Managing Donors

By Nick Wreden  |  Posted 2009-10-28 Print this article Print

The Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the Salvation Army and the World Wildlife Fund must deal with many of the same technology challenges facing for-profit enterprises, but they don’t have the same resources available to them.

Managing Donors

In addition to managing resources, nonprofits must also manage their donors and other supporters. The task is complicated because the lifeblood of many nonprofits consists not of the big checks written by a few, but rather the small donations from the many.

Direct mail is the lifeline to these donors, but postage, printing and production get expensive. Also, solicitations can get lost amid the glossy brochures that crowd every mailbox. As a result, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) walks the same tightrope as other nonprofits: It must minimize mailing costs so resources can be applied to its mission, while still maximizing donors and donations.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the WWF has been protecting nature and wildlife for more than 45 years. As the world’s leading conservation organization, the WWF works in 100 countries with support from 1.2 million members in the United States and almost 5 million globally.

To increase the return from direct-mail appeals, the WWF has depended on sophisticated statistical analysis software from SAS for about five years. By combining analysis of the attributes of existing donors with insight into the characteristics of consumers on purchased lists, the fund can produce mailing lists designed to optimize response. Additionally, the same software allows the WWF to analyze what impact variables such as photos, copy and special offers have on response and donations.

The result: better segmentation, more accurate targeting and fewer mailings with greater returns. The analysis also builds a foundation for improved messaging and mailings in the future.

For example, the World Wildlife Fund allows its donors to “adopt” an animal, such as a penguin, tiger, pygmy elephant or any of 100 endangered, threatened or vulnerable animals for as little as $25 in exchange for photos, certificates and other mementos. By analyzing the profiles of those who respond to adoption appeals, the WWF can better tailor future appeals.

“When I first arrived, I thought success depended on regular mailings to all current and potential donors,” says Phil Redmond, the WWF’s director of e-business. “But with millions of such prospects, the costs of such a shotgun approach rise rapidly.

“It is more efficient and effective to segment mailings, and hopefully get a larger response rate at a lower cost. The goal is to target those individuals most likely to respond to a campaign, based on their previous donation history and profile.”

In addition to increasing response, nonprofits seek to eliminate duplicate mailings, which increase costs and have a negative impact on a nonprofit’s image. Who wants to donate to an organization that appears so wasteful?

To avoid this issue, the WWF uses the SAS dfPower Studio, a data-cleansing software system. The software goes beyond the routine task of scrubbing duplicate entries and compares all fields in a donor record. That means that an existing donor is not re-entered as a new donor even if he or she has moved or changed other attributes. This capability also gives the WWF’s management a more accurate picture of donors.

In addition, the WWF scientists in the Conservation Strategy & Science department use JMP statistical analysis software from SAS to analyze species data and track animal migrations across regions to determine factors that may be affecting their movement.

While for-profit organizations have a business mission, nonprofits are on a mission to make the world a better place, whether that’s by improving the lives of children, getting disaster victims back on their feet or preserving endangered species for future generations.

For nonprofits, IT is about much more than just saving data or money. It’s about saving the world.

Nick Wreden is a writer and marketing specialist in business and technology.

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