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Special Interview with Lisa Sargent of Sargent Communications: Pt 1

Special Interview with Lisa Sargent of Sargent Communications: Pt 1

Welcome to the July issue of Donor Centric, a bi-monthly resource for our friends in the nonprofit sector.
In 2010, Lisa Sargent of Sargent Communications spent six weeks taking the pulse of leading executives from U.S. nonprofits; she wanted to know the common challenges that they were facing, as well as the most effective strategies they were employing to acquire, engage and retain donors.

Her interviews with more than a dozen executives from organizations with combined annual revenues of more than $14 billion revealed key insights.

Lisa published the results in a report entitled “What’s Working in Donor Fundraising and Development Today?” It was originally sent out to Lisa’s own clients and subscribers, but was soon picked up and republished by a number of online sites. We’re including that original report as an insert with this issue.

Recently, we caught up with Lisa to ask her what’s changed in the last six years since that study. You’ll find her candid responses on the state-of-the-sector enlightening. 

International donor communications specialist and caped crusader of retention, Lisa Sargent has been called “one of the finest copywriters on the planet.”

Outspoken at conferences and in leading press such as The Chronicle of Philanthropy, The Agitator, and Blackbaud’s npExperts series, Sargent’s free copywriting exhibit on donor thank you letters remains the most-ever visited on SOFII.org, with over 100,000 visits to date. She is a multi-year Irish Fundraising Awards winner and a bronze recipient in the FundraisingSuccess Gold Awards for Fundraising.

See www.lisasargent.com for more information.

DC: Six years after your report, have you observed anything that has surprised you in the trends that you wrote about?

LISA: What surprises me most, six years after my original study (included with this issue), is the number of nonprofits that sadly still ignore, undervalue, or abandon direct mail – even in the face of evidence that overwhelmingly proves its enduring and extraordinary value as a retention and fundraising tool (while also driving multi-channel gifts and engagement). And I’ll share some of that overwhelming evidence with you today. Not coincidentally, this is also what drives me to share results and learnings in places like your Donor Centric newsletter.

DC: Your report stressed the vital importance of post-acquisition donor communications. Are there particular strategies or pitfalls you believe nonprofit leaders need to pay particular attention to?
LISA: We did an entire 90-minute presentation  around post-acquisition communications at the AFP International Conference in Boston this year, based on a longitudinal five-year case study of a wildly successful charity called Merchants Quay Ireland (full disclosure: MQI is my client). I’ll talk about MQI a bit later, but suffice to say that their techniques can work for anyone, and the pitfalls they avoided can also be sidestepped by other organizations that are determined to do it right. From a communications perspective, I’d boil it down to four things:

1. Abolish your silos or get them working together (really): your online team should not operate separately from your direct mail team, communications should flow and be harmonious across channels, consider using a goals calculation like the Casement Quotient™ to value your team2;

2. Attend to basics before shiny objects: that means clear, quality communications, consistently delivered, donor-focused, story-based. 3-4+ print newsletters each year, 3-4 appeals each year, thank-yous, ongoing acquisition, welcome pack, upcycled messaging/stories to email and social; solid copywriting and design. Honestly so much has been written about this by myself and others like Jeff Brooks, Mal Warwick, George Smith, Tom Ahern, Ken Burnett, on SOFII.org, and more, it hurts me to think that anyone isn’t doing it;

3. Track your results: if you don’t track it, you can’t change it – that means, know your ROI for campaigns, track by channel, know your retention rate, your net income, your response rate, cost to raise a dollar, your click-throughs and unsubscribes, and your lifetime value figures. Only then can you get a real picture of how things are and how you can improve them;

4. Don’t treat it as an afterthought: from segmenting to personalization to format and offer and report-back, you have to be serious about this stuff: done well, it can transform the future of the work you do. As I said before, too many organizations still don’t invest in or value good communication. Donors are hungry for it: it matters.