In the first of this series of twelve articles, I will canvas issues I have encountered or observed as a Fundraiser today. Firstly, I want to focus on one of the emerging technologies that can really assist the contemporary fundraiser to manage a diverse community-driven funding programme. This technology is variously called workflow automation, marketing automation or auto-responders. Allied to the developments in conversational artificial intelligence, we have an exciting new toolbox useful for engaging, upgrading, servicing and retaining our donors.
All emerging technologies go through recognizable developmental phases. When television first emerged, it was a form of radio with pictures. It took some years for it to shake off its radio roots. Similarly, when the internet emerged it reflected the static broadsheet or printing format on which hypertext markup language is based. Today the internet is dynamic, personal and multi-media. Today the internet anticipates what we might like to see and of course, advertising chases us and responds to searches we initiate or sites (or places) we visit. Whether we think that useful or intrusive, that the internet is here to stay.
We will, over time, introduce regulations and we will as consumers learn to control this new world of information, we will make it serve us and not control us. The European General Data Protection Regulations introduced in May 2018, are an example of this. Regardless of regulation, the internet has become itself and it has brought about a revolution in information availability and donor engagement potential.
Marketing automation will grow from its roots today into an intelligent and truly responsive piece of technology. This technology will enable us to communicate better and to respond better to our donors and other stakeholders. Conversational Artificial Intelligence, when aligned with marketing automation, will deepen our ability to understand our donor’s motivations, their ambitions and their changing needs. It is perfectly understandable for fundraisers to be wary of new trends like marketing automation. Some of that concern will I hope, disappear as articles like this one show us how to harness the technology and make it serve us and our communities.
I will talk about several simple use cases that occur in most fundraising organisations every day. I will start with Recurring Giving management including retention and upgrade. Then I will discuss prospect induction, volunteer induction and the important topic of anniversaries.
For every organisation running a recruitment-based regular giving programme, there are several established metrics the regular giving team need to deal with. These include the percentage of people who will fail to make even a first donation, the percentage of people who terminate after 3 donations or the donors who terminate in the first year. All may fail to cover the cost of their recruitment. For any cohort of donors who sign to regular giving in any week, it is not unknown for 50% of them to have terminated within the first year. This makes the management and funding of recruitment programmes a careful affair.
However, it is possible to use marketing automation, autoresponders or triggered communications to affect your attrition or retention rates. The spikes in termination can be observed in your data and you can programme your automation systems accordingly. The standard is that 3 months or the third
Payment is a time when an observable number of people will choose to terminate. The psychology of this is understandable and so interventions that speak to that psychology are possible.
When I am signed up, either on my doorstep, on the street or over the phone, I have an enjoyable and even inspiring conversation with a recruiter. I feel a “glow of goodness” from my decision to support a cause I have most likely been concerned about. I may soon afterwards receive a welcome pack or other service communications that confirm my experience. A poor recruiter who bullies someone into signup is likely to lead to the new signup to terminate before the first payment. Another reason for immediate termination is the partner or even parent intervention after the event.
We know that like all sales, selling to the right age and the right income range is important. No amount of marketing automation or artificial or other intelligence will help you if you sign up people that are too young (insecure income) or simply can’t afford to make the commitment. Remember also that a household commitment (where a household exists) will significantly boost retention rates.
We are then assuming that the right people have been signed up and as I said, feel good about their experience. The welcome pack should reinforce that experience and ideally reference the recruiter. Having received that pack, I settle into having another payment coming out of my bank account or off my credit card. By month three the glow is gone or reduced. My sign-up experience is history. If I examine my credit card statement and my minimum payment is daunting I will seek things to cull and my charity donation is an obvious easy target.
If however, I have received in the week prior to my third donation, an email or communication (email/SMS/letter/phone call) that reminds how important my gift is and again reminds me of the reasons I signed in the first place, I am less likely to resign, in a statistically significant way. Reduction in attrition of up to 50% is achieved when the system is configured and implemented well. I assume you are like most organisations in that you can’t afford a staff person to run queries every week to find regular donors who are approaching a critical anniversary like the third month? So, marketing automation is essential. Marketing automation is a programmable set of communications or actions that are triggered by current or pending events in your database. Your database reports will tell you when attrition points occur, but most likely it is around the sector average of 3 months and 10-12 months.
If you have used marketing automation to send me a welcome pack that reinforces my signup experience and ideally mentions my recruiter, and if you have followed this welcome experience with a short survey to deepen your understanding of my motivations in signing, then you have ample material to have a triggered personal communication to me, reminding me of the importance of my gift.
