John Walsh · St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, Director of Annual Giving | School is in session! This week, we’ve brought in a digital fundraiser whose specialty is mail—the electronic kind. John Walsh is the Director of Annual Giving at St. Vladimir’s Seminary and today, he’s our professor of digital everything.
John Walsh comes to the Nonstop Nonprofit podcast through a purely digital path that began with some of the hardest-to-engage audiences and then expanded to include broader digital strategies. These days, he advocates for nonprofits to lean into digital fundraising, with his specific passion being email.
As a self-proclaimed “digital guy” himself, our host David Schwab has seen how digital fundraising’s speed, directness, and consistency contribute to donor awareness and engagement in ways that direct mail can’t. But just like you all, he's still learning—and John makes that education exciting!
Listen in as John teaches us how a holistic communication strategy adds value to all of your fundraising channels, provides actionable first steps for email newbies, and shares his secrets to keeping digital fundraising fresh and successful.
Hello and welcome to this episode of Nonstop Nonprofit!
David Schwab Welcome, everyone, to the next episode of the Nonstop Nonprofit Podcast. This is your new host, David Schwab. I am the head of marketing at Funraise. This is my good friend, John Walsh, joining us today. John has a rich background of experience in many different nonprofit organizations. But what I invited him here today to talk about specifically is his knowledge about digital fundraising. John doesn't know this, but I've always thought of him kind of as a professor of digital fundraising, digital marketing really wise and experienced and knows the space as good or better than anyone. It's fitting now because John actually works at a seminary or works for a seminary, so that title of Professor almost fits. But John, thanks for joining us today.
John Walsh Thanks, David. It's great to be here.
David Schwab All right. Well, I think we should just jump right in. I'd love to hear from you. Can you give our audience just a little bit of your background where you work today, what you do, how you got into the digital space, and then what was it that first got you into the fundraising space, the nonprofit sector, and then what has kept you coming back?
John Walsh Yeah, that's a great question. So I am currently the director of annual giving at St Vladimir's Seminary. As you mentioned, it's a seminary, a higher ed institute. But that wasn't my first job. I actually my first career was in music and music education. So the professor kind of works for that as well. And I was working on music therapy at a nursing facility doing music there, and my boss came up to me and said, We have a Facebook page, you have a Facebook page, Can you do our Facebook page for us since it was my boss? The answer was obviously yes. I'd be happy to do Facebook, even though I have, you know, very little experience except for my own personal dealings with Facebook. So I said yes. And from there it was just this great enjoyment that I had with digital marketing. I started doing the social media, started taking the pictures or writing the content, and then I started seeing the results, you know, being able to see things in real-time, seeing how things did and being able to test images or content from there that snowballed into the email newsletter for them. And then when the site wasn't well optimized for the newsletter, it was, Hey, we need to work on the site so that we can direct people from the email and the social media to the website. So it just became this real love for me with digital marketing. And so I went back to school, did some schooling for digital marketing. And when I was trying to get my first job into digital marketing, I was looking at, of all the different areas in digital marketing, social ads, web content, email, which ones really kind of spoke to me and it was email marketing. I just loved email marketing. Like most email marketers, I feel like we kind of fell into it and that's just how it works for us. I think it's the same in some ways for nonprofits, and that's actually how we got my first nonprofit job in nonprofit and in digital marketing. Email marketing was with a large Christian nonprofit. I did email marketing for them for five years. We would send anywhere from 40 to 60 million emails a year. It was a great fun. I learned so much with that experience and just grew from there. The fundraising grew from there, and that's really kind of where my I guess to answer your one last question is where my love for it came from. It was at that organization just seeing the power of digital fundraising. I know you and I have talked maybe even a little bit about, you know, the kind of the difference between direct mail and digital. And, you know, direct mail is still a wonderful communication tool and still really brings in the money. But don't count out email and don't care about digital because this is becoming more and more popular. And it's just a such a great way and a great interaction with people to see how much they care about their cause to be able to send, whether it's an email or a social media post and just get that feedback from them about, you know, they care about this cause so much that they're willing to give. I mean, I still get choked up sometimes when I see kind of the the odd numbered donations come in, whether it's like $21, $75 or, you know, $16.03. So that's just it's just great to see that. And the digital just to know that these people are giving all to the cause that they care about.
David Schwab Yeah, I think it must be so interesting for you in your role now, too, because you're coming into a director of development role from a digital background. Most people who come into a director development role come into it from like a major gift or a traditional fundraising background. And so I remember having a conversation with you when you were first getting started in this role, and you're like, I've got to go figure out direct mail for the first time. We're not going to get into direct mail here. I'm sorry for anyone listening who loves direct mail. But John and I are digital guys. We're going to keep talking digital, but I just I think it's got to be so interesting. For you to be learning probably for the first time or for the first time in a long time. That piece of the fundraising side, compared to what most people and most director dudes in your in roles like yours are learning the digital piece for the first time. So maybe a fun question. Just following up on that is like what has been the most challenging shift from very focused digital fundraiser email marketer to being director of development and overseeing the whole gambit of development for an entire organization?
