Using Video to Personalize Donor Stewardship

Posted on 06/01/2018

There’s an important, but under-appreciated concept in fundraising known as the “spectrum of personalization.” It suggests that the more personal your efforts to engage and solicit prospects, the more likely those prospects will be to say yes and provide ongoing support. Here’s a simple way to demonstrate how it works:

Take out a piece of paper and draw a horizontal line. On it, plot the various methods through which you can engage or solicit a prospective donor. To the left, put the mass communication channels like running an advertisement in the alumni magazine or sending a generic email blast. Then, as you move to the right, plot methods in order of increasing personalization. Examples of these might include handwritten notes, phone calls and meetings. Finally, underneath each method, jot down the response rate you might expect from that channel. What you’ll see is that, as you move from left to right, response rates will increase along with the degree of personalization.

While this may seem like an obvious concept, the challenge that many annual giving programs face is applying it when resources are scarce. Successful programs figure out how to leverage economies of scale—often through new techniques and technologies—to create the most personalized appeals possible for the greatest number of prospects.

The University of Memphis knows this, which is why they launched a new initiative to engage some of their most loyal donors through custom videos. It began with a one-month test run through their phonathon program in which student callers each shot 25 thank you videos to share with more than 250 past donors who hadn’t renewed their support during the current year. The videos were about 30-seconds long, and they were personalized by referencing the number of consecutive years of giving, the donor’s favorite fund, and even calling the donors out by name. Videos were emailed to donors along with a personal cover note that also highlighted a tangible outcome of past gifts made to the donor’s fund of choice.

The goal was to create a campaign that really stood out from the rest while letting donors know that they really stood out from the rest. Targeted donors received no other mail or email from the university for a period of six weeks. Then, one week after the videos went out, the staff made follow-up calls to the donors to ask for their renewed support.

The personal touch seemed to really pay off. The video emails had a 41% open rate—well above typical open rates even for loyal donors—and more than 66% of donors renewed their support as part of the campaign. What’s more, many donors commented how much they enjoyed and appreciated the videos. A significant majority of those renewed donors made gifts at or above their previous gift amount. In fact, one donor decided to double support as a result.

It’s not always easy—or cost-effective—to increase the level of personalization in your appeals, but for your most committed donors, the strategy can pay dividends. Making your donors feel known and sharing how their individual support has made an impact on your institution will help lay the foundation for long-term support.

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