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Nonprofit Direct Mail on Salesforce, Part 8: Acquisition

By Dustin Pitts December 10, 2017

Nonprofit Direct Mail: Acquisition
Hey there! My name is Dustin. I am a Solution Engineer for based in Charleston, SC. Welcome to my blog series about direct mail! Keep reading if you’re curious about nonprofit software and nonprofit marketing strategies.

Today we are going to be doing a deep dive on managing acquisition on Salesforce — great for your nonprofit marketing strategy.

I’ve broken this post out into three sections. We will start with a general section to define what a list is in nonprofit marketing. Next I will walk through an example of how a nonprofit could start an acquisition program. Then I will talk about some of the technical considerations within Salesforce.

What is acquisition and how does it work?

I define “acquisition” as the processing of purchasing or renting lists from a third-party list broker. These lists will contain the names and addresses of individuals who could be potential donors. These individuals will be new to your organization. In other words, they do not exist in your database already. Nonprofits run acquisition programs in order to build and grow their database of donors as one way to go about nonprofit fundraising.

So where do these lists come from? There are many places where nonprofits can purchase or rent lists. Traditionally, I see lists purchased from third party vendors. There are dozens of out in the market. These lists can also be purchased from other nonprofits with similar missions (although I don’t see this as often). The investment required to rent lists can range from a few thousand dollars a year to a few hundred thousand dollars a year.

You’re probably also wondering where these list vendors get all of those names and addresses from. These names usually come from other nonprofits who share their donor information with list vendors. However, these lists can also come from for profit organizations such as magazines or retail companies (for example: Outside Magazine, REI, Bass Pro Shops, etc). It is important to note that both nonprofit and for-profit organizations providing names to these list vendors are often compensated for their efforts. Compensation could be in the form of cash or simply access to names from other organizations.

Example of how to start with acquisition for nonprofit fundraising

Let’s talk through an example. In this scenario, I will be focusing on a medium-sized regional nonprofit whose mission focuses on southeastern wildlife conservation. This organization wants to expand their membership program by 2,500 individuals. How would they go about renting a list to start this process? Here are some general steps.

We first need to figure out how many names we need to rent. From our scenario we know that we want to add 2,500 names to our membership pool. Using an industry average response rate and simple math allows us to figure out how many names we need to purchase. To keep it simple, let’s say that we predict that 5% of everyone we mail from the acquisition program will become a member. This tells me that I need to purchase 50,000 names to get my desired number (2,500 / 0.05 = 50,000). Note that a 5% return on acquisition would be a very good return rate, so this number is used for example purposes only. If you are just starting out, I would suggest using a small projection number.

Now that we have our estimates, we need to decide the people we’re going to send this to. This is where working with your acquisition vendor comes into play. In our scenario, our nonprofit is based in the southeastern United States, so they probably only want to purchase names in their region (states like: Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama). We also probably want to only look at names from other organizations with similar missions (for example: wildlife conservation, animal welfare). The idea is that if you donate to other wildlife conservation organizations then you are likely to donate to this one too. Third, you may want to look at for profit lists from companies with similar brand identities. In our case let’s say we want to rent names from Bass Pro Shops and REI.

Now that our organization has identified how their names should be constructed, the list broker will provide the names. This is provided in what the industry calls a finder file. A finder file is simply a CSV or text file of names and addresses. This finder file will contain a unique ID representing the record. That number is called a finder number. This is the unique ID which tells us who the constituent is and what mailing they are associated with.

There is usually a deduplication process where the list vendor ensures that you are not purchasing names that you already own. This is normally handled outside of your CRM system via a third party. Once the dedupe is done then you can send the mailing out and watch the gifts come in.

Using Salesforce as a Donor CRM: Some Considerations

In this post you have probably noticed that I have been very careful to state that you have the option to rent or buy names. It is a common industry standard that you do not actually “own” the name until that constituent converts and becomes a donor. You “rent” them for a period of time until this conversion happens. This is an important distinction because it means that you cannot actually import the rented names into your database as contacts.

The limitations outlining exactly what you can and cannot do with your names will be clearly stated in your vendor contract. Some contracts allow you to store names in your CRM tool. For those types of contracts we can use the lead object in Salesforce to store the names. Others contracts allow you to store the names in your CRM as long as your purge them on an agreed upon time. For those we will still use the lead object, but delete the names on a regular basis. Still other contracts are more strict and do not allow you to store the names anywhere in your database, limiting the option to use leads or any object at all. For those we will use a custom data solution outside of Salesforce. My suggestion is to work with your legal team and an implementation partner to determine the best approach for your organization.

If your contract allows you to use the lead object then the process would be really straightforward in Salesforce. You would simple import the names in as leads. When a donation comes in those leads would be converted to a contact. I would suggest including custom fields to identify things like the name of the list, segment codes, and/or source codes. You may also consider configuring your batch tools to convert the lead to a contact automatically based off of finder number.

The workflow becomes more complicated if you are not allowed to import into your database prior to the contact becoming a donor. In this scenario a separate data silo must be created. The workflow below outlines a sample architecture for this.

Acquisition workflow

You can see in this architecture that the finder file is imported into your data warehouse. Salesforce will be configured to reach out to that data warehouse any time a gift comes in with an acquisition finder number. When it finds the correct constituent, then Salesforce will create a contact record based off of that finder number and apply the donation to that new contact. This process does require custom configuration of the platform.

Summary: Using Not for Profit Software for Better Fundraising with List Acquisition

I hope that this blog post provided you a bit more detail on the acquisition process within Salesforce. This is a very complex topic, so one small blog post can not possibly do it justice. There are a lot more details that I left out for the sake of simplicity. As a take home, I will leave you with a few things to consider as you implement your acquisition process.

    1. Carefully consider all costs before implementing an acquisition program. Not only the rental costs, but also consider staff time and technology configurations needed.
    2. Contracts vary by vendor. Be very clear on what you can do with the names you get from a vendor before entering any agreements.
    3. Salesforce provides the flexibility to configure the system for acquisition processes both large and small.

For more on nonprofit fundraising, watch this demo of the Nonprofit Success Pack.

As always, I welcome any feedback you may have. Good luck acquiring new donors!

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