Please don’t think that communicating with regular donors causes them to terminate. This is not backed up by evidence. As a donor, I know what charities I support with regular gifts (5 currently) and I know when they take out the donations. I appreciate the communication and I appreciate being assured that my donation is having an impact in the way I intended. Again, you can’t have a staff person dedicated to this. It must be programmable and generated by automated processes linked to your database.
I will briefly mention anniversaries here. Anniversaries are very important. If I have been a regular donor for five years, then that is an opportunity for the organisation I support to make me feel special. Again, through automated communications, you can make me a member of a special club or otherwise recognise my status and contribution. I am not supporting you thoughtlessly. I will appreciate the recognition and may give more.
Anniversaries are vital in any area of the donor, regular giving or volunteer programme. My annual anniversary as a volunteer, my 5-year or my 10-year anniversaries, all are important, and all can be missed as staff change or old records are lost. This doesn’t happen if the anniversary is in the database and is tied to a marketing automation trigger. The Donor experience is similar. If they are corporate or individual donors knowing that they are arriving at important anniversaries gives you a chance to thank them and thereby engage them. This is only possible if it is automatic.
We are always looking for ways to engage (and thank) our supporters. Anniversaries are great ways to do that. We can thank people, recognise them and perhaps get them to deepen their commitment. For example, you can do this easily by asking them to support you on social media. Again, if they do “like” or “friend” your Facebook page and you acknowledge that by “liking” their action, then you have tangibly deepened their links to you. Ideally, this is automatic and happening through your database without your intervention. Deepening support doesn’t have to mean an upgrade ask, but it can also lead to that. It is important to recognise that if I promote you to my social media friends I am giving you an endorsement and a platform to promote your cause to my networks. This has a tangible value. It is a “friend get friend” programme that works.
In every relationship, we are constantly exploring the boundaries of that relationship. Relationships are not static. We can use surveys (small and on-going), and marketing automation to maintain progress in our donor relationships. Marketing automation as it is now will be merged with conversational artificial intelligence to really deliver an ongoing donor-centric conversation.
Let’s look at other auto-responders or other ways marketing automation can help you today. Most importantly let’s look at strategies you don’t need an engineering degree to implement.
Volunteer induction involves the gathering of sometimes complex data about the person. Health and Safety, background checks, interests, availability, current licenses or certifications and more may be gathered through interviews or online forms. This is an ideal application for auto-responders. If I register interest as a volunteer through your web site or over the phone, I can receive an invitation to fill out a short profile of myself on a web form. Having done this, I receive an invitation from a team leader that addresses the area I have expressed interest in. This process and my responses or lack of response can all be monitored managed and fulfilled through automation. I, as a volunteer, will appreciate the professionalism and thoroughness of the process. Every form I receive, every communication I receive is driven by my responses to previous communications. It is a responsive system in the best way and it takes minimum staff time once it is implemented.
With prospect donors, you are trying to achieve the first gift. Any gift, no matter how small, tie the donor to the organisation. It is perfectly OK to tell prospective donors that the organisation survives and does its work through donor support. All the evidence points to donors being better supporters across the spectrum of possible ways to support. Therefore, a sequence of contacts that explores what the prospect is seeking from the organisation is initiated. This focuses on achieving the first gift within a measurable time. This is a great use of marketing automation. If you tie this sequence to a short and appropriate survey that gives you more information about the prospect’s motivations, then you have a winning formula for recruiting donors, again without using staff resources.
Every area of your supporter engagement can benefit from this technology and benefit now. You can improve donor stewardship, increase retention and achieve donor upgrade by tuning your system to be part of your team. It is essential that this accords with your values and culture, your Kaupapa. If it does it becomes an invaluable part of your team. Increasingly marketing automation and conversational artificial intelligence will carry the supporter engagement load in your organisation. I recommend that, if you haven’t already, you start to develop your organisations understanding and control of this useful technology.
Tony is the co-author of "Paradise Saved" the story of the New Zealand Conservation Sector. Published by Random House NZ in August 2014, and the founder of vega works limited.
He has spent his life working in the non-profit sector in New Zealand and overseas. In a long career, Tony has worked as technologist, consultant and fundraise in a diverse range of New Zealand and overseas based organisations.
Tony's first successful fundraising and political campaign was opposing the construction of a Nuclear Power Plant in southern Ireland in 1971. Today, Tony is still a practising fundraiser on behalf of vega clients.