5 Questions for Colleen Hutchings on Year-end Giving, Email Volume, Sustainers, Digital Advertising and Peer-to-Peer Text Messaging.

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I recently had the opportunity to talk with Colleen Hutchings who is a Vice President at the Chapman Cubine and Hussey direct response agency. Colleen works with the agency’s account team which develops and implements digital strategy for non-profits’ multi-channel fundraising programs. And we’re honored to have CCAH as a member of the EveryAction Partner Program. I asked Colleen about year-end giving, email volume, sustainers, digital advertising, and peer-to-peer text messaging.

Question: What are your general reflections on year-end digital fundraising 2018?

This was a tougher year-end than we expected. Even clients that had been strong during #GivingTuesday and early December saw lower than projected returns during the last week. I think the government shutdown, stock market volatility, and the new tax law had a lot of folks keeping their wallet closed. Having said that, we did see several clients have record-breaking days on December 31. For some it was enough to make up for the 12/21-12/30 shortfall, for others it wasn’t.

We’re already seeing strong Januarys for many organizations, so I don’t believe this is indicative of larger trend, but rather a perfect storm of circumstances at the worst time. We are starting to brainstorm cadences and expectations for year-end 2019 just in case.

Question: We’ve seen continued increase in the number of email appeal efforts sent during year-end. Has that trend continued, increased, or decreased this year?

As an industry, we are seeing that email response rates are dropping, so the natural reaction is to try to counter that with a higher volume. Most of our clients sent the same – or very similar – number of emails as last year during December. The calendar during that time period has gotten so saturated, that it’s hard to find room for more emails. We are seeing a higher volume around #GivingTuesday, with organizations sending three emails on #GT itself, extending matches and deadlines for last chance Wednesday, and starting the campaigns earlier and earlier each year.

I think another focus has been on getting out of the inbox – we’re seeing an increase in paid media budgets, more assertive uses of lightboxes and website takeovers, and use of Facebook Charitable Giving tools.

Question: How important was monthly giving this year? We’ve seen a lot of growth in previous years. Has that trend continued?

We do continue to see an emphasis on monthly giving, which makes sense, since it provides organizations with a reliable revenue stream. Over the course of the year, we’ve seen a shift as some of our clients have focused less on new recruitment, and more on developing more nuanced cultivation and recapture strategies.

The old adage “let sleeping bears lie” doesn’t really apply anymore. Sustainers are your most reliable supporters—and are great prospects for mid/major-level giving and planned giving. And by focusing on retention and cultivation, new recruitment really becomes about growth rather than maintenance.

Looking ahead to this year, expect to see more programs that provide sustainers with special access and content, explicitly thank them, and include sustainers in strategic one-time asks.

Question: How much investment have you recommended that your clients make in social media and search engine advertising to complement other digital efforts?

As much as they can depending on available budget and their cost per gift and return on ad spend. Some of our clients invested $60,000 or more in December for search and social advertising, while others had more modest budgets. These are two channels that are just growing so rapidly.

We’re seeing big returns on social advertising when targeting house files, while still seeing increased returns on email and offline channels. This is especially true for renewal asks for membership-based organizations. During year-end our clients’ prospect audiences we very close to breaking even. We expect social advertising to continue to grow during 2019 and we do recommend that clients invest here.

Bing was the sleeper hit of the season. We’re seeing very high return on investment here—much higher than on Google. The biggest issue is that it’s not as scalable as Google. If Bing isn’t already part of your paid search repertoire, it’s worth adding a small budget.

Question: What can you highlight from multi-channel integration at year-end in 2018?

Our biggest game changer: including one to one SMS in our communication strategy!

For those not familiar, one to one (sometimes called peer to peer) text messaging happens over a platform that uses real humans to power the communication. The benefit is that you can have really rich, personal conversations over text – without a fully developed broadcast text program.

If you’re scratching your head about why that even matters, I’d say consider this. Text messages have a 92%-95% read rate, and most are read in the first three minutes of receipt. In other words, it’s the only channel we can basically guarantee that our donors are reading what we’re sending. You get why that matters on a day like #GivingTuesday or December 31st.

Our mobile strategies team has been testing every possible way we can incorporate one to one texting into our clients’ programs. (We love broadcast too! However, many orgs don’t have a large list of opted-in donors. And for those who do, one to one still provides a great conversation tool.) There are so many benefits for giving, but one of the most significant has been the impact on cross channel giving.

I’ll give you one quick example. We partner with a large health charity, who has a well-established #GivingTuesday fundraising strategy. This year, we tested adding one to one text messaging to the solicitation line up. Frankly, even we were stunned by the results. We saw a 77% lift in revenue, with boosts to response rate and average gift. We even saw a 37% increase in open rate in the test group. It more than paid for itself.

We’ve been seeing such amazing benefit to SMS and other mobile engagement that we launched a sister company that focuses exclusively on that! Fearless Mobile Strategies is a one-stop shop for strategy, creative, targeting, and even the labor for sending texts. My colleague Chrissy Hyre is obsessed, and you can always reach out to her to find out more: chyre@fearlessmobilestrategies.com

Colleen Hutchings has managed the online fundraising programs for clients including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, AAUW, Mayo Clinic, Alley Cat Allies and other prestigious national nonprofits. Prior to joining CCAH she worked on the digital fundraising programs for NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, EMILY’s List and EWG. She is committed to building high-performing, goal-oriented omnichannel campaigns for her clients. Colleen is a co-chair of the annual DMAW Digital Day Forum and also has a strong public speaking record including conducting trainings at Netroots Nation, NTC, BBCon, Bridge, and the DMANF. She has been featured as Marketing ADVents’ Member Spotlight and published in NonProfitPro.

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