RuffaloCODY Your goals. Our passion. Mon, 22 Sep 2014 16:01:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Optimize Your Results With Channel Optimization Fri, 19 Sep 2014 17:55:50 +0000 multichannel_tree_tnThere is no doubt we are living in a multichannel fundraising world, but using more channels does not necessarily mean you’re effectively communicating with donors.  Instead of continually adding channels, consider using channel optimization to increase efficiency instead of quantity and to enhance holistic results for your annual giving program.

What is Channel Optimization?

This approach increases overall efficiency of your available communication channels through data-driven decisions.  Knowing what communication vehicles motivate a donor to give as well as knowing what giving mechanism a donor prefers can result in better fundraising.

  • Channel optimization can help you communicate with donors through their preference, not yours, and thus maximize your message being heard.
  • Optimization does not mean eliminating a channel nor does it mean reducing quantity.  Don’t necessarily cut down on how much you send…just strive to always do it smarter.
  • Applicable to cultivation, stewardship, and solicitation within the donor cycle.  As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, the cultivation and stewardship activities for a fundraising program are just as important as solicitations with today’s donors.

What Can Channel Optimization Accomplish For Your Program?

1) Cuts down on “noise” for your donors and prospects.  By communicating using the donor’s preference, your message has a better chance of being seen and heard.  Communications sent by less preferential channels could be viewed by the donor as both noise and waste.

2) Enhances your internal budget efficiency.  Maybe you’re direct mailing donors who do not respond to that channel.  Maybe you are using email or the phone channels in an inefficient manner.  Channel optimization can eliminate waste and enable you to shift precious budget resources into solicitations for other segments of your database or for enhancing the cultivation and stewardship of your more recent donors.

3) Enhance results.  For recent donors, channel optimization can strengthen your renewal percentages and average gifts.  For acquisition and reacquisition, channel optimization can enable you to put more focus on specific segments (such as young alumni) and increase giving in targeted areas.

Three Steps to Help You Get Started in Channel Optimization

1) Survey your donors and prospects.  Directly ask about their communication preferences, including channels and timing.  Ask not only what they’d like to receive but how and when.

2) Conduct an analysis of your gift data to use in tandem with your donor survey feedback.  Determine if your donor “preferences” match with how they are currently giving.  Look for trends in areas such as geography, graduation years, ask amounts, degrees and majors, and overall efficiency.

Note: RuffaloCODY currently has a Direct Mail Reporting Tool to conduct this kind of analysis for solicitations in your direct mail channel.

3) Develop your communications plan to integrate your new findings.  You’ve invested time and resources in surveys and analytics.  Now focus on realizing the ROI of that effort.  Prioritize what you integrate based on what your program can reasonably handle.  It’s better to add five things and do them all extremely well than to add 10 things and be average at each.

By optimizing your channel usage through data-driven decisions, you can make the best use of your available staff and budget resources in order to not only achieve your program’s goals for the current year.  You can also develop other pillars of your overall program to better enable future growth.

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Giving in the Attention Economy Thu, 04 Sep 2014 19:15:57 +0000 attention_signThe average email subscriber receives over 400 commercial messages per month. We’re all also receiving numerous charitable appeals through multiple channels. It’s a crowded field.

It’s called the Attention Economy, and we’re all fighting for a share of it. Just take a look at a quick list of how our outreach to donors has changed:

What We did 25 Years Ago
Direct Mail
Newsletter or Magazine

What We Do Now
Custom Apps
Direct Mail
Newsletter or Magazine
Online Magazine Extras
Lots of email
(Did I mention email?)

Despite all our incredible outreach to donors, giving as a percentage of GDP and of discretionary income has hovered at about 2% for the last forty years. As charities, we’re largely just fighting for attention with each other.

You may get lucky and have your appeal hit the Attention Economy lottery. This happened with memorable fundraising campaigns like We Are the World or the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, but as one blogger put it, some of your content will always fail, and there is a frustrating randomness to this.

What’s the solution? Here are a few tactics that are working:

  • Personalize. And this means genuine effort, not just the donor’s name. This might include giving history, recent contacts, or having the solicitation come from someone the donor knows. This will take more time, but the benefits are significant. Let donors know you remember them and that they are part of your story.
  • Test. No one can tell you how your donor base will react. Take some of your standard solicitations, try something new on a random group, and see if it makes a difference. If it works, build it into the next solicitation. If it doesn’t, try again.
  • Build fundraising fusion. This means thinking about all your communication channels and making sure common themes and priorities repeat and have synergy. This not only helps your message get across through the noise, but it also shows mission confidence, which will resonate with donors.
  • Eliminate friction. Make your online giving portal and even your paper reply devices as easy as possible to return or click through. Whenever someone tells you that a field or step “has to be there,” fight it. We’ll never get to “one click” donation but we can get close.

We don’t need every appeal to win the Attention Economy sweepstakes.

We do, however, need to be smart about getting donor attention in a crowded field if we expect to see any response.

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In College Football, Do Big Wins and Losses Immediately Impact Non-Donor Phonathon Results? Fri, 29 Aug 2014 18:03:07 +0000 bcs_footballLabor Day weekend marks the opening of the 2014 college football season.  For many colleges and universities in the United States, football Saturdays are some of the most visible days of the entire year and can provide a common rallying opportunity for all alumni, regardless of whether he or she is a big sports fan.

But does a win or loss immediately impact phonathon results?

Several of our regular RuffaloCODY fundraising bloggers have strong affinities to major college football (including one who used to work within collegiate athletics), so we decided to run some stats to find out.

