Friday, August 7, 2009

Urgent - read this blog now!

After years of testing, with evidence from the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and more recently in Hong Kong, we see that urgency and clear explanation of need in fundraising emails, mailings and phone calls boosts response.

We also know that it continues to work. Quite often the first time this approach is used will witness a considerable lift in income, especially if tied in with a target, deadline and specified ask amount. We see that the lift tends to stay there for years afterwards too.

Evidence from the commercial world also backs this practise up – check out Dell’s website any time and you will be confronted with something like this:

‘Book now’, ‘Hurry whilst stock lasts’ etc – Holden is running a ‘Holden Owner’s Grant’ which has been ‘extended – limited time only’.

It is a well known sales fact that creating urgency and immediate action increases sales. And charities are no different to companies.

My colleagues and I are big proponents of the deadline / urgent approach – in every call to action. The Obama campaign was notorious for its superb immediate calls to action, and near instant gratification. With political advocacy group Get Up!, campaign urgency is a big factor in their ongoing success. I receive maybe thirty requests a year from Get Up!, usually all urgent – check out this extract from one of their emails ...

"Dear Sean,
The Murray-Darling is at breaking point - literally dying of thirst.

The Murray-Darling Basin accounts for over 40% of Australia's agricultural production and grows almost a third of all our food. It's Australia's food bowl. Could we survive without this mighty river system?

It's time to implement urgent solutions to save it - as things heat up in the coming months, the Coorong Lakes at the Murray's mouth may even dry up completely before summer's end. Click here to help save the Murray-Darling before we turn our nation's food bowl into dust bowl:

Now GetUp! often has real deadlines – legislation, events, court cases, hearings etc – this may make it easier. Yet we frequently manage to get across a sense of urgency in campaigns, even for organisations with long, long lead times such as medical research.

This is done by talking about funding options, missing out on vital research etc. And to ‘create’ deadlines (beyond Jesus’ birthday and the annual tax office visitation) you can use ‘an important meeting ...’ as a deadline. There are always upcoming important meetings where finances are discussed, and money is always needed in the bank for then, so this makes sense.

But, out of a fear of reducing life-time-value, some fundraisers fear these techniques. In a masterclass a fundraiser once said “I am sick of all this urgency – surely the donors must be too?”

Well, firstly, this fear is unfounded – it doesn’t seem to push donors away, even after years of it.

A small proportion might complain, but not enough to worry about. Having said that, if every single communication is ‘urgent, give us money now’ I think (but have no evidence) that you might begin to wear out donors with the same message.

My recommended solution is to balance urgent messaging (which doesn’t always have to have the word ‘urgent’ mentioned) with donor care – communicate occasionally with donors, with no ask for money. Do this twice a year or so, plus some extra emails. Explain the impact of what they donated, update on case studies. I mean beyond newsletters – use direct letters that say thank you and acknowledge the donor for their support.

When the last fundraiser told me they didn’t want to do all this target, deadline and urgency stuff I just asked them if they didn’t need money next week. Of course they did.

The moral of the tale? If you need money next week, don’t be scared to say so.

Every month I write something agitating like this for Fundraising and Philanthropy magazine - for their e-briefing 'The Agitator'. Subscribe to their e-briefing here.


Karen Puerta and Tim Walker said...

People love to get involved in the wild and wacky world of advertising. But is is simply a kind of masturbation, self gratification and no benefit to any other. Unless you've got megabucks it's a waste of time - but Chief Execs and Marketing Directors seem to love it, as do ad agencies. Never let an ad agency do your direct marketing because they'll come out with some kind of visual abortion. And don't even let most direct marketing agencies near your direct marketing, because they're also obsessed with advertising 'cleverness'.

Another pet hate is 'branding' - oh we've got to use this font because it's our corporate font, no indenting of paragraphs etc, etc - 430 rules which every communication has got to conform to. Yes, branding is important because it helps establish your positioning. But again unless you have got megabucks you're never going to establish your brand purely through a visual uniformity and integrity. More than this, uniformity may actually depresses response to direct marketing. So you actually get less people signing up to your charity by insisting on a visual presentation which prevents effective direct marketing - like a sans serif font which is harder to read than a serif font in your direct mail letters.

'Sean is always learning' said...

Thanks Tim - good comment, though I think it was meant to be on the Stupid ads blog - I can't agree more. Ta.

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