Author Archives: Nathan Reim

Talking to Your Board About Direct Response

It’s often counter intuitive — so business instincts might actually be counterproductive.

By Tom Harrison

Unexpected conflict can erupt at the most awkward times. I was at a wedding reception recently and found myself sitting next to the vice chairman of the board of one of our clients. When he learned who I was, he declared with some passion, “You’re the agency I’m trying to get rid of. Do you realize you’re the largest line item on our budget?!”

Sensing somehow that “Nice to meet you, too” wouldn’t quite cut it, I replied, “Do you mean that we produce the largest income line item on your budget?”

There are a lot of ways to read a long pause in a conversation, aren’t there? You just never know. In this case, he smiled and said, “I honestly never thought about it that way. You’re right. Your agency produces more revenue for us than any other source.”

Thankfully, we went on to have a healthy dialogue about fundraising channels, about the cost of media and printing and postage, and about how the real measure of success is what combination of channels and strategies nets the nonprofit the most dollars to fund its life-saving programs. And about how beautiful the bride looked on her special day. He turned out to be a terrific guy. Our conversation reminded me that some of the best questions about direct-response fundraising programs often come from nonprofit board members.

The challenge

This challenge is compounded by the fact that most board members are more likely to be major donors than regular donors. They hang out with major donors. They think like major donors, and support causes and offers that resonate with major donors. In other words, they are generally not the audience for your direct-response marketing program and, hence, are not in the best position to pass judgment on your messaging, offers, channels, frequency and even creative approach.

Where can this challenge damage a nonprofit?

I’ve seen otherwise knowledgeable and successful board members:

  • advocate that the acquisition budget in digital, mail, DRTV be slashed in order to improve the current year’s net income and fundraising ratios;
  • opine that people don’t want to receive letters anymore and the organization should simply email its donors;
  • share that someone they know complains about receiving too much email and snail mail, and conclude that the organization should cut back on frequency (and on expenses);
  • insist that people want to invest in success, so the organization should emphasize the positive results of its programs rather than showing need; and
  • champion “the next big thing” in marketing as a way to attract hipper, younger people to the cause. (Millennials are a vitally important audience to many consumer product companies, but they are not one of the primary, economically viable target audiences for fundraising. They can be effective advocates for nonprofit causes as well as volunteers and event participants. But when targeting for direct-marketing revenue, attracting “younger” donors means trying to get people in their 40s.)

The opportunity

Smart nonprofit leaders recognize that their board members are successful in their own lives and careers because they have the ability to learn and grow. The facts are friendly. Your CEO and chief financial officer can be — in fact, must be — very effective spokespeople with the board to lay out the business case for your direct-response fundraising program. That means you have to make sure your CEO and CFO have all the info and understanding they need. To do this:

  • Map out the long-term value of your donors, and explain how you calculated what you can afford to spend to acquire and cultivate them. Get your board used to evaluating everything over the long term — not simply campaign by campaign.
  • Show them the money. You’ll be amazed at what happens once business people understand that for every dollar you invest in direct-response fundraising, you net $3 to $4 for your cause.
  • Quantify natural attrition and the steps you’re taking to build your largest asset — your active-donor file.
  • Map out projections to demonstrate the long-term impact of cutting acquisition — as well as the impact of investing more in successful online and offline acquisition programs.
  • Study industry frequency testing, and if necessary, conduct your own cultivation frequency tests to determine the optimum number of appeals based on the response (net revenue) of your donors, not someone’s opinion.
  • Run head-to-head tests of your channels (digital, mail, DRTV, phone, events), and calculate the long-term donor value and net revenue over time of donors acquired via each channel to determine the right media mix. And show how the value increases dramatically as you engage with donors through multiple channels.
  • Do in-market testing, not simply focus groups, on your best offers (Success/need? Monthly sustainer? Advocacy? Generic/specific? Founder/celebrity/CEO/recipient?), so you can meet the donor where she is, rather than where you (or your board) wish she were.
  • Do the analytics to demonstrate the impact of integration not just across channels, but up the entire donor pyramid to show your board how direct-response donors (the bottom of the pyramid) can be migrated to produce monthly contributions, major gifts, capital-campaign support and planned-giving revenues.
  • Finally, consider inoculating your board in advance against the stereotypical objections. I once told a conservative, development-shy board of a $20 million nonprofit that we had a way to raise an additional $1.5 million net a year. After explaining the strategy, I warned these board members that they’d probably hear complaints about the fundraising from friends, neighbors and even family, but, “If generating an additional $1.5 million isn’t worth the hassle of complaints, tell me now and we won’t do it. But if we go forward with it, let’s agree that we’re in it together and not going to be discouraged or deterred by complaints.”

