Guest Post: 6,000 Donors in One Month? Really?


By Kathy Howrigan

Really.  In a recent #fundchat Twitter chat, the topic of multi-channel marketing came up.  I mentioned that when I was at Dartmouth College, we did a “challenge” integrating messages from direct mail, phonathon, e-mails, volunteer managers, and anyone else who would talk about it.  It was HUGELY successful, totally exceeding our expectations, so Dan Blakemore asked me to elaborate a little bit — hence my first guest blog post.

Sylvia Racca, Executive Director of the Dartmouth College Fund, and I designed the challenge (but it was her idea).  I debated sharing the theme and messaging we used for the challenge in this blog post, but as I worked through it, I realized it would be way too long.  Anyone who is interested should feel free to contact me for more information.

The goal: The Dartmouth College Fund’s participation goal for fiscal year 2006 was 50 percent.  In February, we realized that we were behind the curve to hit 50%, especially in bringing lapsed donors back on board.   To reach this milestone, the Fund needed to increase the number of lapsed donors significantly in the months of April, May and June over previous years. To help achieve our goal, we created “The April Challenge.”  More specifically, our goal was to get 4,000 alumni to give in the month of April (note that the record at the time for April donors was less than 2,400).

The strategy: A “challenge.”  Find some leadership donors who offer to give X dollars per Y donors – no matter the size of the gift.

The plan: Four alumni challenged the Dartmouth College Fund to bring in gifts from 4,000 donors in April. At each 1,000 donor benchmark, each donor would give the Fund $25,000 (up to $100,000 each).

Because we were concerned that the challenge would only cause regular donors to give earlier in the year – in April and not June (which would get us to our challenge goal but not to 50 percent), we wanted to develop a segmentation strategy for lapsed donors.   We knew we needed to do well in these categories.   We set goals by solicitation strategy (direct mail, phone-a-thon and volunteer solicitation) and by giving segment (last year donors, one year lapsed, two year lapsed, three year lapsed, four year lapsed, five year plus lapsed and never givers), and used these goals to develop the marketing plan.  These goals were applied specifically to each channel as well, and closely monitored all month.

The marketing plan included a direct mail piece sent to 33,424 non-donors, inserts for pledge reminders distributed during April, customized scripts for the student phone-a-thon callers, five e-mail solicitations directing non-donors to our website to make an online gift, and communication with our volunteers.  A special webpage, which included a “thermometer” tracking progress towards the challenge goal, was created and promoted through the e-mails, student callers, and on the main webpage.

The results: The April Challenge final cash donor count for April 2006 was 6,031 donors.  The previous record for the month of April was 2,379 donors.

• In the end, we did well in all segments, including LYBUNTs, but it was recapturing lapsed donors that pushed us over the top.

• 1,199 alumni made a gift for the first time in several years and 370 were first-time donors.

• The student phone-a-thon brought in a total of 2,058 donors, 121 percent of our goal.

• Volunteer teams and direct mail donors equaled 3,973, 192 percent of our goal.

• The DCF online giving site saw tremendous activity during the month of April.  The number of online gifts increased with each e-mail solicitation sent.  The first e-mail solicitation sent on April 4 resulted in 92 gifts in one day, while the last e-mail sent on Friday, April 28 resulted in a total of 555 gifts from Friday – Sunday.

• Including the challengers, the April Challenge raised more than 3.8 million dollars.

The Dartmouth College Fund achieved its ultimate goal of 50 percent participation with a final result of 50.8 percent alumni participation. The success of the April Challenge enabled us to reach this milestone.

Most surprising thing: I was most surprised by the e-mail responses — keep in mind that we were e-mailing the SAME PEOPLE!  So the 260 donors on April 28th were replying to their FIFTH e-mail solicitation.

Why I think The April Challenge was successful:

  • It was metric-driven, with desired metrics informing the strategies.
  • Clear and consistent messaging across all channels.
  • The use of all channels – one direct mail piece and two e-mails would not have been enough.
  • We provided feedback via callers, volunteers and in e-mails on a regular basis.
  • There was a clear deadline.

Notice that I didn’t list the challenge funds as one of the factors that made the challenge successful.  While this is obviously critical for any challenge, finding donor/s willing to make a significant gift is not enough.  The key is to be thoughtful, strategic, integrated and purposeful in how to use that generous contribution.

Kathy Howrigan joined Marts & Lundy in March of 2011 as a senior analyst and associate consultant.  She has spent the bulk of her career in fundraising and marketing capacities for various non-profits, particularly higher-educational institutions. You can follow Kathy on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn.

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