Direct Response: Not So ‘Direct’ Anymore?

I always thought I’d go into advertising, but when I learned about direct-response marketing I was hooked. It is so much more powerful because results can be tracked definitively — the “direct response” allows for clear measuring and refining.

But lately I’ve been asking myself if direct response is really as “direct” as it once was.
We live in a multichannel world. People receive mail, they spend an increasing amount of time online, most still watch TV and read newspapers and magazines, and everyone has a phone. Now, they might not all be multichannel donors — but I would argue that everyone is a multichannel person.

Why does this matter for direct-response fundraising? It’s creating more “indirect” response.

For example, I might receive a fundraising appeal but choose to go online (and not use the vanity URL) to give. Or I might receive an interesting mail appeal but forget to give — then I see a banner ad for the organization, which reminds me of its good work, and I choose to go to its website and make a gift. To what medium should you credit those gifts? These are just two simple examples of scenarios that are taking place every day as our industry becomes more innovative and interactive.

All in all, a multichannel world is good for fundraising and should raise more revenue. But it makes our efforts harder to track and donors harder to understand.

What can we do about this new “indirect” way of fundraising? No doubt there are multiple ways to address this; here are just a few that come to mind.

Reduce internal silos
This has been popular advice for the past few years — and for good reason. If everyone involved in marketing and fundraising joins together to simply raise the most money possible, we can stop worrying about which channel to credit a gift. We can focus instead on how to really integrate to improve the donor’s experience and maximize revenue for the organization.

Think about donors as people
When planning a campaign, think about all the ways people might interact with the organization. Don’t just assume they read your mail in a vacuum. Is there an area on the homepage dedicated to your mail topic? Can you plan any media or public relations events to coincide with your e-mail campaign? Are other departments communicating with donors about a different topic, and if so, how might this change donors’ experience with your campaign?

Change your analysis
We should refrain from reviewing results to just a mailing or just an e-mail. As donors interact with our organizations in multiple ways, we should start thinking more carefully about how we monitor results.

Too often, organizations use a simplistic picture of segmentation and analysis when making decisions. They take the easy path and suppress seemingly unresponsive, online-only donors from mail. But what if receiving that mail improves their long-term value (forget if they become multichannel donors or not)? This is analysis that can (and in many cases should be) conducted, but I bet most organizations don’t take the time or resources to delve into this question. It’s much easier to look at the “direct response” to each effort, but clearly, that doesn’t tell the whole story anymore.

At a bare minimum, organizations should think about their supporters less “directly.” To get started with this line of thinking, try interacting with your organization — or a charity you support — the way you would in your personal life. Does an article in the newspaper, a banner ad or a mention on NPR motivate you to give to the organization’s direct-mail piece? Does one of these cause you to check out the organization’s website or Facebook page, and does the content there mesh with what you just heard or read?

There really isn’t an easy answer for how to handle any of this, and each organization has different strategies that work. But I encourage you to think about your donors holistically, and don’t make rash decisions about cutting segments or poor-performing mail without considering the multitude of indirect ways that a donor — a person living in a multichannel world — can interact, and donate, to your organization.