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Jennifer Bielat, Executive Vice President, Client Strategy

It’s an undeniable fact: The experience you create for donors is directly tied to your ability to increase their loyalty, commitment, and giving.

The challenge is that today’s donors have an Amazon-esque expectation for the kind of experience they get when interacting with brands—including nonprofits. They want to experience the same brand regardless of the channel, and they’re more loyal to the brands that provide this kind of personal and relevant experience. Nothing is more important to donors than feeling recognized, heard, and valued.

And yet far too many nonprofit organizations still approach marketing and fundraising in silos that hinder their ability to create this experience. They pull in different elements (direct mail, digital, social media, advertising, etc.) as needed, while simultaneously measuring each area separately in an attempt to define which channel is generating the greatest return.

My Experience in Transforming a Fractured Direct Response Program

As someone who spent more than two decades working at a national nonprofit, I saw firsthand the effects this fractured approach can have on the donor experience. Despite having its direct response program centralized at the national office, the organization still struggled with creating a seamless experience for its supporters—which over time eroded the fundraising results.

Intentional restructuring first took place to bring together the direct mail and digital channels, and eventually a few years later marketing communications and PR folded in to create a single department called Integrated Marketing. By breaking down these silos, it allowed the organization to more easily communicate, flow resources in real-time to support emerging opportunities, and create better constituent experiences.

So how can your organization go beyond the silos to create a more integrated approach that makes donors feel they’re not just getting hit with “pieces” or “campaigns” but are truly part of a larger story?

4 Tips to Make Your Direct Response Program More Integrated

Integrating your direct response efforts leads to a better donor experience. This is the biggest difference maker for the nonprofits we work with at Pursuant—and it can be for your organization too. Start by taking these four steps…

  1. Let Data be the Diplomat that Drives Your Strategy

Allow data to drive your strategy—not just reporting on campaigns, but using insights from your data to develop truly actionable strategies across your entire program. Rather than going with your gut or guessing how to engage donors, data allows you to create a complete picture of who they are and how they are engaging with your organization.

This takes commitment from senior leaders within your organization. Creating a culture that allows data to be the diplomat will unlock insights into how your donors think and behave, determine how you invest your resources, and discover new opportunities for growth across your entire direct response program and at all levels of giving.

  1. Create more personal & relevant experiences through segmentation

Integrated direct response doesn’t mean trying to be all things to all people. Instead it means thinking about the donor experience across all channels by developing segments based on the different preferences and motivations of your donors. Using those data-driven insights will also help you communicate in more personal and relevant ways.

  1. Consider the long-term relationship you’re building with constituents.

Integrated direct response doesn’t mean focusing solely on your annual fund. It means cultivating donors in a way that leads them to deeper, more meaningful relationships with your organization. This approach involves breaking down the silos and being able to think across the entire pyramid—not just annual, mid-level, or major. It also means thinking about how you can leverage your annual-fund assets to support other areas of your development operations (stewardship materials, newsletters, etc.)

  1. Embrace technology as a tool to work smarter – How can technology help connect all the touchpoints you have with your donor across channels—making them more personal, relevant, and timely? Finding smart ways to integrate the donors experience will lead to greater efficiency, better tracking, and, ultimately, improved results.

Bringing Together a New Way of Thinking About Direct Response

Embracing the ideas above will help your organization with the one problem every nonprofit is trying to solve: Building stronger connections with more donors who are passionate about becoming lifelong partners in supporting your mission.

Creating a new reality for your nonprofit defined by a more integrated direct response program requires a greater focus on…

  • Experience – When was the last time you took a step back and thought about the experience you’re creating for your donors through every channel? Ask yourself, would you donate to your organization given the current donor experience?
  • Collaboration – What can you do to increase collaboration among different departments within your organization? How will increased collaboration help create better donor experiences?
  • Leadership – As a leader, will you continue to perpetuate the siloed mentality or will you work to break down those silos? Breaking old habits is hard and it requires full commitment from leadership. You can’t just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.

At Pursuant, we’re constantly having these kinds of conversations with our partners. We realize these questions aren’t easy, but answering them is essential for truly transforming a program.

We know the more we can create a better experience for our donors, the more loyal they will be. This translates into improving a dozen different metrics—from lifetime value and retention to coverage ratio, average gift size, and the ability to upgrade to a major or planned gift.

Developing a truly integrated direct response program isn’t just a “nice” thing to do for your donors; it’s one of the leading influencers in their desire to give again. It’s what transforms “transactional” fundraising, where you’re primarily soliciting donations with every touch, into a long-term “transformational” relationship-building approach to fundraising. And we believe that kind of approach could transform your results and the trajectory of your organization’s future.