Surround Sound Fundraising

Note: This article was originally published in Fundraising Success on October 24, 2014. It is reused here with permission.

For this month’s Connect theme, a number of speakers are previewing the great breakout sessions they are preparing for the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Austin, TX March 4-6. Following is a preview of one of over 100 breakout sessions.

The growth of the Internet and the expansion of digital communications give nonprofits new ways to reach their donors and supporters. While the old techniques — direct mail and telemarketing — still work and generate many responses, they alone are no longer the “gold standard” in fundraising. Savvy nonprofits are moving to “surround sound” fundraising.

What is surround sound fundraising? It is a donor-centric communication schema that places your supporter at the center of the fundraising campaign and incorporates his or her unique perspective. It is a multi-touch, multi-phase effort that employs multimedia techniques on multiple devices — smartphones, tablets, newspapers, computers, radio, your mailbox, television advertising, and more). Surround sound fundraising recognizes that there is no such thing as a single-channel donor, because there is no such thing as a single-channel person. Supporters receive messaging via a variety of media every day, and among these many touch points, donors have preferred channels of communication.

Consider this startling projection: By 2015 (right now!) Americans will consume an average of 15.5 hours of media per day. Ninety percent of these interactions will be screen-based, most often involving the closest device. This statistic underscores the importance of digital-to-fundraising efforts and provides a key insight: Marketing campaigns must take into account donor preference. They, like all of us, are creatures of convenience. Interactions must be as easy as possible.

Like many nonprofits, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has seen vigorous growth in online fundraising over the past decade. But market saturation means that nonprofits must keep innovating, leading EDF to pursue a surround sound fundraising strategy.

Rather than being satisfied with having a presence in all channels, EDF now attracts and retains donors with messaging that makes the best use of each medium. “Since 2004, every organization has seen more revenue come in through online channels, but as the channels grew and matured, it naturally has become harder to maintain the same response rates,” says Sam Parry, EDF’s director of membership.

The surround sound mindset means EDF invests money in the channels and tactics that their donors prefer. In an effort to continuously add new donors to the file, EDF took the bold step of quadrupling its online prospecting budget while slashing direct mail acquisition investments nearly in half. And, while results from that first year were mixed, the successes they achieved enabled them to expand the overall acquisition budget and maintain the enlarged digital investment portfolio while restoring the direct mail budget more closely to where it had been in the past.

If EDF were still thinking in siloed terms, it might have quickly pulled the plug on the experiment. A look at the shift in long-term value convinced Parry and his team that the choice was correct. “We resisted the temptation to look at up-front performance, and the long-term value calculations showed that the donors were paying for themselves much more quickly,” he says. “And at this point we’re on track to recoup our investments in the three-year threshold across all channels, which is our goal.”

Join me in Austin at #15NTC to learn more about creating and measuring surround sound fundraising campaigns.

In this session, we’ll discuss:

  • Which media work for fundraising, and which are better for friend-raising
  • Direct mail, telemarketing, social media, online ads, email, and more
  • How to build a successful fundraising media plan, including the timing, the ask, and the creative
  • How to set up tracking so you can accurately assess the success of your surround sound campaign

You know that multichannel marketing maximizes both the messaging and the impact of fundraising campaigns. Every channel has pluses and minuses. Building a good surround sound campaign does not mean you have to use every channel. It simply means you have to select the best channels for the audience, the campaign, and the organization. When you move to multichannel marketing, you will find that, regardless of the channels selected, surround sound campaigns will boost not just campaign income but also your average gifts.

The channel combination selected often depends on your budget, bandwidth, and organizational preferences. Regardless of the media employed, the messaging across every channel must be coordinated and cohesive. Remember, you must surround your donors to keep your message top of mind. Traditional advertising reminds us that it can easily take seven to 12 touches before a message becomes memorable to potential customers or donors. And if you are not messaging them, I guarantee it, another nonprofit is.

Brenna Holmes
Vice President of Digital
Chapman Cubine Adams + Hussey
CCAH is an award winning multichannel direct response firm specializing in nonprofit fundraising. Brenna leads the Interactive Department and has an extensive background in cross-channel marketing and advocacy integration. Her specialty is integrating traditional direct marketing with the social web and search to maximize supporter engagement and organizational loyalty. She oversees CCAH’s growing digital team, manages the company website, Industry Voices blog and social media accounts ( & @ccahdirect). Since joining CCAH’s Interactive department, three years ago, she’s mapped the online advocacy and fundraising strategy for diverse clients such as the CSPF, PFAW, EDF, Sierra Club, City of Hope, The Trust for Public Land, AAUW and others. She serves as the senior online advisor for her clients, focusing on the development of innovative and successful cross-department digital media campaigns by applying cutting edge Web 2.0 techniques and integrating channels to change clicks into offline actions. At pervious firms, she worked in digital brand management and public relations and on several successful PURL campaigns for fundraising, advocacy, and GOTV efforts. She has two master’s degrees from top five programs at Syracuse University; the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications in public relations and the Maxwell School in public administration.