Public Media, Direct Mail, Nexus CRM

Critical audience strategies for all mail channels: add gift, lapsed, prospects, and acquisition. How to leverage cold and warm prospects along with lapsed donors to maximize growth in your member file and increase your revenue; ensure your database is working on your side; and avoid common pitfalls.

Slide Deck


Kathy: Hello everyone and welcome to the Allegiance Group’s webinar series. Thank you for joining us today. Today we will be discussing audience strategies to maximize revenue and how to make your database work for you. This session will be recorded and will be available for review later on. And we do want this to be a discussion, so please feel free to ask questions as they come up using the chat or questions feature, and we’ll be happy to answer them as they come in. Today’s team is me, Kathy Giles. I’m the account director with Agency Services and I’m joined by my colleagues, Amy Houke, Media Director with Agency Services, and Sarah Tron, Senior Services Consultant with Technology Services. We’ll be walking through the conversation with you today.

So let’s get started. We’ll start with audience strategies and we’re just going to be talking about how your strategy connects all the way down and tracks down to your database and how to oversee all of your strategies when it comes to what you want to achieve and how that relates to your database and make those connections for you.

We all know the old saying, location, and this translates for us fundraisers to audience. Who receives your appeal will account for 60% of the success or failure of your campaign. While creative and messaging, as well as the offer, they’re incredibly important to success.

We cannot underestimate the impact audience has on the success of any campaign. And when it comes to audience, understanding who it is you’re contacting is just as important as understanding who you are not contacting. There tends not to be too much discussion, thought or strategizing done around suppressions. But a suppress strategy is part of audience selection and it is an important part of data management and tends to be just one more item that your data person really has to do and add to the list.

But there does need to be clear communication between your data team and your development team to really ensure proper coding, flagging, and there’s a full understanding of how these flags are to be used and how it tracks back to strategy.

When we approach audience strategies, we need to look at who we are contacting along with who we do not want to contact as independent thoughts. This will help to develop best practices for data management. It all overlaps and is imperative to success to look at these three items together.

Because there are many audiences, each deserving of their own strategies, for this discussion we’re really going to be focusing on acquisition. We just need to hone in a little bit on this conversation. So we’re going to be talking about those audiences that are focused on acquisition.

And for those, there are three main audiences that we will discuss. Those are warm prospects. These are individuals who have voluntarily provided some form of contact information. Could be an email address, phone number, mailing address, but they have already given you that information. A cold prospect. These are individuals who have no known contact with connection to your organization. Mainly these are rented or exchange lists that were we’ll be talking about. Then, lastly, we have the lapsed recapture. You can define lapsed many different ways, but again, for this conversation, we’re really going to be looking at those individuals who have lapsed past the renewal cycle.

We want to allow these audiences to work together to help maximize growth in your member file, which will ultimately support revenue growth. But how you determine to leverage each audience can impact your data management.

So let’s turn to warm prospects. Again, these are people that have, they’ve already raised their hand to say, hey, I know who you are, and I have an interest. They have voluntarily provided their contact information. Again, mailing address, an, email, a phone number. How you want to use this information can have bearing on how you store it.

So you have to think about what are the opportunities to use your warm prospects and what kind of data do you want to collect? We don’t want to underestimate these audiences. So may perform better than others regarding acquisitions. But you have to remember, these are free names that really are worth testing.

In fact, we’ve seen some great success working with some of our clients on PBS prospects and NPR One prospects as part of a digital acquisition campaign. So can some of these audiences be tested in direct mail acquisition? Could they be part of an in-house segment? All of that I think should be on the table and something to really think through.

It could be well-worth the time to reevaluate some of these warm prospects to see how you can utilize them and what opportunities they might have to engage with them. And based on what these strategies could be, how do you manage these names at the database level?

As we move on to discuss lapsed and cold prospects, this is where we have to have more of a balancing act, because there is a direct connection between strategy surrounding lapsed and the strategy for suppression for cold prospects. They do go hand in hand. The main thing to remember are the overall goals for each segment. For lapsed, we want to generate as many recaptured members while generating a positive net revenue. When we look at cold prospects or your rented and exchange lists, this is really designed to have a negative net revenue. It is okay to lose money on these names. It is all about an investment in the future of your membership file.

But we want to control the loss for your cold prospects. When we look at these two audiences, it is a balancing act for revenue with the potential of new donor gain.

