“It didn’t work, so we aren’t planning to do it again.”
I’ve heard this statement from advancement professionals after phonathons, direct mail solicitations, donor surveys, and even, social media-focused giving days.
But, when probing just a bit further, there are almost always two separate misunderstandings that are driving this statement.
First, there usually is low clarity with how they are judging success. For instance, I had a new annual giving director tell me confidently that their end of the calendar year long-lapsed and not yet donor mailing segment “didn’t work.” When I asked why he came to that conclusion, it was clear he was focused on how much money it raised. “We didn’t even break even on those segments. We lost money. It wasn’t worth it.”
When I probed further and asked about response rate, it turns out they had a 2.5% response rate! Clearly, a robust response from those donor segments. And yes, the average gift size was modest, but that was to be expected from these non-engaged donors.
The benchmark for success for those particular segments should have never been “dollars raised.” That effort was going to be successful if it helped the institution win back support from lapsed donors and acquire new donors – which it did.
Second, when I hear the “it didn’t work,” response, there almost always are tweaks to the implementation that can be improved. For instance, an institution’s first launch of a giving day came a few years ago and the team complained that “it just didn’t take off.” They didn’t have the type of social media engagement and activity they were hoping for.
When I asked about the plan to recruit and train Board members, student athletes, coaches, program directors, and others to invite their networks to participate in the day there was silence. Finally, a team member spoke up, “Well, people didn’t really show up for those sessions, so we stopped holding them.”
The following year, the team made a concerted and energized effort to identify, recruit, train, and reward their giving day “champions,” and the day was a significant success in both dollars raised and donor numbers.
A final point: Sometimes, the touches, the outreaches, the mailings, the phonecalls, the messages left, the emails sent are viewed as having “not worked,” because there is no associated donor response of any kind. It is critically important to keep in mind, though, that excellent advancement programs recognize the value of “accumulated engagement.” For some percentage of your donor base, those touches, those mailings, those phonecalls, those emails, etc., do have an accumulating impact on increasing donor response over time.
Sometimes, strategies we attempt truly do not work as we had hoped. But, if we are clear in establishing our success goalposts and we implement with enthusiasm and consistency, results will bend toward success.