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Building a Surround Sound Fundraising Program (A Nonprofit Marketing Primer)

August 29, 2022
12 minutes
As a natural storyteller, mission-driven mentor, and avid learner, David lives out his passion professionally as Funraise's Director of Growth and Marketing. David has learned that there's always a story to be told—and a unique way to tell it.

In this primer, we'll explore building “surround sound” marketing and fundraising programs by leveraging your digital channels to amplify your messaging this fundraising season. With both big-picture strategy and specific actionable tactics, this primer will include content for organizations at every stage of their marketing journey.

To make this even easier on nonprofits, I took this class on the road to the 2022 Nonprofit Marketing Summit. I was honored to speak to hundreds of my nonprofit peers and received many kudos on this presentation, which I attribute more to you all being hungry for new fundraising channels than this being groundbreaking material. Ultimately, you can be the judge! The video is below—let me know what you think!

Whether you’re looking to take the first steps into integrated digital fundraising or to be inspired by some of the leading strategies across the industry, we'll leave you with practical steps to implement proven tactics now and in the future. Here's what's on today's agenda:

  1. What is “surround sound” fundraising?
  2. A “Surround Sound” Fundraising Blueprint
  3. Practical steps for "surround sound" success

But first, we pause to bring you this poll. Are you...

A. utilizing direct mail?

B. integrating digital channels with your direct mail?

C. interested in ideas on how to do this more effectively as we approach fundraising season?

Hopefully you said, "Heck Yeah!" to all of those (although we'll accept, "What's 'direct mail', you Boomer?" as well.)

What is "surround sound" fundraising?

Also known as “multi-channel” or “omni-channel” or, if you’re like me, simply “good marketing”, a surround sound fundraising program is a communication strategy built intentionally to tell stories across media in ways authentic to a channel. Basically... wherever a donor or prospect engages with your organization, their experience is consistent.

As our world continues to become digitally connected, it is imperative we meet our donors and constituents where they are, authentically. Gone are the days where we needed 7 impressions to motivate action. As donors add screens and devices to their home, the tried and true “rule of seven” is being compounded and the widely accepted standard today is the “rule of 21” (a slight nod to the fact that most people in your audience will be consuming content in 2-3 different mediums at any given time).

Our jobs as marketers and communicators is becoming exponentially harder, but with the information imparted through this primer, I’m hoping to leave you feeling encouraged that it has never been easier to succeed!

A "Surround Sound" Fundraising Blueprint

Use surround sound fundraising to acquire new donors and deepen relationships with your current donors.

Amplify Your Message: Co-Targeting

Using your direct mail acquisition lists and key messages, deliver digital advertising to core audiences that amplifies reach and impressions and drives action. This has the added benefits of increasing media spend efficiency (less wasted impressions) and providing a better donor prospect experience.

Grow Your Audience: Lead Generation

As you accelerate your warm audience size, you want to give interested supporters a chance to engage with you before they’re ready to donate. This is a great opportunity to run a lead-gen, capture, and nurture automated campaign.

Lead generation campaigns give potential supporters an avenue to learn about, and engage with, your organization before they financially invest. Giving away my email address to an organization, even if I know they’re going to solicit me, in order to learn more about what they do and who they serve is a minimal barrier but a great way to move someone from paid channels to owned channels.

This is a particularly valuable strategy for organizations that sit in the “thought leadership” category: education, health, research, etc. can all offer a high-value content in exchange for contact information. But even if you don’t have something to offer, you can still use your contact forms as a point of lead generation. You have great stories to tell; give people a way to hear them!  

Accelerate Your Impact: Automations

Once you’re able to move a prospect from paid channels, you can scale communication and growth through automation. Have a 2-3 part welcome series. Walk prospects through your service model(s), tell stories of impact, show them ways to learn and engage, and ultimately invite them to give (after showing the impact their gift makes, of course).

Boost Visibility & Anchor Your Message With Donors

Donors are going to give to you when and where they’re ready. As marketers and fundraisers, it’s our job to be ready and available to them at that moment. I hear you groaning, "But, Schwab, there's NO WAY we can manage that!" You’re right, kind of. Let’s talk about a campaign structure that will give your audience the impression that you’re always there!

Use direct mail to…

  • Introduce the campaign.
  • Tell a detailed story(ies).
  • Deliver highly-customized offers and asks.

Use email to…

  • Expand the story/tell it from different angles—or tell new stories.
  • Introduce additional offers.
  • Maintain “top-of-mindness” during a heavy communication season.
  • Deliver highly relevant message(s) or challenges on, or around, a specific day or timeframe.

Use peer-to-peer to…

  • Invite donors to participate in the campaign challenge through the power of their own (social) network—there are awesome tools, like Funraise, that allow you to create P2P campaigns that integrate with your overall campaign.
  • Deepen relationships with donors and supporters with authentic, personalized, campaigns.