The board agreed and, for the first time, actually championed our successful direct-response fundraising efforts. At the next board meeting, the members applauded the results and the development department staff.

To view a downloadable PDF of this article, click here.

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Environmental Defense Fund

How to leverage a donor’s lifecycle to improve performance

The challenge

Founded in 1967, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) works to solve the most critical environmental problems facing the planet: climate, oceans, ecosystems and health. Guided by science and economics, EDF finds practical and lasting solutions to the most serious environmental problems. Since the problems span multiple biospheres, EDF’s solutions take a multidisciplinary approach, working in concert with other organizations—as well as with business, government and communities—and avoiding duplicating work already being done effectively by others. Over the years, EDF has brought a series of innovations to the work of protecting the environment.

As a Russ Reid client since 2010, we have partnered with EDF in developing the strategy and creative for their direct mail program. One of the unique aspects of EDF’s direct response program, and program staff, is that they encourage a robust testing approach, providing us with the opportunity and enthusiasm to apply and understand the impact of the latest findings across the direct response industry and within the disciplines of neuromarketing and decision science, understanding why donors make the decisions they do and how we can leverage them.

For this particular effort, EDF and Russ Reid wanted to understand how a donor’s tenure with the organization would impact their Membership Renewal performance, if we were to message to them in targeted ways.

Industry research suggests that what motivates a donor to give to a specific organization varies based on their history with the organization; that a donor’s tenure (or lifecycle) will impact what they want to hear – and what they will respond to. The studies
• Donors in their First Year want to see a personal appeal with high readability; to
feel good about how the organization will use their donation
• Donors in their Second Year want to feel good about what the organization/they
are doing; that it’s a trustworthy organization
• Donors in their Third Year want to know that the organization uses their financial
resources wisely; to see how money is applied.

Russ Reid solution

In 2013, we implemented a Donor Lifecycle messaging track within EDF’s annual renewal series. We introduced this test in the 5th renewal notice, of a total of 8 mailed notices, because that was the point where we started to see renewal performance fatiguing year‐over‐year. The purpose of this test was to understand the impact of variable copy – copy that speaks directly to what we expect the donor to respond to based on their lifecycle with the organization – on Renewal performance.

Here is a sample of the variable copy we provided to donors in their Second Year with EDF.


You’ll see that, especially in the side bar, we’ve included copy that helps a donor feel good about EDF, their role and the support they’ve provided. This Donor Lifecycle track was maintained as a ‘closed‐class’ throughout the balance of the renewal series with donors only being removed from the class once they made a renewal gift.


The Donor Lifecycle messaging outperformed the control copy across all lifecycle groups and renewal notices, generating slightly more revenue overall than the control.

For the First Year donors this was driven primarily by response with a 24% increase in response rate. For the 2nd and 3+ year donors this was due to an increase in average gift, with as much as an 11% increase.

Next steps will include retesting this messaging within a larger population, and to understand if the results are specific to Renewals or if they could also be applied to other program offers and channels.

Leveraging Social Media in Bad Weather Situations

Over the last year many of our communities have faced an unprecedented onslaught of bad weather. Bad weather affects you as charities because it impacts the people you serve. The most vulnerable members of our community suffer most when the weather turns bad.

As you help people face a major weather event, you need your supporters working alongside you, with money, talent or other resources. To mobilize that support, social media can be a major asset . . . if you use it the right way.

Here are Russ Reid’s tips for deploying social media during a bad weather situation that affects your work:

  • Update as soon as possible–when bad weather hits, get your video, tweets and Facebook status posted early
  • Keep posting and stay on the story until it’s over
  • Bad weather updates are in your donors’ news feeds. Be a voice of differentiation offering a unique perspective of the impact of bad weather on those most in need
  • Your audience will know how much you care by how much you talk about caring

As you engage your donors, make sure you’re answering these questions:

1. What does bad weather mean for the people you serve?  What’s the need it creates?

2. How does bad weather affect your work? What extra needs for support does it create for your organization?

3. What facts demonstrate the impact or severity of the situation?

4. What tangible steps can your supporters take to make a difference?

5. What can they be telling their friends about the situation to help make a difference?

And if you need a helping hand when responding to the next major weather situation that arises, let your team at Russ Reid know–we’d be happy to help.

