We Must Integrate Our Fundraising Programs

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Those of us in fundraising know that there are many ways to ask people to support our cause. Most of the large nonprofits now use some combination of direct mail, product marketing, walks and other special events, telemarketing, major giving, planned giving and residential fundraising. While these programs usually are managed and executed separately, the benefits of integrating these programs and speaking to people in one voice can be great.


Our objective is to turn a casual supporter into a committed advocate. This change can happen only by building strong relationships. We need to make each person feel valued, acknowledged and appreciated. They need to understand how important their continued support is to advancing the mission of our organization.


By feeding results from all programs into a consolidated database we can begin to build a picture of an individual's true involvement with our organization and potential future involvement. This database becomes the best source for prospecting across programs. A supporter of the direct mail program also may be a wonderful volunteer in a residential program if given the opportunity. By cross-pollinating, we also give people options and allow them to support our cause in multiple ways or in the one way they prefer most. Conversely, if data from multiple programs are not compiled into one database, we could damage a strong relationship by sending a direct mail acquisition piece to volunteers who recently raised $10,000 and speaking to them as if they have never heard of our organization.


Program integration does not happen without its share of difficulties. Because most program managers are evaluated on the results of their own program, they may resist allowing their volunteers or donors to be solicited by another program. Until the organizational structure changes so that every manager is given the objective of maximizing support for the organization as a whole, true integration will not exist.


In support of this effort, we need to be able to show that doing so is truly beneficial. In the short term, we can see that donors from one program may perform well in another. But are we robbing one to give to another? What are the long-term effects? We need to set up our testing carefully -- with groups solicited in program A only, program B only and both A and B, for example -- to be able to read how these different treatments will affect support in the long term. Are we able to increase value and retention rates? We also have the opportunity to expand our testing further to examine the effects of contact frequency and saturation. It would be ideal if we could develop an integrated communications strategy that would optimize results across multiple media.


Budgeting can pose another challenge because most of us are required to commit to a fundraising plan several months before programs are executed. Fundraisers are very savvy at using an RFM for segmentation. Good managers can accurately predict response rates and average gifts by segment for any given campaign. The more difficult task can be predicting the donor pool sizes that will be available in each segment. This predicting becomes even harder when you have donors from multiple programs flowing into these pools, with the donors from each program having different response rates and giving behaviors. It may be helpful to look for seasonal trends. Some programs may happen only once or twice per year, and some donors may tend to respond at a higher rate during the holiday season, for example. It also may be necessary to separate donors back out by how they were contacted and how they donated, in order to find predictable response patterns. Modeling also can be used to predict an individual's affinity for one program vs. another. The cost effectiveness of modeling needs to be considered closely because we have an obligation to our donors to keep our fundraising costs as low as possible.


Despite the complexity that program integration adds to execution and analysis, the potential exists for building long-lasting relationships. Aside from the benefits an organization can realize from this loyal support, I believe we need to move in the direction of integration because the donor or volunteer will expect it. In this age of one-to-one marketing, plenty of companies are ready to communicate with people in the manner they prefer, upgrade customer relationships and enrich their lives in multiple ways. Nonprofits need to do the same. Our supporters need to be appreciated and acknowledged for the contributions they are making to our organization in multiple ways. They need to feel a sense of belonging to an organization that is making a positive difference in the world. If we are unable to provide them with a relationship that satisfies their philanthropic needs, they will find another organization that does.
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