Fundraising Pro Tip! This is a great way to invite non-financial supporters to fundraise for you without actually giving dollars! It's also my favorite sneaky benefit of P2P. For example, with Funraise campaign pages, fundraisers can customize their pages with copy, video, and images to provide updates and goals.

  • Accelerate reach and engagement with new audiences.
  • Create viral content (but that's a bonus; don’t plan on this.)
  • When coupled with (Funraise) best-in-class P2P tech: capture data and analytics of social fundraising in ways that allow you to build and cultivate new relationships… an example of what great fundraising tech combined with the power of your audience can do for you.

Use digital ads to…

  • Increase awareness with targeted audiences.
  • Boost engagement with core message/need of the campaign.
  • Increase website traffic.
  • Keep your organization top-of-mind and in front of donors through intent-based remarketing.
  • Build peripheral intent-based targeting. (ex. Proactive bidding on peripheral search terms that relate to the core campaign message)

Use your website to…

Drive organic and influenced traffic to a donation/conversion opportunity.

  • Capture leads through email/newsletter registration popup.
  • Remind website visitors of the current campaign with imagery and/or popups across your website OR on key fundraising pages AND to remind donors who’ve started the giving process to come back and complete their gift. (That was a lot, I know; sorry!)

Build a campaign donation page to create a consistent and trustworthy donation process and convert donors.

  • Include core messaging and key imagery.
  • Consider campaign progress updates (thermometers/goal progress bars.)

Use Automation to…

  • Welcome new donors/subscribers with an email welcome series.
  • Facilitate successful peer-to-peer campaigns with email and text messaging to donors and fundraisers.
  • Test messages, offers, and creative.
  • Segment audiences, upgrade donors, increase gift sizes, and on and on and on.

But before you dive in headfirst... Not everything should be integrated!

The power of integrated fundraising is clear, and I believe our default should be to plan multi-channel, but there are exceptions to this rule where we must use or respect the unique strengths and weaknesses of each of your marketing channels. Here are a few examples:

  1. Pre-Season appropriate messaging (No Thanksgiving in August, please!)
  2. Giving Tuesday
  3. Year-End

We’ve created a comprehensive guide and resource kit to help successfully create and execute a Giving Tuesday campaign this year. Download the Giving Tuesday Toolkit now!

Practical steps for "surround sound" success

Here's where we put the rubber to the road. 🏎️💨

Know Your Donor Experience

You know what you want your donors to do. But do you know what it takes for them to do it (and what stands in their way)?

Create an Action Map

A winding black thread throughout colored arrows

Create an action map. Literally list out and make a map of the actions it takes someone to do what you want them to do and all of the ways they can NOT do that throughout. This step is crucial—and there are a lot of action map templates out there, so get googling and find one that works for you.

Ask “How Many Step Does it Take to…”

The most important question you can ask right now is “how many steps are between my appeal and completion of the action I want my donor to take?”

Here's an example:

  1. Click to open email
  2. Read email
  3. Click a link/button to donate
  4. Go to a campaign landing page
  5. Click to a giving form
  6. Click the amount I want to give
  7. Put in my name, email, address, phone, SSN, names of my children, number of pets in the home, what I had for lunch last Wednesday, then finally my credit card info.
  8. Click to submit my gift

WOW! 8 steps—that's PAINFUL! Now work out how you can cut the number of steps down.

Plan Multi-Channel

Remember, the core of surround sound fundraising is that donors don’t exist in one channel anymore. No matter where they choose to give they will engage with you in many different ways. Make sure you’re thinking about this, particularly at the points during the giving season when you choose NOT to integrate your campaigns.

Start Improving

Here is where marketing and fundraising gets fun. You’ve done a ton of work to map everything. You’ve planned through all of the ways donors and supporters can engage with you. Now you get to start picking places and improving the experience.

If you’re seeing below-average conversion rates, try testing different donation page layouts or form fields (fun fact, the highest-converting forms have only two fields. Now, you likely need a few more fields than that for your donation page, but ask yourself critically, “Do I need ALL of these fields??!”)

You can continue to test and optimize your way through the entire donor journey to increase engagement, reduce churn, and ultimately net more support from happy donors… best part? You can do this COMPLETELY FOR FREE!

Be Human, at Scale

Bar graph with red, gray, and black bars. "Consumers expect brands to demonstrate they know them on a personal level."

Let’s pause for a second here and look at this great 2021 report from McKinsey. Naturally, this was published for the for-profit sector, but your donors are also consumers, and their expectations for engaging with you and your organization is quickly starting to emulate their expectations engaging with their favorite brands. Let’s look at a few of these:

  • 61% want to have milestones celebrated
  • 59% want to have communications connected to key moments
  • 58% want post-conversion follow up (and that means more than a receipt email!)
  • 51% want to be welcomed specifically when they’re new

Nonprofit friends, THESE ARE DONOR EXPERIENCE EXPECTATIONS! How do we get there?