We investigated non-donor calling stats for:

  • 27 games featuring 10 schools representing 5 different conferences that were ranked in last year’s final BCS top 25
  • We identified major wins (excluding bowls) and major losses (excluding bowls) for each of those 10 schools.  Priority for wins and losses was based on a school’s top rivals, opponent’s ranking, and direct impact on conference and national rankings.
  • Stats were run for Sundays during the 2013 college football season (September 1-December 15, 2013), both overall and immediately following the “big wins” and “big losses.”
  • We evaluated 24,277 contacts (conversations), 2,977 pledges and $284,880 total pledge dollars.

Pledge Rate: It seems counterintuitive, but the calling on those Sundays after a loss enjoyed higher pledge rates than the fall average over 75% of the time.  Wins resulted in higher pledge rates over the average pledge rate only 47% of the time.bcs_football

bcs_football2Average Pledge:  While the average pledge is higher after a win, 58% of the time the average gift exceeded the overall fall average gift after a loss.  Only 40% of wins resulted in higher average gift versus the overall fall average.



What does it all mean?

1. Alumni may love their football, but they also can separate the final score on Saturday from the need to support their institution.

2. While the average gift may vary, you’re not going to see a major impact from wins or losses on dollars raised from your non-donors

3. Enjoy the game this weekend and don’t fret about the impact on your phonathon on Sunday.

Co-authored by Josh Robertson and Mike Brucek.

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Good News from the CASE Fundraising Index Thu, 28 Aug 2014 21:37:13 +0000 CASE-FI-graph-tnWe have some good news from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. The CASE Fundraising Index, a survey of fundraising leaders, estimated that giving to higher education grew by 5.4% during the past fiscal year ending June 30. This matches the trend reported by Giving USA earlier this year.

Fundraisers at community colleges reported the largest gains, coming in at a 7.2% increase.

According to the survey, fundraisers at public institutions predict growth of 6.1% in the coming year, with private institution fundraisers predicting 5.5% growth. It’s great to see this upward trend and strong confidence as we move out of the recession which has hindered many of our programs.


As I’ve described before we still have a lot of ground to make up with a decline in alumni donors. That’s still declining, and many institutions are expending new resources to attract the younger generations of donors.

Read the full press release here.

And if you’re not a CASE member, strongly consider joining this incredible group of higher education advancement professionals.

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Thanks to the 500+ Who Attended Our Aligning Experts Summit July 21-23 in Chicago. / /#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 02:07:46 +0000 Many thanks to the more than 500 who attended our Aligning Experts Summit July 21-23 in Chicago. Stay tuned for more information about our 2015 conference! ]]> /feed/ 0 How an Ice Bucket Is Changing My Vocabulary Wed, 20 Aug 2014 16:08:51 +0000 ice_bucket_challenge_ssI just sat down with my daughter and explained to her that if she is going to put a video of her friends dumping ice water on themselves in the backyard, after she dries off, she can tell me where to send a donation. I told her that we would talk a little more about how serious a disease ALS is over dinner tonight and how this all started. Then I found her a bucket and asked her to keep her phone dry.

When I present on donor behavior I remind people that while we have an incredible array of ways to stay in touch with supporters, Americans are giving less to fewer charities. According to the 2013 VSE Report, higher education alumni donors have declined significantly over the last ten years. I like to remind myself:

A “like” is not a check.

A “click” is not a gift.

A “friend” is not a funder.

The “Ice Bucket Challenge” is revolutionary because it mixes social media, celebrity, a little peer pressure, an important cause and finally, action – in this case, the action of dumping really cold water on your head and making a video. The hope would be that supporters would take action to give as well.

They sure have given. Over $15 million by some estimates, with $10 million directly to

The Challenge has generated plenty of commentary and cautionary warnings. The way I look at it, people doing goofy (but safe) things in the name of a good cause is great, provided the donations are coming in. All of this leads to a greater philanthropic public consciousness, which can only help our mission as fundraisers.

Higher Education has had its versions of the “Ice Bucket Challenge” over the past few years: Giving Days, Alumni Challenges, Crowdfunding, all geared toward getting a group of people to donate in a small time frame. The best of these have a strong social networking presence.

Unfortunately, when I’m talking with an institution about a potential challenge, some things I commonly hear are:

“If we do that, my concern is that we won’t be able to renew those donors next year.”

“Well, if they give to that, our other appeals will suffer.”

Hold up. Full stop. That’s not very donor-centric thinking. If we have a tool in our box that will encourage people to take action and make a gift, we should use it. It’s on us to show the impact of the giving, show gratitude, and follow up to convince donors to contribute again.

“Renewable and “Unrestricted.” Those are two powerful words in the world of Annual Giving. They form the bedrock upon which an annual fund stands, and have been the operating paradigm for many years. Reliable support from a donor base that you can work into the budget is the reason annual funds exist.

As we embrace new tactics that show incredible promise in getting our donors to take action, these two terms might need to be redefined.

“Renewable” might involve doing similar great things to attract at least that many donors next year, many of which should return to give again.

“Unrestricted” might start to mean continuing to fund the sort of things you’ve always funded but offering them to donors in new ways.

Consider this crowdfunding example at University of California, San Francisco.

This is incredible creative and action-driven packaging for something the annual fund at this great institution has supported forever. Research is what they do—they’re just offering  the opportunity and leveraging social networks in a new way – a way that will resonate particularly with the youngest generations.

It’s time for us to more quickly embrace tactics that encourage donors to act. Giving is what we ask of donors, however the gift comes in. Working out how we count the gifts and plan for the future is our responsibility.

I’m headed to go get my bucket. And my credit card.

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