Minimize Your “IOR”
Every advancement office wants to maximize their ROI or “return on investment” as part of their annual campaign strategy. Is it possible to minimize the “IOR” or the “investment on return?”
Wait! What? Did you just make that up? Maybe I did. I did check Google. I couldn’t find anything.
Let’s think about it. Every solicitation has a medium for the donor to send their gift. We can assume that most mailed solicitations have two response mechanisms. We can’t ignore the power of making a gift online. It’s quick and easy. The only thing needed is the inclusion of a URL somewhere on the piece directing the donor to where a gift can be fulfilled online.
Then there is the “old school” method of responding by mail. Even with the ease of making a gift online, we haven’t gotten to the point where NOT including a return envelope is up for consideration. There are still people out there who will write out a check and mail it back to their school. There are institutions that cater their solicitation methods to an individual’s giving history, whether it be by mail, phone, online…or even using texting options. Regardless, it’s hard to overlook the power of a direct mail piece as a reliable means of getting your message in front of your audience.
To get back to the meaning of “investment on return,” it’s the time and resources put into both fulfilling a gift (donors) and processing a gift (staff). Investment of time can be just as important as the money put into your piece. Some questions to ask:
- What will make it easier for my donors to make their gift?
- How much time is being spent processing gifts that are mailed in?
- Is there a way to streamline the process?
What will make it easier for my donors to make their gift?
Let’s go in with the assumption that regular donors are going to give every year. That’s not a 100% guaranteed formula, but it’s highly probable. It’s a small percentage of your overall alumni base, but a loyal group that provides the majority of your annual revenue. Barring something controversial on campus, you can expect regular gifts – even multiple gifts – from these individuals every year. It’s about the affinity they have in the institution and its mission.
Let’s also assume that non-donors will never give. Unfortunately, this is the largest portion of your alumni base. It’s not that they hated their time on campus, they just don’t see the need to give back. They’ve “paid their dues” or maybe have found other philanthropic priorities to support. For these individuals, perhaps the goal isn’t about ease, but presenting something worth supporting. When it comes to messaging, how much time can you invest finding the needle in the messaging haystack?
There is a middle group. Lapsed donors. Anyone who hasn’t given for a few years. What’s changed? Was it messaging? Timing? A personal event? While a personal event (such as marriage, buying a new home, medical issue, having a child, etc.) can have an impact on disposable income, sometimes attention gets diverted and taking the time to be philanthropic is moved lower on the priority list. How do we get a donor to take action while we have their attention?
There are many things that can help persuade an individual to make a gift. Having great images and messaging may help to elicit emotions and memories of a prospect’s time as a student, but it doesn’t necessarily make the act of giving easier.
Through the use of variable data, an advancement office can prefill as much information as they feel comfortable including on a mail piece. Donor names, contact information, name of spouse, employer are all data points that can be can listed on a giving form. Not only does this save the donor’s time from filling information out, but it provides an easy method for the donor to make updates so your staff can make changes to the individual’s profile. Variable data can also be used to generate ask ladders based on prior gift amounts as well as past funds supported (if they have a giving history).
Any of these inclusions can help your donor minimize their investment of time in making their gift.
How much time is being spent processing gifts that are mailed in?
Once a gift comes in, it needs to be processed. Depending on the size of your operation, it might be processed by a separate department, it might be someone else on your staff or it might be you. Whereas a gift processing department has the manpower to scrutinize every part of a gift – no matter the format – and any other details that may come with it, a one person staff may have trouble keeping up during peak times.
It can be a daunting task for that one-person operation to update each individual donor profile and still put aside the time needed to complete other important tasks. This can be one of those “quantity over quality” moments where getting as many gifts processed takes precedent over the quality of information that is obtained for future use.
Finding a good balance of giving the donors what they expect (a timely gift acknowledgment/receipt) and recording the information you will need (giving history, personal information) is essential to maintaining a good relationship as you interact with your donors.
Is there a reason to streamline the process?
Whether it’s for internal or external purposes, exploring ways of streamlining the entire donor process, can be both exciting and nerve-wracking. For large foundations, consistency is always key. With so many gifts coming in, having the look of the giving form remain the same for each piece helps each staff member know where to look for key details while minimizing errors.
Consistency can also be good for donors. It provides familiarity with the donor forms and confidence that it’s coming from their school and not something that would be viewed as a scam.
For a smaller shop, finding efficiencies allows you to try and accomplish more with the limited hours you may have available. Changing a giving form from piece to piece could provide some apprehension from donors if they have become accustomed to seeing things a certain way. If you decide to change the format, you can always test it with a group within your mailing list to see how response rates are affected.
Is there a preferred response mechanism?
The answer is “no.” It comes down to institutional preference…and perhaps cost. Many schools, non-profits and others tend to gravitate toward the traditional #9 envelope inserted with the rest of the mail piece as the donor’s response mechanism. Tear off the bottom portion of the letter — or grab the buck slip — fill out any needed information, write the check, make sure everything is placed in the envelope and drop it in the mail.
When I was working in annual giving, I came to prefer using a remittance envelope. There are a few reasons why:
- It looks different. You don’t see them often so curiosity gets the best of you. You may find yourself looking at the artwork on the outside and opening it to see what content is included on the inside.
- Everything is in one place. There isn’t a separate piece that requires its own action. No reply form or buck slip. It’s all right there. Open the envelope, insert a check, seal and mail.
- You get added real estate. With the large flap, you have a substantial area to include content on the inner portion of the envelope. This is area not found on a traditional envelope. It won’t replace the primary content of a letter, but it can supplement your messaging and still provide plenty of space for donor/gift information.
- It can be personalized. Just like a tear-off or buck slip, the remittance envelope can still be personalized with variable data as a means of simplifying the donor experience. You are only limited by the information you wish to include and the dimensions of the envelope.
- It provides an extra sense of security. With text included on the inner envelope and the ability to bleed images on the entirety of outside of the back flap, information provided on checks — or credit card information — become much harder to see to the naked eye. It’s not 100% foolproof, but it can provide some extra camouflage and assurance to your donors that their information won’t be easily seen.
I’m not going to say that one response methods is better than the other. Every school is different and may know exactly what will make their donors respond. If you know that your donors expect an 8.5×14 letter with a tear off portion they can send back, there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
For those alumni who may need a nudge, perhaps altering your “investment on return” for targeted audiences could help increase your return on investment.
By Dan Krueger 10/5/2021