russ reid paralyzed veterans of america case study

Paralyzed Veterans of America – Analytics

Transforming donor behavior from product‐based transactions to mission‐based giving

The challenge

Founded in 1946, Paralyzed Veterans of America is a congressionally chartered veterans service organization that has developed unique expertise on a wide variety of issues involving the special needs of its members – veterans of the armed forces who have experienced spinal cord injury or dysfunction. PVA uses their expertise to advocate for quality health care, research and education, benefits for members’ as a result of military service, civil rights and opportunities to maximize independence.

PVA established a low‐dollar, high response premium‐based direct mail program roughly 40 years ago. On the whole the program is quite successful with personalized labels, calendars, cards and other specialty premiums generating 8‐10% response rates across the renewal program. In FY12, PVA’s Premium Program generated $67MM from over 5MM donors. However, increased costs and the relative difficulty of upgrading $10 donors, the core of file, has translated to cost of fundraising climbing to unacceptable rates.

Russ Reid solution

Our challenge is to improve program performance and lower the cost of fundraising of this colossal, mass mail marketing program by identifying, cultivating and messaging key affinity and value groups that to date have been buried within the file and messaged only based on product responsiveness and/or gender.

Using demographic overlay data along with giving history, we were able to identify several sub‐segments of the file including donors who are identified as giving to veteran’s causes and, more powerfully, hose with a veteran in the household. Analysis showed donors with Veteran‐related affinity (over 3MM on file) had a 71% higher retention rate than all others and, in turn, higher value. Back‐end analysis of key campaigns also showed directional information regarding messaging and interests. For example within this newly defined segment:

•    ‘Vintage War Plane’ artwork generated an 82% higher lift in response than ‘Rockwell Art’ the proven, longstanding control

•    A non‐premium ‘Mission‐Able’ offer focused primarily on PVA’s mission generated virtually the same response rate as a product/premium offer to Male Veterans Affinity donors

Given this data and our long‐held knowledge that if we appeal to donors with resonant messaging in words, graphics and offers we will increase engagement, loyalty and value, we’ve constructed the basis of a Veteran’s Track, which includes the following:

•    Full cycle of campaigns based on qualifying RFM, etc.

•    6‐8 highly targeted campaigns/offers to include more mission‐based language, patriotic words and images and as in the ‘Vintage War Plane’ test, additional military‐based imagery

russ reid analytics case study


This year‐long test is still underway with panels of Veterans Affinity flagged names receiving the control offers (premiums, with targeted imagery based on gender) to compare against the new treatment.

Our anticipated outcomes include the establishment of a new Veterans Affinity Track replete with targeted messaging, unique contact cadence, treatment and metrics of success. We believe that, ultimately, track treatment will be a blend of premiums/ products like the calendars and cards as in the current program, along with more paper‐ based mission offers akin to ‘Mission‐Able’. All messaging will be focused on patriotism, service, honor and PVA’s mission to help paralyzed veterans.

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KCET – Sustainer File Strategy

How audience refinement strategies have grown KCET’s sustainer file

The challenge

KCET – the largest independent nonprofit public television station in the country – came to Russ Reid at a time when they were on the brink of breaking away from PBS and were making programmatic changes at the organizational level, in their line‐up of TV programs and in their fundraising programs. One of their main needs was to rebrand their fundraising program to show the new direction of the organization.

KCET had suspended acquisition for a year, so it was imperative that they make significant improvements in their conversion programs – while also making considerable cost improvements.

Prior to Russ Reid, KCET had been sending the sustainer invite to members in specific months of their membership cycle who had specifically indicated that they did not want to receive any add gifts and/or only one renewal effort (out of a typical multi‐effort series).

This amounted to only 150 invites a month with a sub‐par response rate, and a high cost per donor, as they weren’t mailing enough pieces to qualify for nonprofit postal rates, and their original sustainer package was very exclusive and had a high‐end look.

So our key objectives were to:

  • Increase sustainer conversion
  • Rebrand the package to reflect the new direction
  • Save on costs

Russ Reid solution

We dug deep into the current audience selection and segmentation, and after researching potential prospect pools, we determined the members with the highest propensity to convert to sustainers were those who had just joined the organization, renewed or rejoined, having just affirmed their commitment to KCET.

