Author Archives: RRdev

5 tests that will transform your online fundraising

Is your website converting visitors to donors as effectively as it could be?

To successfully grow your donor base—and boost your online fundraising—the most effective approach is to combine your efforts to drive traffic to your site with efforts to improve the way you convert them once they get there. It’s known as conversion optimization—the process of strategically testing elements across your website with the goal of increasing your conversion rate. It’s an essential part of any digital strategy and can deliver:

  • Higher ROI
  • The ability to do more with the traffic already at your site
  • Dramatic increase in your online fundraising potential

That’s why we’ve prepared 5 Tests That Will Transform Your Online Fundraising.

5 Tests That Will Transform Your Online Fundraising

This free white paper will help you achieve a measurable increase in donor giving by testing: Value proposition Images Storytelling Call to action Credibility

We do not sell or share your contact information.

Tear down the silos!

Stubborn adherence to ‘the way we’ve always done it’ can hurt your fundraising.

By Tom Harrison

FundRaising Success recently hosted its second annual Engage conference in Philadelphia and a mini-version of it in San Francisco, where nonprofit practitioners lamented the high cost of silos and discussed ways to overcome them for the benefit of your cause — and your sanity.

It’s a subject worth tackling. Silos can stifle team- work, frustrate donors, inhibit innovation and cost you significant dollars in net revenue. They can, in turn, weaken your programs and prevent your organizations from having the impact you want to have.

And as they calcify over time, they can get even worse.

As our friend global management and fundraising consultant Bernard Ross says, “It’s time to barbecue some sacred cows.”

There are different types of silos that can harm your organization. Do any of the following sound familiar?

Departmental silos

These occur when departments within an organization don’t communicate, cooperate and engage with each other for the benefit of the organization. Can you believe that some departments are reluctant to upgrade donors to monthly sustainers or major givers because they won’t get “credit” for their giving anymore? Have you heard major-gifts folks arbitrarily insist the direct- response people stop all communication with donors over $5,000 — even if the major-gifts team doesn’t have the staff to personally cultivate those most important donors?!

Solution: Put the donor first — organize your donor marketing programs around the donor. Let the donors tell you by their responses how they want to be communicated with. Don’t let any individual or department take turf ownership of the donor. Measure everyone’s success against the growth of the overall giving of the donor, not by individual campaigns. Encourage cross- functional teams to work on organization-wide challenges, where staff gets to know each other, gain exposure to other areas of the organization and perhaps even accept assignments on other teams. Establish common platforms and systems across the organization, and give people access to the same data and information. This discourages information hoarding.

Donor silos

These occur when you define donors the way you want to handle them. “Those are online donors — we can’t send them a letter!” Or, “Those are special-events participants — we can’t send them appeals.” Have you heard anyone say, “Those are volunteers; we can’t ask them for money”?

Solution: Donors don’t see themselves as online donors or special-events donors or volunteers. Meet them where they are, in as many places and ways as you can. Engage them through as many channels and experiences as possible. The more ways donors engage with you, the more bonded they are to your cause and the more valuable they are to your organization.

Budget silos

These occur when you see revenue and expenses as unrelated.

I was speaking about new revenue sources to a group of chapter CEOs of a mega-nonprofit. One raised her hand and said, “Last year you told us we should put return envelopes in our newsletter. Well, we tried it.” Silence in the room.

I broke the rule about never asking a question unless you know the answer in advance. “What happened?” “It brought in enough money to pay for a whole year of newsletters!” she enthused.

Relieved, I probed, “Then what did you do?”

Barely able to contain herself, she said, “We did it again! And even more money came in!”

Elated that I was getting through, I went for the trifecta and pushed: “And then what did you do?”

“Nothing,” she replied, “because I didn’t have any more budget for envelopes.”

I actually thought she was kidding. No such luck.

I sputtered and stammered and asked the audience if it could help explain to her that if she was netting positive revenue from each effort, she could just take the money from the proceeds to pay for the reply envelopes. The entire room stared back at me as if I had two heads and agreed with the chapter CEO. There is a revenue budget and a separate expense budget. Even if something generates an extra million bucks, staffers can’t use any of those newly found dollars to roll it out to raise more, unless they have enough in their separate, preapproved expense budget.

Solution: Focus — and be measured — on growing your net revenue for program. Whether you need more spending or less spending, the measure of your success needs to be increasing net revenue for program. That allows more flexibility and the opportunity to pounce on new revenue opportunities without getting delayed by budgetary red tape. And, as any healthy corporation would do, consider the impact of making (or not making) an investment not just on this year, but over multiple years.

Organizational silos

These occur when you hold stubbornly to the belief that your chapter is unique, your organization is unique, your donors are unique or your market is unique. If other food banks’ donors have higher long-term value, if other hospitals have a larger percentage of monthly givers, if other veterans chapters have a higher percentage of company-matched gifts, it is too often (and too easily) explained away that, “Well, our donors are different.”

My friend Chuck Longfield, chief scientist at Blackbaud, compares it to health care. Can you imagine a hospital administrator saying, “Well, sure they use antibiotics to fight infection at that hospital, but our hospital is different”?

Yet that is exactly what many of us do every day.

Solution: Stop making excuses or settling for what you get. Compare your metrics (e.g., percent monthly sustainers, second-gift conversion) against the strongest results in your category. Determine the specific strategies and steps being taken by the top producer, and do the same thing. This is the lowest hanging fruit available to you and, if done properly, will generate significant net income that you can use to expand even further (if you paid attention to the above solution to budget silos).

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

Social Media Code of Conduct

By:  Lindsey Talerico-Hedren, Russ Reid’s Social and Content Strategist

How to handle negative feedback in social media

Wouldn’t it be fabulous if 100% of the social media attention your organization attracted was positive –providing resounding recommendations for your brand? Wouldn’t it be great if your online user experience was so friendly that your supporters never had a bad thing to tweet? And how relaxing would it be if the issues and causes your organization represents never caused a stir or debate that ended up on your Facebook page?

The reality is that we as organizations aren’t perfect, and neither are our supporters. That means we deal with and manage risk, which is something we know all too well in social media. A less-than-satisfactory experience with your brand doesn’t just get phoned in to your supporter services team anymore. It can be posted to your Facebook page, tweeted to hundreds of other people, or blogged about for the world to read.