John Walsh Yeah, I think that's it right there. It's, it's having that broader view. Before it was just solely being able to put my nose down, my head down and say, okay, email, tell me when to send it. I'm going to send an email. Okay, I got it sent, you know, now it's okay. We need to fundraise for a whole campaign. Oh, John, you need to come up with a whole campaign for giving Tuesday. It needs to have multiple touchpoints and needs to go to multiple different segments. It needs to you know, it needs to have these multiple different videos or content. And it's learning for me is learning how to put all that together and how to make it successful. So and this is actually really why I ended up back in or why ended up in the digital marketing is because it's such a learning process. Digital is so, as you know, tomorrow is going to change and what we're doing now, we're going to have to learn something different again, you know, in a week or a month, a year, which really excites me. And I think it should excite a lot of nonprofits as well, because we're going to be having to change to where, you know, our demographic donor demographics are changing in a few years. People are becoming more familiar with email and more comfortable donating with the on email, and they're going to become more comfortable donating on social. Just that broad view for me has really been a challenge, incorporating, as you said, direct mail learning the nuances of each one, whether it's email compared to direct mail or social media. Digital is fine. I'm good with that. But just understanding it and understanding the mindset really coming into it right? When you're coming into an email, you probably scrolling through your inbox. You're not really maybe expecting an email from an organization, but something catches your eye, whether it's the from name or the subject line, and then you're transported really into content. Whereas direct mail, it's a little different. Just, you know, you've had time to pick it up from the mailbox and flip through. And, you know, I've heard of stories of people who just kind of sit in their armchairs and enjoy, you know, a long letter. So, yeah, it's all of that learning for me, and that's what really excites me.
David Schwab Yeah, I remember I got my fundraising career started in direct mail, and I remember we talked so often about things like how do we get people to open envelopes, How do we increase our open rate? And I was like, How do you really know what your open rate is? But then when we when I first got plugged into email, fundraising was like, you can actually like you can see when people are engaging and you can tell what works and what doesn't work. And now we're years past that and, and open rates and all of that engagement stuff is changing yet again. But I just thought that was such an interesting pieces I think for those who have come up through a direct mail background or are really familiar with direct mail fundraising, the biggest difference is direct mail fundraising is the lead time, right? It's it takes 2 to 3 months to plan a piece, produce and send, and then it takes 2 to 3 months to actually see how it works. Whereas in digital, you're doing 2 to 3 to four campaigns in that cycle and seeing in real time how it comes. And that's always been my piece and my why for being in digital as I just don't have the patience. I call it ADHD or just the fact that I, you know, I'm from the generation that grew up as digital natives. I don't have the patience to do things over the course of months and months. I want that instant gratification. So, John, what I kind of like to do next is give some people a reason, if they still don't believe that digital is is worth investing in specifically email, because I know that's your bread and butter, but why should an organization if they haven't already invest in digital or more specifically invest in an email program?
John Walsh Yeah, I think a lot of the studies that I'm reading, a lot of the reports I'm reading are showing that people prefer email as a main form of communication and even the younger demographic, but even the older demographic as well prefer email as a form of communication. So you can't dismiss it anymore. It's, it's here. I mean, it's not it seems young and maybe compared to direct mail it is, but it's not that young compared to maybe social media. You know, it's (direct mail) been around 70 or 80 years. It's not only a great form of communication, people open it, people want it. I mean, that's the thing. It's not just, oh, this is a great form of communication. But people are saying, of all the communications, I want email and we have to pay attention to that. If they're saying it, we need to pay attention to it. It's not just one study. It's multiple studies. Not just nonprofits, it's across the board, all sectors that want and respect and respond to email. We're also seeing an increase in giving through email, and that's really, again, I attribute it to people feeling more comfortable with it. The landing pages are getting better, the emails are getting better. We're no longer in our toddler years, maybe email and we're maturing enough. Whereas direct mail has been around for so long that they already have it down. I think email is still growing and we're still learning, but we're no longer toddlers either. I don't know, maybe we're tweens or teens. I don't know. A great comparison. We do have.
David Schwab Our all angsty teenage fundraisers.
John Walsh So yes, email marketers have a lot of attitude. I don't know. But you know, and I think that's really so if your nonprofit is not and you know, that's the other thing I'm going to talk about is multichannel. Right. And I think that's really what it comes down to. And I've seen I'm a big person who loves reading studies and reports have mentioned already. Multichannel is very important. And even if you are a direct mail, you know, focus, which is fine. We were finding that people give more if they receive multichannel communication, even if they only give through one channel. And even if that channel is direct mail, only people give more through direct mail only if they've also received an email communication. Whereas if they only receive direct mail, no other communication, they give less. So even if you're not using it at a fundraiser, which I recommend you do because you're already emailing, you need to be using it because it's a complete package. Right? And we're a noisy society. Inboxes are noisy, mailboxes are noisy. So the more touch points you can put for people.
David Schwab Yeah, I think it's so important that you talked about multichannel and the touchpoints in that study. We did a study at my last agency when I was still working full-time as a fundraiser. We had a theory that multiple touchpoints would increase direct mail. Right. So we were working with many organizations all over the world at that point, trying to help them figure out how to acquire more donors through the mail. And we said, well, what if we created a system where if someone is on your mailing list, we also deliver digital advertising to them? Is there new so you don't have their email so you can't reach out to them that way. We said, Well, we think direct mail as a program will be increased by having these additional touch points. We didn't think it would do anything to digital, but what we actually saw is having multiple touch points across different media types, increased performance everywhere, not just direct mail. So we did a blind study where a control group got just direct mail. Then we did a study of direct mail plus the digital advertising overlay, and we expected to see a lift in direct mail. But we also saw a lift over standard performance in digital advertising, which is very interesting because that means the offline touchpoint that was made to those potential donors increased their digital activity, not just the other way around. So like you said, it's so important to be thinking about a holistic communication strategy to your donors. And the way that I think digital is most important in that today is being the way that it amplifies the story you're telling. Because it's expensive to send a letter. There's paper and postage and production and the time delay and all of the things that go into sending a letter. Whereas digital, you can for every one thing you can say through the letter, you can say four or five, six different things or tell the story from a few different angles in digital. And that's why I like it so much as a lever to increase that communication strategy.
John Walsh Yeah, and I think you touched on a good point with the timing issue. We dealt with this a lot at the place I was at before this as well, which is, as you said, you need 2 to 3 months lead time. Well, if something major is happening in the news. I mean, we just went through an earthquake in Turkey. By the time that gets out and direct mail, it could very well be out of your donor's mind. Right. So that's the beauty about email. And we used to push this and talk about it a lot and look at we can talk about it direct mail in two months when it's ready, but we need to talk about it in email now because the news cycle happens so fast, people are ready to respond right then and that's you can't wait two months. But email is such a great not only just email but digital, whether it's app, social email is such a great way to help with that urgency. And we nonprofits, we talk about urgency all the time, right? You need to get your need to get that story out there right when it's happening.