This new audience increased the mail quantity by 87 times! This new quantity immediately saved on costs, as the invites could now qualify for nonprofit postal rates. More importantly, this change increased percent response by 300% and doubled the number of sustainers on the file!

Subsequently, having proved that this new audience was viable, our next step was to redesign the package in a way that reflected the right brand and positioned the sustainer program in a brand new way that would make it more compelling to donors. This new package yielded comparable results – and saved KCET 84%!

Russ reid analytics case study

From FY10 to FY12, the audience strategy remained the same. Additionally, KCET has been managing follow‐up telemarketing campaigns to all donors who receive the direct mail package through their preferred telemarketing partner, achieving high conversion rates that complement our mail efforts.

In FY13, we tested a new audience strategy to mail donors on a quarterly basis, expanding our segmentation selection. Additionally, we redesigned the creative to mirror our show‐focused strategy, which had proven positive on all mail programs. With one sustainer campaign final, we’ve increased conversion by 48%.


In FY10 this approach decreased cost by 84%, increased percent response by 300%, increased number of sustainers by 68% and increased ROI by 438%.

When retested in FY13, sustainer conversion increased by 48%.

Next steps for KCET include culling through their data to determine if moving the sustainer ask further out in a donor’s membership cycle will garner a larger conversion rate.


Mercy Ships – Direct Mail Acquisition Testing

Case study: Mercy Ships’ acquisition testing unveils cost-effective ways to grow a donor file


The challenge

Acquiring new donors is imperative when nonprofits want to grow, but it can be too costly if the wrong groups of people are mailed or if creative that neglects to stimulate response is used. Mercy Ships came to Russ Reid wanting to expand their donor file by improving their acquisition efforts, and they challenged us to find an affordable way to raise response rate and average gift.

Russ Reid solution

We came up with a series of tests to run against Mercy Ships’ existing acquisition package.

The existing control package featured a roll-fold carrier, but it was expensive to produce since it required handwork to insert the letter, buckslip and reply envelope.

  1. Existing control with lapsed copy – We mailed a special message with a group of lapsed donors to save money on lists and reactivate people who we know care about Mercy Ships’ work.
  2. Existing control with increased dollar handles – This test aimed to, at minimum, maintain the response rate while driving up the average gift.
  3. Revised control – We revamped the control package with a new, but similar creative treatment. This package still had a roll-fold carrier, but we redesigned it to work in an in-line process—thus saving production dollars.
  4. New creative with a child bounceback – This package had a traditional outer envelope, and included a “Get Well” bounceback for a child.
  5. New creative with a child bounceback and increased dollar handles – This tested the new creative with the same dollar handle test running on the control package.

Existing control


New Creative


Of the four tests, the revised control not only saved money in the production process, but also brought in a 24.2% higher response rate and 3.56% higher average gift. The bounceback increased the response rate by 2.6%, but the average gift fell 1.08% lower. The bounceback dollar handle test had an 11.5% lower response rate than the control package, but the average gift was 27% higher. The dollar handle test on the existing control package brought in a .065% higher average gift, but the response rate fell by 18.6%.*

With the help of this mailing, Mercy Ships was able to raise their reactivation rate by 5%. That year, Mercy Ships acquired 124% more donors than the previous, increasing their donor file by 90%. Their total income from acquisition rose 269%, which helped raise their overall fundraising income by 67%.

*Test results are based on 90-day results, and are all relative to the control package’s results.


  • The revised control performed well in every aspect. Russ Reid will continue running acquisition tests throughout the year to find the optimal package, in order to continue increasing Mercy Ships’ net revenue, response rate and average gift.
  • To achieve greater net revenue in the next test, we will be employing an exchange list strategy to lower the acquisition costs even further.
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Operation Smile Multi-Channel Campaign

Operation Smile achieves growth in new ways through multi-channel strategies

The challenge

Operation Smile, established in 1982, is a worldwide children’s medical charity specializing in engaging and training medical volunteers to provide the highest quality of care to children in need. With a network of over 6,000 volunteer medical professionals from over 60 countries, Operation Smile performs free cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries for thousands of impoverished children annually.

The organization approached Russ Reid in 2003 with a big vision to help more children around the world. With a single-channel direct mail program not delivering the growth they needed and an aggressive copycat competitor stepping up its acquisition efforts, Operation Smile challenged Russ Reid to increase the organization’s visibility, donor base and net revenue through a multi-channel marketing strategy. They needed growth. And lots of it.

