Digital Lessons from the New York Times

Graph showing Newspaper Advertising Revenue, 1950 - 2012
Newspaper Ad Revenue


Everyone knows that the newspaper business has been suffering over the last ten years. While  most people believe this has to do with the decline in print newspaper circulation, it’s important to note that digital advertising for newspaper companies is declining as quickly as print revenue.

Not so, of course, with social media sites like Facebook. Social media advertising is growing at double-digit rates. So, why didn’t the newspaper companies get their share?

socia_media_ad_forecast Because they didn’t grasp the shift that was happening, away from daily print media and towards digital. They clung to their old model of print, first denying, then delaying, the digital world, and completely failing to understand how it changed publishing.

A recently-leaked internal memo describes the problems at the Times, and offers some lessons for all nonprofits, and especially those in healthcare:

  • “We are not moving with enough urgency,” it says. They point to upstart publishers like  “HuffingtonPost” and “Business Insider” and say “They are ahead of us.”
  • There is “a cadre of editors who remain unfamiliar with the web.”
  • The report also calls for a profound rethinking of the newsroom’s independence from the rest of the company, in order to involve editorial leaders more deeply in technological decisions.
  • The paper’s Twitter account is run by the newsroom. Its Facebook account is run by the paper’s business side.

Do these observations sound familiar in your healthcare organization? Are you “moving with enough urgency” to communicate with people where they live — increasingly, online? Do you have a “cadre” of senior leadership, either in fundraising or the larger organization, who “remain unfamiliar with the web.” Do you have a “church and state” wall between development and “communications” departments? Do you have to beg for “space” on your organization’s Facebook page? Worse, do you have a separate, red-headed-step-child page for your foundation?

Your healthcare organization, including development, is one entity in the eyes of a public that lives increasingly in a digital world. Your public face needs to reflect that.


Children’s Hospitals – the elite meet in Montreál

The good news is that we’ve basically eliminated infectious disease as a cause of childhood death in the US and Canada. The bad news is that we have an epidemic of new childhood diseases that, while not infectious, have roots in socio-economic conditions and kids’ environment. Our fundraising has to address these new needs, because if we can break some of these links between conditions and health now, we can stop them forever.

Alan Bernstein, OC, PhD, FRSC and President/CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research in Toronto gave the Woodmark Summit attendees a well-researched, cross-disciplinary kick in the pants to start off the three-day conference, hosted by the Montreál Children’s Hospital this week.

My second healthcare fundraising conference in as many weeks was packed with mostly young gift officers and annual fund professionals — an average of 10 people per hospital. Sessions ran from 7:00 am until 9pm.

Dr. Bernstein discussed the correlation between a child’s socio-economic environment and long-term health. For example, the incidence of obesity is dropping among children whose parents have a bachelor’s degree or higher education, but it is growing more rapidly than ever in families where the parents have a high school diploma at most. Obesity leads to diabetes and cardio-vascular problems which have enormous financial and social costs.

Children are at increasing risk for behavioral and mental health issues. ADHD, Autism, depression, and other mental health issues are on the rise among all segments of the youth population. In addition, children from lower socio-economic families have higher incidence of adult health issues, like arthritis and hypertension, later in life.

Dr. Bernstein is not calling for massive governmental wealth redistribution (and certainly, neither am I). What he did say, however, was that we as healthcare fundraising professionals need to refocus our efforts on programs that will provide screening and treatment for young children. We need to work not only with healthcare providers, but also with social service agencies and especially with educational institutions who have great influence on families and children.

Each child we can reach now can not only become a healthier adult, but in turn can help raise a new generation of healthier kids.

Annual fund donors lead to major gifts

Wealth overlays alone do not generate major gifts!

At #NACCDOPAN, the conference of the National Association of Cancer Center Development Officers, Michael  Hibler of Johns Hopkins’ Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, and Cindy McGirk of Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center talked about ways to use data to enhance the major and planned giving efforts of their institutions.

Cindy exploded the myth that you can take your annual fund donors, overlay a wealth screening tool, and then stop mailing and calling the top-ranked donors, turning them over to a major gifts officer. First, wealth screening alone does not indicate the propensity to make major gifts. Second, abandoning traditional annual fund contacts via mail, phone, and email leads of course to fewer gifts.

What works, according to Michael, is a more complicated analysis that includes wealth ratings but that also includes data from their own donor database, including the longevity of giving, number of gifts, and other data.

Indeed, we at Amergent have run complicated regression analyses that search for factors that correlate between donor data and major or planned gift donors. In other words, if a piece of data tends to be much more common among planned or major gift donors than it is in the general donor population, that donor looks more like a planned gift donor, and that donor would rank higher on the list. Common data elements that correlate to planned giving status include the length of the donor relationship and the number of gifts given. The size of the gifts do not matter much.

Interestingly, there is a high inverse relationship between the gap between first and second gifts and the propensity to be a planned gift donor. In other words, the shorter the time between a donor’s first and second gift, even if both were made 20 years ago, the more likely they are to be a planned gift donor. So, if you want to help grow your population of planned giving prospects over the next ten or more years, thank new donors quickly, cultivate them, and get them to make a second gift quickly.

How do Michael and Cindy use these major and planned gift indicators? One way is to run wealth screening in almost real-time against newly admitted patients (who did not opt out of such communications). When a high-propensity patient is admitted, the major gift officers talk to the patient’s doctor, and ask them to “listen for cues” that indicate an interest in giving. Partnerships with physicians is key to identifying good prospects to visit.

