A certain level of passion for a cause is required in order to plunk down $1,000 or more towards it; the kind of passion that one would think baseball fans might have for their beloved sport. However, until recently, turning $40-a-year members into bigger donors had proved a challenge for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Five years ago, the National Baseball Hall of Fame was doing very little direct mail, says Ken Meifert, director of membership and sales for the organization. Then the decision was made to build up the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s membership program primarily via direct mail.
“Our membership program has been growing by leaps and bounds,” Meifert says, adding that the organization is sending out approximately 20,000 acquisition pieces per month and adding between 8,000 and 10,000 new members a year. The National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, NY, currently has approximately 25,000 active members. Two years ago, the total was closer to 10,000.
However, while efforts to sign up new members were proving successful, the organization was having a harder time figuring out how to turn some members into “donors and bigger supporters of the museum,” Meifert says. The challenge it faced was “figuring out who in our database of names was most likely to donate gifts of $1,000 or more,” he continues.
The Baseball Hall of Fame was already working with nonprofit software provider Blackbaud Inc., Charleston, SC, to track its direct mail efforts. At this juncture, the organization also implemented Blackbaud’s Arts and Cultural Solution, which enables it to have a holistic view of supporters across all offices. Previously, staff members were entering and accessing information about supporters in different systems.
Using Blackbaud Analytics, Blackbaud also custom-built segmentation models from the Baseball Hall of Fame’s database.
“A supporter’s giving history is the real distinguisher in predicting who is likely to make a gift or who is capable of giving a larger gift,” says Samantha Cohen, cultural solutions manager, Blackbaud Inc.
A lot of nonprofits chase after the money thinking that because someone is rich, he or she is a strong candidate for making a donation, Cohen continues. But, if the person doesn’t care about the organization and its mission, then that organization’s direct marketing efforts can be better channeled elsewhere. “We look for affinity, propensity to give, and for capacity” in addition to standard wealth screenings, Cohen says.
The use of segmentation models, while widespread in the for-profit world of business, is fairly new to nonprofits, according to Cohen.
The models Blackbaud created for the National Baseball Hall of Fame helped it identify who to talk to and how much to ask for. “If you ask someone to give you $50, that’s how much they’re going to give you,” Cohen says.
Blackbaud also identified a need to change the messaging on solicitations for larger donations. “Previously, the giving program read similarly to the messaging for the membership program,” Cohen explains, which meant there was no perceived reason for someone to be a high-level donor.
The focus of both membership and donor direct mail was on the benefits that the recipient would receive, such as a subscription to the Baseball Hall of Fame’s magazine and tickets to the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. “It was very hard to differentiate what the membership money went to, and what the donation money went to,” Cohen says.
The Baseball Hall of Fame, which first opened in 1939, uses donations to help support its various activities, which include collecting artifacts, works of art, music, literature, and photographs significant to the history of baseball; educating millions of students of all ages each year through the use of thematic educational units and other programming, including electronic field trips; and maintaining a vast collection of baseball books, magazines, newspaper clippings and archival materials as well as the staff to help answer questions about baseball at the A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center. In 2005, the Baseball Hall of Fame completed a three-year, $20 million renovation.
To help improve the giving program, Blackbaud suggested the Hall of Fame turn the focus of its messaging to how recipients could make an investment in the Hall of Fame so that it can better support its mission.
The Baseball Hall of Fame’s annual donor campaign that was mailed last fall incorporated all of this new information from Blackbaud.
The organization decided to create a high-end piece targeting donations of $1,000 or more. “It was a bit of a leap of faith for us since some of the folks had been donating $40 a year, and here we were going out on a limb with an expensive personalized piece,” Meifert says.
The direct mail piece included a one-page personalized letter from the Baseball Hall of Fame’s president, and a six-page proposal to expand the organization’s education outreach, support its preservation of artifacts and improve the museum experience.
In order to make each piece look and feel like it had been prepared exclusively for each recipient, almost every page had some personal information on it. In addition, the documents were hand-inserted into manila envelopes and hand stamped with a baseball-themed stamp.
The Baseball Hall of Fame mailed 3,800 of these high-end pieces and had a 2.6 percent response rate, with an average gift size of $2,000.
“Half of the donors had never been donors before or had given much smaller gifts,” Meifert says. “We never would have included them in this mailing without the data that Blackbaud provided us with.”
The organization plans to repeat the effort this fall with a similar high-end, personalized piece based on the data that Blackbaud provides for all the new members that the Baseball Hall of Fame has signed up in the past year.
“People were excited to get a package like that from the Hall of Fame because it shows them they are important to the organization and that definitely helped with the response rates,” Meifert says.