So, how should we conduct ourselves if and when negative feedback arises? We suggest you follow a social media code of conduct.

1. Respect

One of the foundational characteristics of social media is that it levels the communication field between user and brand, meaning both parties are equals. That’s why respect is at the core of all social media communication–if you respect your supporters you’ll talk to them like people and not just a cash flow. If you respect your online communities you’ll provide them with valuable content. And if you respect their opinions you’ll make it known and thank them accordingly. Any type of feedback, either positive or negative, starts with a mindset of respect. You respect them.

But it also means, where possible, users should respect you and one another. Within online communities you “own” (your Facebook page, your Twitter account, your website), create a set of community guidelines: a code of conduct for your community. People voluntarily join your communities online and, strategically, you want these communities to be welcoming hubs of meaningful engagement. Out of respect for the rest of your community, that’s not possible if a user is constantly spamming your page with third-party advertisements, or if someone is overusing profanity or harassing others. Your clearly stated and publicly posted community guidelines can explain to users the types of engagement you will unapologetically not allow.

2. Respond

An unhappy supporter of your organization has just posted their complaint to your Facebook page. What do you do? Consider this carefully, because how you reply to criticism or negative remarks in social media will say more about your brand in a single tweet or comment than a year’s worth of your Facebook page updates. Here are a few questions to think through in determining your response:

  • Does the comment/feedback demand a response? Was it posed as a question or a statement? The first step of responding is determining what kind of response the feedback calls for. It may mean you require the help of your supporter services team, PR team, or executive-level agreement before you can respond. It may also mean you shouldn’t respond at all.
  • Does the criticism address something you can fix or answer? If yes, fix it and respond. If no, consider what reasoning you’ll provide the commenter in your response. This may mean a simple acknowledgement (“thank you for your feedback”), or it may mean providing the important information about why a “fix” is not possible (“We are a child-focused organization, as such, rescuing abused animals is not within our programmatic work”).
  • Is there an opportunity to create value out of this negative feedback? The code here is: Create value, don’t feed the fire.

3. Create value

The saying goes, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” At Russ Reid, we say, “If social media gives you negativity, create value by making it into an opportunity.” People post negative comments in social media for a number of reasons: They want acknowledgement, or a response, or maybe they’ve been misinformed or upset by your organization in some way.

This is an opportunity for you in social media to create value. Someone disagrees with your latest newsletter headline? Acknowledge their feedback; every bit is valuable. An upset supporter wants to know why your organization chooses one programmatic approach over another? Someone wants to know why your services are limited to a certain service area? There is an opportunity in these critiques to educate the user, turning them into an advocate through a meaningful experience with your brand. It also means educating users in the periphery who are watching your engagement take place.


For more on social media risk mitigation, creating community guidelines, creating value from criticism, or other Russ Reid social media services, contact us.

The RFP process: It can leave you happy or bruised and battered

A Nonprofit Times Executive Session

To download the original Nonprofit Times article, click here.

The process for finding a new vendor for any major undertaking, such as fundraising, puts strain on both the charity and the for-profit. Lately that friction is getting worse, with both sides accusing the other of dirty dealing.

What should be a courtship has often turned into a WWE death match. The process is expensive in both staff time and real dollars. It also is resulting in disclosures that neither side should have to make.

The process breakdown was the subject of an NPT Executive Session discussion. Around the table were: Todd Baker, vice president, strategic services at Re- source One in Tulsa, Okla.; Cathy Finney, deputy vice president, strategic services, at The Wilderness Society in Washington, D.C.; and, Mark Rhode, vice president of Russ Reid in Pasadena, Calif. The discussion was led by NPT Editor-in-Chief Paul Clolery and Rick Christ, vice president of Amergent in Peabody, Mass.

Paul Clolery: From the calls I’ve been getting lately, putting out an RFP today is not a process but a bludgeoning. It looks like more of a start of a negotiation rather than an actual proposal. On the charity side, they are using the RFP to get a better deal with their current or a new vendor. On the agency side, we’ve seen some, well, let’s say less than candid RFPs, particularly on the pricing side.

We brought you together because you’ve always been in the middle of all this. Todd, what have you been hearing about the whole process?

Todd Baker: I’ve got a lot to say about this. I’ve been on all sides of this — the nonprofit side and the agency side. It’s a flawed process. It’s broken. I don’t think the charities do a good enough job of really assessing what they really need in a partner. They just send out an RFP they get online. The last five RFPs I’ve responded to have been identical, but by different nonprofits. That tells me the same RFP is just getting sent out and usually no one follows the process.

The nonprofit doesn’t follow the process that they set up. They make exceptions. The agencies don’t follow the process. They don’t respond to all the questions. So, the whole process is flawed.

And I would agree with you, Paul. They’re using it in a way that isn’t really trying to find a true partner. They’re trying to have leverage on their current partner and get them to lower their rates. Or, they’ve already identified a new partner but because their board policy says they have to have three bids they go out and get two more.

Agencies spend a lot of resources. You wouldn’t believe it. One agency I used to work for would spend $50,000 on the RFP process. That’s for one RFP.

Clolery: Cathy you’ve been on both sides of this, too.

Cathy Finney: Right now I’m on the organization side and I just recently did an RFP to identify a move to a new agency partner. I did that right when I started at the Wilderness Society.

It wasn’t something I decided to do. It was in place before I came in. We were absolutely going to RFP this agency partner.

I think we need to think about the motivations for RFPs because they are very different sometimes. You mentioned board mandates — that many times you are forced to RFP your partner every three or five or how many years. Many times in those cases you could be perfectly satisfied with your agency partner, yet you’re still forced to go through the dance. You could have great performance and a strong working relationship, but still have to go through this heavy lift process and there’s a lack of managing expectations.

The whole process feels convoluted. I think we really need to simplify what’s happening here.

Clolery: I’ll take you back to a word you just used, “partner.” It’s nice to say “this agency” or “this business is our partner and we’re going to partner…” There’s really not a partnership there. There are two sides to the discussion — the agency wants to make money while providing a service and you want to do whatever it is you’re doing for the RFP. Can those really be mutually inclusive?