David Schwab It reminds me, do you remember a few years ago when that crazy winter storm hit Dallas? Probably early 2021, I think is when it was I was working with an organization in Dallas, a homeless shelter and relief organization, and they were literally the first people with boots on the ground because they are already operating day in and day out in Dallas. And they had their direct mail program and this whole weather storm hit and caused hundreds of thousands of. Dollars worth of physical damage to their organization and their shelters. And while they were trying to figure out what do we do with the direct mail program, like we were about to send our Easter fundraising letter, it has nothing to do with what's going on right now. But we were able to pivot in digital, and in less than a week they had raised nearly $200,000 to rebuild and provide emergency relief. It was one of their most successful digital campaigns. And it's like you said, it's just because digital you can work at the pace of the news cycle and you can move at the pace of conversation. It's one of the beauties of being able to be responsive to the environment you're working in and also being a good steward of your resources at a nonprofit organization, because every time you do something, it costs something, right? And nonprofit organizations have limited resources. So when you're able to be nimble and responsive like that, it provides such a huge return.
John Walsh It does. And email still has a great return still, as far as I know, like $40 for every one.
David Schwab Well, we've talked about multichannel fundraising. We've talked about how digital and email roll into that. I think at this point I'm hoping everyone listening is in there saying, I'm in, I know I need to do this. Maybe some are asking, how do I get started? What would you say are some benchmarks of performance or some standard critical strategies and things someone should do if they're just getting their email program started out or if they're trying to take their email program to the next level?
John Walsh You know, I think for me, I break it up into basically two different types of emails. If you're just getting started because each type of email has a little bit of a different feel, a different flavor. So you have what we talked about where communication emails and then you have your just your fundraising emails, Communication emails are things like newsletters, things like events. Maybe you're trying to get people to sign up for an event, surveys, those kind of emails. Those are a little different than your fundraising email. And so when you're really first starting, you need to know the kind and I think you need to use just the understand. You need to use both. This is we talk about a holistic approach. So when I guess my kind of my pet peeves with email is those that only use fundraising emails and don't use the newsletter or the free resource, which is another email I love like giving people something. So what I talk a lot about when you're first starting an email program is provide value. You're going to have to build a relationship with people. They're going to have to get to know you. They're going to get to know your voice, your organization, your cause, your mission. They're going to get to know that provide value to them, give them, like I said, give them resources, write articles and put them on your website to direct them to that or videos, direct them there. You can even direct them to your social media pages, right? So just start to really build a rapport with them so that they become familiar with you. They see you in their inbox. They look forward to seeing you in your inbox. It's not like, Oh no, here's another fundraising email and maybe you get them to. But I have like certain ones where it's like every day I get a fundraising email from a nonprofit. It's like, okay, what I saw sounds nice, but what are you going to give to me? Like, Yeah, so but you need it. So you need to build that relationship, you need to provide value and you need to fundraise. And sometimes I have to tell nonprofits that as well, like use email to fundraise. It's okay. It's, it's acceptable. Like there's always stories of people who and you probably hear it, Oh, so-and-so got mad because they sent they sent me a fundraising email. It's like we're nonprofits. This is our job. We're in it. We're not just fundraising because we want money. We're fundraising it for a purpose. And when you go into fundraising emails, that's really what you have to explain. So I guess that was a long introduction. But there's two types, and I think when you talk about fundraising emails, you really do talk about calls to action. And with a fundraising email, I need to have one call to action. So often I see emails where it's like, Hey, we want you to give money, but also sign up for this event and fill out this form and email us back. If you have questions and you've now lost your audience, they don't know what to do. And usually what'll happen is they'll do the one action you don't want them to do, and they won't do the one action you really wanted them to do. I don't know how many times I've had this conversation with like, Oh, we didn't get much money on that email. And it's like, that's because we had like four calls to action. And of course we didn't get much like, Oh yeah, I remember you telling me not to do that. So it'll happen. But with fundraising emails, you keep it simple, really, you know, explain the need the problem, explain your response to it. A fundraising email might be a little longer than a kind of a typical email because you have to do a little bit more in it and you don't want to send them to a story to do it or a video to do it. So keep it simple. You can have more than one as they call to action. You can have more than one link in an email as long as going to the same place with the newsletter is different. Right? And so getting started, just really know your kind of your types know how to use them. We can talk about cadence if you want, how frequent to email, if you're just getting started email at least once a month, if you're just getting started. But honestly, it's okay to email more. And we found this out going through the pandemic, we started emailing more and as long as I go back to this, as long as you're providing value to them, they will open your emails. And so if you're doing that once a week is okay, as long as it's. On a fundraising email once a week. But if you're providing that that interesting content that they love, they'll come back again and again and again. And then they'll and then they'll donate as well.
