Supporters communicate with your nonprofit through multiple channels but engage differently with content depending on its delivery method. You must not only create a compelling message, but also optimize it so that it is received effectively across multiple channels frequently enough to resonate with your audience.
In “How to Write Successful Fundraising Letters,” Mal Warwick describes how he tested different lengths for the letter used in a direct mail campaign. He determined that the longer the letter, the more successfully the piece performed. Try this approach with email or social media, however, and your audience will tune you out. By taking your multi-channel messaging through the following simple, three-phase approach, you will effectively repurpose your content to reach its audience without adding more hours to your day.
First, you need to plan your messaging calendar, making sure to include all the channels through which you will broadcast your content. Prioritize your calendar based on the channels that are already the most successful for your organization, but don’t be afraid to explore new channels as part of a larger plan to see if you can drive new contact points with constituents.
For example, the nonprofit Paramount & State Theatre in Austin, TX, uses a multi-channel messaging approach during its fundraising campaigns. They typically rely on their tried-and-true channels such as direct mail, email, website home page, website donation pages, social media (Facebook, Twitter), organizational blogs, press releases, physical signage, and telemarketing. Yet they’ve recently added a new channel to their marketing mix – a custom tablet app. This application is certainly a new point of contact with constituents – and likely an area in which the organization will be testing its message.
Next, consider the timeframe for the campaign. Give yourself enough time - many campaigns fail because they are too short. If you believe conventional wisdom, which says that it takes three, seven or even more impressions before a message is remembered, then a longer campaign allows for the greater possibility of reaching your target audience and generating results.
At the end of this phase, you will want to have a complete calendar that shows all the content you will need to generate and a plan for when and how you will be delivering that content. It should reflect when the message is expected to arrive in front of your audience (i.e. direct mail arriving in mailboxes) in addition to when you are sending it out.
One national human services organization, Volunteers of America, follows this strategy by sending a direct mail piece at the beginning of the month asking members to renew. Before that mailing is expected to arrive, an email is sent informing the member that the renewal request will be arriving by mail soon. Following receipt of the first direct mail piece, another email is sent reminding members that the renewal should have been received. Social media may be incorporated featuring corresponding posts.
Start small. The first piece of content you create should be a purpose statement. Summarize your message in a single sentence. While it may sound difficult, this will be a litmus test for everything else you generate, ensuring that each channel you use communicates the core purpose of the campaign. Your message should be digestible, repeatable, memorable, inspiring and actionable.
Then, go long. Your most copy-intensive channel, if you are using it, is usually direct mail. Start here to elaborate fully on your purpose statement. Whether you are planning one or a series of letters, this channel usually provides enough space to say everything you want about the topic. You’ll then be able to come back to this well and repurpose its content, applying the best practices of each medium.
TIP: Make an organizational rule that any content written and approved in direct mail is considered approved for use in other channels. This will allow you to move quickly on the remainder of your content generation.
Now rework your text and incorporate images and other assets to better fit each channel in your calendar. For email, stick to a single story or idea per message. For social media, reduce this even further to single facts or teasers delivered over a succession of posts.
One national health organization ran a social media campaign for its ‘awareness week’ by posting a “sharable” image featuring a factoid and url each day. Facebook fans were encouraged to click, share, and comment. These interactions propelled the organization’s Facebook engagement rate ‘people talking about this’ by nearly 60% over the course of the campaign.
Tip: Send it again! One client I’ve worked with increases their total email open rate by more than 30% while maintaining the same unsubscribe rate by re-sending certain messages to those who did not open it the first time.
All the content you have planned should also be repeated on your website. Convio’s 2008 Wired Wealthy report tells us that the majority of major donors review the website before making a gift. The more recent 2013 Charity Dynamics & Nten Nonprofit Donor Engagement Benchmark Report tells us that for all donors, visiting an organization’s website is the prefered method to get information on the charity they most support. The credibility of your campaign will be diminished in the eyes of a supporter who, after receiving a message calling for important action, visits your website and finds no mention of it anywhere else.
Finally, review all of your content to ensure it is consistent with your one-sentence purpose statement and that all the content contains a consistent and appropriate tone. A recent npEngage article argues that maintaining consistent brand tone maximizes the impact of integrated campaigns.
With your calendar and channel plan in place and your messaging generated, you now only need to execute accordingly. Another Convio study shows that donors who give through multiple channels (e.g., both online and through direct mail) give more than those who give only through a single channel. Not following through on all of your planned channels could cost your campaign money or reduce overall engagement.
Tip: Make sure your direct mail piece has a URL directing the reader to more information or an online donation form.
Once your message is heard (i.e., once you’ve received a donation or driven someone to take an advocacy action), there is still one more thing you should do. Prompt your supporter to take another action. Make it easy by employing eCards, tell-a-friend tools, or social share components. By displaying this type of call to action on your ‘Thank You’ pages or other post-action redirect pages, you can simply and effectively extend the reach of your message.
A clear and consistent message over an appropriate amount of time will better engage your supporters and make a lasting impression. Thinking about your communication plan holistically, leveraging the technology available to you (both new and traditional), and strategically tailoring content to fit your communication channels will produce a manageable and successful campaign for your organization. Good luck!
Whether he’s in the trenches generating revenue through marketing and fundraising within a non-profit, or above the fray as a project manager providing organizations with technology solutions, Jett Winders offers a fresh perspective on non-profit development and communication. A graduate of The University of Texas with a BS in Radio-Television-Film and an MBA from the McCombs School of Business, Jett supports an array of arts and environmental organizations through volunteering and donations and also serves on the McCombs Alumni Advisory Board.