Be Where Your Donor Prospects Are

I recently came across an advertisement from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The ad appeared in The Jewish Exponent. While the ad itself was not particularly remarkable, the mere fact it existed in a weekly newspaper in Philadelphia did strike me as noteworthy.

Let me explain what made the ad special.

The Museum, with its home in Washington, DC, was not promoting a special exhibition. It was not encouraging visitation at all. Instead, it was a fundraising ad. In recognition of its upcoming 20th anniversary, the Museum ran the ad to promote a special challenge grant designed to encourage people to make a planned gift to the institution.

I’m not going to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the ad itself. I’m not even going to distract you with an image of the ad. While the ad promoted planned giving, the important lesson here is applicable to any development effort. Therefore, instead of focusing on the content of the ad, I want to focus on where the ad appeared.

I did not see the ad in one of the Museum’s publications, though it may have appeared there. I’m not a donor or member. I saw the ad in an independent publication, read by those who may or may not be current Museum supporters.

Most nonprofit organizations market to existing donors and/or members. With 170,000 members, the Museum certainly has plenty of people to market to. And, it does. But, given the special occasion of its 20th anniversary, the Museum sought to broaden its outreach.

By placing an ad in the Exponent, the Museum has reached tens of thousands of Jewish people who may not currently support the institution and who may or may not have even visited. Nevertheless, these individuals may have an enormous interest in helping the Museum to secure its future.

When looking to broaden its outreach, the Museum looked at who its likely supporters would be. Then, it considered where those potential supporters are. To reach engaged Jewish people in a nearby metropolitan area, the Museum wisely chose the Exponent.

The Museum did not simply make a wish that folks would visit its website. Its development team did not rely on public service announcements broadcast to a broader population at four o’clock in the morning. No. The Museum proactively targeted an appropriately defined market segment and met those individuals where they spend time: in the pages of the Exponent.

Whether seeking planned giving, annual fund, capital campaign, membership, or special event support, it is certainly important to market to those closest to the organization, those already engaged. However, to acquire new donors, members, or participants, organizations need to look carefully at potential target populations and, then, determine where to find those individuals.

In short, nonprofit organizations need to be where their prospective donors are.

Why is this vitally important? Consider this planned giving finding from The 2012 Stelter Donor Insight Report: What Makes Them Give?:

22 percent of planned gift donors have not made an annual fund donation to the nonprofit organization they are supporting with a planned gift.

The only way to capture that 22 percent is with widespread messaging.

By the way, among planned givers who do make annual fund gifts as well, 40 percent make annual donations of $500 or less.

This means that planned gift marketing, or for that matter any development marketing, needs to be ubiquitous, as I point out in my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing. Yes, you will want to concentrate your resources on your priority prospects. However, you do not want to completely ignore the large numbers of people who would support your organization but who currently do not do so.

As the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has found, targeted advertising is one way to reach broader markets. If you don’t have the money for ad placement, consider planting news or feature stories with the media. A creative, well-placed news or feature story can generate large numbers of inquiries, drive web traffic, and generate donations, current or planned. Consider how using Facebook, YouTube, and other Internet tools can reach new audiences. In other words, broad outreach doesn’t need to cost a lot of money.

For successful broad outreach:

  • Think of the prospects beyond your current database.
  • Identify highly targeted market segments.
  • Determine where those market segments engage.
  • Consider the full range of paid and free methods for outreach.
  • Have a message that is relevant to the targeted market segment and that contains a well-articulated, urgent call to action.

To learn more about the Museum’s 20th anniversary campaign, visit here.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

8 Comments to “Be Where Your Donor Prospects Are”

  1. This is a really important point, Michael. Be where your donors are! It’s so simple; yet, so often ignored. The opposite is also true: Don’t be where your donors aren’t. For years, I worked at an organization that traditionally “tabled” at certain community events because it was a “tradition” to do so. Complete waste of time. Our donors weren’t there (although maybe one or two current board members attended). How much better it would have been to spend our resources going to other events or advertising in publications read by folks who valued the values we enacted.

    • Claire, thank you for sharing your experience. Both lessons are simple and important. Unfortunately, I had to learn the don’t-be-where-your-donors-aren’t lesson the hard way very early in my career. I hope my post and your comment help some folks learn the lessons with less pain.

  2. Sorry folks. I’m going to sound like a grumpy party-pooper here.

    I agree that planned giving marketing needs to be ubiquitous. But not at any cost. Spray marketing is dead. You said it best Michael… “broad outreach doesn’t need to cost a lot of money.”

