Keys to Following Up with Disaster Response Donors

An interview with Katie Beth DeSchepper of StrategicOne

I’ve been following the fundraising response to Japan very closely and so I was very pleased to be able to sit down with Katie Beth DeSchepper of StrategicOne earlier today. Convio acquired StrategicOne earlier this year, and they have done significant analytics on disaster donations with some hefty data sets to look at, so Katie Beth had some excellent suggestions.

She’s quick to point out though, that success has really got more to do with knowing enough about how well your strategy is working before a disaster strikes.

Molly: Let’s start out where the real analytics come in. A disaster happened and an organization receives a sudden, spontaneous burst of giving. How do you approach analyzing that kind of response?

Katie Beth: Disaster donors really have a trifecta effect going on. Not only are they new donors and getting new donors to convert is tricky, but there’s also the emotional response, plus they’re seeing a huge amount of news coverage about the disaster. For example, they’re seeing the pictures of what’s going on in Japan – it’s on their mind all the time.

Getting them in the door is relatively easy but you have to find a way to convert donors with something less emotionally driven.

The first thing I always ask is “What is the current conversion package for donors in general? Is it working?” You want to think about it compared to how the organization responds to any new donor, it’s as if the new donor just walked in the door and you need to point them in the right direction.

M: How can organizations look at categorizing disaster donors when they first “walk in the door”?

KB: You really have to use what you have and what you know, so how did they pay? What channel did they use? Did they designate the gift? What third party data can I use?

Then we go into a cloning process. There are many tools to create these profiles – we’ll try to find similarities to get to a similar group.

But that is not the be-all answer. That doesn’t mean that because you look like, say, a monthly EFT donor I am automatically going to send you only down that path and cut off everything else you could be getting.

Once we have a hypothesis about who you are like, we create an experimental design that will test different communication strategies. One is always the control so we have a baseline. The next is more similar to the hypothesis. The third is probably some hybrid, which educates you more broadly before we push you down a path.

A lot of organizations really want to jump the gun and say ‘because the model suggests something is the right answer, we’re going to go right there,” but we really want to dissuade organizations from doing that. We do ourselves a great disservice if we don’t do our homework.

We can actually limit the time it takes to get to the epiphany moment though, if we’ve done all our data homework, but we still have to do the communication testing to know if it’s going to work.
For example, maybe I can get a longer-term retention on that monthly EFT if I’ve done a great job of getting you hooked on the bigger picture of what I do.

M: So…how hard is it though to get people hooked bigger picture?

KB: That’s tough because of that tendency to jump to the end. Sometimes organizations don’t even actually get to the ask unfortunately – they know the best window is right after someone has made a gift, but they need to be prepared to run a test. The best answer is likely some version of a hybrid approach but it could go a number of different directions, which is why it’s so important to stick to your testing.

M: What types of tests should organizations plan? Or what would you like to see tested?

KB: Before you even get there you really want to establish your own non-emergency benchmarks for all acquisition sources. How are they really converting donors from one channel to another? Do you even know your own benchmarks? That’s what I would want to know.

In an emergency you’re going to be focused just on the emergency, and in order to put a good test together, or the right test together, you have to know what’s happening in general first.

M: Any other insider tips?

KB: Well, first, don’t think that because someone was a disaster donor for an emergency a while ago that they’ll respond to another emergency now. We don’t really see that kind of emergency-to-emergency conversion, and region also plays a big part. For example we know that there’s a big difference in groups that donate to domestic disasters and the groups that donate to international disasters. Katrina donors didn’t necessarily give to Haiti.

We’ve also seen that organizations can struggle a bit more with receipting after an emergency. Because of the increase in donations, they get behind. You get an online receipt and email of course, but you still need that offline follow up “thank you”. We really think that’s an opportunity to use some of your higher touch tactics to make up for what may be a slower follow up response. Increase the look and the feel of the appreciation effort on disaster gifts if you can.

M: Should that “thank you” include an appeal?

KB: Organizations vary philosophically on whether to include an ask in their thank you’s. We’ve found that just including a remit device can generate a high response but we understand that there are reasons organizations choose not to do that as well. However we hope there is an appropriate follow up ask in the plan, and sooner is better than later.