Finney: I like to say it’s a partnership because we’re partnering to achieve common goals. We are both working toward the good of the organization. I don’t like to refer to the people with whom we work as vendors. We have a relationship with the folks who we work with, and to minimize it, to say “Oh they’re just a vendor” is not conducive to building a strong relationship I don’t think.

What we’re looking for is a good fit. I believe there’s a level of competence that exists among most agencies. I don’t find that there are agencies that are intentionally doing a disservice on behalf of their partner organizations. Perhaps there are, but my assumption is that the agencies with whom we’re going to look at to partner will have passed the initial competency test.

Back to what you said, nobody is doing a good enough job evaluating needs. What do you need right now and who can you work well with? We’re not getting to those answers through the RFP process that we go through right now.

Mark Rhode: One of the issues of using the term vendor or partner, we do our best work when our clients view us as trusted advisors. When there is that sense of partnership we are able to invest more and we have more skin in the game.

Clients appreciate that and believe this fosters a stronger relationship that allows them to be more successful. That’s our view on partner versus vendor.

I also think that the RFP process is flawed. It’s too complicated. It requires tremendous resources and work on both the nonprofit side and the agency side. It’s not an effective way to achieve a goal.

What needs to be found through the RFP process is an alignment between the nonprofit and the agency partner. There needs to be best practices and a more efficient methodology to achieve that alignment. That’s what I’d like to see the industry move toward. I think there are some relatively easy things we can do as an industry to achieve that.

Baker: Such as?

Rhode: Establish an RFP best practices protocol in which the major players in the industry agree to basic principles and procedures. We might view this protocol as a standard, not that everyone has to follow it exactly. Certainly all the questions and topics would be different but the process of going from A to Z could be standardized to some degree so that there’s less waste in the process.

Clolery: You just said a phrase that makes me want to slam my head down on the table: “best practices.” We always hear, “we need to do best practices.” This is not a new industry. People have been raising money, whether it was in the Stone Age when they were trading rocks, to today where they’re trading cash. There’s always been a fundraising process. And we have some great minds in the industry both on the nonprofit side and on the agency side. Why isn’t there a best practice?

Rick Christ: In particular the past five years, we’re in an age where each agency is working very hard to keep its clients happy and to try to get new clients. The demand on growth, or the acquisition of new clients, is very great. We’re competing for a lot of new business and we’re spending a lot of money on it. You mentioned $50,000, Todd. Mark and I were talking before and each of our companies have spent in excess of $50,000 on the process.

Clolery: But isn’t that really a phony number because you’ve already employed people for this and they’re just putting their hours in.

Christ: It’s not phony because there’s an opportunity cost. What else would we be doing? We’d be raising money for our clients with those people. If 10 agencies compete, and each invest $50,000 and we all know of RFPs that have had more than 10 agencies — 20 agencies – but if 10 compete, for $50,000, that’s a half million dollars.

The organization can easily spend $50,000, hours that these people are paid anyway but are not running events, not talking to major donors. Who’s paying for that? The donor is paying for that, or people aren’t getting fed, the land isn’t getting preserved.

Clolery: There is an agency, and some of you might know the agency, that recently signed an $18 million contract with a very large national nonprofit. It would seem to me that if you’re going to score $18 million, 50 grand is a spit in the ocean. If you’re going after business like that, I wouldn’t be whining about the $50,000 opportunity cost.

Christ: I’m not whining about the $50,000 opportunity cost on account work where there is a good alignment, where there is an $18 million deal. There’s an awful lot of this stuff where the contracts are worth $1 million or $500,000 and we can compete on five or 10 of these RFPs, to get one or two clients. The average would be one client for every 10 or 15 proposals. And we’re allowing ourselves to be commoditized when we really aren’t a commodity.

Baker: There’s a reason why we haven’t had best practices. These are highly strategic ventures for agencies. There is a strategy from the very moment you get an RFP from the agency side, all the way up until you win the business. An analogy would be if all the NFL teams ran the same exact offense and just had a standard best practices offense. No team is going to do that because they have different strengths. They might have better wide receivers than the other teams. It’s one of those things where we would have to, in a sense, almost share our strategy regarding how we approach our piece.

Rhode: Rick mentioned commoditization of the products and services we deliver. I want to applaud him for that term. We talked this morning about price com- petition. It’s not like agencies are airlines both competing to take someone from New York to L.A., and Delta is one price and American is another. Our services and products are unique, offering clients value-added intellectual property. For the process to align a charity with an agency, it should be different than the process that we have. It should be more efficient and allow the charity to have confidence they have made the best choice.

Christ: Some RFPs are too vague and we can’t get a feel for what the organization really wants. It might be a reflection that they’re not sure. Others are so specific that it’s really fill in this box, fill in this box, fill in this box.

My thinking is if you know that much about what you need to do, that’s fine. That’s not how I shop for groceries. I go to the produce aisle and see what’s fresh, then I organize the rest of the meal around it. If I wanted pork chops, someone can always bring me pork chops at the lowest price. Those are not pork chops I want to eat.

With the explosion of channels for fundraising and of technology to help us channel data and make sense out of it, agency work is far from a commodity product. It’s far from the product that we were delivering even five years ago. Best practices, if there were any five years ago, need to continue to evolve so that we’re able to have a clear, open discussion.

One of the big problems is, if Cathy wrote an RFP for an agency and if her organization required that somebody in purchasing manage it, I could not say, “Cathy, what do you mean by this” or “would you consider this an alternative,” because I’m not allowed to talk to her. I might or might not ever get a clear question answered.

Finney: You might not even be able to speak to me, right?

Rhode: It makes your investment of $50,000 or more less meaningful because you have little control of the outcome.

Clolery: You have a disinterested third party in the middle of this?

Finney: It’s also another cost that we’ve got to consider and that might not be helpful in all cases. Again, how much money are we spending to go through this process and how many staff hours are we sucking up to manage this process? As I said, the entire process is a heavy lift. The more people you involve in it the more heavy it’s going to be.

Rhode: There are some practices that represent low-hanging fruit. If we were to address a few issues it would get better quickly for everyone. For example, we might limit how many agencies the nonprofit asks to participate in the RFP process.

Clolery: How many do you see now?

Rhode: 20, 23, 14 …

Clolery: That’s insane.

Rhode: When you find out there are 25 competitors, you know you’re facing a major investment to complete the RFP process. You have to ask yourself: “What is the winability factor for the agency?”

