The View from Stanford: Why Video Marketing and Email Marketing Make a Perfect Match
A follow-up to our earlier post on email marketing — in this special guest article, Scott Jahnke, the Director of Student and Young Alumni Development at Stanford University, discusses some recent fundraising campaigns that his department has built and distributed through the Involver platform.
We’re glad that we’ve had the opportunity to help Stanford improve its fundraising ROI. As Scott mentions below, our platform helped Stanford achieve a 23% increase in gifts from a key target audience (2008 totals vs. 2007 totals) — a real testament to the power of effective video marketing.
If you’re in the nonprofit sector or higher education sector, we hope you’ll read and share Scott’s wonderful post!
It has been a challenging fiscal year so far. Fundraising is always somewhat difficult, but the economic uncertainty and gloom that seem to come at us from every angle on a daily basis has made it even more difficult to get our message out effectively. The most important questions fundraisers need to answer are: Why are we asking you for a gift? What is going to change if you give? And how will our organization make that change happen? In the fundraising world, this is called a case for support.
I firmly believe that institutions of higher education in America are the most valuable asset in the country and offer individuals the best way to affect change. I witness various manifestations of this change on a regular basis when I speak with students or see breakthroughs in research and discovery. One of the reasons I love my job so much is because I get to be an enabler. These things take money, and I help raise the funds that turn brilliant ideas from vision to reality. My biggest challenge, especially amongst Young Alumni, is how to effectively deliver this message and ensure my audience can conveniently and quickly make a gift after they’ve heard our message. This post is going to focus on just that — effectively delivering a case for support and the ability and ease of making a gift. How to create a case for support, decide on segmentation strategy and steward donors are all topics for a different blog post.
Generally speaking, unless you’re considering a large gift or it is public knowledge that you’re a wealthy individual with philanthropic interests, you won’t have much one-on-one interaction with development officers. Building a case for support is always easier to do face-to-face; however, with an alumni body of over 100,000 people living all over the world, this is simply not possible. Therefore, traditionally, universities fundraise by sending alumni letters and having students call them. Reunions generally happen in five year cycles and alumni are encouraged to return to campus and make larger gifts or multi-year pledges in honor of these milestones. Young Alumni — the demographic I work most with and the demographic I am a part of — gather information, make decisions, interact with peers and consume in a very different manner than previous generations. For this and other segments, the traditional model of fundraising – letters and phone calls from students – has been getting less and less effective since I began my career five years ago.
It seems obvious that email is a more effective way to communicate with “Generation Y” for a much lower cost than paying to print letters and sending them via snail mail. Sending emails alone, however, isn’t enough. Development officers should not expect to simply take the text of a traditional fundraising letter, put it into an email, and have more effective results. Although it will certainly cost less than sending snail mail, I argue that this is not the best way to build a case for support and engage alumni.
What other methods can we use to communicate? Face-to-face conversations are the most effective, but it is unrealistic to have thousands of these per year, and in any case it would take significant investments of staff time and operational budget to accomplish this goal. Phone calls from students are a viable solution, but dependent on having correct phone numbers and people actually picking up the phone. It’s easy for alumni to opt out of this method of communication, and easy to see why they choose to do so. Do universities call alumni for any reason other than to ask for a philanthropic gift?
Email, however, is different. It is not nearly as intrusive as a phone call. It is not wasteful to the environment or a fundraising operations budget. The University provides useful information via email all the time – social events, career services, information about its academic focus, sports news – so alumni are more likely to be receptive to this medium. Perhaps most importantly, most universities now offer email addresses and email service for life. Those that don’t should really think about why they have chosen not to do so.
Young Alumni in particular are far more likely to provide us with a valid email address compared to a phone number. In fact, out of Stanford’s young alumni population of 14,593, only 38% have a valid phone number compared to 93% with a valid email address. Of the around 6,600 alumni we have phone numbers for, around 1,100 will never be called because their numbers are business numbers. So ultimately, of the around 5,500 we may reach, we’re only actually getting in contact with 2,300 — a mere 16% of our total young alumni population.
