Gaining donations or shifting them?

Today is Amazon Prime Day, the day where we celebrate things being moved earlier in the year.  Because Amazon isn’t alone — Salvation Army’s year-end red kettle campaign started almost a month ago.  More than ten million Americans have already voted (and still with over 40 game-changing, earth-shattering political developments yet to come before November 3rd!).   And we’ve already had a Giving Tuesday this year, even as we plan and brace for the next one.

The idea is that moving things forward in the calendar will give us longer giving seasons to fill the event, face-to-face, fee-for-service, corporate, grant, and other holes in our 2020 revenues and meet the mounting need for many organizations.  Salvation Army, for example, made the choice to move their giving season earlier because they face an estimated 155% increase in the need for their service this year and a projected 50% drop from red kettle gifts, given the closing of retail locations and decreased foot traffic from those who won’t go into a store without a full hazmat suit, flamethrower, and barbeque tongs.  (I’m not making fun; with several family members at special risk, our few in-person shopping trips of late have been planned as if we were taking a beachhead.) This isn’t a new idea; FDR moved Thanksgiving a week early during the Great Depression to increase potential holiday shopping.

The challenge of this movement, even if it’s as modest as trying to get another mail appeal into your schedule, is you don’t know what you would have received in the unshifted world.  There’s no good control (which is as good a summary of 2020 so far as any).  Even when you add another communication to the mix, you can’t say with intellectual honesty that it summoned all the revenues that are “directly attributed” to it out of whole cloth.  Rather, we know that about 63% of a new mail piece’s revenues aren’t new – they would have been earned from the surrounding mail pieces. 

And this is not the only type of movement that wreaks havoc on your projections.  Anyone who has had a board member who has had the “brilliant” idea to cut off mail because digital has lower costs knows that much of digital revenue comes from people making their mail donations online.  More happily, those who do DRTV know how that rising tide of positive brand impression lifts all channels’ boats.

So what’s a nonprofit to do?  One option is to throw comparative results out the window — it’s a crazy year; let’s just do our best and let the chips fall where they may.

But there’s a baby in with that bathwater.  Once upon a time, investment decisions were made by channel based on arbitrary archaic rules (e.g., digital must pay back in X months but mail must pay back in Y months).  And often remnants of these silos remain, as budgets can be allocated by opinion over data.  Full attribution analysis allows you to see not only what is coming in through various channels and efforts but because of them.  Sometimes, this takes a little bit of extra set up to create a test location or channel that doesn’t get a communication, but that’s well worth it to be able to put a price tag on the value you are getting by moving forward or adding communications, even in the current chaos.  Just as Amazon doesn’t want to wake up on January 1st finding that Prime Day just reallocating shopping, you don’t want to arise to results that show you simply cannibalized existing results or cut a communication that was a linchpin in another channel.

P.S. If you do see the red kettles out, consider a donation as it will help many in need at a time when many are in need.

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