Clolery: Does that come back to what Rick was just saying a few minutes ago about there being so many explosive channels that no agency can handle them and therefore you need the 25?

Rhode: That can be a part of it. But there’s no reason to have 25 agencies go through the process.

I think there should be a protocol that says there should be a maximum of eight. Or 10 or 7 or 11 — pick a number that is reasonable — and that would be one starting point. Another one would be, there should be some reasonable interaction between the future agency partner and the client other than a group email answering 100 questions that are an aggregate from all 25 agencies.

It would be helpful to have some meaningful communication process so that they could get their questions answered and maybe say: “We’re not in alignment with you. We should back out because we realize now having read the material that we’re not offering the services you need in the way we think you want them.”

Clolery: Should the agencies be doing their own due diligence? For example, there is a large nonprofit that has a new CEO. This individual put everything out for an RFP and, gee, here’s a surprise, the agency that got the job was the agency this individual worked with in a previous job. Should the agencies be doing enough due diligence so that they don’t get into that kind of sweepstakes?

Rhode: They should and we try to but we don’t always do it well. We periodically say thank you but we’re not going to proceed because we learned something that tells us, it’s not likely that our investment — time and money — would result in a win.

Clolery: How often is the process already wired, that you know somebody’s going to get it?

Finney: That goes back to my original statement about there’s not enough honesty in the process. The onus of that honesty lies with the client, lies with the organization. There’s not enough truthfulness there. When I’ve gone through the RFP process, I’m as honest as I possibly can be without providing any sort of advantage to one group or another. And every time I’ve entered into our RFP processes not knowing where we were going to go. If you go in with an open mind you’re often surprised when you’re going through the process. You might have a suspicion about who might be the frontrunner and then you get the next part of the process and somebody comes into present and then everything is up in the air again.

Sometimes you’re forced to go into that process and you don’t really want to go. This gets us back to my original statement about motivations — why are you doing it and should you really be entering into the RFP process at this point?

Clolery: How long is the process in general?

Finney: We did ours in 45 days. It was tight. We needed to do it before we went into the new fiscal year.

Christ: I think 90 days is typical. We’re often skeptical when we see an RFP with a very tight timeframe. Because the likelihood is…

Finney: Then you think the outcome is already determined.

Christ: That’s one indication. The other is that it’s not likely the organization is going to be able respond in time and it takes a lot of wind out of our sails. Our proposal has to be there by 5 p.m. on Wednesday and if it’s there a minute late we’re disqualified. Then, they say a week later they’re going to send out invitations for round two, and it’s six weeks. Now you have 23 proposals, each of which are 45 pages. I couldn’t get through it in a week, either. It was unrealistic from the start.

I prefer to think of it as unrealistic. We’re left hanging for a while and don’t know what’s going on. And they’ll say, “Can you come in next week?” Well gee, it would have been nice to have two weeks notice, maybe save a little on airfare and put together a better presentation.

A lot of nonprofits don’t mean to be so one sided. They just don’t see what the needs are from the agency stand- point to get it done. If we had a general rule that says you ought to allow for 45 days, three weeks for this part of the process, three weeks for this part of the process, I think more organizations would pick more reasonable dates.

Finney: We were driven by the need to make a change before the first quarter of the fiscal year. It was an arbitrary deadline. And I know that put the agencies at a disadvantage because it wasn’t giving them a lot of time. We streamlined ours significantly. I didn’t want proposals that were longer than 10 pages and we kept the pool small.

Clolery: It’s almost as if there’s a feeding frenzy at the top, and the guys much lower on the food chain are pretty much getting few nibbles from the top agencies because the profitability is not there.

Baker: I don’t want to come off as if I’m bashing the nonprofit side of things, but I would like to share that the nonprofits really have the control of correcting the problem, not the agencies. The agencies have self governed, have put protocols whether it’s written down or it’s a gut feeling. Like Rick was saying, tight time frames, vague RFPs, are red flags for me. If they don’t even want to take my phone call, if they don’t want to see me in per- son, they don’t want a partner.

On the agency side, you’re in a bad predicament because if you just blow them off, or you just say “No thank you,” then you might have burned a bridge there.

We just had an RFP process where we have one part of the business, and we kind of knew that this client was going to give it to this other agency but we felt like we had to participate all the way to the end. And sure enough, they gave it to that group.

Finney: Why did you do that?

Baker: They were a client already. We do significant work with them. They have another aspect of their business that they just put out for RFP. We knew that there was this inside agency that was going to get the business, but we ended up having to go all the way through it.

I’m not saying we should have gotten it or there was anything inappropriate, but you know you just call it. You know what’s going to happen because you see networks and relationships and, like you said, that relationship will be taken on to the next project or the next job.

It’s just the nature of the business. There’s a lot of work that the nonprofits can do to make it simple for them and have more integrity in the process.

Rhode: If a nonprofit is simply doing an RFP to satisfy a board requirement they can’t acknowledge that openly to the agencies or they violate the whole point of getting multiple bids from three to five agencies.

I think it would be a nice practice and maybe a suggested recommended protocol that if they know that, rather than bring a lot of agencies in for a multi-layered, expensive process, that they do a truncated version of the RFP process that would allow them to maybe look at maybe five, then three, and then pick one.

Likely, they will pick the incumbent. The incumbent has an advantage. Maybe they can focus the decision around pricing if that’s their objective.

Finney: The other issue is times when organizations go through the RFP process fishing for ideas.

Rhode: I won’t say who it is, of course, but I heard someone from one of the major nonprofits say in public that one of the things that that person likes about the RFP process is that it allows them to get exposure to intellectual property for free.

That was one of the reasons why that person wanted to do the RFP. That shouldn’t be the motivation. The motivation should be alignment, confirmation of the right partner.

Clolery: Is that not a process where you really can’t help but learn from the intellectual property of the agencies because if you’re going to come in and say, “We’ve got these bells and whistles and you’re going to want to find out how you’re going to use them.”

Rhode: I think it has to do with motivation. It gets back to the issue that you talked about with honesty.

Clolery: If you’re an agency and you believe you’ve got some sort of system that no matter what can get blood out of a stone, and you’re pitching your services, don’t you have to show your hand?

