When there are multiple agency partners and internal departments playing a role in one mid-level giving program, how do you achieve success year after year? If you attended “Mid-level Nirvana: Achieving Channel Integration Bliss” at the 2021 Bridge Conference, you’d know what to do! Session speakers were Genevieve Paul, Director, Annual Giving at the National Park Foundation (NPF); Kathy Swayze, President & Creative Director, Impact Communications; and Pete Carter, Principal & Senior Vice President, CCAH (and if you attended Bridge but missed the session, you can still watch the full presentation here).
Over 100 attendees participated in the virtual session and walked (or navigated) away with these takeaways:
- How to unify your message across digital and direct mail channels
- Real-life tips on getting your agency partners and vendors to collaborate effectively
- How to escape the mayhem and find nirvana (and more revenue) in a mid-level program
The NPF mid-level program is called the Champion’s Society, with membership beginning at $1,000 a year (or $100/month). Revenue has shown impressive year-over-year growth; this has been achieved with a collaborative approach to fundraising. Channel experts worked together to move donors up the giving ladder using truly integrated digital and mail strategies, with buy-in from membership, mid-level, and major/planned gifts staff.
Ensuring integration across channels is a reality, and not just wishful thinking begins with creating shared goals with channel-specific components. Then, as strategies emerge, maintaining open channels of communication is vital. These formal and informal meeting opportunities where ideas are freely exchanged require breaking down the walls that often divide us since defensiveness and territoriality ultimately will only hold us back from hitting our budget goals.
As ideas are developed, it’s important to avoid rejecting new concepts because they’ve never been tried before. For mid-level programs, in particular, fresh cultivation concepts are essential. Cultivating donors with special “insider” updates and appreciation messages will produce a glow of goodwill and lead to a long-term payoff from deepened relationships.
For example – in November 2020 NPF leveraged a series of Thankful Thursday emails intended to show heartfelt and personal appreciation for the commitment shown by its donors. The final piece of this cultivation approach was our Find Your Park Friday, which is traditionally sent the day after Thanksgiving and encourages our park enthusiasts to find and visit their favorite park. Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we needed to be nimble and switch gears a bit in 2020. So instead of a focus on in-person park visits, we encouraged members to find a digital way to interact with their favorite park – from taking a virtual tour of a park or “joining” other park enthusiasts on social media to share their park stories.
After November’s cultivation emphasis, the focus shifted to the most lucrative fundraising time of the year, starting with #GT and lasting through year-end. We call this our 31 Days of Giving. In December we leveraged both a match gift offer and a downloadable thank-you gift for contributions. The number of online and offline year-end contacts in 2020 increased over the past 3 years, as did file size. But this graceful “cultivation, then donation” approach, with more opportunities to give, did not generate a rise in donor complaints about contact volume. In fact, to our delight, we saw an increase in total year-end revenue for the Champion’s Society, up a total of 35% since 2017. What’s even more impressive is that while digital income grew dynamically in that time, direct mail was also up a bit – meaning digital largely represented additive, not shifted, income.
Other new ideas launched over the past year include a dedicated Champions Society ad campaign on Facebook, which is gaining traction with each passing month. Targets include former Champions Society members and new-to-file prospects. This is an important part of our channel agnostic approach to donor recruitment and reinstatement – allowing an increased investment in channels that show promising results.
Here’s a summary of the keys to nirvana recommended by Kathy, Genevieve and Pete:
- Set clear goals.
- Don’t be afraid to try something new.
- Be nimble and be prepared to switch gears.
- Focus on the long-term return in relationship.
- Be channel agnostic.