The approach for lapsed recapture, we want to understand the goal. Again, the goal for lapsed is to recapture as many lapsed members as you can, while at the same time you’re protecting revenue. If you do not mail enough lapsed, you could leave some lapsed donors on the table, and you won’t be bringing them back on board.

However, if you are mailing too deeply into your lapsed, you can lose revenue because you’re casting too broad of a net to bring balance. You can identify who you want to contact as part of your lapsed campaign against who you do not. This will help direct how you handle suppression files. You can suppress names that will be part of a lapsed campaign to ensure you do not contact them as part of acquisition.

By not suppressing the deep lapsed name from the file from acquisition, you will allow for these names to be mailed as part of acquisition. If a deep lapsed member is actively giving to another like-minded organization, then they will be a warmer prospect than a deep lapsed member who was not actively giving to anyone.

It allows you to help target those that will be more likely to give and let go of those who will not. It helps to build in efficiencies for both lapsed campaigns as well as acquisition.

So as we look at cold prospects, outside lists, exchange lists, the goal is to invest in the future of your member file. At the same time, we want to raise as many new donors as possible while we’re controlling that net loss by allowing your deep lapsed names to be part of acquisition. It can help support a successful campaign.

You will be able to go after these deep lapsed members. But again, only those who are more apt to make a gift. You will leave those individuals who are not actively giving to any other organization out of the mix. This will help support both lapsed and acquisition campaigns providing balance between both for effective and efficiencies.

And this is where the importance of understanding that suppression file really comes in to play.

Amy: Thanks, Kathy. So Kathy has focused primarily on who to select in appeals, who to be talking to actively in your appeals. I’m going to talk about who should be suppressed from those appeals. Because as Kathy said, who you don’t mail is just as important as who you do mail. So while Kathy explored balancing the different types of prospects when preparing an acquisition mailing, some of the cold prospects you acquire will be current members and need to not receive a message from you inviting them to become a new member.

You’ve probably heard from people on your file, complaining that they accidentally received a piece of mail that doesn’t acknowledge them as an existing member. You’ve also received a request over the years of people who’ve asked to not be included in correspondence from you at all. Certainly you want to be sure to exclude them.

These are two of the very most basic parts of the suppression file. We are going to outline what a healthy suppress file looks like. But first, let’s explore why an incorrect suppress file is a problem in the first place, and talk about some of those implications that incorrect suppression can have on your program.

If I had to categorize the implications into two buckets, those two buckets would be cost and results, which are arguably the two factors that weigh into acquisitions success or failure, because both of them have a direct impact on net. So let’s first talk about costs. When you suppress people who should not be suppressed, you spend money to rent those names that you will end up just throwing away in the merge.

I don’t know about you, but that feels pretty wasteful to me. You already lose a lot of names to legitimate suppression, as well as to duplication between the files that you rent. Don’t waste any more names than you have to. Your acquisition mail costs can be broken down into print production, letter shop, postage, list, and merge purge and data processing costs.

While there might not be a lot that you can do to control most of those items, you do have some control over keeping the cost of your lists down.

And then the second area most impacted by incorrect suppression, is results. It’s hard to imagine that you’d ever want to keep legitimate prospects from hearing from you, but that’s exactly what you do when you over suppress.

What I like to think of it as is essentially locking the mailboxes of people who are excellent prospects. for membership.

So, what do correct suppress files look like? What should the list of criteria in your database pool look like? Let’s just overview the basics. Clearly anyone who is a current and active member should be suppressed. Most of you know that. That’s item number one on our query. Secondly, those who have lapsed recently enough that they’re either still in your renewal cycle or you are mailing them as part of your lapsed recapture effort.

So in the same way that there’s a balancing act between cold and warm prospects and lapsed and prospects, there’s also a balancing act between lapsed and deeply lapsed prospects. We want to make sure that we’re letting them back into acquisition as we drop them out of our lapsed appeals. As soon as they fall out of those lapsed efforts, they need to be released from your suppress file.

And of course you should suppress anyone who has asked to not get mail from you, but we would caution you to take some time with these records. Evaluate all of your “do not mail” flags to be sure that the person should really be a “do not mail” record. It’s good to occasionally audit these records, perhaps contact them to see if this is still their wish. As those preferences change, it’s possible that you’ll be able to release some of those “do not mail” preferences. And Sarah’s going to talk a little bit more about that as well.

