AHP Connect Articles

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Choosing the best channels for annual giving

Published:  06/10/2016

Originally published in the June 10, 2016 AHP Connect

The following article is based on an AHP webinar presented March 16, 2016, by Jessica Harrington, president of the Harrington Agency, and Michael J. Burton, associate vice president of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center Office of Institutional Advancement.

The current array of digital outlets presents both opportunities and challenges for health care philanthropy.

At the very time we are witnessing significant changes in how and why donors give, new approaches are arriving on the scene to reach out, inform, engage, involve and solicit their largess. From Facebook to Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and beyond, it can seem daunting to decide which channels to choose.

Jessica Harrington and Michael Burton offer a data-driven approach to selecting the most appropriate channels of communication to enhance annual giving.

All too often, they say, annual giving programs are stuck in the doldrums of routine practices (such as reliance on direct mail) that are inefficient and fail to foster a sense of community between donors and the institutions they support.

A new approach

Harrington and Burton suggest a new paradigm for philanthropy—modifying the standard giving pyramid and capping it with an inverted engagement pyramid to form an hourglass. The upper portion depicts the progression from initial awareness (e.g., of a hospital’s mission) through more involved stages of understanding and commitment.

Where the pyramids converge, the fully-engaged individual becomes a donor (the point of “conversion”) and is ready to embark through the levels of giving from “renewal” through planned giving. Along the way “ambassadors” (donors who have become champions of the cause) help to spread the word and encourage others to join in.

Judicious use of new channels of communication can greatly advance this process and help potential donors connect with your institution. However, annual giving programs need adequate capacity to take advantage of these channels and achieve the best return on investment. Facebook, for example, may be a great way to increase awareness of your institution’s mission, but not for getting donations.

How to choose

Selecting the right channels for the right audiences for the right purposes can be a daunting task. Harrington and Burton recommend a 13-item “Channel Checklist” (listed below) to help decide whether taking on a particular digital outlet is worthwhile.

Essential criteria include: clearly defining goals, as well as metrics for deciding if the goals have been met; accurately identifying audiences and message content; confirming affordability in terms of staff, budget and technological capacity; and ensuring institutional buy in.

If fewer than six items on the list can be checked off, Burton and Harrington advise against entering the channel. With six to eight positive responses, they say to “begin exploring and be cautious.” They encourage a launch only when nine or more items can be checked on the list:

  • What is your goal for this channel? Leads? New Donors? Revenue? Retention?
  • What is your secondary goal for this channel?
  • What are your metrics for determining success or failure?
  • What audience are you reaching with this channel?
  • Does this audience fit within your institution’s overall strategic outreach plan?
  • Do you have content uniquely suited for this channel?
  • Do you have a process in place for launching this channel?
  • Do you have the proper technology for utilizing this channel?
  • Do you have the appropriate methods for capturing new leads/donors/gifts and sourcing them into your database of record?
  • Do you have the staff to manage this channel?
  • Do you have the budget to deploy this channel past one year?
  • Are you willing to abandon the channel if you don’t see success? How?
    Is your institution willing to adopt this channel into all its other activities?

Rules for success

Finally, they say a successful multichannel annual giving program needs to adhere to seven rules:

  • Scrub your database – Update the file quarterly to eliminate duplicates, bad addresses, changes of address, etc.
  • Optimize your forms – Take out unnecessary fields such as asking for age, how you heard about us, etc. They depress response rates. However, always add a “gift string” where you suggest an amount to donate.
  • Ensure that digital forms are mobile optimized – Your forms should be just as useful and useable on a mobile device as on a computer.
  • Drive online donors directly from search to your donation page – Don’t force a potential donor to hunt through a website.
  • Focus on email deliverability – An email may be “delivered,” but go into junk mail instead of the recipient’s inbox.
  • Write with emotion – Appeal to your donors’ hearts. Emotion leads to action.
  • Write your appeals about a single person – This is more effective than writing about our institution or a collective group.
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The following article is based on an AHP webinar, “Trends in annual giving: Practical approaches to meeting your institution’s and donor’s needs

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