Friday, August 24, 2012

Post Direct Mail Fundraising

Direct mail is still the king of fundraising. Despite the incessant drumbeat of speculation that direct mail  is on the wane, dying, or already dead, it is still responsible for 75% of all fundraising revenue for a typical nonprofit (source: Blackbaud 2011 donorCentrics Benchmarking Report). 

By the way, bad direct mail should be dead. With a stake in its heart!

Personally, I believe that the most successful fundraising strategies include a multifaceted approach. Coordinated campaigns that include complimentary direct mail, online, social media, telefundraising and personal solicitations are proving to be extremely effective.

But what would post-direct mail fundraising look like? Are alternatives to direct mail dependent campaigns really working for certain charities?

Is post-direct mail fundraising already here and does it looks like Charity:Water?

Tom Belford of the Agitator blog recently asked regarding Charity:Water's September campaign Is this any way to launch your annual appeal? He answered with a definitive "You bet it is!" And Beth Kanter recently posted about Charity:Water's brilliant use of Instagram

The following video hints at why Charity:Water is so successful, why it connects so strongly with donors on an emotional level, and how it utilizes electronic media so well.

September Campaign 2012 Trailer: Rwanda from charity: water on Vimeo.

The video tells a great story and illustrates how Charity:Water is a key part of the story. But it has the astuteness of understanding that Charity:Water, the nonprofit, is not the story. It is all about the people of Rwanda. It is their story. The story is told clearly and simply. It promises that if you - the donor - partner with Charity:Water you can help ensure the story ends well.

Paull Young, Charity:Water's Director of Digital Engagement, recently summed up their approach this way:
  • ask supporters to give up their birthdays, offering a great experience in return
  • focus on sharing great content, not asking for money
  • make the campaigner the hero, not the organization
  • strive to have a ten year relationship with constituents
  • rely 100% on social media and online platforms with no direct mail
This approach seems to be working extremely well for them. Charity:Water raised over $8.6 million in 2009 and over $16 million in 2010. All without utilizing direct mail.

Let's take a look at how they do it online. Click on this link for their September Campaign 2012

Charity:Water leverages the web beautifully. An arresting first frame of an embedded video takes up nearly half of the page. Towards the top of the page is a progress bar showing how much has been raised so far and what the ultimate goal is. Under this first video titled "The Trailer" you see there will be four other videos that can be viewed on August 28, September 4th, 7th and 11th. These are tempting teases encouraging the visitor to return to the site. Naming the lead video The Trailer makes it seems like a movie premier and I think you will agree the clip has the impact and production values of a Hollywood blockbuster.

As you scroll down you see that you can donate now or start your own campaign. You also see that they promise to "prove" they have completed their goals with photos of each completed well site. They will even supply GPS coordinates for each project just in case you want to check them out yourself.

Lastly, as you continue to scroll down on the landing page you see project cost information, links to individuals who have started campaigns, profiles of the people they are helping, more outcome data, and information on what different levels of contributions will accomplish. Scattered throughout the page are multiple links providing ways to give, start a campaign, or receive additional information and project updates.

The entire site is beautifully designed. The data is simple and compelling. The visuals are eye-catching.

You'd be hard pressed to find anyone that does this better than Charity:Water.

Is Charity:Water unique? Could this same "no direct mail" approach work for all charities? I am not sure it could. Many nonprofits have a more complex and nuanced story to tell that may require more traditional communication media. Additionally, many prospects may be less comfortable with online giving. Perhaps more telling, many charities may not have the superb "new media" talent to pull something like this off.

What do you think? Is this the future of fundraising? Or, is this simply a superbly executed exception?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Why We Fundraise

It was a success story right out of a Hollywood script. Working class boy from an industrial neighborhood in Australia makes it big. Scott Neeson loved movies and had a knack for picking winners. He quickly climbed the ranks of the Australian film industry before becoming President of 20th Century Fox in LA. Neeson was responsible for bringing such mega hits to the screen as Titanic, Braveheart, Independence Day, X-Men, Die Another Day and over 100 other films.

But in 2003 as he was about to transition to a new position at Sony Pictures, Scott decided to take some time off and visit Southeast Asia. Invited by a resident of Phnom Penh, Cambodia to visit Steung Meanchey, a stinking, fetid shanty town perched atop a toxic landfill, Neeson's life was about to flip 180 degrees. Picking through the rotting waste and mountainous garbage were scores of desperately poor Cambodians searching for recyclables that could be turned in for pennies on the pound. Most heartbreaking, many of the pickers were children - clad in tatters, filthy, and wearing the sullen mask of despair.
Neeson and friend at Steung Meanchey, Cambodia

But Neeson's transformation of spirit was launched by an ironic, movie script like incident that took place as he stood ankle-deep in trash that day. He had just received a call on his cell phone from the agent of a Hollywood superstar. The agent was railing against Neeson because his client would not be receiving adequate in-flight entertainment on the private jet that Sony Pictures had provided him. As described in a recent article in The Christian Science Monitor, "Neeson overheard the actor griping in the background. 'My life wasn't meant to be this difficult.' Those were his exact words," Neeson says. "I was standing there in that humid, stinking garbage dump with children sick with typhoid, and this guy was refusing to get on a Gulfstream IV because he couldn't find a specific item onboard," he recalls. "If I ever wanted validation I was doing the right thing, this was it."

Inspired by the staggering needs of the Steung Meanchey community and in stark contrast with that recent hedonistic exhibition of shallow excess, Neeson spent the rest of his holiday considering the creation of what would soon become the Cambodian Children's Fund (CCF). Within a year he had chucked his highflying executive career with his $1 million salary, and sold his home, boats and cars. He even held a giant garage sale to help him jettison all the detritus that before had seemed important indicators of his success.

Today, Cambodian Children's Fund provides refuge, education and medical treatment for hundreds of children across five separate facilities. Nearly two-thirds of these students once lived and worked in Steung Meanchey, picking plastic and metal out of the mountains of burning, hazardous waste and selling them to local recycling centers. CCF has even opened a bakery and restaurant to offer vocational training to older students and unemployed youth living in the area. Future plans include additional Satellite Schools throughout the village. The following three minute video gives an overview of their work.

This is why we fundraise.

It's to support courageous visionaries such as Scott Neeson. It is to ensure the children of Cambodia, Mawali, Santa Domingo, or Tennessee have a better life. It is to benefit those who are powerless, victimized, without hope. It is to provide a better life, an education, a chance to be a future leader to those who might otherwise be no more than a sad statistic. That is why we fundraise. And if we forget, think of Scott Neeson and his children of Steung Meanchey. Think of the children on the dumps of Changde, China, Lagos, Nigeria, Jakarta, Indonesia, Sidon, Lebanon, New Delhi, India, Lima, Peru, or Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Because at each of these dumps --the largest trash heaps in the world-- each one is being "worked" by thousands of children, trying to stay alive. This is why we fundraise.