Lastly, any prospects in your database that you’re mailing separately should be suppressed. But if you don’t mail prospects, like your volunteers, your event attendees, then also do not suppress them. They’re possibly some of your best prospects.

So if for whatever reason you choose not to mail them as a separate audience, don’t prohibit them from receiving mail from you should they happen to appear on an outside rented list. You’re going to pay for the names anyway, as you rent them, so it’s silly to suppress them and throw them away.

I just wanted to call out two tips, highlight some of the takeaways from today’s session. The first is to pay attention to those “do not mail” flags. People get coded this for so many different reasons by your customer service team. And perhaps they shouldn’t. Education goes a long way in the use of this flag.

Be sure that you’re not locking their mailboxes forever. Sarah we’ll be touching on that as well in terms of how your database is involved in those flags. Tip number two. In our research into what is included in a suppress file, we found that some stations were capturing information from would be members who went on the website to give, and for one reason or another abandoned the page. They never actually became members, but if their name and address was captured, they could be in your database. You definitely want to be sure that you’re communicating with these donation page abandoners. There’s whole strategy involved in that, which is probably a topic for another webinar, but suffice to say, we want to be sure that we’re not suppressing them from your acquisition mail efforts, because they are not members.

I think the best and most helpful way to look at information like this is what their real-life case study. So it’s a pleasure to present to you one of our biggest success stories as it relates to cleaning up and fixed suppress file. We’re talking about a major market, public television station. They knew they were over suppressing. We knew they were over suppressing simply by looking at the file size as it related to their active member size. We took some time to have some discussions. We invested a little bit of time and effort into scrutinizing some of their legacy database queries.

They had some staff turnover and some lack of documentation on some of those query parameters. We re-evaluated, all of those. We output some files and reviewed the records on them. And ultimately not the quantity decreasing as the only goal, they were able to cut their suppress file size in half. That’s pretty significant.

The most important thing to highlight, of course, in this case study is the impact of that fixed suppress file on results. For this particular station, the impact on results, both cost and response, were huge. First of all, naturally, since the station was no longer suppressing so many people, they retained more names in merge purge.

To put it another way, they paid for 48% fewer names that were unnecessary. Basically they threw away 48% fewer names. That’s huge. This. in turn lowered their list costs by 38%. And most importantly, I think they saw an increase of 51% in response rates.

That yielded a doubling of the revenue they brought in for every thousand pieces of mail that they sent. So as you know, cost savings coupled with response improvement have a tremendous impact on the overall net from acquisition mail. Essentially, it’s lowering that cost to acquire, that investment that you’re making in each new member.

So it is a database issue, and it is a data-focused, part of your program, but it’s very strategic in nature. And we’d encourage you to think about it that way.

So Kathy and I have explored audience strategies for acquisition, but really those strategies are only possible with the support of a database. Who is selected and who is suppressed is driven by an accurate and well-maintained database. So Sarah from our technology solutions team will address some best practices as they relate to database management, as well as a couple of pitfalls to avoid.

Sarah: Thanks, Amy. I can only truly speak to specifics in the Allegiance database, so I’m going to try to speak in terms of generalities as much as I can. But to echo what both Kathy and Amy have said, your database really is your most important tool. And a lot of databases out there truly are over-suppressed.

You don’t want to suppress a donor from a specific kind of mailing only to never examine that suppression again in the future. Consider removing a suppression from a donor six months or a year or even 18 months afterwards and trying again. Earlier, Amy pointed out on one of her slides that for a “do not mail” request, did you want to honor those?

And then she said very specifically, if the donor made the request and did so relatively recently. If the request was not made recently, try removing that suppression and sending that particular piece of mail again to see if maybe they’re a little bit warmer to the idea of receiving a request for additional gift or a lapsed mailing, one of these kinds of mailings that we’ve been talking about. But don’t just suppress them and leave them like that forever.

And then I do understand that the folks that are dealing with these mailings and doing these data pulls for the mailings are not necessarily the folks that are going to be answering the phones and talking to your customers, your donors, your members. Very often when I have worked with our clients, I have heard the mentality that if a donor calls and that they are angry, we want to suppress them from receiving anything ever again, kind of a never darken my doorway strategy.

Try to take the time to explain to the folks that are answering the phones, to know when a donor is angry about a specific incident versus frustrated by receiving a lot of mail, and then try to help them to determine do we need to suppress them from receiving a couple kinds of mailings, for just a short period of time, or are these folks really just angry that we need to suspend them from the database forever.

