The Donation Maximization Blog

Direct Marketing Agencies Should Treat Fundraising as Both an Art and a Science



There are many elements that help determine the success of a fundraising campaign. From the copywriting and design used in the campaign to the mailing list and ask amounts, all the little moving parts in mailers, emails and social media branding can greatly affect outcomes and donations.

While fundraising has historically been viewed as more of an art -- based on getting to know the audience, forming personal relationships, etc. -- it is crucial to also see fundraising as a science. It can be tempting to believe intuition will be enough to execute fundraisers correctly, but using data and previous information to inform efforts will improve results and fundraising outcomes.

Trial and error

Thinking through previous campaigns, discarding ideas that didn’t work, and trying out new ideas is a basic way to improve marketing efforts. Collecting actual data on what specifically has worked or not worked, and to what degree, will be what takes the agency’s fundraising for its nonprofit clients to the next level, however. Tracking very specific data in clear ways can help cut through the mass of information to see what changes need to be made in upcoming campaigns.

Marc Koenig at Nonprofit Hub suggests setting up quantitative hypotheses with data tracking so your agency knows what the data it collects is actually demonstrating. Koenig pointedly states, “measurement only matters if it changes the way you act.”

It’s important to collect data and actually change the agency’s next marketing efforts based on what has been learned. For instance, if the agency was targeting a 10 percent increase in email open rate when making a change to the subject line, but got a five percent increase, the change made was half as effective as expected. Once the agency has that knowledge, the agency can use it to potentially adjust the goals and continue tinkering with the subject line.

Segment for success

Segmenting is crucial to increasing the agency’s fundraising success on behalf of its client. Knowing what to ask for from each person on the contact list and knowing what they will respond to is definitely more than just an art. While a target donor’s wants and needs are often thought of as innate and only obtainable from working with them one-on-one or meeting them in the community, there are actually fundamental differences in donors that are detectable via data segmentation.

This doesn’t only work for ask amounts. It can also help the agency personalize its marketing content in general. HubSpot’s Taylor Corrado notes, “The more targeted you can be with your communication, the more personal and engaging your message will be.”

Sending different content to donors in different age groups, geographical locations and financial situations can help get the message across in a way that reaches them specifically. The message that gets the best results with Millennials probably isn’t going to have the same effect on Baby Boomers.

Best practices

In the past, the actual content and design of a nonprofit’s marketing materials was definitely seen as more of an art. The exact wording, phrasing and imagery must vary from nonprofit to nonprofit, and the agency has to do the actual writing and designing, which does bring in an artistic element. However, using the wealth of research and data available regarding marketing best practices can help to eliminate the guesswork and increase the response to the agency’s efforts.

Let’s look at email subject lines again. When you’re experimenting to try to get that 10 percent open rate increase, you also want to look at current email open rate techniques and trends. One tried and true way to increase your open rate is to keep subject lines fairly short.

Miranda Paquet at Constant Contact says to “make sure your subject line doesn’t get cut short by keeping it under 50 characters,” because that’s how much of a subject line will be visible on most desktop views. From subject line lengths and amount of email copy to thickness of envelopes and optimal timing for postal mailings, there’s a wealth of knowledge out there to guide the agency in the right direction.

Want to learn more about how using personalize ask amounts as part of a direct marketing campaign can help your agency boost its fundraising efforts? Contact us for a free demo.

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