Retailers and non-profits have a lot in common, especially as we near year-end: there are too many stores/charities chasing too few customers/donors. We also share a marketing tactic – both sectors have been starting the season earlier each year. The question is, have we changed the amount of consumer spend or just moved it around?
The other practice we share is that we follow others’ successes. There is nothing wrong with that, except in the non-profit space we have ended up with a stable of techniques which include labels, supporter cards, handwritten notes, card packages, calendars, etc., that are inter-changeable between organizations. We have now trained our donors to expect premiums or to use them as a tipping point when they get five appeals in their mailbox on any given day. This has been referred to as a premium arms race. First we mailed letters, and now many of us rely on labels, and we are escalating to double premiums. Do you think we can break the cycle?
The hard reality is that non-profits have a market share issue among certain donor demographics. There are only so many dollars to go around, and for both mail and event marketing we have reached the point of diminishing returns. Expansion may not be an option unless we change our measures of success.
Add to that the fact that everyone is after the same goal of engagement – with large numbers of people. The cost efficiency of the digital space has opened up a number of new ways to communicate with prospects and customers (email, search and social to name a few). These new channels have exponentially changed the landscape allowing for cultivation touches. But with everyone doing them, are they meaningful? How many surveys, viral campaigns, causes, etc., can one donor really be involved in? Frankly, we are at risk of overtaxing and alienating the donors who are so important to our success.
There is another hard issue, which is we evaluate within the vacuum of what our organization is doing because they are ‘our’ donors (that is, if we are lucky, a lot of times we only know what donors are doing within the programs we manage). We know that many of our donors give to other organizations, but outside of industry performance benchmarking, that knowledge stops there.
And so I wonder if we can really measure the meaningfulness of our actions? Yes, we can measure short-term effectiveness, but I am talking about significance.
Understanding the holistic value of a donor and the entire suite of touches is important. Understanding who is more deeply engaged may be even more important.