Rhode: You’re illustrating your value proposition and why you believe your services are more aligned than someone else’s services. I think that’s a good thing to do. Some RFPs are looking for a strategic approach to the business to turn their situation around. We haven’t talked yet about spec creative. All of us have either received or given spec creative. I think that’s appropriate in some cases but it should be for the finalist only and it should be for a limited number of finalists.

Christ: There ought to be an offer by the nonprofit that “not only will we not use your creative if we don’t hire you, but we’ll destroy it. We’ll return it to you.”

Finney: Or, “if we are interested in having it developed further…”

Christ: “We’ll pay you to do it.”

Rhode: I think those are all great outcomes.

Christ: We frequently have to sign and attach to a variety of practices and behaviors, everything from non-discrimination to promises with respect to data security and we’re willing to do that. Why can’t the nonprofit sign something saying, “Here’s what we promise to do to show our authenticity in this?”

Baker: Nonprofits hire agencies for two reasons, for creative and strategy. Because they have severe data issues they make that the leading reason why they’ve chosen some group, regardless of whether they had creative and strategy. That’s the whole thing about assessing your needs. You don’t hire an agency because they have great data solutions. Nonprofits do, but that’s because there’s been so many data problems in our industry that we’ve had to evolve that way.

I don’t mind sharing our ideas and our creativity with respect to the clients. That’s why they’re going to hire us. I want to get in front of them, early on, and share with them our ideas and our strategy.

Many of the big organizations that just had an RFP are declining. They’re not growing. Some of these established nonprofits don’t really want to know what other ideas are out there. They’re staying with their same old tried and true agencies, or they have this process that’s not appropriate and so they’re missing out on the new bright minds and great ideas that are out there in the marketplace.

Clolery: When I came to this sector I was stunned at the conferences and how all the agencies and nonprofits were willing to share outcomes. It wasn’t just, “we’ve got a gazillion dollars” but “here are the five steps we took to get this gazillion dollars.” I’ve seen that devolve. What do you think about that?

Baker: I’ve been doing this for 27 years. You have to have a heart for this business. I can’t possibly work with every nonprofit, so, I write a lot. I speak a lot. I should willingly share my information. If it helps Russ Reid, or if it helps Grizzard, or some other group, great, because it’s going to help their clients and it’s going to help grow our industry.

We need to elevate our industry through education. Every good fundraiser needs to know how to write and speak. As an industry, we are far from creating these people who are knowledgeable enough. You just said many of the nonprofits aren’t even profitable to work with. So, what do we have to do? We have to educate them. We have to teach them how to stand on their own. That’s what has driven me in this market.

Clolery: We know that three quarters of the nonprofit sector generate less than $5 million in total revenue so we can take them off the table. Are the agencies really looking at a pool of maybe 2,000 organizations that they can afford to go after?

Christ: It’s bigger than two, but far less than 10. I’ve spent a lot of time telling small nonprofits in the niches in which we work that we would not be good stewards of the donors’ money be- cause the flat costs of serving them are too high based on their revenue stream.

We have a cutoff not just because of profitability for us, but because we don’t ever want to be in a situation where someone says, “Why is half the money you are raising for this client, or three quarters of it, staying with the agency and not going to the nonprofit?” Even if the answer is very simply, “That’s what it cost to raise that money and we were good stewards with their money,” it smells really bad. And so we want a client where we can have a big impact and the work is the same, the strategy is the same, whether you’ve got raising $1 million or $10 million. The cost to write a good direct mail letter and a few emails to support it, and create the graphics for that, is the same whether you’re mailing six of them or six million.

There are times where we have to tell the nonprofit, “You’re too small,” or “We’re too big.” We probably ought to do the same thing on the other end and say,

“You’re an organization that raises $800 million a year, we probably don’t want your business anymore than you think we do because you’re just too big for us.”

Rhode: We work with large clients and we also work with small clients in two verticals: food banks and rescue missions.

Clolery: But in many cases it’s going to be the same package, it’s just going to change from Des Moines to Corpus Christi.

Rhode: It’s not the same package. It’s the same strategy with unique creative customized to the local market. It’s a strategy that’s proven and it works just as well in Tulsa as it does in Des Moines.

Christ: What if we took 15 different RFPs, put them together and we looked at the various elements of them? It would be a group of people who represented both vendors and nonprofits and perhaps some of the middlemen. We’d say, “Here are the basic four or six parts of the RFP. Here are some good points in each, let’s look realistically at the dates, let’s put some guidelines in, like, how to write an RFP.”

I don’t know that anyone has done a really good job of putting it down on paper: “How do you write an RFP?”

Baker: You could standardize a lot of the RFP process to getting to the information, an RFI. If you can standardize that process you know it’s always going to be the same. You do it once then you’re done. That will cut out a lot of the process. What would be helpful, too, is you have the RFI, the Request for Information, and then you can help the non- profit think through this alignment that you keep talking about Mark: What are our needs? Who are we?

This is just an example. We don’t have a strong direct mail program, but we have a robust digital strategy, so do we want to go out and hire the biggest direct mail firm that has, “oh and by the way” a digital department that they started two years ago. Probably not, even though they might be the most well known out there. It’s one of those things that we can help them through some questions, assess their needs, and then be able to almost personalize that last part of the RFP.

Christ: It would also give some cover to nonprofits, where people are perhaps new, perhaps a little frightened about the leadership at the board level, and might not have a lot of experience in this field. They want to do an RFP that, regardless of the outcome in terms of fundraising down the road, is going to shield them from criticism. There was a saying probably 25 years ago that nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM. In other words they might not have been the best, but if they messed up, you could say to your boss, “It’s IBM. Who would have known that they would have…”

You could say, “I followed the RFP process that the industry thinks is a good one. I didn’t bring in 27 agencies be- cause nobody thinks that’s a good idea. I went looking for firms that serve organizations of our size. I did this, this, and this, and if the outcome wasn’t outstanding, it wasn’t the result of the process. It might well be the result of your sharing. You’re partnering with that agency, but the fault isn’t in the process.”

I think the process is too defensive. I think that we have far less collusion in this industry than others. We spend too much time protecting against it and in the process, protecting against better fundraising.

Finney: What about the process do you think makes it defensive?

