crm fundraising gone wrong

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. Here’s the detailed definition from Wikipedia. The Hoots-Thomas overly simple definition is: building a relationship with the customer or constituent or donor using what we know about them. CRM is HOT, HOT, HOT in terms of improving return on investment and increasing net income. It is good stuff!

We’ve been involved with designing and delivering very complex CRM-type strategies for various organizations. And when properly done, these strategies are phenomonially successful.

CRM can flat-out push floundering response rates through the roof–talk about your great Net Income!

Good variable messaging–a key within CRM–uses language that is specific to that person. For example, if a donor has given to help your ministry every year at Christmas, if you’ll let them know that you know that, it will help your relationship with them. Simple as, “Mr. Smith, you’ve given to help us for past 6 years, we hope we can count on you this year….” You get the idea. What we can tell you is that it lifts response and equally important, it improves your relationship with that donor and increases the likelihood that the donor will support your cause.

In fact, if you’re not doing the basics of CRM, you’re missing out and more importantly, someone else is out there building a relationship with your donors. (And they could eventually woo them away from you).

However, even very simple CRM strategies–if poorly executed–can be worse than never trying them at all.

best friendsHere’s an increasingly common example of what is a good strategy but it is executed in such a way that it actually will hurt your relationship with a donor: we’ll call it “the FAKE personalized email from the Executive Director.”

The FAKE personalized email from the Executive Director is simply an email version of an appeal letter. Makes sense doesn’t it? If you write direct mail fundraising letters…wow, you can do a personalized email version for practically nothing. This will be GREAT! Maybe, maybe not.

I have given to a national humanitarian cause. I was surprised a few weeks ago to get a fundraising email from the them. And what impressed me was that it was from the email address of the head guy. It appeared to be his email address and it was addressed, “Dear Steve.” I was amazed that they had sent me what was clearly a mass email from what seemed like a non-mass email address. I clicked “reply” and asked him a question. I received an automated response, but not an answer. And now over 3 weeks later, I’ve not received any response except, SURPRISE, I did get another mass email from him with news about an activity that the same Executive Director was sure I’d be interested in (because he KNOWS me). Same deal. Very personalized email address. Very good variable messaging within the email. It really looked like it was from him. He’s emailing me again! I clicked “reply” and asked my question again–assuring him that I understood that he’d missed my previous question and received the automated response. And then nothing from a real person. Nada. Zip. Zero. No real person answered either of my questions.

Hmmm… OK, I’m in the business so I know what’s going on. But what is happening on their end?

Maybe they’re thinking, “Hey, we have the software to blast out these emails and we can even segment them specifically by what people have given to and we’ll send ’em from the boss’ email address. It’ll look like he really sent them! How cool is that? It’ll get great response. Everyone will open these emails. We’ll raise a ton of money! And it won’t cost anything!”

Guys… email is different from direct mail. There’s that “reply” button, and if you make it look like the boss sent the email, you better have the boss reply. Or at least pretend the boss is replying. But this national humanitarian organziation didn’t even pretend.

A couple of thoughts about this for you: if you’re going to try to “trick” me into thinking someone send me a personalized email you better have a real person ready to answer questions.

Unfortunately, I keep seeing versions of this mistake made over and over again. I get frustrated and sad all at the same time. And when you add in the mistake of doing “personal” emails but you design them to look like printed newsletters, which certainly don’t look like a real email, I wonder even more about what your strategy is.

If you’re going to use the various “smart” email tools out there, you have to think like the recipients. We’re going to click reply. Be ready for it. It is a great technique to send email with personalized information, but get it wrong and we’re going to know you were using a technique, not that we actually had a relationship. But we’re looking for a relationship. That’s why we gave you our email address in the first place.

How about you? Are you using CRM in email for fundraising? Share your stories–good or bad!


Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity


(photo credits: StuSeeger)

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

6 thoughts on “crm fundraising gone wrong”

  1. I appreciate your insight.

    when using smart e-mails as most of us do, we here do wait for them to reply ….we hope they hit reply! Then the person who sent it must respond…often me:-) . time consuming yes. worth it for good relationship building yes. God honoring and honest..we hope so.

    I wish more christians would not accept the machine driven, non personal communication that are really as you say tricking , fake. This sad practice truly is a manipulation of good folks to get their money. Not very honoring to the Lord.

    Ok, I am not stepping off my soapbox.

    Good on you for the article ,
    victor marx

  2. Good post. Like the link “strategies are phenomonially successful” to the two lively videos with eye-popping data. Made me want to jump out of my chair and do a Celtic jig. 🙂

  3. @Victor, thanks man, glad you “get” the relationship thing. You know I think it should look like you and sound like you, even if it isn’t. You guys do a great job.
    st

  4. @Deborah, thank you. I have to confess that Hoots thought one of the music on one of the videos was a bit too disco! Either way, the results made me want to dance (scary thought!).

  5. Yikes. I’ve had those FAKE emails, too. Maybe the best way to respond is with PLAY MONEY! And last time I checked with my webmaster, the personalized, name matched, data base integrated emails are not FREE. A lot less than snail mail. But they take time, talent and resources, plus the DONOR gives up their valuable time and attention to read them.

    As you guys say: “It’s all about relationships”

    A FAKE personal email is like pretending to be interested in what your significant other is saying while you’re concentrating on the Trailblazers game.

    You’re going to get found out.

    And it’s going to be painful.

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