a blow-up situation into a positive one?
Grams: Organizations need to be prepared. They need to understand the importance of developing long-term relationships with people. You have to engage them. You have to share with them the good and the bad. You need them to know what you’re doing and how effective you are. It’s communicating with them frequently, not too frequently, but frequently enough — and having the tools in place to keep them engaged in your work. Building a two-way channel of communication is important. Building trust is important. At the end of the day, we are fundraisers. It’s okay to ask for money. We shouldn’t be apologetic.
Lewis: I wanted to follow up on your comment about building relationships. One of our policies for our social media program is that everybody who writes to us via Facebook or Twitter with a legitimate question or concern will get an answer. We have time limits, or time expectations, just like our call centers do. It’s our hope to develop trust in relationships so when we do ask for money, which we don’t do it much on Facebook and do even less on Twitter, that people will feel enough of a connection with us. Our goals in using Facebook are advocacy, fundraising and customer service. I think those things work together really well.
Clolery: How many friends on Facebook do you have?
Lewis: 1.4 million.
Clolery: What is the turnaround time if someone posts something and what kind of traffic do you get?
Lewis: We average about one to two thousand comments on every post on Facebook and try to get back to people within two hours. It hasn’t always been that way. We also answer all of those comments people have, questions and all. It’s a lot of work but that’s why we have a community manager now. She’s responsible for posting and engagement on our page. People will complain that they can’t donate or take action because Facebook apps aren’t mobile friendly, so we have to send them to a mobile friendly form. That’s the kind of customer service we do because that five seconds it takes us to answer that person’s question could lead to a donation or someone to take action. And we use the API technology just like you guys do and we found that if we can keep people on Facebook, they will convert better, whether it’s voting, taking action, even donating. It’s one of our best practices to keep people on Facebook.
Christ: What you want to do is not just have these friends but you want to engage them. You want to get them commenting, anything that keeps them engaged. What that also does on Facebook is pushes that out to all their friends.
Lewis: And the average person has about 190 friends now. That’s the advantage of these networks. We get very excited when we hit fan milestones. We did a very integrated campaign when we hit one million Facebook fans, but we don’t measure our success on Facebook by number of friends. We measure by fundraising advocacy and customer service turnarounds. We do a screenshot when somebody comes to complain to us. We answer the question. People complain about direct mail. They complain about our commercials. They complain about everything, especially on Twitter, so we try to turn that around and explain why we have these commercials, or why we send out address labels, and they’ll understand, and then they’ll have a positive experience with us. And, that’s what we want.
Christ: By doing a good job of addressing donors’ complaints and explaining it and not patronizing them, you bring those people on as stronger supporters. As I was saying earlier I’d rather have a 10-second conversation with a donor than a $10 text-to-give contribution. That’s because if they’re going to call and say anything — make a complaint, almost anything — there’s a stronger relationship. Politicians know it. They don’t care as much how many emails come in for or against a bill. What counts is how many how many phone calls they get. I think we need to start measuring and applying things that way so we’re seeing these donor engagement techniques.
Lewis: We do a weekly report on and screenshots of different mentions and conversations we have with our communities, including supporters, celebrities, companies, and other organizations. Our executives love that because this part of social media is so hard to quantify. Being able to see that turnaround is really important because customer service is number one for us. I would love to say that’s why we are on Facebook, but my boss would argue that out with me. Our numbers are in line with our theory that the more we build the relationships and make people happy, the more we will move forward with our goals of advocacy and fundraising.
Grams: It’s a way to communicate quickly with people, though. I don’t know if you’ve experienced this, but try to get an email approved through an organization approval process. It can be long and painful. Somehow most organizations have allowed social networking to bypass this arduous approval process. That’s good. It means it is a quick way to communicate with your faithful, so when breaking news happens, or when something is going on that is critical, we can get that message out very quickly to a lot of people. This just isn’t the case generally with the other channels.
Clolery: You said something interesting about politicians. They’ll get 9.7 billion emails and it crashes the system. Has the technology gotten to the point where people are ignoring it? Lewis: That’s definitely a danger. We try and get around that by encouraging people to do custom messaging — here’s starter text, write your own text. We also use email, Facebook and Twitter to encourage people to call because the calls, we do feel, have more weight.
McLean: We’re government mandated, not government funded except for some small government funding. There have been certain times in Ontario SBC’s history where we engage in advocacy to change animal welfare laws, but we don’t engage in a lot of traditional advocacy. We’re not an advocacy organization. You can only engage in a nominal amount of advocacy to be a registered charity.