Christ: I want to sprinkle this out there. I want to get 27 agencies in. I want to go though three or four rounds of bringing these people in. I want to get spec creative from all these people. And, I won’t answer individual questions by individual agencies. I won’t have an individual relationship. I will shield myself behind an internal or external third party.

Finney: Yes, but do you then even want to work with an organization like that?

Christ: See, there’s the rub. Mark spoke about how a person threw out a phrase like “I know it’s evil but…” You know, where she’s looking for that free intellectual property. At the end when she finally makes her selection, then she starts to negotiate price, and she’s proud of it. I felt like saying, “Yeah then that’s the beginning of a beautiful, trusting mutual beneficent relationship?”

Finney: They’re able to get married. Clolery: It works for the Kardashians. Christ: That’s not who we want to be like in our business. I think that’s something that we ought to hold ourselves up to and say, “We can do better than that.”

Baker: I like your point. I have found that the process that goes on between the agency and the respective client has a direct correlation to what it’s going to be like to work with that agency. So if the agency needs to have an extension be- cause they can’t get it done, now on the other side I want to say “Balance this out.” I want to work with an agency that is almost too busy to do RFPs. An agency that is constantly doing RFPs, and they have time to do that, means they don’t have enough clients. That is a warning sign if I’m on the nonprofit side.

Clolery: Look at how many small organizations, small vendors, partners, there are out there. Many of the smaller companies were spawned from large agencies. They have to start somewhere to develop an expertise. The fact that they’re a small agency doesn’t necessarily mean…

Baker: No. I didn’t mean they’re a small agency. I just meant that if they’re responding to every single RFP on the market, they either have a whole separate department which a lot of the big agencies do or they don’t have enough clients.

Clolery: Which brings me back to what I asked before. It’s already a cost if they’ve got a department that handles RFPs, then they go ahead and whine about the cost of doing it?

Baker: Yeah, you can’t have it both ways I understand. It’s the nature of our business.

Rhode: There is a responsibility of the agency to do due diligence and do its homework to make smart decisions about how to leverage its investment. Every agency invests in business development. The agency should never whine because ultimately whatever they do is their choice and it’s their responsibility to manage themselves well.

Christ: If you’ve got your fair share, or even a little better than your fair share, you still got a lot invested in the RFP and the business that you want. Now where does all fundraising agency money come from?

Clolery: Donors.

Christ: It comes from donors. That’s right. We owe the donors something bet- ter than spending such a big chunk of their money figuring out how we’re going to work together. It’s a process they don’t understand. They don’t want to understand it.

Finney: They shouldn’t have to understand it.

Christ: They shouldn’t have to get involved in that process. I think they’d be appalled if they found out that millions and millions of dollars of their gifts are being spent in this process. I think for them we need to do better.

Clolery: We’re coming to a close. Is there something that we haven’t touched on that you have a burning need to say?

Rhode: I’m not sure we’ve touched enough on the needs of the nonprofit client. I’m not sure I have a cohesive idea about what I want to say next but let me just try. As a nonprofit client for years, I wanted my staff to be exposed to really great potential agency partners who thought big so that it would broaden the vision of my staff and myself. But I didn’t want it to take a lot of time. I didn’t want to see a lot of finalist agencies

There’s a trust issue when you bring a finalist in and there’s only so many finalists you can feel like you’re getting to know and then you’ve got to say no to one or two or three of them which is sometimes hard.

We limited ourselves to two or three finalists. Those were the only people we would ask to bring in the extra guns — the creative, the strategy. Prior to that we would really make our decisions based on their capabilities and their historical work. We would look at their case histories, at their creative, what they felt comfortable showing us. We would make a decision on alignment based on that and then we would bring two or three finalists in and then ask them to go deeper. That was a better use of my staff ’s time, a better use of my time. And, we still met the criteria of having evaluated multiple possible partners.

We also had a procurement department that had to take the lead and I did not like that as the client. I made sure my team and I were on the phone and on email with the prospective partners. We wanted to get a feel of what the chemistry would be like. You don’t always get that in a written document.

Finney: I like your word “alignment.” I like the fact that we’ve got to find alignment. We’ve got to have an understanding of what the agency team would look like, relative to what the staff team looks like. You’re looking at where the gaps in skill sets might be and where there are stronger or less weaker areas of those teams.

But also, you have to work together every single day, right? You don’t always have to like everybody that you work with but it’s nice if you can get along and work in nice harmony together. You don’t get that just by the written proposal so there has to be some communication, some semblance of what this relationship might look like moving forward.

Baker: That’s a key element that I look at. If someone was open to seeing me and wanting to get to know our team, that is a worthwhile venture. What you guys just described, is an ideal situation, you know.

Rhode: Let me share two ideas that might be off the charts, a little radical. If you could get down to two finalists, have the nonprofit, give both of them a paid assignment that would be short, time framed, project orientated, a month or two that would allow the client to say, “What does it feel like to work with this group?”

The other idea that is sort of radical is something I did when I was on the consulting side. I was managing RFPs for for-profit clients. I had a client that had a $100 million media account up for grabs. I walked them through the RFP process, for a general ad agency. When we got to the finalists, I asked the client to pay the four finalists for their work. It wasn’t very much and it was a long time ago. It was $15,000 a piece and it mostly covered hard costs. It basically covered the air- fare, the hotel, the travel incidentals.

It was more a matter of respect for the relationship. We were saying, “Look we realize you’re putting maybe $100,000 worth of time into this, here’s a $15,000 stipend to pay for your airfare and to thank you for being willing to do that.” It made for an environment where the finalists really felt respected. I think the client got better thinking because it was so novel.

I’m not sure that would work in the nonprofit space. It might not because you’re dealing with donor dollars, but that’s why it’s radical. If we could approximate some form of respect going both ways, that would be important.

Christ: You could do that if you said “If you, agency ‘A’ create a new acquisition package for us to test against, we’ll hire you to do it, and we’ll hire you to do the full spectrum of services that you provide. We’re going to fulfill our work together. And you agency ‘B’ maybe we can’t budge you for a second acquisition, would you do something for our lapsed donors?”

You could create projects like that, that would be beneficial to the non- profit. I was thinking of the word “respect” before it even came out of your mouth. I think that’s the single biggest element.

To download the original Nonprofit Times article, click here.

Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday—or #GivingTuesday, if you prefer—started last year as a grassroots effort. While results from the first foray weren’t huge, they were promising. The idea itself is very promising: since retailers have the Friday and Monday after Thanksgiving to kick off the holiday shopping season, why not claim the following Tuesday to kick off the holiday giving season?

Started by 92nd Street Y, a New York-based nonprofit, the first year of Giving Tuesday generated donations to about 2,600 participating nonprofits, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy. A bigger push is expected in 2013, with more nonprofits signing on to the site or including the campaign in their marketing efforts.

Should your organization participate? The answer is probably yes. How should you approach it? Here are our suggestions:

  • Let for-profits pay for your R&D: Retailers have spent an immense amount of money to determine optimal Black Friday-related strategy and tactics. Advance marketing, special offers, short-term deadlines… these common tactics are proven winners in retail, and nonprofit-relevant versions of them—such as matching gift offers—are likely to work as part of your Giving Tuesday promotions. Pay close attention to what successful retailers are doing for Black Friday, and borrow winning methods.
  • Start simple: Your first (or second) foray into Giving Tuesday needn’t be a huge effort. This is a movement with lots of potential, but it’s still proving out. Keep it simple and experiment. As you find wins, you can expand outward.
  • Plan ahead: Simple, yes. Off-the-cuff, no. Adopt a strategy with a content calendar to guide your efforts. Be intentional in your objectives and learning goals.
  • Integrate: Use email, social media and your website as primary marketing methods, but consider limited coverage in offline vehicles as well. Integrate across channels to create a consistent experience for your supporters.

As of this date, it’s not too late to get started with your Giving Tuesday efforts… but it’s close. Time to get moving! If you’d like Russ Reid’s help in executing a successful Giving Tuesday strategy, please contact us now.

Russ Reid clients win 2013 ECHO Awards

On October 15, 2013, at the DMA International ECHO Awards ceremony in Chicago, IL, Russ Reid clients won the Gold ECHO Award and two Silver ECHOs.

Congratulations to World Vision Canada, Operation Smile and American Cancer Society for the following awards:

  • World Vision Canada: Horn of Africa Middle Donor Multi-Channel Campaign – Gold ECHO
  • American Cancer Society: Making Strides Against Cancer Local Market Campaign – Silver ECHO
  • Operation Smile: Stock an Operating Room Cultivation Campaign – Silver ECHO.

For Russ Reid, the success our clients also represented the most wins by any agency in the category.

For more information about this year’s awards, we invite you to read The Nonprofit Times’ coverage on the event.

Direct Mail and Telemarketing have an Undeserved Reputation for Bilking Donors

By Tom Harrison

Nonprofit organizations have been skewered in the news media in recent months.

The list of America’s 50 worst charities compiled by the Tampa Bay Times, CNN, and the Center for Investigative Reporting probably drew the most attention, but that has hardly been the only attack.

There was also the coverage in March in The Chronicle of Pearl Cohen, a disgruntled former telemarketer turned whistle-blower who says she was shocked that nonprofits usually pay more to acquire a new donor than they receive in the first gift.

And in May this newspaper’s opinion section featured a misguided article from Brian Mittendorf, an Ohio State University professor who suggested that donors who give to charities with higher overhead costs should receive a less generous tax deduction than donors to charities with lower overhead.

The public could be forgiven for concluding from such coverage that there’s an outbreak of nonprofit organizations bilking American donors.

Based on my 30 years of experience as a fundraising consultant, I suggest that much of the uproar is based on a fundamental bias that journalists, regulators, and others have against direct-marketing appeals.

To be sure, some fundraisers have been unscrupulous and have ripped off donors by creating fake charities and taking other steps that nobody condones.

Such cases are few and far between, but when the public trust is betrayed, the perpetrators should face consequences. Trade associations like the Direct Marketing Association’s Nonprofit Federation and the news media have important roles in outing the wrongdoers as well as educating the vast majority of nonprofits so they can avoid such problems.

And in those rare cases in which a nonprofit consciously misleads the public, my colleagues and I in the direct-response business need to show a little more backbone, including seeking public sanctions from respected trade associations.

But most of the recent accusations of fundraising scandals have nothing to do with that kind of outrageous behavior.

In a large number of cases, the hand-wringing headlines about nonprofits come from people who don’t like getting what they consider junk mail or harassing calls at dinnertime. They don’t understand that that’s not at all what’s involved in mail and telephone appeals from legitimate charities and their consultants.

Those of us who conduct direct-response campaigns for a living understand that most Americans work hard and have little time.

When they get a call or a letter offering them an easy way to give $25 or $50 to feed a starving family, to give medicine to a child battling cancer, to save a pet from a cruel death, to honor a wounded war hero, or to beat AIDS, they are moved to act.

And that is good not just for charities but for donors and for the soul of our nation.

Nonetheless, the reasons charities spend money on direct-response campaigns is much more about dollars and cents than emotions. When nonprofits invest in mass-marketing efforts to reach new donors, they can end up with far more money for their mission over the long haul than they can by investing in many other techniques.

That message gets lost on regulators, watchdogs, journalists, and, indeed, many in the non- profit world.

When the CEO of a nonprofit spends a lot of money traveling across the country to meet with a wealthy donor and gets nothing in return, it would probably not cause a ripple because raising money from the rich is considered tasteful (or at least something journalists and watchdogs understand).

But when a charity calls or writes potential donors and doesn’t get an immediate financial return, many observers jump to the conclusion that there’s a scandal, instead of investigating the real—and viable—long-term strategy.

It’s time to move beyond this bias against direct mail and telemarketing and look at the results over time.

Not only do many of the donors recruited by mail and telephone end up giving loyally over the years—making up many times over for the initial expense of attracting them—but those people often make very large gifts or leave generous do- nations in their wills.

They probably never would have done so without that first telemarketing invitation or mail solicitation.

Marketing costs are a normal, necessary, and healthy part of the way nonprofits finance their organizations. Saving money by hiring mediocre talent and failing to spend money on the steps that are essential to growth are the real reasons so many charities are not effective—not over- spending on direct response.

Healthy nonprofits raise money from diverse sources, including the wealthy, foundations, government, and average Americans.

