I’d like to welcome Gayle Thorsen (pictured at left) to the Step By Step Fundraising Blog. Gayle has been kind enough to share with us one of her recent articles from her blog ImpactMax. I first came across Gayle’s writing on a Blog Carnival hosted by Sandra Sims, the founder of SBSF.
Gayle has been in the nonprofit communications world for more than 25 years, the last 12 as the communications head for two large foundations: The Minneapolis Foundation and The McKnight Foundation. She was the first community foundation vice president of communications appointed in the country, and helped pioneer issue framing, issue campaigns, and communications evaluation in the philanthropic sector. She’s now a nonprofit communications consultant in the Twin Cities area.
Her recent passion is helping organizations figure out how they can start using Web 2.0 tools to raise visibility and funds, ignite support for their efforts, empower their partners, and make the world a better place. All within a constrained budget. It’s possible, step by step.
Take a few minutes to visit ImpactMax and read all the terrific articles Gayle has posted there. It will be time very well spent! Thanks, Gayle!
Cultivate new supporters fast: A five-week “on-boarding” plan for nonprofits
By Gayle Thorsen
I’ve already mentioned in past posts Common Knowledge, whose highly useful webinars I regularly take (did I mention most of them are free?). This time I want to share part of a recent CK webinar on building your email list. I may get into that whole topic in another post, but what I want to share here is a brilliant strategy for quickly engaging new supporters who sign up with your cause and nonprofit through Facebook, your website, an email, or other channels that ask for email addresses.
These supporters have taken a huge first step—they’ve responded in some way to your communications and showed an interest in your cause. Now it’s up to you to get them engaged as fast and effectively as you can. CK calls this “on-boarding.”
One way to do that is to set up a rapid cultivation process through email. The example given in the webinar was a from a wildlife protection organization, but this strategy is widely applicable to other nonprofits.
The process kicks in immediately when the supporter gives you his/her email address, and lasts 5 weeks—with two emails sent each week (on Tuesday and Thursday) for a total of 10. Each email is educational and inspiring, with clear yet different calls to action. The whole sequence is structured as a ladder of engagement that creates much more knowledgable supporters and greater potential for their financial support.
The content of this 10-email sequence is all important. This is not just a means to a donation, it’s the opportunity to open the door to a long-term relationship with people who feel as passionately about your cause as you do. If your emails aren’t interesting, substantive, and valuable to your supporters—they’re going to be viewed as a nuisance and people will unsubscribe or not open them at all. (You need to track opens and unsubscribes carefully throughout the five weeks to gauge how successful your email content is. If lots of people keep unsubscribing or not opening throughout the first few weeks, you may have a content problem.)
To give you an example of how this might work, here’s the sequence of emails sent by the wildlife protection organization:
Week 1 Tuesday, welcome & link to their organizational blog; Thursday, about seals with a link to their seals blog
Week 2 Tuesday, more education about threats to seals and a link to a petition to sign; Thursday, info about whales and a whale quiz
Week 3 Tuesday, info about orangutans and a video about them; Thursday, info about elephants and an audio about them
Week 4 Tuesday, more about elephants and a petition to sign; Thursday, a chance to pick their favorite endangered species and take a survey
Week 5 Tuesday, about bears and a donation appeal (the first, you notice); Thursday, more about bears, and another donation appeal
Again, you need to craft really great emails! This campaign triggered a pretty steady 21% open rate throughout the 5 weeks, which is a good sign that people remained engaged with the content. Compared with new supporters who were just mailed regularly scheduled communications, new supporters exposed to the rapid cultivation process took more actions and made first donations quicker.
And a word to the wise—once you’ve quickly engaged your new supporters, you have to keep them engaged! Be sure to immediately acknowledge their donations with a communication that tells them what their money is going to help you achieve. This 5-week process is only the beginning.You certainly won’t want to continue emailing them twice a weeks, but your long-term engagement strategy should be as thoughtful and effective as your short-term cultivation strategy.
This is a great way to increase your rate of conversion from supporter to activist to donor. Kudos to Common Knowledge for sharing it!