Overall, Bloomerang customers that sent fundraising appeals raised $1.35MM more during the COVID-19 crisis than they did during the same time period last year! We wanted to highlight some of those success stories here.
Willamette Humane Society | Broad Updates & Segmented Appeals
In this video, Steven from Bloomerang sits down (virtually) with Sara from the Willamette Humane Society to talk about they generated a 227% increase in donor support compared to the same period last year.
Like so many nonprofit organizations, WHS’s challenge was two-fold: communicate programming changes in light of new social distancing and sanitation measures, and communicate their financial need. As a humane society, the care and protection of the animals in their facility was of particular interest to their community. Despite not being in direct human services, Sara and the WHS team did not shy away from fundraising.
Monthly donors are particular important to WHS (as they should be). After broadly updating the entire community on changes at the facility, Sara and her team reached out to monthly donors first before beginning their appeal campaigns. Those appeals were also segmented, allowing contextualized asks for distinct groups of supporters. The results shattered expectations.
Email #1 – Initial COVID-19 Precautions/Update
In Mid-March, WHS began communicating changes at their facility, as well as in-person event cancellations.
62% open rate, 4% click-through-rate
Subject: EVENT UPDATE: This Wednesday’s open forum and other shelter events
Email #2 – Monthly Donor Stewardship
Very early on, WHS got out in front of monthly donors with pure stewardship; thanking them for their past and ongoing support, and reminding them that they are the lifeblood of the organization. This “prime the pump” method prevented monthly donors from being alienated by future appeals. Sara and her team believe that this email made subsequent appeals more successful.
54% open rate, 3.5% click-through-rate
Subject: Monthly Donors, the heroes of non-profits.
Email #3 – Segmented Appeals
Rather than simply sending a blanket appeal to their entire community, WHS was incredibly intentional about who they were asking from, and what they were asking for.
Sara and her team set up a variation of the same email to three distinct segments:
- Segment 1: active donors
- Segment 2: monthly donors
- Segment 3: lapsed donors
While the core of the message was similar across all three, each had a unique intro and call-to-action. For example, the monthly donor segment suggested sustainers increase their commitment.
Subject: Are you looking for a way to help?
These three emails alone generated over $17,000, as well as several upgrades from existing monthly donors.
Email #4 – Second COVID-19 Precautions/Update
As the situation continued to evolve through late-March, WHS continued their updates. Each included multiple, specific calls-to-action for additional support.
24% open rate, 2% click-through-rate
Subject: How we can serve pets and people—together
Full Video Transcript
Steven: All right. I got Sara here, my new friend from the beautiful Willamette Valley. How’s it going, Sara? Are you doing okay up there?
Sara: It’s going great. It’s sunny and beautiful from inside. It’s wonderful.
Steven: That’s good. Well, I know you’re inside. Hopefully, you’ll be able to get some fresh air later on, but I’m so thankful that you’re taking the time to do this because you’re a rock star from all the things that I can see that you’re doing [inaudible 00:00:25].
Sara: Thank you.
Steven: Before we get into that, can you tell us about yourself, and the organization, and what you folks do up there?
Sara: Yeah, so my name is Sara Masser. I’m the Donor Programs Manager. So I kind of manage all the different ways that donations come to us. So all the workplace giving, all of the e-appeals, direct mail appeals, I kind of have my finger in all of the pies just to make sure that we’re talking to people as much as we should be in the way that we should be. And that’s kind of my role within the organization. I’m very lucky I have an incredible team that does communications, major gifts, management. We’ve come together really well. We’ve got a good team going. We are in Salem, Oregon and it’s like I said, beautiful today, but we are a humane society. We serve about 4,500 animals each year. We have humane ed, we get out in the community and do outreach stuff, and we just try to be as big of a resource for our community as we can in all the ways that we can figure out how to be.
Steven: Awesome. As an animal lover, thank you for what you’re doing. I feel like there are some causes right now who maybe aren’t getting the attention for the good work that they’re doing and simultaneously feeling like they can’t be out there fundraising, but you’re sort of bucking that trend. But before we get into that, what’s been the impact on your organization? We’ve talked to a lot of human services organizations, which I think that impact has been obvious, but what have you all been going through the last 30 days or so?
Sara: Yeah, we haven’t. I think most of the way it’s affected us is that we’ve had to be able to be quick-thinking and innovative and quick pivoting. And our biggest challenge has just been how do we figure out functioning in the new landscape that it is right now. We went to appointment only for all intake and adoptions, which is our first step. That was, we canceled all events and then it was appointment only just to manage who was coming in the building and how many there were. As far as numbers for like directly hit by COVID anything, we haven’t seen a rush of animals coming in or anything like that, which is great because we just don’t know what’s going to come and we don’t know what’s going to happen. So our biggest focus was getting the animals that were in the shelter out to foster as much as we could to make sure that a), that there was room, and b), knowing that our numbers of staff in the shelter was going to be limited.
