Creating a stewardship pilot with Dropcards

How do you say “Thank You” to your donors? In an attempt at an experiment, an Annual Giving Officer tries his luck rolling out a novel collection of digital gifts to improve donor relations.

In the fall of 2012, while I was listening to Radio Lab, I learned of their new program called Lab Partners, a new donor stewardship program encouraging philanthropic support at either the $75 or $365 level (you know, a $1 a day). As a “Partner” you are promised monthly digital goodies that you can download, like ring tones created from sounds generated during a recent episode or a video of a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the making of an episode. Sounds pretty nifty, right? After paying $75 I received a card in the mail within a branded tri-fold holder.

The card was decorated similarly to their website and the backside had a unique code I was to use on their site to gain access to the exclusive content. I had a quasi-eureka moment. This is exactly the kind of thing we could use to thank our Institute donors.

We are continuously asking a) what will our donors appreciate? b) How can we keep our donors engaged? Here’s a two-birds-one-stone solution. We can present donors with a novel Thank You gift that combines both a physical card which we mail them, but offers them a series of digital “gifts” where we can produce content (the university is probably capable of recording) that is exclusive and yet very specific to what we do: offer an exceptional educational experience. Now we can package up snippets of those experiences and share them. Imagine being able to capture a campus lecture from a star faculty member, or collect photographs or electronic artwork from students, or serve up the latest from one of your a cappella groups? Maybe invite your favorite student group to sing a melodious “Thank You” ballad. Best yet these are things right in our backyard, no overhead or huge expense. As for knowing what our donors appreciate, because this is done over a website we are able to capture all kinds of information, everything from the blunt obvious information we ask when they redeem their gift to exactly what they downloaded and when. We can also follow up with these particular donors and ask them how they liked it.

Goal: Further Strengthen Personal Relationships with Annual Fund DonorsI set out to develop a new program that would give thanks to those donors who were providing support in a more substantial way. At the time we were intently focused on the $1,000-$4,999 giving level and we did not have any other stewardship for this (or nearly any) group of annual fund donors. We want to build a stronger base for FY14. Until we had a more comprehensive stewardship plan in place - including what we do for those above or below this range - and in order to have an impact in the remaining FY13 months, I proposed to:

  • Create a novel digital “Thank You” and send to those who made gifts in FY13 between $1,000-$4,999
  • Work with College Relations to use services by Dropcards to facilitate the delivery of this content
  • Order Dropcards (standard, plastic) which the Annual Fund Officers would include in a written thank you letter/note to their donors
  • Order a custom branded landing webpage where donors would go to redeem the content
  • Create three exclusive pieces as part of the digital “Thank You” gift:
    • 1-3 Campus photograph(s), formatted for desktop or mobile device wallpaper, e.g. student photographs from The Voice, International program experiences
    • An audio/video recording from a campus event, e.g. a student piano recital or high-profile guest/faculty lecturer
    • A video thank you message from the VP of Advancement or someone of similar impact (30-60 seconds) 

Furthermore, we will ask two optional questions when donors are redeeming their gifts:

  1. I support Connecticut College because:
  2. What did you gain from your Connecticut College experience and how did it change your life?

We will follow up with this pool of donors, segmenting between those who redeemed and those who did not redeem with a couple questions to see how they enjoyed the gifts or why they did not bother redeeming them.

After gaining some initial approval from our AVP, I contacted Dropcards to get a quote. Everything was fairly straightforward based on their website, their costs available upfront with no surprises. I spoke for a short while with Melissa, a Product Specialist, who was able to outline all of their services, pricing, and a timeline. Melissa was excited to be on this project, she had not yet heard of a university or college using their service as a way to thank their donors. I produced a proposal and submitted it to our VP who approved the project. It was thrilled at the chance to try something new. 

Connecticut College Dropcards Landing Page It took a lot longer to produce than I had hoped. For one thing we were in the middle of a change in the management regime and some very basic decisions/approvals took a lot longer to be finalized. But we did it and it cost exactly what we said it would, that’s a win in my book. Now the real test comes. As we get these cards out the door how will our donors react? The final step will be the follow up and I am eager to see the results.

Branding landing page to redeem the Dropcard and get the Conn College digital thank you "gifts".

Branding landing page to redeem the Dropcard and get the Conn College digital thank you "gifts".

What do you think? Have you considered using a Dropcards-style solution to thank your donors? Would you do something different?

A few months ago I shared this idea with the Director of Annual Giving at my alma mater. I think she saw it as an interesting idea, but she was most skeptical on how much time it would take to execute it all and is it really worth it. Of course I could not give her an answer to the effectiveness of the program, but I would estimate that it took 15-20 hours of my time, though it may have been more. The biggest issue - and time suck - is probably gathering the digital gifts, first determining what they are going to be and secondly having them produced. In some cases it was easily outsourced to other departments or student groups. (Dear a cappella group, please share a track of music to offer our tremendously supportive alumni…) In other cases I literally recorded a faculty lecture and then did some minor podcast post-production in Garage Band. I could see her point, but let’s see if this resonates with our donors and maybe it becomes a worthwhile endeavor.

Once we have results I will get those posted.

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1 As of July 20, 2015, it does not appear that Radio Lab is pursuing this Lab Partner program. Their donation page does not appear to reference it at all. I will try to reach them for comment and hopefully determine why they seem to have discontinued the program, or at least the format. Interestingly enough, Gimlet Media, a relatively new podcasting network, has started a membership-based fundraising effort to allow listeners who prefer to pay for their access rather than a 100% reliance on advertising revenue.

Filed under Annual GivingIdeas.