Russ Reid solution

Growth through DRTV

Operation Smile volunteer surgeons can repair and transform children’s lives in as little as 45 minutes. The amazing before-and-after stories of Operation Smile’s work provided Russ Reid with the heartwarming insights and images needed to craft a compelling offer. And what an offer it was.

Russ Reid helped Operation Smile define and market one of the most tangible offers in the nonprofit world. For $240, a child’s life can be completely transformed by a surgery. And there were images to prove it. To make the giving opportunity accessible to as many people as possible, we also developed a step-down offer that allowed donors to give just $20 a month and still have a real and significant impact.

Russ Reid TV crews went to Vietnam and Venezuela to capture the stories of transformation and create a direct response television program designed to dramatically increase mass exposure and acquire valuable donors.

With two 30-minute TV shows, Operation Smile and Russ Reid seized the opportunity to test and fine-tune the offer, make strategic media buys, develop powerful creative, enter untapped markets, set up solid positioning of the show and even refine call center scripting.

Spot TV successfully expanded into the Hispanic market, while long-form programs ran in the English market. A monthly billing program was created on the back-end to capture first gift fulfillment, credit card donors, and to keep TV-acquired donors engaged.

We engaged and managed telemarketing centers to handle phone donors and created landing pages for the 40% of donors more comfortable responding online.

 By adding TV, phone and digital to Operation Smile’s media mix, the donor file quickly expanded with two new types of high-value donors. Large single gift and monthly pledge supporters formed a broader, deeper and more committed pool of donors – the key to successful growth.

Growth through direct mail

While TV, phone and digital continued to be a success in acquiring valuable supporters, Russ Reid and Operation Smile partnered in crafting a direct mail program to integrate with the new TV focus. Implementing a thorough Direct Mail acquisition strategy, the donor file was extended outside of TV and the complete surgery offer. Russ Reid led vigorous tests on creative, list sources, co-ops, modeling and segmentation.

The result? Direct Mail acquisition results increased 59% over the previous 4 years.

DM piece

Growth – one city at a time

Multi-channel acquisition efforts did not stop there. To continue to grow Operation Smile’s donor file, Russ Reid developed a six-week citywide campaign to challenge communities to take action by joining local leaders who were already involved with Operation Smile. Launching the first campaign in Salt Lake City, Russ Reid crafted a layered media approach featuring long- and short-form television, radio spots and traffic sponsorships, online banners, bus and light rail signs, billboards and direct mail, all totaling an estimated 15.5 million impressions.

The campaign goal was to raise enough funds to provide 1,000 smiles and the Salt Lake City community delivered. Supporting major gift efforts as well, the campaign even moved one man to pledge 1,000 smiles himself and commit to raise funds for an additional 10,000 smiles.

Expanding supporter engagement



With diverse acquisition efforts bringing in high-value donors, Operation Smile asked Russ Reid to apply similar messaging and targeting strategies to cultivate their growing file.

Through Russ Reid’s comprehensive reporting and analytics, the cultivation file was segmented and targeted to optimize donor communication and increase response. Using best practices that Russ Reid has developed, we improved the creative and positioning of the offer in existing appeals while also creating new appeals.

Our analytical team identified an untapped segment of mid-level donors giving between $1,000 and $10,000 at a pop. Russ Reid and Operation Smile crafted a middle donor appeal with a unique offer to support the building of a care center in Ethiopia. Response to this offer was strong, and prompted us to launch an ongoing middle donor cultivation stream that has successfully increased net revenue and donor engagement.

As the cultivation file matured, Russ Reid’s Donor File Analysis identified lapsing and pre-lapsing segments of valuable donors. In collaboration with Russ Reid, Operation Smile implemented a multi-touch-point strategy to offset attrition and reactivate supporters. The results of this strategy were encouraging as donors were reactivated with higher average gifts, becoming more beneficial to the organization.

As opportunities arose, Operation Smile and Russ Reid were quick to identify, craft and test additional offers.

As Operation Smile moved to help in the aftermath of the Haiti 2010 earthquake, Operation Smile’s Emergency Response offer was created – expanding the organization’s capabilities and increasing support of their mission.


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Seamless experience online

Armed with a track record of success, Operation Smile and Russ Reid launched a new brand initiative to better communicate Operation Smile to our audiences.

