Fundraising, Part 6: Religion focuses on fundamentals

By Todd Cohen

[This article was written for Blackbaud.]

For those religiously-affiliated charities that are increasing revenue, fundraising fundamentals continue to drive that increase, says Rick Dunham, president and CEO of Dunham & Company, a fundraising firm in Plano, Tex., with just over 50 clients, including 30 based in the U.S.

Those fundamentals include effective integration of communications using multiple channels. Among them are direct mail, online communications and the use of telephone communications to support those appeals. Other key fundamentals include attention to major-donor development and a focus on the cause and the people affected by the work of the charity.

That focus on fundamentals powered a strong year in 2013 for his clients, some of which saw fundraising revenue grow 25 percent to 30 percent, Dunham says.

Consistency in message across communications channels is critical, he says.

If a donor receives an appeal by email or direct-mail, for example, the message on the nonprofit’s website and in its e-communications should be consistent with the message in those appeals.

Major-donor development also should be integrated into a nonprofit’s overall fundraising strategy, Dunham says.

Rather than treating them separately from other donors, he says, organizations should make sure major donors receive the same types of communications and messages that other donors receive, while ensuring those messages are customized in the communications aimed at major donors.

Equally important, and where appropriate, Dunham says, nonprofits should challenge donors with the potential to make significant gifts, while integrating those challenges with other fundraising communications.

Major donors should “experience the same communications as other donors, but at a much higher level and customized to their significant relationship with the charity,” Dunham says.

Direct-mail appeals continue to be more effective at generating contributions than online appeals, Dunham says.

“A truly effective direct-mail strategy will always outperform an online appeal strategy,” he says.

But when both strategies are integrated, a growing number of donors prefer to fulfill their gift online using their credit card.

“That’s why you want to make sure the donor experiences the same messaging” online that they get through direct mail, Dunham says.

For year-end appeals in 2013, he says, some of his clients used a “takeover” strategy for their websites, with the messaging that donors were receiving through direct mail and email taking over the organization’s websites and becoming the main message donors were finding online.

“It’s not a driver to income,” he says. “Such a strategy helps ensure that when a person comes to the charity’s website, there’s not confusion with the message but consistency through all channels.”

Dunham says his clients also used a phone strategy to set up year-end appeals by thanking donors for previous support, and then reinforcing year-end gifts with follow-up calls after gifts were made — all with consistent messages across all platforms.

And whatever the particular focus of a multi-channel appeal, religious nonprofits should focus on the “‘why’ of the organization, the cause, the people affected, not the ‘what’,” Dunham says.

“The fact that we’re doing a specific project is not what motivates the most significant support,” he says, “but ‘why’ we’re doing that project — to transform lives and the way such a project helps people.”

Next: Arts and culture groups focus on donors

The series:

Part 1: Growth tied to capacity, cultivation, communication.

Part 2: Healthcare groups invest in capacity.

Part 3: Higher education cultivates major gifts.

Part 4: Data key for independent schools.

Part 5: International affairs groups refine message.

Part 6: Religion focuses on fundamentals.

Part 7: Arts and culture groups focus on donors.

Part 8: United Way diversifies.

Part 9: Conservation groups connect with donors.

Part 10: Communication, planning key for human services.

Part 11: Peer-to-peer strategy fuels medical research.

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