David Schwab Yeah, it's interesting you talked about that cadence. I was just talking with another nonprofit. He was talking about how he's worried that his email communication volume is too high and he was sending one email a quarter and I was like, they probably don't even know you exist. Like, and you're just getting started. So the people you're talking to are the most loyal supporters you're ever going to have as an organization. Send one s month. He's like, No way, I can't do it. I can't do it. It's too much. And I was like, think about how many emails you get every day from Gap or if you're my wife from Target. Like think about how many emails you get every single day. Now imagine trying to stand out against that volume if you're only sending to someone once a quarter, and that's when it clicked. That's the difficult thing about successfully running an email program as a nonprofit is you're not just competing with the other organizations your donors and supporters support or follow. You're competing with their entire inbox personal and then also likely their professional inbox, which may be sorted in the same. Like if you're like me and you have the mail app on your iPhone, you get your work email in one section and then your personal email in another section. And so you've got to work hard to to stand out. And I think what you touched on is, is critical in that it's like you want to make people look for your emails, you want to have great stories that you're telling, and that's the secret sauce and the secret weapon, in my opinion, as a nonprofit professional trying to succeed in email fundraising and email marketing is you've got better stories to tell than anyone else in your donor's inbox or your supporter's inbox. And they chose to follow you, they chose to subscribe to you. They chose to support you for a reason and likely care about your cause. So if you're telling good stories and what we always used to call them is we said cultivate the relationship before you ask them something from the relationship. So if you're sending great cultivation emails, then you're primed to make the ask. And that asking be as frequent as once or twice a week if you're also doing the other piece, right? [36.6s]
John Walsh Yeah. And I think you said it right there. I think people, I'm finding that people are, they're way more engaged, they really care a lot more about your email than they do about the three Gap emails or you know what I mean? Like, they're really they're more invested in those than they probably are, honestly, not all e-commerce brands, but just the influx of emails there. At least I'm finding we actually just did a survey with our group, with our donors and our supporters, I should say, just to find out, you know, we're emailing too much, too little? And overwhelmingly it was like you guys are right on. Like and we're emailing once or twice a week throwing a fundraising email maybe, and once a week or once every other week. But like you said, we're cultivating the relationships, we're doing events or a live stream events and other things just to keep them engaged. And they and they do appreciate it.
David Schwab Yeah, I think it's interesting. I always look at what's happening in the for-profit sector as a benchmark, right? And in the for-profit sector, like a really, really, really healthy open rate in the e-commerce space or in the if you're emailing customers of a really healthy open rate is like 5%. Click through rate 1%, you're celebrating. And when I was doing email fundraising, our open rates were like 25 to 30% and that was a bad email click through rates were 10 to 15% on average. And it shows that. I mean, for everyone listening, like I want you to hear, the people you're talking to want to hear from you, you just need to give them something worth reading, Right?
John Walsh You said it right there. That's exactly right. Give them something worth reading because you are standing out in their inbox. So just make it in there.
Don’t go away! When our episode returns, John goes on to explain why keeping your email file clean, with practical takeaways on how to do that, can really improve your overall communication with donors… Stay tuned!
And now, enjoy this segment sponsored by Funraise, the world's most innovative and friendly nonprofit fundraising platform. Last fall, Nonstop Nonprofit took the podcast on the road to NextAfter’s 2022 NIO Summit in Kansas City. At the conference, Justin had the chance to sit down with Tim Kachuriak, Chief Innovation and Optimization Officer at NextAfter. Listen in as Tim shares his thoughts on improving donor relationships and how retention is becoming the new donor acquisition.
Justin Wheeler Tim, thanks so much for stopping by. I know you're probably perhaps the most busy person at the conference.
Tim Kachuriak Actually, I have a lot of people doing a lot of things. I'm just floating. So, you know, just making sure that everything's running.
Justin Wheeler Awesome. How are things going so far from your perspective?
Tim Kachuriak It's been great. You know, I mean, this is like the biggest theatrical production that we've ever put on. So, like, that's been really interesting little secret I've got on stage acting work to do tomorrow, which would be pretty cool. I haven't done that before on live audience, you know, so yeah.
Justin Wheeler So when you, when you guys came up with the theme, what was the inspiration for Oz?
Tim Kachuriak I mean, like this one writes itself, right? What do you need to be a good fundraiser, a heart, a brain, the nerve. You know what I mean? So it's just this is one that I've been wanting to do for a long time, and it was really fun to be able to to make it happen.
Justin Wheeler Nice. Awesome. What does success look like? This thing is over. It's done in a day and a half. What do hope for?
Tim Kachuriak I just think every person walks out of here with one thing that they can go try. And I think that that's kind of like the message that comes from the stage, like from all the presenters. They're really just trying to inspire people to get outside of their comfort zone and just try something. Right? And hopefully that creates like a nice backdrop. And, you know, with the Expo floor and everybody kind of moving around. I'm hoping that that's where some of the conversations land.
Justin Wheeler Yeah, totally. I was talking to someone earlier and my favorite thing about the conference is it's always so practical how you get a lot of like nonprofit conferences and it's like just like big concepts or more like theory. Well, I love it's like it's you're stepping into, like a lab and learning from all the experimentation that that's happening, you know, with the Horizons research and other organizations. And so is that is that the goal for it to be really practical or is that just kind of the outcome by like who's here and who's invited?
Tim Kachuriak Yeah, I mean, I think we have to have the mixture between like both like the strategic kind of like, you know, orientation, but then also giving people like specific tactical things they can start to hang on their own program. And so I think this year we've got a good mix of some of that stuff. You know, a lot of the speakers, especially like the guy who's going to close down tonight, Marcus Sheridan, it's going to be a lot of, you know, kind of like really important theory. But he'll also kind of like hang some practical stuff. Like, I used to be a pool guy. Oh, wow. And like, was one of the most successful in-ground pool guys, like, in the country. Because when his business was going off a cliff, he turned to the Internet and saved him. So it's pretty cool.
Justin Wheeler Wow. Awesome. Can we hear that? Yeah. So you guys work with a lot of a lot of big nonprofits. There's lots of questions floating around the industry. Is this is is an impending recession going to impact us? How is going to impact giving? Are there any like early indicators that like giving may slow down in Q4 or in 2023? Any insight or thoughts of that you have?
Tim Kachuriak Yeah, it's definitely something we've been like paying attention to and thinking about. One of the things that we're starting to run experiments around is like longitudinal retention, right? Because like I think especially as you enter into a down economy, like retention becomes the new donor acquisition. Yeah, I think you've heard a lot of that stuff too, from the stage today. I mean, I think the other thing that we're seeing is not just like the economy, but also just like the privacy wars with like all the major kind of like, you know, walled garden advertising players and they're squeezing out a lot of our audience, which is making it really hard and more expensive, quite frankly, to go and reach and acquire donors. So I think retention that is going to be a big focus for a lot of organizations, for the next couple of years.