Compare this to the stats from our Fall 2008 email campaign. Out of 11,376 emails sent the first week of this campaign, 3,235 of them were viewed. That means that 28% of an audience of around 11,300 viewed our first email. Compare that to 50% of an audience of around 5,500 picking up the phone *over the course of the year* to tell us “Yes, I’ll make a gift,” “No, I won’t,” or “That person doesn’t live here any more.” These contact rate numbers are so different from each other because we have so few valid phone numbers for this demographic.
Granted, a phone call gives you a more definitive answer and more two-way feedback. And it is true that there is no way of telling exactly how much of the email people read once they’ve opened it and whether or not this amount of reading was effective. However, I think that these are fair tradeoffs, especially given 1) the significantly lower contact rate in phone programs, and 2) the many consecutive months of calling at high operational costs that are required in order to get definitive answers from alumni.
Once someone has opened an email, in order to get them engaged with our content, it is up to us to ensure that this email about fundraising is not the same as a letter about fundraising (only in digital form). Technology gives us the ability to do so much more than just text. How then, can we most effectively tell our story to thousands of people and inspire them to give? I believe that a combination of using email AND video to answer our three questions (why are we asking you for a gift, what is going to change if you give, and how will our organization make that change happen) is the so-called “secret sauce.”
I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do. Rather than having development officers write the text of a letter to describe what alumni gifts made possible, why not have the beneficiaries of this generosity tell their stories directly? Finding compelling stories on a campus as diverse and proactive as Stanford’s is no problem. Individual scholarship recipients, student groups that receive funding, academic programs that are made possible, and new buildings that are constructed each tell an interesting and compelling story that answers the why, what, and how of asking for money.
Sharing these videos and sending them to alumni wasn’t going to be enough, however. If I was a public relations officer for the University, that probably would have been sufficient. But I’m a fundraiser. I wanted people to feel inspired after seeing what their gifts could do, and take action by giving. The challenge for me became how to share these videos in a way that enabled people to give after viewing the message.
The solution came unexpectedly. I was planning a conference with Dr. BJ Fogg from Stanford’s persuasive technology lab for the Stanford fundraising community. The idea was to host a half-day conference called “Video Matters” to focus on how this medium (video) could be effectively used to reach our audience and compel people to give. Fundraising in higher education tends to be more traditional, slow to implement change and new technology, emphasizes long term goals and planning, and espouses a culture of consensus building. This conference was meant to show people in a very practical way how to actually use technology to build a case for support and translate that into alumni gifts. This is where Involver’s video marketing platform came in. (Involver was a featured presenter at the conference.)
It’s easy to host videos on a website or on YouTube. But after alumni watch our videos, we need them to instantly have the ability to act on what they just saw. Involver allows you to do just that. If your goal is fundraising, you can customize your Involver-powered video player to have a “Donate” button appear immediately after the video is over with a follow-up message that reinforces the video content.
This has been very successful for us. We shared Involver-powered video players in four out of five emails during our fall campaign, and between 8-15% of alumni who viewed the video clicked on the “Donate/Give Now” button. During the seven weeks of our fall campaign, 51% of the gifts from Young Alumni came in from online – a significant increase over last year. On average, we had 23% more gifts from Young Alumni during the fall of 2008 than we did during the fall of 2007. Considering the economic climate, this was a very pleasant surprise. I firmly believe the use of video accounted for most of this increase.
As I mentioned before, I’m a fundraiser. I want people to take action, and I need to track those actions. How many people are watching the video? Sharing it? Clicking on the “Donate” button in the middle of or at the end of the video? What about when the video has finished playing? Rich analytics is another brilliant aspect of Involver that is far superior to the limited reporting offerings of other tools like YouTube. By tracking metrics, we can continuously improve our messaging and how many people are making gifts after viewing our videos; A/B testing of multiple variables allows me to try slight variations in content to hone in on what works best. Ultimately, we’re still learning, and my hope is that our future campaigns will be even more successful.
View Stanford’s Young Alumni campaign videos by visiting http://youngalumni.stanford.edu.
Scott Jahnke is the Director of Student and Young Alumni Development at Stanford University. Originally from Toronto, Scott’s interest in fundraising began his senior year at University of Toronto when he founded a music performance club. He has been employed as a professional fundraiser since 2003 and has worked for the University of Toronto, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford University. Scott currently lives in San Francisco and enjoys canoeing, jazz, and politics when he’s not raising money.
Contact Scott at scott (at) iamjahnke (dot) com.