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How the Salvation Army Grew Their Recurring Donors by Strengthening Their Value Proposition

Published by Nathan Hill

The Salvation Army is most often recognized by their ringing bells and red kettles around the holiday season, collecting donations to serve over four and a half million people in need. But their relief work expands beyond the holidays as they offer relief and aid both domestically and abroad year-round.

Although the Red Kettle Campaign is a large source of donations for the Salvation Army, they have a significant recurring giving program that helps them accomplish their ongoing relief work around the world.The Salvation Army

The Problem

The Salvation Army began considering their recurring donor program, and hypothesized that they could improve upon its value proposition and provide a more nurturing experience to those already enrolled. Before this campaign, their value proposition essentially was, “If you give a recurring gift, we’ll ask you for donations less often.”

As a result, they had 2 primary goals for their new campaign:

  1. They needed to develop a value proposition that would increase the percentage of people signing up to be recurring donors.
  2. They needed to roll their existing recurring donors over to a new program without causing confusion or creating anxiety that might result in someone canceling their gift.

They also strived to develop this program in a cost-effective way. They didn’t want to inflate their costs by developing lots of brand new content.

The Plan

In partnership with Russ Reid, The Salvation Army developed the True Neighbor campaign.

The first aspect of this campaign to note is who they’re targeting. They aren’t focusing their efforts on people who are brand new to their email file, but rather on those who have already donated in the past. These people have already experienced the value proposition of The Salvation Army and have a prior understanding of their work.

The most important aspect of any marketing or fundraising campaign is the message. In this campaign, their message starts by communicating that the target donor is already a True Neighbor because they give to provide help and relief in their city.

Their call to become a recurring donor gives the donor an opportunity to be that kind of True Neighbor all year long, designating their gift in an area that matters most to them. Rather than simply donating to stop being pestered, they’re given the chance to make a great impact in their community.

Salvation Army - True NeighborChannels
Most of the communication in this campaign was initiated through direct mail. But while many direct mail campaigns simply provide a story and a way to mail in your gift, this campaign focuses on driving the recipient online to watch a video showing what it means to be a true neighbor. By getting the donor to take this small step forward, they can increase the likelihood that the donor will take a bigger step and convert to a recurring donor.

Salvation Army - True Neighbor VideoContent
In order to keep costs to a minimum, this campaign utilized existing YouTube videos and other publicly available content that demonstrated their message. This reduced the amount of time and overhead involved in deploying the campaign, which directly affects their ROI.

The Results

This campaign had two primary goals:

  1. Increase recurring donation conversion rates.
  2. Roll over their existing recurring donors without losing any.

Their benchmark for converting existing donors into recurring donors was 1%. This means that every 1 in 100 donors would become a recurring donor. While this campaign is still in its early stages, having been piloted in January 2017, the Salvation Army is currently seeing a 2.4% conversion rate – a 140% lift above their benchmark.

Secondly, they saw a 0% attrition rate as they rolled over existing recurring donors into this new program. That means they’ve maintained their prior recurring revenue, and are only adding to it as they continue to roll out their acquisition plan.

The Learning

We chose The Salvation Army as a 2017 Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization award winner because they had several significant takeaways from their campaign that serve as great learnings for all of us.

Russ Reid - Best Recurring CampaignFirst, your message is critical. It needs to convey value, not cost. We can’t hold our donors hostage by requiring them to give more in order to be bothered less. We must focus on answering the one question all of your potential donors are asking: “Why should I give to you, rather than to some other organization, or not at all?”

Secondly, direct mail and online channels are not independent of each other. In fact, when we use them in conjunction with one another, we often see significant results. In this case, direct mail was a great way to get their donors’ attention, and driving them online served as an effective way to convey the value of a recurring donation.

Thirdly, you don’t always have to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to create content for a major campaign. Most organizations already have troves of content sitting around that just need to be organized or compiled into something of value. In this case, the Salvation Army demonstrated that you can effectively use content from other people to convey your own message.

Published by Nathan Hill

Nathan Hill is Vice President, NextAfter Institute.