In keeping with the newly refreshed and focused brand, Operation Smile joined forces with Russ Reid to redesign the Operation Smile website with a concentration on fundraising. The new website was a great success, and significantly increased the organization’s income.



Growth through new products

Looking to take advantage of holiday shopping behavior, Russ Reid and Operation Smile launched an Operation Smile Holiday Gift Catalog. The catalog diversified the cultivation lineup and allowed donors to give a Christmas gift of hope and transformation in the name of friends and family. The new Holiday Giving Catalog was promoted through the media by Operation Smile’s A-list celebrities, and was a success with their current donor base. With the increase in online shopping, Russ Reid refreshed the catalog’s e-commerce site to streamline the catalog giving experience and increase online gifts.


Gift catalog


Together, Operation Smile and Russ Reid have partnered to create the kind of significant revenue growth that will fuel Operation Smile’s life-changing work.

Since 2003, Operation Smile has evolved into a sophisticated, multi-channel and holistic marketing organization that has achieved year over year, double-digit donor and revenue growth with a healthy ROI. Through alignment of multiple channels and consistent messaging across layered media efforts, Operation Smile has:

•     Increased average gift by 51%

•     Increased annual giving per donor by 93%

•     Increased number of active donors by 324%

•     Increased direct response revenue by 719%

•     Achieved ranking on the Cone Nonprofit Power Brand 100

•     Won the 2008 DMA Nonprofit Federation “Nonprofit Organization of the Year” Award

Most importantly: forever changed the lives of more than 200,000 girls and boys with surgery.

Is your brand helping or hurting you?

Be aware of potentially damaging messages you might inadvertently be sending donors.

By Tom Harrison

I’ve been fairly critical in articles and speeches of nonprofits that allow their branding to undermine their fundraising. This most often happens when the branding people focus on articulating the complexity and success of a charity’s programs and, in so doing, inadvertently undermine successful direct-response fundraising that depends on urgency, need and simplicity.

Examples abound. We’ve known brand folks to suggest an organization focus on sustainable community development rather than sponsoring or feeding a hungry child. While the brand people are correct that sustainable community development is essential programmatically, they have learned the hard way that it doesn’t work in mass fundraising.

I recall one national nonprofit that combats a painful and debilitating disease. The organization funds research into prevention and cures, and advocacy for sufferers. When it came time to articulate its brand, the branding folks put all their focus on communicating that those afflicted with the disease can live normal lives with dignity. They actually said, “We don’t want to give the impression that people with this disease need help!” What they communicated without intending to do so: “We don’t need your donations because our people are fine as is.” That’s an extreme example, of course, but every time your brand guidelines insist you focus on hope instead of need, on complexity instead of simplicity, you risk undermining your fundraising and the future of your organization.

The brand must support program. If it doesn’t, it’s poor branding. This is pretty much universally understood. Most nonprofits do a pretty good job in having the brand reflect and support programming.

But the brand also must support fundraising. If it doesn’t, it’s poor branding. And the organization soon won’t have the funds it needs to conduct its program.

So nonprofits shouldn’t undermine their own fundraising with their brands.

Here’s what you should do

All of your communications should help build your brand. Your public relations. Your events. Even your direct-response fundraising.

When a brand seeks to lay out distinctions, it often involves a combination of a problem or injustice or crisis that needs to be addressed and the organization’s programmatic approach to solving the need.

The most effective way to reach people is through stories. Human beings are wired for storytelling. It’s been true through the centuries. Tribal tales. Family histories. Stories that speak to our hearts. To our ethos. Stories help shape what we aspire to do and be. The Bible speaks through stories (parables) to convey a right way of thinking and living.

I know you’re proud of your programs. Rightly so. Just please make sure your stories generate more passion for the need you’re tackling than information about the complexity and efficacy of your program. Tell your story and the stories of people helped by your organization. Select and shape those stories to move people emotionally closer to your cause … and your brand.

Direct mail, DRTV, radio and digital fundraising use stories effectively to raise money, but many of us underutilize storytelling power to build the brand — along with acquiring new donors and generating net revenue.

