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November 9, 2018

The 5 Stages of Grief in Multichannel Fundraising Reporting

The multichannel revolution is upon us. And while revolutions only move forward, they often don’t advance at a constant rate.

It likely won’t surprise you that the progress of reporting on all the unique complexities of multichannel marketing is also in flux. Despite many attempts to get a handle on how to report on multichannel fundraising, it is still all over the map.

Nearly everywhere you look you will find webinars, conference sessions, experts, and *cough* blogs *cough* that boast the promise of improved fundraising campaign performance supported by multichannel reporting and analysis. Some experts even claim to know the impact a Facebook post has on a direct-mail campaign.

Even ahead-of-the-curve fundraisers who are trying to adopt effective multichannel analytics and reporting best practices are often let down by misinformation from all the “solutions.”

This leaves many fundraisers feeling downright overwhelmed, questioning the return on investment for a variety of their multichannel initiatives with no clear answers in sight.

Does anyone have a solution to multichannel campaign analytics and reporting?

In short, no. But I am here to help.

In order to find a real solution to the multichannel attribution problem, let’s use the Kubler-Ross model. That’s right! The 5 stages of grief. 



[Voice in your head] “Whoa, whoa, whoa — I don’t have a problem with multichannel marketing or my reporting. You must be mistaken. I’m an integrated marketer.”


Actually  odds are you have two problems. The first involves how complete and accurate your multichannel data is, and the second is the way you execute your campaigns.

The data challenges tend to persist regardless of how you execute your campaigns. Before we dive into that, honestly gauge where your organization falls on the spectrum of campaign execution to determine if you are indeed executing integrated fundraising campaigns.  

Here are the 4 types of marketing campaigns:

heroic fundraising campaign stages

  1. Most nonprofits begin their fundraising with a siloed, Single-Channel Marketing approach. Historically, many charities have only used direct mail — particularly for donor acquisition campaigns.
  2. A Sequential Marketing approach is when a campaign centers around a traditional media channel and then looks to see how other channels could support the campaign in a timely fashion. Senior fundraisers may remember mid-level donor campaigns that included a pre-call, followed by a prospectus package that included a VHS video, a follow-up direct-mail piece, and then another phone call. These were usually very effective ... until they weren’t.
  3. The third evolutionary step is Coordinated Marketing. This is when the development team plans a campaign across multiple channels all at once, with some degree of interaction and thematic integration.
  4. Finally, there’s the truly Integrated Marketing approach, which requires a level of planning and system integration such that a response (or lack thereof) in one channel impacts the message, timing, offer, or price point in another channel in near-time — real-time is a fantasy!

It’s important to accurately assess which campaign approach you’re using, as the campaign approach often dictates how the coding logic and directly attributable tracking is structured. This effort plays a critical role in the detail and fidelity of your multichannel reporting.



[Voice in your head] “Listen here, buddy, I don’t know who you think you are suggesting that I have multichannel problems and that my reporting is wrong. We pay a lot of good money for our CRM, our eCRM, our events platform, our email platform, our major donor moves management application, our BI/reporting tools, our payment processors and payment gateway, our caging vendor … Hey, wait a second ... Are we really using nearly ten different technology products?!”


Legacy database platforms were expressly built with a single channel in mind. And as digital rapidly emerged and fractured into all its many forms (email, search, display, social, P2P, etc.), opportunistic solution providers brought forth a slew of platforms, technologies, and products to address digital fundraising.

As great as many of these products are, they simply aren’t all integrated ... and having an API linking them does not necessarily equate to receiving “good data.”

Auditing your organization’s many systems can prove painful and time-consuming. Not to mention sorting through all the data challenges from the variety of data models, coding logic, and fields. Plus tracking contact preferences, duplications, and fan-out caused by one-to-many relationships.

For instance, your legacy CRM likely considers a donor record to be a household, while your new eCRM likely considers a donor record to be an email address. A household could have two, three, four, or ten or more email addresses in it. 

Sounds messy right? No wonder you’re angry — it can make building meaningful multichannel reporting nearly impossible.



[Voice in your head] “Okay, so if my legacy CRM won’t play nice with all my new digital platforms and if my coding logic is inconsistent, are you saying I can’t report on my multichannel marketing efforts? I have to be able to do something.”


Fair question. I was told by my colleagues at TrueSense Marketing that I am not allowed to answer with, “Crawl under your desk, assume the fetal position, and weep.”

Perhaps a more productive response to consider — if you’re not doing it already — is matchback analysis. Matchback analysis is a process where you review the universe of prospects you targeted in one channel (say, direct mail) and then match those records back against all the donations that came in within 90 days of that campaign mail date. This enables you to see if any of the donors you sent an appeal to made a gift through another channel (main website, text-to-give, eAppeals, etc.).

Performing matchback analysis can help address a handful of your multichannel reporting questions, though it lacks precision in most cases and fundamentally begs additional questions. But it does start the process of shedding light on how various channels may be interacting.


There is a right way, of course, to arrive at these answers. But the barrier tends to be setting up the appropriate multichannel test cells across every channel. This can prove to be so costly and time-consuming that it is prohibitive for all but the largest and most well-funded fundraising programs to pursue.



[Voice in your head] “Just thinking about all this gives me a headache. Based on what you have said, I don’t care anymore. Rather than frustrate myself trying to unravel this tangled mess, I’ll just retreat back to my preferred channel and ignore everything else.”


Your parents were right: “Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.” Do not get discouraged with the complexity and challenge of multichannel marketing, nor the reporting that would be considered ideal.

For nearly half a century, Single-Channel Marketing (direct mail) dominated the world of fundraising. Then, even in those simpler times, there were some who still didn’t fully understand all of direct mail’s nuances and complexities. By comparison, multichannel fundraising campaigns are relatively nascent, and there is still a lot to figure out.

Even for-profit companies on the leading edge of “omnichannel customer experience” are not entirely settled on what good looks like yet. Don’t believe me? Check out this brilliant exchange from this Attribution Acceleration conference. You’ll notice that for-profit companies attempting to solve integrated campaign challenges with multi-million dollar platforms and top statisticians are facing the same root issue as your charity: data.



[Voice in your head] “All right, you convinced me. I do have a problem. My fundraising program is not set up ideally. I do not have a handle on all my disparate technology systems, and measurement of channel performance is likely going to be a frustrating challenge. How do I begin to fix this?”


Once you accept that a problem exists, you can begin to correct it. 

For-profit companies that spend millions of dollars on advanced technology and predictive modeling solutions to address multichannel attribution still struggle with finding answers. For nonprofits, this is not a viable course of action. Start with the things you can control: clean up your data, plan your campaigns differently, and focus on the operational side of marketing. Here are a few ways to get started:

  • Determine which of the four marketing campaigns you are currently using.
  • Work with a consulting agency that has expertise in traditional and digital channels, CRM technologies, analytics, and fundraising best practices to identify your gaps.
  • Think across two dimensions when developing any campaign. What are all of your outbound media channels specific to this campaign? And what are all of your inbound response channels to this campaign?
  • When starting a new fundraising campaign, consider what questions you’ll want to be able to answer at the end. This will help you to appropriately code each channel and methodically add data into your donor database so you can successfully report on your multichannel campaign.


This is part of our blog series about multichannel fundraising. Subscribe to Heroic Fundraising to have fresh fundraising insights delivered to your inbox monthly.


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