Justin Wheeler Yeah. It's still so crazy. It's like, yeah, it's like and 50 something percent like retention rate, right, for most nonprofits.
Tim Kachuriak At best, right! Which is a coin flip. Yeah.
Justin Wheeler And it was describing because you would think that like addressing that first will inherently increase growth. Yeah. Or you make your growth more probable and so it'll be interesting if that's one of the outcomes of of a softer economy is people already committed and giving if we find new ways to retain donors better.
Tim Kachuriak Yeah I mean it's harder you know, I've talked about this before, but it's like I feel like we're just so addicted to this direct response mindset, right? So it's like we think of everything in terms of like the annual fund, the 12 month window and all, though like we use like terms like long term value. Not a lot of people make decisions based off of that. So what I want to do is try and figure out if there's something we could do to like prove just like some of the, you know, the more tactical experiments that we perform in our lab of let's run something over a 12 month period of time and see if there are specific plays that we can run to go, you know, affect the retention rate.
Justin Wheeler Yeah. Is there any anything that any insight, anything that you've found that has worked better than others?
Tim Kachuriak Yeah, totally. I mean, like, here's here's the cool thing is like omnichannel marketing. Communication is like very near. I mean, this used to be something that was like, really not accessible for a lot of nonprofits. But like with the emergence of DSPs and like 80 million TV households are now on connected TV, which is actually more than like traditional television broadcasts. Like this gives us a whole new way of surrounding the donor and an experience, right? And that's what we were we're kind of banking on and testing. I mean, we've run little smaller term experiments where we're like, okay, let's go try some different messages and different channels and monitor giving across all channels, like over like just a year in a campaign window. But I want to look at is like over a longer time horizon how that's closing out.
Justin Wheeler Ah, one more question on retention. Yeah. Have you noticed that in smaller organizations, is it easier or harder for smaller organizations to retain donors, than big ones?
Tim Kachuriak I mean, if you look at the data, what you typically find is like the smaller the organization, the higher the retention rates are. But that's because they have a smaller overall like corpus of donors.
Justin Wheeler Yeah. Yeah.
Tim Kachuriak As they start to kind of like move into more mass market acquisition and communication, you know, they're kind of broadening like the bull's eye, so to speak. And so it's really, you know, people that maybe were inspired, they they gave out of a visceral response to something, but they're not really as connected as somebody that, you know, maybe went to a fundraising event. Yeah. So, I mean, if you look at the numbers, you know, that's what we typically see. I think that large organizations have the greatest opportunity to prove out the model that we could then go start to scale down, down market.
Justin Wheeler Yeah. Makes sense. They ask because, you know, on the consumer level, I feel like we've we've been seeing this for at least a decade, but I feel like it's been, like, exacerbated even more where at a consumer level there's been like a departure from, like bigger, bigger brands, bigger corporations, more of a focus on like, boutique...
Tim Kachuriak Yeah.
Justin Wheeler You know, local and like it that how that impacts sort of giving like are we are we giving to are we like more enthusiastic to give to like a smaller, less name brand organization versus, you know, our own like the American Red Cross, something like that?
Tim Kachuriak Well I think think that the more that we can kind of like shorten the distance between like the donor and like their connection to the social impact delivered through the charity, it's like not like you want to take the charity out of the picture, but just take them out of the way and yeah, kind of bring that donor closer to that impact.
Justin Wheeler Awesome. Makes sense. Yeah. All right. One last question here. What are you excited for in the over the next 12 months? What are you guys working on that you're really excited to get out or just to dive more into?
Tim Kachuriak Yeah, I really think that there's some really significant opportunity with omnichannel communication and fundraising. And so we've been we've developed a marketing data warehouse like we've had that for several years. We have a number of clients that are in there and that gives us great business intelligence reports that we can look at and be able to identify where are the different segments of our donors that we need to focus on. The next step is the really exciting part, where we're going to connect that to a DSP, a demand side platform where we can actually push out specific omnichannel campaigns to specific segments of our donors.
Justin Wheeler Super interesting.
Tim Kachuriak Yeah, so that's that's a part I'm super pumped about. And like, we need to have many more conversations around that once I get some data back.
Justin Wheeler Yeah. Yeah, I'd love to. All right, quick Rapidfire questions and then we'll wrap it up here. There's no right or wrong answers, but there are some right answers. Okay. First question for reading, digital or an actual book?
Tim Kachuriak Digital.
Justin Wheeler What's your most favorite recent book you've read?
Tim Kachuriak Uh, it was called... It was a Patrick Valenciano book. I can't remember the title of it, but it's about a CEO that like, the good CEO and a bad CEO. And the difference between the two
Justin Wheeler Interesting. Okay, You're stranded on an island, you can choose one thing to eat. Pizza or salad?
Tim Kachuriak Salad.
Justin Wheeler Oh, really? Yeah. Are you a healthy eater?
Tim Kachuriak Like to eat healthier. I do like vegetables. Yeah. I mean, I just, if I eat too much pizza, then, you know, I have a bad morning.
Justin Wheeler Yeah, Okay. Okay, I hear that. Beach or mountains.
Tim Kachuriak Mountains.
Justin Wheeler Mountains. You live in the snow? In the sunshine?
Tim Kachuriak I would.
Justin Wheeler Football or fútbol?
Tim Kachuriak Fútbol.
Justin Wheeler Football. Okay. Dogs are cats.
Tim Kachuriak Dogs.
Tim Kachuriak Funnel cake or cheesecake?
Tim Kachuriak Cheesecake.