They use diverse sources to reach these donors: television, radio, mail, print ads, online, e- mail, events, one-on-one pitches, and written proposals.

To gauge a nonprofit’s efficiency, we need to measure each approach in an appropriate way. When it comes to direct response efforts, it makes no sense to measure campaign by campaign.

To see this opinion piece in its original format as it appeared in The Chronicle on Philanthropy, click here.

Leveraging Direct Mail and Digital Marketing Together for “Surround Sound” in Fundraising and Marketing

By Jeanne Harris, Vice President, Client Services

At our disposal are a multitude of vehicles in which to deliver our marketing and fundraising messages. The combined power of mail and digital marketing to formulate a holistic “surround sound” can deliver formidable marketing messaging and create synergy between all available and appropriate channels.

Here are six tips for creating your own fundraising and marketing surround sound:

1. Understand the “end goal” you are looking to accomplish and the metrics for measuring success, so that the optimal communication plan can be devised across the mail and digital assets you have.

  • Are we looking to raise money?
  • Are we looking for new supporters?
  • Are we looking to facilitate an action?
  • Are we looking to raise awareness around an issue or an event?
  • Do we want to build social buzz and stimulate Influencers?

2. Engage all key stakeholders — the offline team and digital teams — in regular status meetings to ensure there are no missed opportunities to create cohesive and personalized messaging platforms, leverage learnings and testing concepts in both arenas. Not everything that works in one channel will work in another — but if you have testing wins in one, it makes sense to try testing it in the other.

3. Identify the key constituent audiences relevant to a successful outcome and the channels they are most active in. This will help tailor the best contact cadence to deliver results offline, online and through telemarketing. Your segmentation strategies and tactical execution of the segmentation blueprint will allow you to drive your constituents toward the outcome you are striving for and help determine how your messaging arc will evolve with the best ROI across all channels.

4. Pillar direct mail appeals are the best starting place for integration efforts in the mail and on the digital front. Using elements from the direct mail piece to reinforce the creative treatment and messaging online will help underscore the primary and key points you are working to communicate so that your online constituents will be receptive to the companion mail piece when it is received. On the flip side — using the mail piece to drive donors to the website or campaign donation page can also generate increased participation and results. You can utilize incentives to encourage this — for example, a direct mail piece can say that if you make a gift to the 2-to-1 Match Campaign online, your gift will be matched 3-to-1, going further and having a greater impact.

5. There are a number of products and suppliers that can help facilitate a digital ad campaign to support an offline appeal — creating multiple impressions in advance of a mail piece, thereby improving offline results by encouraging stronger long term value of those donors who are exposed to the ad and building a stronger connection to your organization. This can help acquisition, reinstatement and renewal efforts.

6. If you conduct surveys offline and/or online — use the tallied responses to report back to your constituents on the results and to tailor future messaging, creating dialog and engagement. Capturing key data will also allow you to better understand a constituent’s area(s) of interest to improve your communications.

Click here to see Jeanne’s original post.

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Optimizing gift catalogs

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Optimizing Giving Catalog revenue from an analytics approach

The challenge

Many nonprofit organizations – such as World Vision U.S., World Vision Canada, American Red Cross, Operation Smile, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – have employed direct mail and ecommerce gift catalogs to diversify their donor portfolio and partake in a different share of wallet, especially during the holiday season. Russ Reid has helped these organizations build their gift catalogs into a highly successful fundraising channel through strategic investment, testing and analytics, including square-inch analysis, or SQUINCH. Many catalogs have seen continued growth in a time when other fundraising channels have taken a hit with the economy. This analytics-based approach can significantly improve an existing product without additional expense.

Russ Reid solution

Russ Reid takes a data-driven approach to help guide our strategy. SQUINCH is one of the tools available in our arsenal, as it takes product-level results and seeks to determine the relationship between the space allocated to a product and its corresponding revenue. This analysis reduces all products to a common denominator and indicates whether income is above or below average on a per-product, per-page, per-spread and per-category basis.

Through SQUINCH, we can identify which products should be removed from the catalog (or moved to a different page), which ones should be given more real estate, and which ones can stay just as they are. These findings help inform our strategy and creative direction, and the same analysis is performed year after year for ongoing optimization.


Through rigorous analytics, we can continually refine and optimize catalogs to achieve incremental growth year over year. One organization in the international relief and development sector first implemented SQUINCH in 2009 and saw staggering immediate results:

  • Total revenue increased 25%, including a 32% increase in acquisition revenue
  • New donor acquisition increased by 44%

Additionally, their catalog has seen continued growth each year, with total revenue increasing 58% from 2009-2012. New donor acquisition has doubled over the given time period. By incorporating SQUINCH into the solution, gift catalogs can be constantly refined to achieve continued impact.



Alan B. Hall Named CEO of Russ Reid

Alan B. Hall has been named CEO of Russ Reid, the largest direct response marketing agency helping nonprofit organizations grow.

Hall began his marketing career with Russ Reid in 1990. He went on to join McCann Relationship Marketing in 1997, Team One Advertising in 1999 as Director of Relationship Marketing, and later served as SVP, Account Management at Brierley & Partners. Hall rejoined Russ Reid in 2002, serving in various roles as head of business development, director of client services and Executive Vice President. He was promoted to President in August 2012.

The announcement was made by Tom Harrison, chair of Russ Reid and chair of Omnicom’s Nonprofit Group of agencies. “Alan is a strong leader. He inspires confidence in our clients and our staff, and I look forward to working alongside him in his new role as we continue to grow our people, our clients and our agency,” said Harrison.

“All of us at Russ Reid have the privilege of working for causes we believe in to help make the world a better place,” said Hall. “What a privilege it is to apply strategic marketing to help our clients feed starving families, help cure children battling cancer, honor our wounded veterans and respond to natural disasters.”

About Russ Reid

Russ Reid provides services in digital fundraising, direct response television, and direct mail to help nonprofit organizations grow. Russ Reid is a part of Diversified Agency Services, a division of Omnicom Group Inc.

About Diversified Agency Services

Diversified Agency Services (DAS), a division of Omnicom Group Inc. (NYSE:OMC), manages Omnicom’s holdings in a variety of marketing communications disciplines. DAS includes over 200 companies, which operate through a combination of networks and regional organizations, serving international and local clients through more than 700 offices in 71 countries.