Christ: I think with the 9.7 billion emails, were that the only the thing that happened, it wouldn’t be affected. But when 9.7 billion emails, generate “x” percentage of that in phone in calls, and “y” percentage of that in media coverage, those are the things that have a greater impact. So, it’s not the emails that are sent. It’s the people who get worked up about the request for the email. Lewis: That’s also why we’ve made such a big investment at HSUS to make every piece of content we put out sharable — the email, webpages, and who knows what’s next. If you take action immediately on anything, you’re asked to share that and then the word gets spread. We run reports and have seen that we garner more new to file people from sharing the thank you page of an advocacy alert on Facebook than any other way. You’ve got to capture them at the moment they’re thinking, “Yes, I just took action and I’m going to tell everybody I know.”
McLean: It’s not just best practice for traditional advocacy. This extends to other charities that do not do advocacy at all. Making sure that people have a way to share content they think is interesting or important is just smart.
Grams: Birthdays, anniversaries…
McLean: All of those, yes.
Clolery: When you send a direct mail piece you know it’s going to cost you the envelope, stamp and the return stamp, etc. How are you calculating the actual costs of these other contacts? How do you decide when it’s profitable or is it a new paradigm in ROI?
McLean: It’s a bit of both. We still have budgetary restrictions and ROI calculations that we have to do, especially on online. The web has matured enough. Traditional email marketing has matured enough, where you have to start to put some numbers to it. I think there is still a fair amount of leeway with social media. It’s more innovating in finding something that works and testing and playing than just looking at metrics. I don’t think there’s the hard cost of raising dollar metrics.
Grams: It’s also not a fundraising expense.
McLean: It’s not necessarily just fundraising expense. Social media is used for public awareness and education, branding, etc. Of course, we are always looking for ways to convert people, but for us right now social media is not a direct driver of revenue, but it is important to our overall fundraising success.
Lewis: I always say there is a myth in social media that it’s free. It takes staff time. We have six people handling social media at HSUS because we built these large networks and we’ve made a commitment to customer service and engagement. We went to our executives and said: “Hey if we raise enough money to cover our new staffers’ salaries and benefits on Facebook can we have this position?” That’s how we built our team. That’s really rare but we made an investment very early. With social media, the biggest cost is staff time. It’s a huge commitment and it’s not a 9-to-5 job.
Clolery: You said you engage anybody in any way, shape or form you can whether it is mail, email, phone, standing on a corner of the street and screaming. Have you done a merge purge across your various social media to see your overlap of people who engage you on Twitter, on Facebook, on Pinterest, or whatever else is out there?
Lewis: Three years ago we did a Facebook and email append. We found that 60 percent of the people on our email lists were also connected with us on Facebook. That was three years ago so I can’t imagine what that number is now. For our Spay Day Photo Contest, we sent those people we knew were on Facebook a segmented email encouraging them to enter via Facebook.
Grams: Facebook here, email there, with 60 percent overlap in the middle. How did those people in the middle compare? What were their donation rates compared to just the other two groups did you look at that?
Lewis: The donation amounts were lowered, but I think that’s a trust issue with donating on Facebook. We’re seeing it get better little by little. They did have more activity. They interacted more with the campaign, forwarding it to their friends and sharing it more. Grams: I’m just making the assumption that those who are on Facebook and email probably means they’re going to be a better donor.
Lewis: I would think so and that’s something that we should really look into.
Clolery: You don’t know much about your donor but you just know that they just gave less.
Lewis: They had more interactions. They did more and so what we really should do is see their lifetime contributions and what they have done on our file since then.
Christ: The bigger intangible is the evangelists, the advantage of the value of their evangelism. Have you read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell? He talks about the power of the many versus the power of the few. So with direct mail it’s the power of the many. The more you send out the more you get back. It’s a direct correlation. With all due respect to all the great creative directors, no one has ever taken a direct mail piece to Kinkos, made 100 copies, handed them out in church on Sunday saying: “Isn’t this cool? You have to give to this.” But people do it all day long on Facebook and even in an email.
Lewis: People on Facebook like to share with their friends and family what they believe in.
McLean: That comes from direct mail. There were and still are traditional campaigns where a friend gets a friend or you engage your neighborhood in a campaign. Now we’ve just expanded the neighborhood. I’m a digital marketer who loves direct mail so give credit where credit is due.