Clean Data

You must have clean data and a reliable way to keep that data updated. Know what stage a donor is at in their lifecycle. Track/record what they engage with and what they give to. Know the person behind the donation!

Segmentation

Use that clean data to create audience segments/ personas. Before you can speak to anyone in a personal way, you have to know what MAKES THEM DIFFERENT! This can be as simple as giving history and as robust as website content engagement leading to gifts made.

Custom Content

Ok, so you know your audience and segments. Now you need to actually speak to them based on that information. Customize your appeals. Change your asks. Tell different stories. All informed by your data and segmentation!

Automate & Celebrate

Finally, with this fundraising foundation, it’s time to leverage technology to scale the process. You can set triggers to automate managing data and adjust segmentation. As you're distributing content, you can automate inclusion and suppressions as your donors move between segments and change their behavior.

With a platform like Funraise, you can create triggers to flag when a donor should get a personal touchpoint, automate multi-channel messages to your P2P fundraisers, and keep your donors up-to-date on their giving history.

Ultimately, the more tasks, triggers, and communications you can automate, the more time you have to focus on strategy and donor experience. This is how you can continue being human but scale the volume and value of donor interactions!

Make Your Technology Work Harder Than You

You work hard every day to advance the cause of your organizations. The tools and platforms you’ve invested in should be working just as hard (if not harder!)

Remember when I said our jobs as marketers are harder than ever, but success is easier than ever? That’s because of the acceleration of top-tier technology specifically built for the nonprofit sector to fuel the exact strategies we’ve been talking about. *coughFUNRAISEcough* 

It is critical that you know your tools and how to make them work together, and any gaps or deficiencies in your tech stack. With this knowledge (similar to the donor journey we talked about before) you can employ the “Build, Buy, or Band-Aid” framework.

Build

As we edge nearer to giving season, you can likely solve some of your biggest challenges by building integrations between a tool or tools to solve your most critical needs. While this solves your vital needs, it’s likely going to be the most cost-heavy option, be limited to one or two features, and take some serious time—which most of us don't have.

Buy

Chances are many of the gaps you’ve identified in your tools can only be fixed by upgrading to new platforms. While this is likely the best way forward, it also carries a significant investment of time and resources when it comes to research, purchasing, and onboarding.

Band-Aid

Got no time for building and no $$ for buying? Slap a band-aid on it until you can take those more lasting steps. Go back to the previous steps and see where you can solve a root problem—just for today. Don't allow your organization to view that step as a solution because if you do, it'll never get addressed properly. It's your responsibility to look at the long-term consequences of your Build, Buy, Band-Aid actions.

Storytelling x Data: A (Nerdy) Equation for Success

You’re a brilliantly creative storyteller. You have the data to prove your success. When you combine the two, the results are staggering!  

Know your audience

...and what they care about. Your CEO/ED/President wants to see a very different report than your Director of Development or Marketing would.

Define your metrics, know your data source(s)

These next two are equally important. You must know what “success” is for your campaign as a whole AND for each channel that creates your surround sound efforts. You also need to know WHERE that data comes from and how you can feed it between stages of the campaign. Funraise can help.

Automate and consolidate

Just like before, the fewer manual tasks you have to do, the more successful (and sane) you’re going to be this giving season. Create a dashboard of your core metrics for your campaigns that automatically flows data in from the sources we just talked about. Focus your reports on what matters most. As direct response marketers, there is SO MUCH we can track and report on. But how much of it is contextual fluff? Exactly. And we don’t have time for fluff. (Unless it's the marshmallow kind. I’ll ALWAYS make time for marshmallow fluff.)

Use data to tell stories

You’re already telling great stories of impact through your organizations. Use the data you’re tracking to quantify that impact. Stories move; numbers PROVE. You need both as donors quickly adopt investor mindsets (that’s a topic for a whole different article!)

Don’t forget to include donors!

Finally, please DON’T FORGET TO REPORT BACK TO DONORS! Donors are giving through you. They’re part of your mission. Show them the success of their gifts. PROVE to them that they made a difference (and a dang good financial decision) by investing through you!

Three Things to Take Home

If you take nothing else from today’s session home with you, I hope you remember these three things. They’ve helped me scale impact year-over-year and given me back some sanity during the busy year-end push.

  1. Donors are humans, too.
  2. Make your fundraising technology work harder.
  3. Default to action.

But wait, there's more!

The power behind your fundraising is why platforms like Funraise exist. You need to be able to rely on your digital fundraising platform to speak, in real time, to your content distribution platforms and your CRMs. Being able to recognize and thank a donor for a gift, adjust their communication cadence based on real-time action, and speak directly to their changing stage of relationship with you, all without a single direct touchpoint from you or anyone on your team, is what I dream of for every nonprofiteer!

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