Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is storytelling the whole story?

Every “top ten” list in the fundraising arena talks about the importance of using storytelling but it would appear that using it well is another story. I recently read two online posts that demonstrate there’s a difference between good ideas and good execution.

In a recent post, M+R Strategic describes an amazing test they conducted to determine the effectiveness of storytelling in a direct mail ask. They created two random lists – each of 300,000 recipients – and mailed each list one of two versions of a direct mail letter. Version 1 was “written using a more general, institutional approach that outlined the organization's accomplishments and need.” And the second version was “written using a more personal theme based around the story of one young person diagnosed with the debilitating disease the organization is working to cure.”

Which one performed better? According to the experts, there would be no question. Version 2 with its storytelling approach should win hands-down. The reality? Version 1 – the boring organizational approach not only fared better; it raised four times the money of the storytelling letter.

In a similar test, Which Test Won (a great site to test your marketing intuition) reports on a split direct mail ask that was done for a hospital in Florida. One version of the letter briefly told the story of a patient that was successfully treated and included testimonial quotes from the patient. The second version talked about the advanced technology being used at the hospital, describing it in technical terms and advising the reader of the costs associated with acquiring equipment. To make it more interesting, both versions suggested specific donation amounts but the amounts in Version 1 (the storytelling one) were higher.

What would the experts say? No question – version 1 with its storytelling and higher suggested gifts. What really happened? Version 2 attracted a response rate that was over 40% higher and an average donation that was almost $60 higher.

So, what’s going on here?

It seems clear that just telling a story isn’t enough. Other factors must be considered. In fact the story in the Which Test Won storytelling letter isn’t particularly compelling. I actually found it a little confusing and the letter never really tells us what the money is needed for. In the end the suggested donation amounts seem unconnected to the rest of the letter. On top of that the non-story letter is easier to read and its layout is much better. Somehow there is a sense that my (smaller) suggested donation will make a difference. The M+R post doesn’t allow us to read or see the letters in question. So we don’t know if the story was well told or if the ask was compelling or the letter was laid out well.

Ultimately storytelling is a means to presenting a case for giving. It cannot be divorced from the strategy behind the campaign or the brand of the organization. The finesse of storytelling is to be moving and authentic while at the same time meeting marketing and messaging objectives. In addition, it must be incorporated into a letter that is well crafted and written with a target audience in mind. In the end, storytelling may be effective but doing it well is clearly not easy. And worse, if done poorly, it can have detrimental results.

End of story.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Targeting Affluent Donors

The most recent daily post from e-marketer may be worth taking note of as it relates to high net worth donors.

While I appreciate that it was brands/companies and not brands/non-profits that were the subject of this study, the results can still be instructive to fundraisers. Certainly those with financial means are going to be of interest to any charitable organization and understanding their online behaviour may help in building relationships.

While the most traditional and still most effective way of approaching affluent donors is in person, it would be a mistake to assume that social media can’t be an important tool in building relationships with this cohort. To that extent the study is very useful.

Some of the results were predictable. I would have assumed that “affluents” aren’t looking for bargains online so the differential in the responses to “I wanted to get deals/discounts” and “I love the brand…” isn’t surprising.

But the responses to the next four statements are far more telling. For the sake of analysis I would organize them into pairs. “I noticed someone following the brand/company profile” and “the social network recommended it,” both indicate the greater degree to which people in this category are influenced by the opinions of their peers and sources they trust. It’s not news to any major gifts specialist that the most important factor in any solicitation is the person doing the asking or who has brought the philanthropic opportunity to the donor’s attention. This is in fact borne out in interviews with Canada’s top philanthropists that I have been conducting as part of a book project.

The to do list regarding this factor would be to find ways to extend the influence of your current affluent donors. Perhaps consider setting up a Facebook page that reflects the interests/concerns of affluent donors. Make it easy for donors to convey information about your organization. Create giving opportunities targeted to affluent donors and strategically use social media advertising to create awareness and drive traffic.

The last pair that caught my attention was “An ad (print, tv, online) led me to it” and “It was mentioned in an article.” Both of these underline the need for cross channel marketing. It has been well documented that marketing and fundraising efforts that use multiple channels enjoy better results. In practical terms this may mean considering ads in targeted publications to drive traffic to an “affluent-focused” Facebook page. Perhaps the content of that page can be unique enough to attract media attention (with a little pr help of course).

There are undoubtedly many other practical ways to use these research findings to create and enhance your relationship with affluent donors and I’d love to hear some of your experiences and/or suggestions.