National Senior Vice President, Donor Experience and Direct Response Marketing, American Heart Association
As nonprofits market in a multichannel world, taking a donor-first, omnichannel approach is more important than ever. We sat down with Rebeca Johnson, National Senior Vice President of Donor Experience and Direct Response Marketing for the American Heart Association to learn why the industry has moved in this direction, what nonprofits need in order to execute and a few best practices to help guide them along the way.
I have quite a few thoughts regarding that question. Let’s start with the donor. It comes down to understanding who your donor is and where they are in their journey with your organization. At the American Heart Association, our data suggests that our older donors respond well to direct mail. They enjoy receiving it, they enjoy the physicality of it and the convenience of the stamped return envelopes. It works for that audience in a very relevant way.
We’re seeing that our younger audience, and when I say younger, I mean 45 plus, the data on them indicates that they are moving towards a mobile, digital and visual video orientation. Their gifts are mostly coming in online. For us as a fundraisers, it’s really important to rely on the data to show who your donor is so you can take that donor-centric approach. That means reaching out to donors on channels that they’re most likely to absorb and respond to your messaging. Any fundraising campaign starts with understanding the donor using data and analytics.
And it’s never just one channel, they all work together. I recommend thinking of your own experience as you plan your campaigns. When I see an email, it plants a seed in my head. Then I see a Facebook ad and I become more interested. Then I may see the same product on Tik Tok and boom – I stop scrolling and buy the sweater – or donate to the mission, whatever the call to action is that actually sparked my sense of “I am going to take action right now.” Nonprofits who can understand how these channels work together will be able to create the action they are looking for from their audience.
At the American Heart Association, direct mail is a core competency. Sherry Minton has been running our program for 37 years, and we have built a deep knowledge and large database of direct mail donors that we can transfer best practices to online giving. For example, direct mail is very much connected to planned giving. So, I would advise nonprofits to make sure they are connecting their database with other parts of the organization so you can amplify your message. We make sure we work hand-in-hand with planned giving to maximize our fundraising efforts.
Another important aspect is our call center, we’ve found that our older donor appreciate and enjoy a phone call. They appreciate that personal touch and some of them want to stay on the line and chat about their experiences with the AHA. These phone calls help us maintain a close relationship with them and keeps them engaged in our mission. And again, this is where knowing your donor comes into play. Most of us are busy, we don’t want that phone call, we would rather get a text. But when planning your points of contact, you have to put the donors’ preferences first. That’s going to make the difference.
At one of my first meetings at the American Heart Association, many years ago, we were talking about a new technology that would help us deploy emails more easily and with enhanced capabilities around personalization and segmentation. And someone in the room said, “you know what, I think we should stop emailing. Just cut it out entirely.” And I thought to myself, why would anyone ever say that? Emails are highly valuable and highly undervalued as well. I’ve found that they actually work the best towards the bottom of the funnel. We have examined the data around email performance and found, that if you think about the funnel of awareness, interest, desire and action, they really work well in desire and action. You can build on that – especially with prospects that are engaged in your organization but haven’t been moved to give yet.
So build that list of potential donors, use your website to capture emails in exchange for a piece of content that’s of value. For example a digital cookbook or healthy living tips, as long as it’s something that can improve their lives and comes from your organization.
Back to the list – build it, keep it clean, manage that list monthly. It’s not easy, it’s hard work, but it really pays off. That email list is gold.
As I mentioned in the first question, a donor-centric, omnichannel approach is absolutely necessary in today’s world. In the past, the American Heart Association was direct mail list was siloed. But we know that direct mail donors are also online, we know they use email. The entire industry is struggling right now with the rising costs of printing, of fulfillment, of postage of all those physical assets that go with direct mail.
We are testing, with Data Axle, an omnichannel approach. We sent direct mail along with an email to the same audience and to some previous direct mail donors that we could no longer reach due to rising costs. So far, we are seeing really good results. I think the future of fundraising is omnichannel and its important to move in that direction.
Think about your own behavior and how you consume information, it’s never one channel. Don’t start with channel selection – start with the donor and surround them with the channels that they’re receiving information from. Then, leverage analytics to determine which group of channels make the most sense. Some channels are really good for conversion, some channels are better for assisting the conversion. It’s not that they don’t work, it’s that they assist. Nonprofits should understand which channel drives the actual conversion and which channels drive the assistance of that conversion. This is very different than in the past. We used to have worry about just offline television, we had 4-5 stations and you put a spot on at the six o’clock news and you reached everybody. You knew where the traffic was coming from.
The way potential donors consume and respond to messages has changed. There’s a lot more fragmentation and a lot more complexity as you try to catch these people in their online and offline lives. To come full circle – that’s why you need to lean on data to truly understand your donor.
Test and analyze, all the time. I cannot stress that enough.
Becky acts as a senior executive for the Community Health and Development Team where she leads enterprise digital transformation and direct-to-donor direct response fundraising.