How are you using your data?

QR Codes lead to involvement

photo 2

The QR code sign at our booth

At the #NACCDOPAN conference, each exhibitor has a sign with a QR code. The organization is doing a great job of encouraging attendees to visit all the exhibitors, and they have arranged a scavenger hunt. Attendees scan a unique QR code at each booth, which brings up a question (a self-promotional question provided by each exhibitor). The attendees score points for each correct answer, and the winners will receive some great swag.

This happens at many conferences, but is often done manually with stickers or rubber stamps. Inviting the attendees to move up to the digital process has a few advantages:

  1. They get more comfortable using their smartphones.
  2. Since they register their phone prior to beginning the “scavenger hunt” each attendee’s score is also shown on a “leader board” (see below) in the exhibit area, providing interactivity, enhancing competition, and further demonstrating the value of the data that is collected.

If your nonprofit has any sort of geographic “presence” consider QR codes as methods of user interaction and additional content delivery. For example, a museum could have a unique QR code at major exhibits that give additional content about the exhibit. The web page called by the QR code could provide video or voice, obsoleting the bulky walkmans with headphones that pervade many institutions.

Or, consider its applications at fundraising events. Encouraging the posting of selfies at the start and finish lines, or instructions at other locations, is a great way to involve sponsors and participants.

What have you done with QR codes?

Two subject lines that work

There is much to take from Daniel Pink’s book “To Sell is Human.” It’s a short and useful read for anyone in the persuasion business, from teachers to healthcare professionals to fundraisers to parents, and yes, salespeople.

In a section on how to develop a pitch for yourself, your organization, or your thoughts, he discusses the email pitch and quotes a study done at Carnegie-Mellon University on the effect of subject lines as they relate to getting email messages opened (which is the most important, but not only, purpose, of a subject line).

Two types of subject lines work well: those with usefulness to the reader, and those with intrigue. Useful subject lines promise information sought by the reader, and the more specific, the more likely they are to result in an opened message. So, “Three important facts about our upcoming gala” is more specific than, “What you need to know about our upcoming gala.”

Curiosity is another motivation, so messages that hint at a subject also rise to the top of the “to open” list. “What’s on the menu?” or “Who else might be at your table?” could be other ways to tease an email about the same gala.

The Carnegie-Mellon study also discovered that the motives have different results under different conditions. When time is tight, usefulness outweighs curiosity. When time is more available, curiosity does well. So, an email planned for arrival on Monday morning might get better results if its subject line promised useful information, but one sent to homes on the weekend might have a better open rate if it piques curiosity.

Remember, when writing emails that will be reviewed by others, to explain the reasons for your draft copy. Someone not understanding the reason for your intriguing email might say, “That’s too vague” and rewrite it, when vagueness is exactly what you strove for!

Test, Measure, Analyze, Repeat. The key to good subject lines, and better fundraising.



Upcoming Fundraising Conferences

I’m lucking enough to be attending two small but powerful fundraising conferences in the coming two weeks, where I’ll be blogging sessions as they happen.

#NACCDOPAN2014 conference of the National Association of Cancer Center Development Officers & Public Affairs Network in Columbus, OH, hosted by The James Cancer Center at The Ohio State University. It’s the most collegial gathering of about 300 fundraisers and communications people. My firm Amergent has been a major sponsor of the organization for over 15 years.

Next week I’ll attend my first Woodmark Summit, so named for its first meeting at the Woodmark Hotel in Kirkland, WA in 1991. It gathers together the fundraising leadership of 26 children’s hospitals in the US and Canada, each of whom are leaders in their communities.

If you’ll be at either of these, please let me know, and let’s share what we learn!

Does Taco Bell Care More Than You Do?


Of course not. You’re deeply motivated by your cause, and you love your donors. It’s an insult to compare you to that entry-wage, barely-articulate cashier at a fast food joint.

And yet, that cashier gave you a receipt with an invitation to gather your feedback, ostensibly for the purposes of improving your future Taco Bell visit. Do YOU ask for feedback regularly enough?

While our mantra at Amergent is “Donor Focused, Data Driven” we don’t just rely on our sophisticated analytical processes for the “data.” We often insert short surveys in our direct mail pieces, or links to online surveys in our emails. We know there are many benefits to frequently asking your supporters a very short number of questions on a regular basis.

  1. Everyone likes to have their opinion valued. Even if they don’t complete the survey, they’re flattered to have been asked.
  2. The results  help us with segmentation of donor files and targeting of messages.
  3. The words the donors use themselves are very helpful to future copywriting efforts. By using the more popular verbs and adjectives in fundraising copy, we’re talking with the donor, not to her.
  4. If you repeat a survey question every six months or a year, you’ll be able to track trends in donor satisfaction, or in demographics

When and where to ask? Like they joke about voting in Chicago, “Early, and Often.”

  • It’s easy to include one line and a link in email newsletters.
  • It’s great follow-up content for the “thank you for donating” or “thank you for subscribing” emails and pages.
  • Sprinkle the links around various content pages in your website.
  • Don’t make it a popup on your start page, or on any entry page, or on your donation page (don’t distract people from where they want to go, especially if it’s also where you want them to go).

As an example (and because I care, too) I’ve created a short survey using a free subscription to, and I’d like you to complete it now. Thanks!