Here are some things you can do to enhance your brand while fundraising:

  • Know your target audiences. How do they experience you now? What do they want from you? What do you want from each of them? What do you want them to experience from your brand?
  • What does your data tell you are the most important messages for your target audiences? What messages do they like so much that they actually send money? (You don’t want to accidentally create a brand platform that negates these messages.)
  • Test the branding carefully before adopting it. Does it accurately reflect and support your program? Does it successfully support your fundraising (do people give?)? Hint: If you believe your brand promise is “hope,” you haven’t applied enough discipline to differentiate yourself from every other nonprofit. Plus, you’re undermining your fundraising.
  • Keep your logo front and center. Some have tested hiding the organization in the hopes that more people will open the blank envelope than if they know who it is from. It’s not good for your brand to trick people. They’ll resent it.
  • Integrate your messaging across all channels so when a donor sees your PSA or DRTV spot and receives an email and goes to your website, your messages and images are consistent — so wherever that donor goes, it “feels” like you.
  • People pay attention to thank-yous because they’re about them. So use thank-yous to communicate your brand distinctiveness. We need to be better at showing donors, volunteers and participants how we value them. No better place than in a thank-you.
    • Thank your donors properly for each gift by citing the power and the impact of that donation.
    • Thank your donors for their longevity and describe what their support over time has accomplished.
    • Thank your donors for volunteering or participating in events. And again, stress the impact of their contributions.
  • Choose stories that convey compelling need and urgency. Let your donors know how their gifts can make a life-changing or even life-saving difference.

Remember: People can’t give to you if they don’t know you’re there, and people won’t give to you until they’re persuaded of the importance of your work (and the urgency of the need). Use your branding efforts to strengthen your organization programmatically and financially.

To view a downloadable PDF of this article, click here.

“Hyper-Targeted” Banners

I used to be a skeptic when it came to banner advertising.

After all, direct response marketing is built on the concept of relevance – targeting the right message to the right audience at the right time. Doing this with banners – buying a particular spot on a particular website, say – tended to be prohibitively expensive. The kind of banner advertising that was affordable for nonprofits seemed to be little better than blasting an unfocused message across thousands of sites, to millions of users, and hoping to score enough hits to justify the investment. As a result, ROI was uniformly low.

Recently though, the game has changed. Advances in technology and strategy have completely transformed banner advertising (aka “display” advertising), creating vast new opportunities for nonprofits.

It started some time ago, with the advent of demand side platforms (DSP) for display advertising. These offered the promise of better targeting at affordable costs, among other benefits. The digital team at Russ Reid was intrigued by the potential that DSPs offered, and started testing into them with some of our clients.

The results have been staggering. Costs per donor have dropped across the board, and return on investment has skyrocketed. Banner ads, once considered primarily an awareness medium, are generating positive ROI in many cases, with ample room to grow and scale.

What’s driving this performance? Largely, it is relevance – dramatically better targeting. A DSP works in part by modeling response behavior on your website. People visit your giving page; some give and some don’t. Now, we can monitor that behavior and relate it back to other things we know about those users . . . sites they visit, searches, use patterns and so on. This is information that DSPs have for millions of other users out there in the marketplace. The DSP can then create a profile of people who give to you – versus people who don’t – and serve your banner ads exclusively to those people. They can do this on regular websites, on social networks, and just about anywhere in the digital world where prospects can be found. As more people respond, the model gets better, and so do results.

In essence, this fixes what I always disliked about banner advertising. Now, it can be both inexpensive AND hyper-targeted – a combination that leads to incredible results and vast growth opportunity for digital acquisition.

If you’re not doing banner advertising with a DSP today, you need to be. We’d be happy to help. Let us know if you’d like to discuss it.

Assessing the changing role of marketing in the NFP space

A conversation with Lisa Scott Benson, Chief Marketing Officer at Russ Reid

Click here to view this article on the CMA website.

It’s difficult to challenge the notion that the role of marketing within not-for-profit organizations has changed in recent years. New staff roles, changes in department structures and more complex measurement practices have altered how marketing gets done. Yet many of the same practices that not-for-profits have engaged in for years haven’t changed at all. After our recent discussion with Colleen Fleming (Verity International Limited) on what the role of marketing in the not-for-profit sector looks like today, we approached Lisa Scott Benson, EVP, Strategy, Insights & Integration at Russ Reid (RR), for her perspective on this. Russ Reid is the largest North American marketing agency exclusively serving not-for-profits for close to 50 years.

 The Impact of Marketing`s Changing Role

The shifts within marketing probably started about a decade ago, but it’s taken us as an industry a long time to begin rallying our troops to respond. The proliferation of channels and the fact that there are myriad delivery methods means that consumers and donors are seeing our messages in a variety of places. Tracking has been a challenge. Marketers, especially direct response marketers, who were used to saying “I do this, and I can see how donors do that,” are forced to live with less surety. We need to become more sophisticated analytically, and we simultaneously need to think more intuitively based on the fact that in some cases more data actually tells us less. That said, there is greater awareness amongst non-profit leaders and fundraisers that people are interacting with our messages in a number of ways, and there is more intensity being applied to gaining the most informative views.