Justin Wheeler Most importantly, The Goonies or I forgot. Oh, The Sandlot.
Tim Kachuriak The Goonies. A hundred percent. Yeah.
Justin Wheeler The Goonies! You're the first one that has said The Goonies.
Tim Kachuriak What?!
Justin Wheeler Everyone has said The Sandlot? We even had a controversial person say that both are overrated.
Tim Kachuriak So I made all of my kids watch The Goonies way too early. That's one of my all time favorites.
Justin Wheeler Oh yeah, it's a good movie. Awesome. Tim, thanks so much. I'll let you go.
Tim Kachuriak Awesome, man. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Hey, welcome back to Nonstop Nonprofit! Before our Funraise-sponsored break, John was sharing some of his best tactics to implement into your email game. Now, let's get back to the conversation.
David Schwab All right, John, we've convinced everyone. Digital, checkmark. Email, let's do it. I know where to get started. We've got some good ideas to get started, but it's also really important to make sure your digital file is healthy. What are some things, as one of the experts in the space, what are some things you recommend watching for or signs to say, Hey, my file is healthy or my file is unhealthy and what do I need to do to turn it around?
John Walsh Yeah, that's a great question because it's something near and dear to my heart. My previous place, we when when I first started, there are our file was not very healthy. We were looking at what we call a sender reputation score. That was pretty low. And that's just a score that they kind of give you to kind of gauge how well your emails are landing in the inbox or not landing in the inbox, remaining in spam. And so it was pretty low. And so we hadn't looked at it very hard to see, you know, what we could do to improve it. Because if your emails aren't landing in the inbox or promotions tab, then your emails aren't will never get written. It doesn't no matter how hard you try, they have to get into the inbox and a lot of emails don't make it. And so it's very important to have what I say call clean lists or clean data for me and for nonprofits I recommend. Removing anyone who hasn't opened an email from your organization in a year or longer and is not just a made up number. And it's not just for just because I like things clean and orderly, and there's actually technical reasons behind it. When you are sending to people who don't open your emails for two years, three years, and if those emails are dormant for whatever reason, maybe they're not using that email anymore. The email service provider can pick them up and make them into spam traps. And then Wednesday, if you start hitting spam spam traps, then you know, the worst that could happen is you get blacklisted. Also, could your emails won't get delivered, they just won't make it into that person's inbox at all. So I recommend we used to do it once a year is clean our file. That doesn't mean you have to get rid of them. It doesn't mean you take them out of your file and never see them again. It just means like when we were talking about a consistent cadence and consistent communication, you're not keeping them in there the whole time. Maybe you pull out those people who haven't engaged with you in a year and you send them a re-engagement email a few months later, or maybe you send them a re-engagement email during giving Tuesday, but keep them separate from your daily, weekly monthly communication. Because what could happen The worst, like I said, that can happen is you could really hurt yourself and make it so you can't email the people that want to receive the emails, right? So if you end up in spam traps, it doesn't affect just the people who don't want. It affects the people who want it, Google or Gmail and Apple. They don't they don't care. They just it's just an algorithm and they just, you know, put it put it where they think it needs to go. So really clean your list. Like I said, once a year, use re-engagement campaigns to get them, you know, to try to pull them back in. That's that's completely fine for a great practice. You know a lot of neat nonprofits will say you know well well I guess the other thing is this list size and maybe we could talk about that real quick. Right? It's like the bigger, the better. And that's not the case. You want You want it great. Engagement is the best way to put it right. Whether that is a million people or whether that is 10,000 people or 1000 people. If you have 1000 people and you're getting that, if you're getting half of them to open, that's better than having a million people with 100 people opening. Mm hmm. I guess I'm just trying to say don't get fixated on that number, which is really easy to do. Like, Oh, man, I got you know, I'm sending to 10,000 people. That may be fine, but it may not be. It's okay. It's really okay to cut that down a little bit and you're not doing anybody a disservice. Nobody's probably sitting at home saying, you know, where's that email? If they haven't opened in a year, they're probably not saying, Why haven't I heard from them? It's been two years.
David Schwab Yeah, great tips. So something something that I really wanted to touch on today, kind of switching gears, but I, while I had you here, wanted to talk about trends fundraising, published an article a couple of months ago now that talked about trends to look for in 2023. It was one of our most popular articles that we published in the last year Plus gets me thinking. People are trying to figure out what's coming and how to navigate. I think we're all kind of in that boat together. We don't know what's coming. We don't know what the economy is going to be like. We don't know what the global environment's going to look like tomorrow, let alone a year from now. So I want to talk trends with you, because I know you study this thoroughly year in and year out. So I'm going to start with looking back at last year, 2022. What are some of the things that you saw in digital fundraising, in email, fundraising that stood out? What are some trends that you thought were really interesting that caught your eye that surprised you?
John Walsh Yeah, Yeah. So there are a couple. Last year, about a year and a half ago, Apple came out with the email privacy protection and that was the big deal. And the email community had had us all up in in a tizzy. I used to say, just because we, you know, all the email markers that know what to do now, we didn't even know what it was going to be and how is it going to affect us. So really, for those of you who don't know the mail, this Apple mail privacy protection is what happens is that an email gets sent to you. Email will open it. Sorry, Apple will open it first. And then they'll then they'll put it in your inbox. So what that does is that inflates the open rates. So even Apple has seen it, but you haven't seen it. And so you really can't trust completely open rates and that's that. So the trend is to make sure you are looking at all of your metrics, not just open rates, but open rates, quick rates, conversion rates. You're looking at your donor retention, you're looking at first time donors, you just looking at everything on an email, not just open rates. I don't know how often I'm probably guilty of it too, when somebody says, How did the email do? And you say, Oh, it was great. It had a 24% open rate when that happened. And everything that I've seen is that now when that happened, open rates increased by anywhere from 5 to 10% across all industries. Now, that's not to say don't ever look at open rates. That's just to say don't solely look at open rates. I still look at open rates now that we're into this and we have a better idea of what the open rates are looking like, like you could compare last month's open rates to this month's open rates. When I test things and I'm testing a subject line, you can still use open rates to see which one worked better. It doesn't mean, again, that open rates are bad. It just means take it with a grain of salt. It's all. So that was a big one. The other one that I'm seeing is dark mode. There's a lot of people switching to a mode, especially with emails. That dark mode has been around for for a while with with the Internet, but now really with just Gmail and Apple with that. What that means is make sure that your email looks great on both, both types of modes, right? So make sure it looks good with a black background. That's especially important if you're using color in any of your emails and it's a color button or color headlines, right? So you don't want a Navy blue button. And then if you put then on black on a black background, you're not going to see it and it's going to affect your your conversions or clicks.