    Before going further, if they got opportunity to advertise for free, then don’t read the following comments. If they paid for the advertising…. then see below.

    While reaching out beyond your current database is recommended, one should only do so after less expensive marketing channels are employed (and perhaps even exhausted). Channels and media options can easily be tested for performance.

    Furthermore, the linked page provided to enhance the campaign fails to meet basic landing page best practices. In fact, the web page breaks too many rules and best practices to list here.

    I happen to be a donor. So I’d be curious to learn the metrics on the effectiveness of this banner ad. I doubt it was purchased with a cost per click model. And, I bet basic Google advertising using Adwords would beat this campaign effort hands down (while expanding the reach, providing better targeting and better metrics along with multivariate testing).

    I would suggest they make use of their own website’s banner space in the main carousel before spending donor dollars on advertising at all. Then they could have used retargeting advertising employing the Google ad network by placing a simple line of code on their main website.

    Worst part about this is found on their landing page. They should optimize conversions by developing a landing page that will actually generate leads. If you don’t have that, there’s no reason to advertise at all because doing so is like driving a car into a brick wall. This landing page is confusing at best and the only easy want to connect is by clicking on the email link at the bottom (if you make it that far). Again, basic online marketing best practices were ignored.

    Almost all online planned giving marketing fails in a similar fashion. Sorry folks but this is just one more example and not really worthy of acknowledgement in a positive light.

    • Greg, you might indeed be a party-pooper, but you’re not one here. You and I mostly agree. So, thank you for commenting.

      With their limited resources, nonprofit organizations need to prioritize their prospects and their outreach tactics. In the case of the Museum, I suspect the staff has reached out to higher priority prospects in appropriate ways. However, given the special nature of the challenge grant and the upcoming 20th anniversary of the institution, broader outreach is easily justified. While I do not know the outcome of the advertising campaign, I will point out that just one new planned gift could more than cover the cost of the ad.

      As for your commentary about the Museum’s website, I intentionally did not comment just as I intentionally chose not to comment about or show the ad itself. Both would have been a distraction from the point that I was making: Be where your prospects are. The Museum’s ad execution or website presentation may or may not be worthy of positive comment. Those are possible subjects for another blog post at another time. It was not the point of my current post. Regardless of how one feels about the ad and website execution, the fact remains that the Museum did an excellent job of going to its prospects rather than simply sitting back and expecting its prospects to come to it.

      Furthermore, my post was not advocating the use of display advertising. Again, the Museum story was simply one example demonstrating the need to be where prospects are. I could have just as easily written about the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance which recently sponsored the screening of a new documentary film, Boys and Men Healing. PCA brings justice and healing to the victims of child sexual abuse. The film was about men who were sexually abused as children. (One in six boys will be sexually abused by adulthood; among girls, the number is one in four.) By sponsoring the film, PCA was able to address an audience that had a high-level of interest in the issue at the core of PCA’s mission. The organization was able to provide valuable information to audience members (i.e.: helpline phone numbers, description of PCA services, etc.) while gathering names of individuals for its mailing list. Sponsoring this particular film made sense for PCA because that’s where its prospects were. By contrast, it would not have made sense for PCA to sponsor an unrelated film screened by The Philadelphia Film Festival.

      Again, the simple point of my post was to demonstrate the importance of being where one’s prospects are. I think we can both agree that communication channels must be used strategically.

  3. In the ealry 20th century… much findraising was done through either public ads in newspapers (the main media) and Ad Books were a new item then as well… Nothing new under the sun except perhaps the strategic placement…

    • Bob, thank you for commenting. You’re quite correct. The potential value of ads and the importance of strategic placement are nothing particularly new. Nevertheless, the wise and strategic use of various communication channels is less common than we might hope. While some fundraising techniques might be “new” (i.e.: using the phone, database marketing, certain life income gifts, etc.), a great deal of core fundraising practice is actually quite ancient.

      I’m reminded of a story I once heard from Paulette Maehara, Past President/CEO of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. She mentioned that, while on vacation, she visited an ancient temple on Crete. As she prepared to exit the temple, she noticed that the images of a number of men were painted over the doorway. She asked her tour guide who they were and why their images were there. The tour guide explained, “Those were the men that paid for the temple to be built.” Ah, this was a great example of an early donor-recognition wall. There are fewer “new” elements to fundraising than we might expect. 🙂

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