Staffing/Organizational Structure – New Roles but Still Siloed.

I’d like to say we have been seeing a change in the structure of not-for-profits; the reality is that most are still working in channel-specific silos. But many are starting to look for solutions. While some clients ask us to focus on strategies for individual channels (like TV or digital or direct mail), others seek us out specifically for our ability to help them integrate their efforts. Interestingly, some clients are even asking us to help them restructure — to help them integrate internally in order to integrate marketing efforts externally.

From a staffing standpoint, we’ve seen some changes. There are some new positions being created. The new titles usually have to do with “big-I” Innovation. These are people who are not necessarily responsible for a channel or a particular program, but are in charge of looking across the whole organization and identifying new opportunities in product development and marketing delivery. But these people are finding it hard to gain traction – oftentimes they’re not equipped with any budget! It’s hard to make an impact when you don’t control any money. And of course, we’re also seeing positions related to social engagement on the rise.

Channel Investment – Don’t Forget Traditional

For a while now, there’s been a precipitous rush towards investing time and money in new channels, particularly in the digital space. For example, we have a client who abandoned TV a while ago because they didn’t feel it was delivering the necessary value. And it wasn’t if you looked solely at directly attributable TV results. Then, they saw their overall results diminish dramatically, because they didn’t make the connection between TV as a driver and digital and mail as converters. The danger at this point is that newer channels are being pursued in the absence of the context of the traditional channels or even other recently emerged channels.

When helping to develop strategy, we advise organizations to look at all the channels that make sense for their business given their particular offering. Where does the audience for that offering live and breathe? What channels are they using? We know from our 2010 Heart of the Donor study that each donor uses three channels on average to make donations. And the more channels they tend to use, the higher their value to the organizations to which they donate.

Our goal is to help not-for-profits own the most cohesive and appropriate multi-channel strategy possible for their business. We like to have a view of the whole picture. Not-for-profits typically follow the practices of the commercial industry. For a while, this meant thinking it better to have a number of best-in-class agencies in various niches. Like commercial brands, many NFPs are now realizing the difficulty of managing all those agencies to achieve the best objective. So we advise clients to try to consolidate their efforts with one or maybe two partners in the DR space, and then to resist the temptation to think that traditional channels are dead or dying. There is plenty of hard evidence out there that they are not.

Measurement and Defining Success

Measurement is getting progressively more complicated with so much more data available to collect. We are trying to determine from the data which communications are in fact driving response. We know it’s a combination of media, so our approach is to measure at the campaign level first, and then at the individual channel level. We look at all our drivers and converters and ask: did we achieve the revenue level that we were seeking? If not, what should we dial up or down? If so, how can we continue to achieve these results with greater efficiency?

While measuring performance continues to evolve, for RR defining success has not changed significantly. Our primary goal as an agency is to support our clients in generating the maximum revenue as they seek to solve the most pressing problems facing our world today. That is different from what we hear from some other agencies and clients; there’s been a shift from a revenue-focus to an emphasis on brand awareness and engagement. For us, awareness and engagement are important as they lead to bringing in more dollars. We’re concerned that they are becoming ends in and of themselves.

Acquisition is the New Cultivation

This is my favorite epiphany of the last year or two. Historically, it’s driven fundraisers mad when existing donors respond to their acquisition efforts. It makes them feel like they’re not targeting correctly and they’re wasting money. In a one-channel direct mail world, this made sense. But in our multi-channel world, engaging existing donors in new types of donation behavior is a plus! For example, for one TV client, we realized that 15% of donation calls received at the phone center are from existing donors. Does this mean we’re not targeting correctly? Absolutely not. In fact, we’re providing another positive experience with the brand that is driving a donor to pick up the phone and call again. And we’re acquiring many more new donors. We’ve seen similar situations with digital media. As all of us know from numerous studies, the more channels a donors uses to give, the higher his or her value. Of course, the metrics still need to play out. Once we’ve factored in the gifts from existing donors and deducted them from the overall TV or digital or radio spend, are we acquiring enough donors to offset attrition and continue to fuel growth?.

Caroline Riseboro