And so we had to make sure that the resources, they weren’t going to be overworked being in the shelter. In that time, the animals had all the chance for love and attention. And we’d like to have them in foster homes because it also gives us a deeper dive into, like, how they are in the home, which is really beneficial for us. So that’s been the biggest thing, is just trying to make sure that we were prepared for anything that came our way. And that the animals that were with us are able to be placed but then safe and not kind of in the midst of all of the craziness. So, yeah, that was our biggest kind of shift is learning to do things differently.
Steven: Well, you’re working from home obviously, and you’ve got shifts of people who go into the shelter being with the animals. I assume there’s new sanitation things . . .
Sara: Oh, man.
Steven: . . . happening and all that, but while you’re juggling all those things, you kept the fundraising going. Which is what really stood out to me and why I wanted to talk to you. You were, you know, kind of business as usual through beginning of March. It looks like you had some events and things planned. What was the shift in fundraising? Did you all have a sit-down and strategize? Was there ever any discussion about “Well, how are we going to do this? Should we fundraise? Should we not? You know, we’re not human services? What was that kind of initial discussion like?
Sara: I think we had some stuff kind of already planned. We are going into a big event in June, and so we already had . . . we have a kitten shower that launches every April. So we really already had some big fundraising pieces lined out. What we had to figure out was if it was right for our people. But even having that conversation, it really, once we all got in the room . . . And we were working with a consultant out of Portland, Oregon, The Varga Group and they’re incredible. And so we were talking to our contact there. And I think our hesitation to it was because I think asking in any time of crisis or upheaval is not necessarily a comfortable thing to do. But when we all got around the table and talking with The Varga Group, it really hit home that people who are engaged in your mission, and love what you’re doing, and seeing the impact that you’re having in your community want the opportunity to help.
And they want the opportunity to make a difference because most everybody is in a position of not having a lot of control about what’s going on and control about things. And my coworker, Erin, has said it and it sticks in my mind. She says, “We’re not asking people to do something that’s going to make them unhappy.” And that is what goes back to me is that we decided that we wanted to a), be very upfront and have that line of communication open with our people about everything that we are going on, what we are changing and the ways that we are shifting things. So we already knew that there was going to be a lot of communication going out. And I sent a direct email out to our monthly donors just to touch base and just to have an open line of communication.
So once that was already going, it just fits so well to say, “Yes, we can give them a way to support us. We can give them something to bring a little bit of joy in their lives in a very hectic time.” And so I think our apprehension was just carried over from the general apprehension of the entire situation. I think this is just not a comfortable place to be in. And what we actually found is that in opening up that communication, and giving them opportunities to make a difference, has blown my mind, it’s blown my whole team’s mind. I think our community really stepped up and showed us how much of a partnership it really is. And it’s been very evident in the last few weeks of just how important that partnership is.
Steven: I could tell by the results, it looks like it was tens of thousands of dollars raised more than you did last March during, you know, kind of a normal March and fundraising. You mentioned monthly donors. One thing that really stood out to me in your efforts was that you are very intentional about segmenting your communications. You’re sending different things to different people and I love the initial monthly donor email. That’s what’s on the screen now. I think it was early, you know, it was late March, kind of early and then things how they were unfolding, but just reaching out to them saying, “Thanks for being a monthly donor” which I think is great. Where did that idea come from? Because that was one of the first things that you sent out. It looks like.
Sara: Yeah. I send out an email monthly to them. So it’s called the Insider Update. I mean, it’s really me just checking in and saying, “Hey, we’re thinking of you. Hope things are going great. Here’s some behind the scenes things that are going on in the shelter that you may not have heard of.” So it’s kind of just, again, one of those direct lines of communication that we try to keep open. This one came about because we had just kind of put out the kind of blanket email to everyone of “Here’s the big update.” And so I really wanted something that came directly from me to go to them. So we used this one in replacement of the Insider Update for March. And this really came because I was still in the office at that point, and I asked our business office, you know, how much in kind of guesstimations it takes for overhead costs for the shelter.
And I realized that our monthly donors give over but just about the same amount each month. And so in this it really talks about, you know, we’re not getting really hard-hit because we know that our monthly donors are protecting us. And so I really just wanted to make sure that they knew that they are our protection from situations like this because, you know, we don’t know what is going to come in the future. So just knowing that they are protecting us hit me really deeply in the heart and I wanted to make sure that they knew it too and they felt it and it was really important for me to get that message through to them.
Steven: I love that that was . . .
Sara: I hope that they absorbed it.
Steven: No, I think they did. I mean, you told me before we started recording that there were people who upgraded their gifts. You sort of protected them is kind of what’s there to me because this was one of the first things you sent out and I feel like sometimes monthly donors get lost in the shuffle a little bit. Like, if you hadn’t done this and they had just gotten your subsequent appeals, I feel like they would have said, “Oh, I’m already a monthly donor. Why are they asking this? Why are they saying this to me?” But this, getting out in front of them certainly paid dividends in terms of just how they receive the messaging after this, you know?