Grams: It (direct mail) might be flat but it’s not dead.
Christ: Along another line there is this power of the few. There are some people who have a lot more power than others because they’re influential, maybe someone with a blog, or with 400 friends on Facebook who are passionate about this cause, so tapping into them and treating them specially is very valuable.
Lewis: We have a really active influencer program. At the very beginning our CEO was like, “I want 500 people on this program … I want this big army.” What we’ve really realized in the end is quality is more important than quantity. Now we have 30 very active members. They get these special kind of perks that are related to what they believe in. They were the first to get Wayne’s book autographed. They feel strongly about our cause and our organization, and it’s a really great relationship. But it’s all about finding 30 really dedicated people, rather than 500 people, who truly believe in your organization.
Clolery: Let me take you a step back. You said the people are slowly becoming more comfortable donating on Facebook. Are you giving them a link to someplace else on your Facebook page or are they donating to Causes? Is there a link to your website?
Lewis: We’re seeing more people use the API technology that we use, which is basically our donation form inside a custom Facebook tab, than we are on Facebook Causes. Facebook’s Causes is going in a different direction now. They don’t want to be a fundraising engine anymore, which is sad for us because we used them heavily to raise money on Facebook. I’m really glad we’ve invested in that API technology. We have more control over it, too. It’s on our Facebook page, and people are becoming more and more comfortable donating that way. We also found that there is a significant amount of people that bounce from Facebook to our website and donate. We calculate that on a yearly basis.
Christ: How about PayPal?
Lewis: We’re not currently using PayPal at this time, but our online fundraising team is exploring it.
McLean: We’re just in the process of adding PayPal as one of our payment options. We’re really looking forward to seeing if this is going to have an impact. We’re also using an API to develop our symbolic giving catalogue into the Facebook environment this year. That e-commerce environment and having PayPal as an option, we really are looking forward to seeing what that’s going to do. One of the problems with Facebook and the API environment is that you lose tracking ability. Google Analytics doesn’t work well in Facebook.
Lewis: Exactly. We can tell how many people are using the API and donating from there, but not where they came from. If we send a Facebook ad to our API and the person clicks on it and donates, there’s no way to tell that it came from the ad. There are a lot of problems with Facebook and the APIs. They’re not mobile friendly, which is a huge struggle for us. We have found a way around that through an internal hack, but Facebook’s biggest problem is the lack of mobile compatibility.
Clolery: How many different ways would you have to build things for the current system, whether it be Google, Google+, Facebook, — how many to get someone to give you five bucks? Grams: This goes back to Rick’s point earlier about mobile technology. More then 60 percent of people are accessing Facebook through a smartphone. That’s huge. If we don’t figure out how to fundraise, and how to get that first donation, or upgrade or monthly gift on a smartphone (which might be our only channel one day), I think we all might go out of business.
Christ: Right, which means we will do it. One of the recognitions here is, and what we’re hinting at, this is a sloppy business model. This is a sloppy time period in fundraising. Fundraising used to be neat. I used to mail three or four times a year. It was very predictable. It didn’t change. Things got really sloppy starting in 2000, and there are a lot of people who are uncomfortable with sloppy.
Grams: Is it sloppy or is it just moving rapidly?
Christ: That’s creating sloppy. We spend a lot of time talking about how Facebook can’t keep up with itself. OK, then you’ve got to try to get your own people to keep up. It’s sloppy. There are a lot of mistakes, a lot of inefficiencies. It’s not about how neat it is. At the end of the day it’s about how many dogs don’t get left in cars, how many hungry people get fed, how many poor people get clothed and how much social justice gets done. And if we have to put up with some sloppiness along the way, orderliness is overrated. Always has been. If chaos creates results, I’m all for chaos.
McLean: Agreed. Yes, you want to be everywhere, but you need to think about what is important to you as an organization and which channels or mix of channels are going to get you towards those goals. You don’t necessarily have to be on Google+. We’re not on Google+ and we have no plans to go on. We’re building our Facebook fan base right now. We are trying to find out where are our constituents are and where they want to talk to us and how can we best address their concerns. It’s different for every organization. It depends on your organization’s goals and needs.
