Are Your Marketing Efforts Working?
How do you evaluate your marketing program? Well, it depends. There are many things to consider, and because there is no “right” way, it's not as straightforward as you might think.
One characteristic to consider is the age of your program. Is it in its beginning stages, is it a mature program around for decades, or is it somewhere in between? The age and size of your planned giving program is a material factor when you measure and evaluate the results of your planned giving marketing.
The most common practice we see, regardless of the size/age of the program, is to track the responses to each marketing initiative. That alone, however, is not sufficient. And yet, it is the popular, and often only benchmark with which people judge success. Evaluating your marketing based solely on the results of each marketing initiative, even when reviewing those results over the course of a year, does not provide an accurate measure of success.
Tracking the results of each marketing initiative is necessary in order to evaluate the progress over several years. However, once that data is in hand, the secret lies in comparing those results to the goals that have been achieved. It’s the combination of those two elements that provides sufficient perspective to determine whether you need to modify your marketing strategy.
One particular client has been practicing this evaluation technique for the past several years. In our recent annual review, we looked back over the past five years, and determined that their marketing initiatives are not producing the expected results, given the potential of their donor database. As a result, this client is revamping their marketing program, and most importantly testing their prospect lists.
On the other hand, another client’s marketing results were less than desired, but upon observing an uptick in bequest notifications over the past four years, they decided not to rock the boat.
While this approach is helpful for evaluating large, established marketing programs, it's not realistic for small and newer programs, due to the lack of lead volume and the time it takes to close a planned gift. The lag time to close could be anywhere from one to ten years, depending on the type of gift, but that does not mean that marketing initiatives during those years were not effective. How often have you met with a planned giving prospect to find they have saved your marketing mailings?
For the smaller, newer programs, we generally recommend that you don’t start evaluating your program in the way described above until the program is at least five years old. That’s the average amount of time it takes to start to see marketing efforts materialize, both in bequest intentions and bequests realized.
When marketing results are seemingly not meeting expectations, or do not reflect the consistency with which you have been communicating, look to the metrics. They might indicate otherwise.
It’s entirely plausible that the number of marketing leads that were generated from your program were minimal, but the overall numbers of planned gift discoveries, new bequest intentions, or blended gifts have increased. While the gift officers might be directly responsible for closing these gifts, we know that marketing planted the seeds for this to happen.
And what if your organizational leadership can’t wait 5-7 years? Our best advice is to advocate internally for the importance of planned giving to the future health of the organization. This is a long term investment. Until the internal staff is on board, your best bet is to integrate your planned giving message into other communications wherever you can. It’s all part of the long term play.