A checklist for your acquisition program

Published by Sarah Clifton on

Last week Reinier wrote about a really important topic – planning for the future of your acquisition program. I’d like to expand on his post by sharing an additional tool, and offering a simple checklist to use in your donor recruitment planning.

In the last blog you read about the Hype cycle (and if you haven’t, please read it here.) A second tool to consider in your planning is one that you have probably seen before: the BCG matrix. This tool divides your offerings into four groups, depending on their market growth and market share. But here’s a retooled version for an acquisition program.

BCG matrix for fundraisingEssentially this tool shows the different stages that a product travels in its lifecycle. So if you compare this chart to the Hype cycle, you could say that the Hype cycle gives you a view of a channel (let’s say door-to-door, for instance) and the BCG matrix gives you a view of your unique offering (using for example €2/month to send a child to school). You could even further divide this into the offering in each channel. Say for example that you ask via door-to-door a gift of €2/month for a year, and in a direct mail pack you ask for €24 to send a child to school for a year. Your unique offering to a targeted prospect pool in a specific channel could be called a “product,” which then travels through specific stages in the “marketplace.”

Reinier’s advise was to always have channels in each of the different stages, and essentially we come to the point that diversity and planning ahead are key to keeping your program alive, and always ensure that you are ready for the trends – whether they happen globally within a channel, or locally within your own program.

Here is, therefore, my checklist for planning ahead in your acquisition program:

1. Milk your “cash cows” as long as you can, but know that they will eventually dry up.

If you look at the cow in the matrix, you see that it is currently very effective in recruiting new donors, but there is limited growth potential. It could be that you have already acquired most of the donors available through that particular approach. Make sure you continue to get the most out of this channel and message while you can, but it’s not an area to invest in for massive growth.

2. Invest in your “rising stars,” knowing that these hold the potential for good returns for at least the near future.

Here would be a good place to invest, because here you have lots of room to grow. At the same time, that investment is relatively low risk, because you are already achieving good results. Sound familiar? I hope so! You definitely want to have a few of these in your mix!

3. Keep testing and refining your “question marks.”

These are called question marks precisely because you don’t know how much potential they have. But if your first attempt doesn’t turn up great results, keep testing. It could take time to find just the right combination of channel, delivery, message, proposition and target audience.

Remember, soon what you have tested in this phase will need to become your “rising stars” and eventually “cash cows.” So don’t give up a particular “question mark” too early.

Personally, I think that an organisation should always have a long-term testing plan and, more importantly, budget. And you should concentrate it here. And on that note…

4. Always have a long-term testing budget build into the cost of your acquisition program.

And evaluate the results of your sometimes “long shot” tests in terms of continual refinement and not in terms of immediate results. Think longer term.

5. Know what type of donors you want to recruit, and where to find them.

All donors are not equal, so set different and appropriate recruitment targets.

For example, some organisations see that regular monthly givers recruited through door-to-door don’t respond to appeals in other channels; and yet some donors are good “cross-overs”: for example those recruited online may tend to respond to multiple channels.

So set your pricing limits appropriately. You may be willing to pay more for a donor recruited via a “cross-over” channel. A good analysis of your database will reveal how for your program donors from the different recruitment channels subsequently behave.

6. Keep your eye on both the newer and the mature channels.

This is to reiterate the point that Reinier made last week. Don’t just hop on the hype and then bail out when things go south, but anticipate the changes that will come with a new channel, and maximize your learnings and results at every stage.

But there is also a second point to be made here: Don’t ignore the more mature channels (direct mail and print, for example) just because they have leveled off or the new channels just because they are not yet proven.  Ideally you should have a mix of both. But that said, make sure that you know how each type of donor will be treated (appropriately) in your house program. Keep your donor loyalty folks involved in the planning of recruitment, so that they can anticipate the changes that they may need to make to keep new and different types of donors involved.

7. Don’t forget your higher value relationships: they also have to be recruited.

Thanks to Elsbeth Takkenberg from VU Cancer Center in the Netherlands for this reminder: in a well-rounded program, recruitment is not just about the mass media efforts, but also about finding high-value relationships, whether this is for future major gifts, future legacies or future (celebrity) ambassadors. (And note that I am lumping these together, but they are actually three very different target groups with three very different recruitment needs.)

In fact, not only are these types of recruitment essential for a well-rounded program, but for some organisations, they are far more important than the mass marketing channels.

Some of them, namely potential major gift and endowment donors, will need be recruited one-to-one and through your board, your fundraising committee, and your existing philanthropic relationships.  And though the conventional wisdom of major donor recruitment is that it happens completely apart from your mass media channels, I firmly believe that they have an impact on each other.  After all, donors are donors, whether they are giving small gifts, large gifts, structural support or one-of donations. And your basic case for support needs to appeal to all of them, no matter how they first come in contact with your organisation.

Finally a word about that other high value group I mentioned, legacy donors, because these are truly different. Typically these donors will come in through and stay in your direct marketing program, and very often even “lapse” before going on to leave a substantial gift through their estate.

Please do not overlook the importance of these donors in your channel selection. Organisations that recruit predominantly through newer channels may tend to miss out on the tried-and-true older direct mail loyalists.

8. Build the cost of welcoming new donors into your acquisition metrics.

Check out the tips here. Binding a new donor to the organisation after recruiting them is essential, and can make a huge difference in retention. Remember, new donors are really just leads until they have demonstrated a commitment to stick with you.

9. Ignore your instincts (sometimes).

I have seldom heard a small or medium sized organisation say that they chose their particular acquisition mix because they did (and continue to do) solid research into what kinds of donors would be attracted to the organisation and to which various aspects of the work.

Instead I usually hear “We do door-to-door because my boss believes in it and the other channels cost too much to start up.” or “I don’t believe in online acquisition. It’s not for us.” Or “We tested that once and it didn’t do well.”

Of course there are certain channels that will work better or worse for your organisation, depending on the profile of your typical or ideal donor. But do the research and testing before dismissing an option out-of-hand. Remember, that one great channel will dry up.

10. Your call. What would you add to this list?

Sarah Clifton

Sarah is a Dutch / American fundraiser who has worked for animal protection and human rights organizations for more than 15 years. Since 2015, she heads up the Fundraising department at Save the Children Netherlands. She also (tries to) write occasionally and connect with other fundraisers frequently (especially over a beer).

1 Comment

Jacklyn Johnson · September 1, 2012 at 19:12

Hello. I wanted to pass along the recommendation to check out Evertalk within Facebook. It’s an app where you can create a separate space within Facebook to remember loved ones who passed and celebrate their lives. You can also setup fundraising campaigns on Evertalk to help families with hospital bills and funeral services. Their web site is http://www.everta.lk Hope this helps.

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