David Schwab So another another critical one to think about is what's your logo look like on a black background? So many times I see organizations send an email and they've got their full color logo and it's just a little white sketch outline in dark mode and you can't read what their name is and you have no idea who the emails from. I mean, obviously you open it and you know who the sender is, but you lose all of your branding and all of your brand recognition just with that simple change.
John Walsh Oh, yeah, that's that is a great point. The other one that I've seen is when you use like images with a white background, like what, the signature and maybe that's what you're referring to is like a signature. And yeah, it's, and there are ways around it. So just, just be careful. That's a great study. What I like to do is like, do you really need email signatures like Image signature? Does it really matter? I have my thoughts and I've.
David Schwab Never I have always been a strong opponent against putting a signature in an email. A signature block? Sure. But why are you hand signing an email that's like it's it's one of those things that is like I always signed my direct mail piece of going. I signed my emails. Well, it's not how people read email.
John Walsh No. And when you send it right, and this is another thing like email needs to look personal, right? So when you send an email to me or I send one to you, I never sign my, you know, put a signed image in there. Okay. You know, I just put my name in and send it off. So to your point, it just kind of looks weird. Yeah, I'll probably spend the time on that. But so those are the two. I guess what? Those are the two big ones as far as last year goes, was, you know, know your metrics from top to bottom and you know, that includes unsubscribed as well. And then just know that dark mode is here. It's getting more and more popular.
David Schwab I'm going to ask for one more because you're talking about email formats a little bit. I saw an interesting thing happening when I was running fundraising programs where a lot of organizations were switching to text only emails. So traditional fundraising emails have are nicely well designed. They've got flow, they've got buttons in them, they've got photos. You can tell that it's a professional email to give that source of like, Hey, we invested time and there's quality in this, but we would sometimes buck the trend and make it look like this is actually an email coming from the executive director himself. It wasn't, but so what's your take on the text, on the email style? Have you tried it? Do you like it?
John Walsh So yeah, there is. And there's kind of heated debate on this. And my opinion is both of them are great tools to use depending on the type of communication you want to use. And it's kind of like a diplomatic answer, but I've used them both. We've seen great results with text only emails, but I think that's the case and we've actually tested it. We know that's the case when it is a very personal email. So if it's a if it's an email from a person at the at the nonprofit, even if it's fundraising, it doesn't matter. But if it looks if it's supposed to look like a personal email from like the president or CEO, text works better. Mm hmm. You know, remove the buttons, make, you know, put hyperlinks in there instead, Don't use fancy colors. Just make it look as authentic to a. Personal email as you can allow. I love it for those cases. For cases like newsletters, other things like that. Yeah, it's great to use HTML. Lots of images. It's okay. You want to be you know, the other thing is, is, you know, kind of what you when you add images, it starts making the email a lot heavier, which triggers a whole bunch of other things. And so we get too technical in there. But to answer your question is yes, I usually call it plain text type. So I learned the hard way we ever talk about fails. Plain text is one thing. If you send a plain text email, that's fine, but you won't be able to get any tracking on it. I call it a plain text type. There's two other ways. Letter style is another thing I've used, which is it looks like is plain text, but it's not. It still has the ability to be tracked so you can see opposite quotes and stuff. So yeah, it's, it's a great way I think is best. If you're a good email marketer you have both in your back pocket.
David Schwab Yeah, I agree. I definitely want to preface when I say plain text. I mean that style that looks like it's it's just text. But you should always be using every bit of email tracking that you have as a fundraiser to see how your emails are performing, make sure that they're getting where they need to go. Please don't send a fundraising email from an Outlook account if you if you can avoid it. Right.
John Walsh Right. And there's technical reasons for that as well, because, you know, don't get too far in the weeds there, but it actually can hurt your whole, especially if it's like your organization account. You could actually be doing a lot of damage to to your organization account outlook if if you're sending fund reasons from there. So just be careful. Very careful.
David Schwab Yes. So 2023 we're a little bit in things have already been a little bit wild but we still got a lot of year left. What do you think is going to be the hot trend this year? What are you most excited for when it comes to email marketing? In email fundraising.
John Walsh Yeah. So there's two here again. And the one we've kind of already touched on a little bit and that's multi-channel, which I really think nonprofits really need to step up and start using multichannel more and more. Other other organizations or other sectors are using it. But I think and I'm not just talking direct mail anymore. I know we kind of briefly talked on that, a little bit of beginning, but I'm talking, you know, email, direct mail, phone call, display ads, SMS, like all those touch points need to happen and and how to integrate them and how to marry them, how to automate them. And I think that's a big one. It's really going to help you, really help you fundraise. It's gonna make your life a little easier, I think as well. A lot more work at the front, but there's lots of programs that can help you with that. And the other one is called hyper personalization. And this is fine because with nonprofits we're still working on personalization and the digital world is moving into what's called hyper personalization. If you're not familiar with that, it's using data and real time with AI and predictive analysis to personalize emails. So personalized emails in real time, and that's going to be huge. This is across the board, not just nonprofits. So I'm expanding a little bit here, but it's going to be big. And and I guess to speak to that is nonprofits. We kind of need to feel like we need to catch up because I think we're still a little behind in the personalization aspect of emails and not even using first names, which I almost hesitate to call it personalization anymore. It is, but.