Sara: Yeah. Well, and for us, like, our monthly donors, we don’t send them all of the direct mail appeals. We only send them one each year. Like, their communication plan is very customized because they should be, you know, talked to differently and they should be related to a little bit differently because they are a special segment on their own. So we’ve really tried in the last . . . definitely last year to make sure that they have something that’s their own. That they have their own way of communicating and they all know that they have a direct line to me every single month. So, yeah, our communication with our monthly donors has really ramped up in the last year or two and really been working well. I mean, it’s an incredible tool for sure.
Steven: I love it. So you sent out the kind of blanket announcement and you sent out this nice stewardship piece. Then it came time for the appeal. You did kind of a big segmented appeal. Walk me through that. I love the content of the email, just sort of, you know, addressing the elephant in the room. It was an explicit ask. What was sort of the strategy here? Because I think you segmented it maybe three ways instead of just sending out another blanket appeal.
Sara: So we did three segments on this. So we knew, again, in working with them, our consultant, The Varga Group, we knew that we needed to have something and some way for people to give. Because we knew we had a really good feeling that people were going to enjoy having an opportunity to make a difference. And we knew the people, they cared about us, and they cared about the shelter, and we knew that they were wondering what was going on and kind of . . . So we definitely wanted to get something out and have a very direct fundraising ask in there. So we did a three-segmented email. Segment one went to any kind of active or current donors. The second segment was geared to just the monthly donors and then our third went to everyone else, essentially.
Steven: Nice. Good. I’m trying to pull up that monthly one. I think it’s this middle guy here. It might be one of these. I’ll pull it up here, but I like the . . . We were talking before the monthly one asked for an increase in gifts, right? It didn’t say, “Become a donor.” Because they were already a donor, obviously. Ask for an upgrade specifically from the monthly donors. I think it’s this one.
Sara: It would be segment two, I believe.
Steven: Oh, okay. This the problem with so many segments.
Sara: But we left the give in there. But the ask line itself says, “Give or consider increasing.” I think is the way that we worded it.
Sara: But it was very much like, “You know, here’s how the financial help impacts us and here’s what we’re thinking. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know if we’re going to see it, but we’re trying to prepare. So give or increase your monthly giving amount today.”
Steven: Love it.
Sara: And it worked. I mean, we had people calling and emailing and wanting to give more. And again, it was one of those mind-blowing moments where it was just like if they feel engaged and you ask, people who can usually will step up and help out. It’s just . . .
Steven: Well, I know you gave kudos to the community, but I think you should get a lot of the credit as well for being proactive and intentional.
Sara: Thank you.
Steven: It was really clear to me even before talking to you that you were doing things the right way.
Sara: Thank you.
Steven: So hats off to you all. And we’ve only talked about March. I mean, you’ve been doing things on into April now.
Sara: And one of the things I will say that I thought about this morning when I was kind of mentally preparing is the first thing that we did when we knew that things were going to change is put a pop-up on our website. And the pop-up pops up and says, “We’re going to appointment only. This is what you need to know. Like, thank you or whatever, or leave/close.” And then it had a “Learn more” which took them to the big COVID statement and then it had a different colored button that said, “Donate.” And I think that’s something that we’ve seen a really big increase in just one-time donations on the website.
Sara: And I would say that that’s probably having a hand in that and that’s, you know, that kind of soft ask for people, you know. It was a really easy thing to add and it’s working from what I can tell.
Steven: I love the diversity of the asks also. There’s the one-time donations, the Amazon Wish List, Facebook updates, giving people just a lot of outlets to help if they want to help differently. You’ve been so gracious with your time. I really only have one more question for you. If you were to maybe talk to another fundraiser who has been on the fence, maybe they’re thinking, “Oh, we’re animals or environmental, you know, we’re not needed right now.” What would you say to that person? Because when I hear that it sort of breaks my heart and I see what you’ve done and have been so successful. You know, what are your sort of pep talk for those folks?
Sara: I would say that if you have donors who are very engaged, and you have donors who love your organization, you can’t gauge how important you are to them. So the biggest thing you can do is just ask them for help. And what I’ve seen is that if you have a really steady line of communication, and you have really engaged people who love your mission as much as you do, asking them is not going to make them see any less of you. If anything, you’re going to see an increase because it’s like we’re not seeing a direct hit yet here at the shelter, but people want to make a difference to the organizations that they care about. And that’s the name of the game in my book is that if they care, they’ll want to help. And if they don’t, it may be another step to further the engagement. It’s just opening up that line of communication.
Steven: I love it. Sara, you’re awesome. Keep up the good work.
Sara: Thank you. Thanks, Steven.
Steven: Thanks for taking care of those animals. I love seeing the cat pictures. It seems like, you can put a cat picture in an email, that’s like half the battle.
Sara: I mean, we put kittens and dogs in it. I’m surprised my dog hasn’t joined us for this. She’s sleeping on the job. I mean, my goodness.
Steven: Well, thanks for doing this. You know, I think you’re going to help a lot of people that are watching this.
Sara: Awesome. I hope so.
Steven: Thanks for doing this.
Sara: Thanks, Steven.
Steven: This is awesome.
Sara: Yeah, thank you.