Giving The Gift

When was the last time you gave to a charitable organization? Think about how you became emotionally connected to the cause, and how they kept that connection overtime. How did you learn about the cause, what prompted you to give, did you give more than once, did you grow from a donor to an advocate and actually volunteer to help, or did you actually tell someone about the organization in an attempt to create awareness outside of yourself? If the answer is no to all of the above, then you likely won't connect with the column this week.

Now put on your email marketing hat and think about how poorly these organizations use email to build this connection with the individual. Gone are the days of getting your address stickers in the mail with cute little dog icons and hoping that you will give a $25 donation to the poor animals that are being abused. Is there such a thing as an "e-donor" that will only give online, only use e-channels to engage with you? I'd have to say, unequivocally, YES. The Web site has a reason, search provides a function, email is the constant and all the trends suggest efficient "giving" is trending the same -- and digital offers those opportunities -- but can you direct an emotional and functional connection with the consumer and charitable organization through email? It's hard, but if you get the basics down, you have a chance.



Sadly though, charitable organizations have even less marketing resources than most marketing organizations. They are likely using clunky email systems, at best, maybe doing a newsletter, and even less thought is put into customer segmentation or communications. Getting a newsletter out the door electronically can be quite the task. With this reality, there are simple ways to improve what you do. But the methodology is not any different than that of other brand organizations -- if you are going to do it, do it right.

The NFP sector has a very specific customer path, in my opinion. There is obviously the art of creating awareness about your cause. There is a general education about the cause and the level of involvement that varies greatly by the type of donor: there are those who donate for tax reasons, or may do it as a gift, may want to give continually over a period of time, or actually want to get involved and become advocates. There is the charitable event that pops up periodically to bring "life" to the cause.

It's a tough business, prying money from people and keeping your cause top-of-mind. Isolate these keys paths, and build a couple of simple messages, tied to key events, and execute them well. Sounds simple -- and it can be, but it starts with understanding how to connect with people and simplifying the message to them over time.

The concept of "E-Outreach" is not an uncommon idea. Build a communication program that embraces new donor's interaction with your company, optimize it through the lifecycle and do whatever you can to keep the donor as emotionally connected to the cause as possible. Use the most active supporters as advocates to share the word with others, identify the highest value donors and most frequent donors -- and cater to them.

What we do know from the NFP sector is that multichannel programs work. Using direct mail, using email, keeping the Web experience fresh, all combined create the ideal donation engine.

While this subject is very close to my heart as an advocate, donor and marketer, I see a real need to improve this category as a whole, and I don't know it that will happen organically. There are great messages to carry, wonderful stories to share, legacies to develop -- and we can all do our part as marketers or as advocates to the charitable organization.

First, we can help our local charitable organizations "do it right." Teach them to build a welcome communication stream, optimize their newsletter, and build a few "proper" reminder emails that extol the values of their organization in a direct response nature. Show them how to optimize their registration forms, how to optimize their site for search, how to create a great user experience on the Web at little to no cost.

And if you can't give the gift of time to the organization, just give the gift. Pick a cause and get involved financially or emotionally, carrying the word or sharing information that will make them smarter.

Live, learn and leave a legacy.

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