Your faith-based organization may have the most amazing cause or inspirational story to tell … but your donors and stakeholders may never know about them, unless you share your story.
Fortunately, marketing provides the solution. In many ways, marketing for faith-based organization fundraising is no different than marketing for corporations and businesses. For example, the more times you can communicate directly with a potential donor (in marketing-speak, each of these interactions is a ‘touchpoint’), the stronger a connection you build, the more likely the audience will respond, and the more money you will raise.
To achieve this impact, it’s critical to coordinate your messages over different communication channels — that is, through your website, emails, direct mail and social media. Such a strategy is also known as “integrated marketing.” According to the 2016 Benchmark Report by M+R, the 25 charity organizations that are most successful at fundraising averaged 27 fundraising appeals per supporter last year, a little more than two asks per month. The reality is that a single direct mail piece is unlikely to compel a recipient to take action, and therefore will not make a significant impact on your bottom line.
Here are ten proven tools for building an effective integrated fundraising campaign to reach your donors.
1. Positioning statement/elevator speech: What does your organization do? What is your primary focus? Does your entire staff and board of directors describe your organization the same way, or does everyone tell his or her own version? The same basic story must be conveyed, from the person answering the phones, to program managers in the field, to the executive director and members of the board. This story should be covered, at a high level, in your elevator speech. In a nutshell, an elevator speech explains what you do and for whom. You should memorize it and be able to say it within 30 seconds — the length of time you might have on an elevator ride to respond when someone asks you what you do. Your positioning statement needs to be simple, compelling — and at the same time, not sound “canned” or unnatural.
2. Perspective: How are you different from all the other faith-based organizations? What makes your organization unique? Many faith-based organizations have incredible stories worthwhile of the donor’s time, treasure and talent. You need to differentiate yourself in your messaging and your story. This unique perspective needs to be woven into your stories and into every touchpoint with each donor.
3. Your brand: What is your look? Your identity? Your brand is your image and how it is perceived by others. Is your branding carried throughout your collateral and your website? When someone sees correspondence from your organization, do they immediately associate it with your group? It is crucial that your branding be consistent on all touchpoints and across all channels, and a style guide is a highly effective way to ensure that it is. At a minimum, this guide should include rules for logo usage, recommended fonts and color options.
4. Solicitation letter: The letter needs to be well-written and personalized, with an ask that your donor will respond to generously. There should be more emphasis on the impact the donor is making with his or her contribution, as opposed to the great things your organization does in general. To put this another way, there should be more uses of the word “you,” and less instances of “I” and “we.” Last but definitely not least, the letter should include a clear call to action.
5. Professional materials: Do your website and direct mail pieces look professional and authentic? People make split decisions (literally, in a few seconds or less) on what they see to determine if an organization is worthwhile and credible. Donors want to trust the organization to which they are giving their money, so it’s imperative that your materials — including your website, newsletters and annual reports — are well-designed and engaging for readers. If possible, try to use compelling photos of the real people who benefit from your services (some royalty-free or “stock” images look more like models). Your collateral also needs to strike a delicate balance: it should not look too slick, or it could make the donor think their money is being spent on overhead instead of the organization’s good works.
6. Email appeal: Millennial (age 18-34) and Generation X (age 35-50) donors are more attuned to engaging online instead of by direct mail, and they often prefer to give online via credit or debit card. This makes an email appeal campaign an increasingly large piece of the online fundraising pie for top supporters. The same report cited above notes that more than one-third of all online revenue (34%) for top contributors can be tracked directly to an email appeal.
7. In-pew solicitation: Many churches use this method of asking for donations, which includes a motivational sermon followed by an “ask” at some point during the service. Some churches have found this to be an effective practice for increasing both the number of donors and the dollars contributed. This works best with a 2-week advance notice that the in-pew solicitation will take place. There needs to be collateral material matching the look of the organization in prominent places throughout the church. In-pew envelopes should be placed at the end of the pews, along with pencils. The presenter gives step-by-step instructions for filling out the cards, and then an usher collects the envelopes. It also works best if you recruit an enthusiastic lay presenter; people give to people.
8. Website: Can visitors to your site easily identify the most significant message on your home page? Be simple and clear. Don’t overload them with too much information up front. Is your content outdated? In terms of encouraging repeat visitors, content is king. If the content on your website is outdated, it may be because it’s difficult to update, and your employees are avoiding it. A Content Management System (CMS) is easy to integrate into a new website, and makes it simple to do updates on a regular basis (monthly, weekly or even daily).
9. Mobile site: Is your website easily accessible on a mobile device? If not, you need a mobile-friendly site. A site built with responsive design will appear correctly on smaller devices such as tablets and smartphones. There is a growing portion of your donor base — Millennials — who use mobile devices for almost all their Internet access. This is confirmed in a white paper by comScore, Marketing to Millennials: 5 Things Every Marketer Should Know. This report also observes that 86% of Millennials owned a smartphone in 2015. This means that if your site is not easily viewed on smaller screens, you could be failing to reach a segment of your audience.
10. Follow up thank-you messages: It may seem obvious, but it is very important to thank your donors. If a donation is received by mail, the donor should receive a prompt thank-you letter in return. If a donation is received online, the donor should receive a quick thank-you email, definitely within 24 hours. Again all touchpoints need to look like they come from the same organization, with the same positioning and messaging.
The consistency of your brand and messaging helps to inspire and maintain donor loyalty and commitment. A statistic by Penelope Burk in her book, Thanks! A Guide to Donor-Centered Fundraising, notes that “78% of individuals said they would definitely or probably give again to a charity that provided them with a prompt, personal gift acknowledgement, followed sometime later with a meaningful update on the program they had funded.” As you can see, marketing and communications have essential roles to play in your fundraising strategies.