Lewis: In the beginning we were on everything — I mean every single network. We scaled back and we asked our constituents: “Where do you want to engage with us?” Less than 5 percent of our constituents are on Twitter, but Twitter’s a customer service vehicle because people talk about us there. That kind of intel lets us figure out where we can invest most of our time. We invest 70 percent of our staff time on Facebook because that’s where our constituents are and that’s where the whole world is right now. We’re doing a little bit on Pinterest because that’s where our demographic is. We’re hardly doing anything on Google+ because it’s all techy men and that’s not our demographic. There is a search engine optimization benefit to being there, though. We don’t invest in LinkedIn either, except for job postings, because it’s never done anything for us.
Grams: Someone just told me they’re actually seeing retail success on LinkedIn because everybody else is there.
Lewis: That’s a huge advantage and it’s smart.
McLean: For us, direct mail is still the largest driver of fundraising dollars. When I look at how I should spend my day, the dollars dictate that I spend the majority of my time servicing the direct mail program. Lewis: We just did a kind of audit like that where we asked ourselves: Where are we raising the most money? We found an inconsistency because mobile is growing faster than anything we have going on, and we have one staffer on mobile and six on social media. It’s raising more money than social media so we’re saying: “We have to staff our mobile program.” That’s also the future for us so we need more staff in the mobile arena. We know it.
Christ: Mobile meaning SMS communications?
Lewis: Mobile meaning everything mobile, so making our donation forms mobile, apps, tablets, smartphones, SMS.
Christ: Make all those other channels work on the phone.
Lewis: It’s a huge, huge task.
Christ: I can now use my phone to deposit a check. So I can’t wait to use my phone to send a check and ask for a check. I suppose if I figure it out through my banking system I could. So, I don’t need anything anymore except my phone.
McLean: Right now in Canada I have your email address. I can send money to your bank account. We can go to dinner and I can say: “How much is the check? I’ll go Dutch with you.” You can say “this much” and I say “okay.” I put your email address into my banking app and I can pay you for that and just have a bank account and don’t need any cash. We haven’t talked a whole lot about email marketing. We’ve been all over social media and all that but we haven’t talked about email. You hear less and less of it.
McLean: Email brings in more money than anything else.
Christ: Do we not talk about it because it’s not as much fun or because it’s more stable
McLean: It’s like direct mail. You were saying direct mail is predictable and email marketing is starting to become pretty predictable. It’s got metrics. It’s got benchmarks. It’s got standards.
Grams: Email is still a very effective channel and it always surprises me how many organizations are coming to the table for the first time who haven’t been in the game yet. I think the bigger organizations like HSUS or the Human Rights Campaign, they’ve been doing it for a long time. They also have more resources to invest in these other channels. For some people email continues to be a huge part of their fundraising program (and sometimes the only part).
Lewis: At the end of every campaign we do a breakdown by channel of the dollars brought in or the number of actions taken and email is always at least 80 percent. I’m talking about five, six, seven other ways — mobile, social, all of these other ways, email is always the largest percentage. We’ve been doing email for a while, but those people are responsive. Even with all the clutter and the noise and all the email addresses and everything that’s still where we get the most traction.
McLean: It’s becoming more sophisticated now. You can do a lot of personalization and dynamic content. That’s how we’re cutting through the clutter.
Christ: All of your email messages are sharable. You can also really make email increase in both open rate and click through if you’re featuring a video linked right from the YouTube channel, which is a social media channel. It allows you to bring all those things together. Of course the trick is then, will it render nicely on mobile phones or is it more sloppiness?
Lewis: And when you share it, will it look good? It’s one thing to have share buttons on your thank you page but if someone clicks that and it doesn’t look right then most people aren’t going to take the time to customize it. We’ve put so much time into customization for our email shares, and a lot of training a lot of hacking to make it work the way it needs to. It’s been a huge investment made in our online program.
Christ: It was that way with the early days of email 10 years ago. When I forwarded you email it came out gobbledigook because you were on AOL and most messages were text format and emails were the least common denominator and were less likely to be screwed up. Even that wasn’t guaranteed, so we’ve always had to do that kind of testing and hacking to make it work and drag along these technology organizations.
Lewis: We had a custom form built for us in our content management system for our Facebook share thumbnail. We can specify what image is shared when we share it on Facebook. That’s what you have to do. You have to push these technology companies and say: “This is how we use your product. This is how we want our constituents to be able to see things.”
McLean: There’s all these great technologies but if you don’t have the teams working together — the cross functional teams — to leverage all these channels, you’re not going to be able to do it effectively, and track effectively, and do all the things you need to do.
Christ: Leadership is key. NPT