4 Cornerstone Campaigns That Drive Fundraising Success

This article was originally published in TechSoup.org on March 25, 2016.

Online fundraising cornerstone campaigns are critical elements for a successful integrated fundraising program. A cornerstone campaign is one that’s repeated year over year, and that can be refined and tested to drive success and constituent engagement.

Common examples of cornerstone campaigns are yearly renewal and membership drives, monthly giving recruitment efforts, matching gift campaigns, and the ubiquitous year-end appeal.

Cornerstone campaigns are often the most dependable sources of revenue for an integrated fundraising program, and can be used to anchor an annual fundraising plan. The challenge is how to roll out cornerstone campaigns year after year and still keep them exciting. By experimenting with new creative messaging approaches, you should be able to rekindle interest each year and grow supporter engagement.

Experimenting also means refining and testing over time to improve elements of a cornerstone campaign, whether it’s adjusting audiences, trying different appeal offers or premiums, or changing messaging to better fit audience interest.

While email is still the core tool of most successful online cornerstone campaigns, it’s important to combine email with mail, telephone, event, web, and social for maximum results.

Integrated e-Renewals and Membership Drives

Renewals and membership drives are the most common cornerstone campaign in direct response fundraising and have their origins in direct mail. With online tools at our disposal, we can now create integrated efforts that can reach supporters in multiple channels. A good integrated renewal campaign should use consistent branding and messaging, so that supporters see a unified campaign whether in the mail, in email, or on social.

Carefully consider and plot out the timing of messaging for each channel, so you’re reaching donors at the right time. For example, an email effort could start to reach renewing donors before a mail piece reaches their home, to encourage an online gift. This tactic also works well before a planned telephone campaign.

An effective renewal or member campaign will increase the urgency of messaging, to remind the donor that a renewal gift is critical to the organization’s health.

There are many things to test in renewal and member campaigns, including the number of efforts, the messaging style, whether to use a fundraising goal, trying different message signers, the timing of messages, and the ask amount.

A variant on renewal campaigns is the membership drive, which can use a goal to motivate giving, or can fund a specific program. Membership drives often allow you to reach out to broader audiences, such as your entire email list, lapsed donors, and social media followers.

Monthly Giving Recruitment

As one of the fastest growing segments of online giving, monthly giving recruitment campaigns are perfect cornerstone campaigns to grow your fundraising program and deepen supporter engagement.

The best audience to recruit monthly donors is recent donors, multi-gift donors, and lapsed donors. It’s the lower monthly donor amount that usually interests people, so be sure to emphasize that in the messaging, while also focusing on how it provides reliable income for the organization.

There are many proven tactics to recruit monthly donors, such as offering a checkbox option on all your donation pages, including an ask in your email Welcome Series, and conducting a special month-long campaign (use a goal or a match to drive interest). During month-long campaigns, be sure to ask current monthly donors to upgrade their monthly giving amount by a few dollars.

Matching Gift Campaigns

Matching gifts have become a ubiquitous technique to encourage giving, and although I see too many of them, they are still effective. My advice is to strive for authenticity in the messaging, so that your supporters see that you’re making an effort to encourage giving.

Matching gifts can be used at many times during the year and work best with a deadline, and a strong multi-channel marketing effort. You can coordinate a match campaign in email, on your website home page, in the mail, and in social media to achieve maximum impact.

Going Beyond Year-end Giving

The year-end fundraising season is the ultimate cornerstone campaign and is also the campaign that most donors are familiar with. Year after year, I’ve seen so many different strategies used to encourage giving, including matching gifts, deadlines, premiums, light boxes on websites, social media messaging, tie-in direct mail appeals, month-long messaging arcs, and creative storytelling, to name a few.

With Giving Tuesday and Thanksgiving also in play to broaden messaging opportunities at year-end, nonprofits will continue to bring creativity and innovation to raise money during this time of year. My advice is to broaden your organization’s efforts to build other cornerstone campaigns throughout the year to build a successful integrated fundraising program.

Michael Stein has been a writer and digital strategist to progressive social causes for over two decades. He is the author of three books and numerous articles chronicling the rise of digital marketing, mobile, and online fundraising. He works as a consultant and coach to nonprofits, foundations and educators, with a focus on marketing and fundraising in a multi-channel and multi-screen world.

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