David Schwab It's kind of table stakes at this point.
John Walsh Yeah, yeah. As like you as the basics of personalization and, and brands are doing other things and organizations are doing other things. And it's, it's hard because if you're personalizing very well, your supporters won't even know it, right? All they'll know is, man, this email speaks to me like this is the exact email I needed today. You know, they know what I like. They know my name. They knew I was doing this Like they're not they're not even they're just going to think, Oh, this is a great email. So kind of, you know, I would say doesn't get enough credit, but that's what a great personalized email does. And hyper personalization is just going to take that and make it happen that much faster.
David Schwab I agree. Great points. All right. I think we would be remiss to have a conversation about building successful email fundraising programs without thinking about the peripheral touchpoints outside of email that help make an email program run smoothly. So other than personalized great domain and all of the critical functions of building a good email, what do you think are the one or two things fundraisers and marketers need to consider beyond the email to make sure their email program is successful?
John Walsh Right. And we did touch a little bit this on this, which I've really been learning about, and that's strategy I think that we really need to before you even sit down to write an email, before you sit down, to write a direct mail piece, you need to have the whole campaign planned out, scheduled out. You know your segments, you know your audience points or your audience excuse me, your channels. And you know the goal, right? So often I think sometimes we kind of say gloss over the goal, but it kind of gets muddled in the process. And I think. Really need to focus on this before you even begin jumping in and designing an email. That seems like the big thing with me is like, Hey, we're going to send an email. What's it going to look like? And it's like, Wait a minute, you know, step back a second here. I know you really want to see what it's going to look like, but let's talk about the copier. Let's talk about the purpose. So know your goal, whether it's raising money, whether it's attending an event, whether it's just brand awareness, Right. Because everything gets filtered through that lens. And that's how you'll know whether it was successful or not. And that's how you can know when those times come, whether you should add something in the middle or not. Add something in the middle. Like you get those times when people are like, Oh, this was a great idea. You know, you're halfway through a campaign. I have this great idea and we should send an email and it's like, Wait a minute, does that meet our goal? And if it doesn't, can it wait? If it does, great. Let's add it. As we talked about. If it's email, we can put it together in a week or two months. You know what? Send it out. But if not, let's wait. Or maybe it needs to be. Those are great ideas, but those are two emails. This is something that happens a lot, which is like, Oh, I think we should do this, this and this. Let's put an email together and send. And it's like, No, we're going put three emails together. They're going to be different emails because what you want to do is, you know, have three different calls to action like we talked about earlier. So just really knowing that, knowing how to measure it, knowing what you want, make sure we close the loop right. I think this kind of gets missed a lot of times with email, and it's an easy way to close the loop. Once a campaign is done, it doesn't end at we've reached our goal. It ends when we've thanked everybody for helping us reach a goal. And so emails are a great way to do that. Real quickly, you know, you can send an automated one, right as soon as somebody donates, but then please send something. We send one a couple of days later. You can include stories, you can include updates. You know, we reached our goal. We almost reached a goal. Whatever it is. Here's a story of how you helped. Just make sure we close that loop and and that'll help people come back for more, so to speak. I don't know if that's the best way to say that, but there'll be, you know, you just want to be gracious with them and let them know that, you know, you appreciate the work they did or the help they gave.
David Schwab Like we talked about earlier, It's a relationship with your donors and you're stewarding that relationship. And if you're asking for something coming back and telling them the success that they had by contributing to it as so critical to maintaining not just having that success at a single point in time, but maintaining success over the long term.
John Walsh Yeah, that's right. That's right.
David Schwab All right, John, this was a fantastic conversation. I appreciate you so much for joining us. You are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to this niche of the the fundraising sector. I always know that I can turn to you and get inspiration for a campaign or what's coming in the email space. But for for those of us listening in the audience here today, wanting to go a little bit deeper, learn more, connect with you directly, what are some ways that they can they can dive deeper.
John Walsh Yeah. So if you want to connect with me and I love to connect with people, I love to help people. As you talked about, the professor and me likes to help people out. So if you ever have a question or I had somebody recently say, Hey, I just saw this email, what do you think about it? Feel free to contact me. The best ways to do that one is through LinkedIn. I'm very active on LinkedIn. Respond to comments or you can direct message me there. I also have a website, npocampaignlab.com where I put a lot of my tests and campaigns that we've run that that have been successful or even not successful. So that's another way to kind of just see. Learn more about email. Learn more about digital campaigns. Learn more about testing, which I enjoy doing. And you know that that website is based is meant to be a resource for people. When I had when I started in nonprofit, I really didn't have anything I felt like I could go to. Everything was e-commerce was like, Oh, but nonprofit is different, right? I mean, so I wanted to create something that was more geared toward nonprofit. And that's that's my passion. That's my heart. So there's that website. But please, yeah, either those places, feel free to reach out to me. I'll make sure to get back to you.
David Schwab Awesome. We will make sure we include links to both your LinkedIn account and your testing website and the show notes as well. All right. Well, John, I've got nothing else for you. I appreciate so much your time and energy for joining us today and the wealth of information you shared for me, for our for our audience and for our team here. Thank you again.
John Walsh Thank you, David. It's always a pleasure.
Thanks for listening to this episode of Nonstop Nonprofit! This podcast is brought to you by your friends at Funraise - Nonprofit fundraising software, built for nonprofit people by nonprofit people. If you’d like to continue the conversation, find me on LinkedIn or text me at 714-717-2474. And don’t forget to get your next episode the second it hits the internets. Find us on your favorite podcast streaming service, hit that follow button and leave us a review to help us reach more nonprofit people like you! See you next time!