Obviously, if the donor or member has died, we want to suppress them and make a note that they have died so we don’t solicit them again, or if they’ve moved out of your area. If they move back into the area, obviously you can remove the suppression and begin to solicit them again. A purely angry individual probably only needs to be coded for a short period of time.

I can’t tell you the number of times that, specifically when working with public television, I have had donors and our clients that are working with these donors, the donors will say they were angry about a piece of coverage that they had seen on the news, and they were never going to donate again.

And six short months later they’re back. So the anger is a limited time emotion. So try to, again, explain to the folks that are answering the phone angry is limited time. Let’s see if we can’t find a happy medium, and if not, suppress them for a short amount of time and then bring them back into the file later on.

The other thing that you’re going to want to look for is any accounts that might have an error status that is preventing them from being pulled into these solicitations. I know in Allegiance, we have an account status that is specifically called error and they are incredibly easy to fix and get them out of an error status.

But if they’re in an error status, they’re not getting pulled in for anything, renewals, additional gifts, lapsed, mailings, none of it. And there is a tip in our knowledge base that goes over how to fix these accounts. And like I said, if you run it every month, the first month you run it, it can be daunting. I just ran one the other day for a client and it was 1,500 accounts.

But once they get worked through those 1,500, if they run it again in a month, there may only be three. And fixing three accounts in an error status in our database would take about 90 seconds. It’s very easy. So add that to your to-do list. Every so often run that list, clean them up, and then make sure that they are getting pulled into the solicitations.

And then Amy also spoke about those donation form abandoners, which is a term that I actually kind of like. These are the folks that went to your donation form, they filled it out, they gave you their name and their contact information. Maybe they gave you some demographic information. For whatever reason that payment just didn’t go through.

And it doesn’t just necessarily mean the card was declined. Perhaps they realize that they forgot their wallet in the car and now the car has gone to the supermarket or something. They just weren’t able to complete that payment for whatever reason, but don’t let these folks get away. And I’m quoting Amy again here. This is something she said when we were working through what we were going to cover in these slides, they’re more than warm. For a hot minute, they were a hot donor. They were on your page, and they were ready to give you money. Make sure to get that name and contact information into the database. And solicit them as a warm donor.

They’ve gone from hot, and they’ve cooled to warm, but they’re still warm right now. So don’t let them linger too long.

And that’s pretty much all I have to say. We would encourage questions. I don’t know that we told anybody where to put the questions. So there’s a questions box and a chat box. You can put questions in either location. And we can try to answer those.

Amy: I see one. How do you suggest going through and removing mail suppression from accounts? Is there a function or report that’s helpful for finding those with mail coding older than six, 12 or 18 months? I’m not sure if the asker is an Allegiance software user or not, but, Sarah, if you could try to address this.

Sarah: If it is an Allegiance software user, then yes. You can run a function to find out who is suppressed from what function. And then if you want to remove the suppression, you just adjust the file that you got when you ran that function. Find everybody that you want to have the suppression removed and then you can mass remove them through one of the imports.

And if there is not a tip in the knowledge base, then there should be a bit of information about that in the user guide. And support can certainly help you with that too. I know I’ve done it. I had to mass remove thousands of mail code suppressions, and I downloaded the list and I cleaned it up. I pulled the list out of either miscellaneous contact or SQL query, it didn’t really matter which one. And then I just worked on one of the mail codes at a time and I got everybody unsuppressed from say miscellaneous contact, because they should never have been suppressed from that in the first place. And then, like I said, changed the mail code from, I believe I changed it from yes to a no, and then that undid it on a thousand records or however many I had in that import. It really went very quickly.

Amy: So do you still have to open each account individually to find out?

Sarah: No.

Amy: I think maybe you’ve addressed that as well.

Sarah: Oh, to find out how long ago the mail code was applied? We’re actually working on adding a field into our segmentation so that you would be able to search by a date range and look for anybody that was suppressed from receiving additional gift requests, say six months to two years ago, and then you should be able to pull them out and re-examine those.

Kathy: Wonderful. Thank you. It looks like that’s all of our questions. And that concludes our content for today. We want to thank you all for coming and remind you that you will be receiving a recording of the webinar via email. You’re welcome to pass that along to others within your organization who may not have been able to attend.

And I would just say, stay tuned to our website to see information about other upcoming webinars. Again, thank you so much for attending.