business development, fundraising industry

0 Jobs – and 3 Networking Lessons from the DMFA Awards

Am I that naive?

How can networking result in 0 jobs and still be a success?

A little bit of background: Last year (2018), I visited the DMFA Awards meeting. I had some, I thought, relevant insights. I also attended the Bridge Conference, the Chicago Nonprofit Conference, the AFP St. Louis Gateway Conference, and the AWAI Bootcamp. And this year I attended the DC Nonprofit Conference and the Midwest Digital Marketing Conference.

In 12 months I’ve done a lot of travel, to meet specific industry members who do the work I do, who hire people like me.

I networked my ass off.

I met a lot of people. I handed out a lot of business cards. I collected a lot of swag.

I got a book (Unconscious Branding) in one of the bags. I read it. I reviewed it. I’m going to post a review of that soon. When I do, I’ll come back to this post and link it.

I missed my kids. And I missed baseball games, orchestra concerts, and volleyball practices. They missed me.

I collected my fair share of airline miles.

And so, one might ask, how successful was all of that “networking”? Was it worth it?

A year later, I look at the 7 conferences I’ve attended, the hundreds of business cards in my Rolodex, and the thousands of e-mails I’ve sent. What happened after all that activity?

I got 0 jobs.

Zero.

None.

No assignments. No opportunities. No paychecks.

Oh, I’ve been paid. I’ve had checks from local clients, and those in other states. I’m not starving. But out of those in-person industry meetings where I pay hundreds of dollars to sit in a room an listen to everyone else tell me how to do my job better?

Zilch.

And yet, I still call all of that successful. Not because of the jobs I did or did not get, but because of the networking I did during those meetings. It paid off this year. Maybe not in a great big way, with a large retainer contract, but in starting the connections I need to build in order to make that happen in the future.

And here’s why I call getting 0 jobs a success.

This year, I attended the DMFA Awards again.

I flew to New York. Paid my registration fee, had lunch, and met two incredible people. Not for the first time … and hopefully not for the last, either.

Stephen is a copywriter, who used to be a freelancer like me. We met at the DC Nonprofit Conference earlier this year. We exchanged cards, and later, LinkedIn connections.

When I met him this year at the DMFA Awards, he had gotten out of freelance and taken a full-time agency job. Yet he knows people who will still want freelancers, and actually asked for my card to pass along my information to others when they ask. I now have an advocate out there making connections on my behalf. Success #1.

I also sat next to Tiffany. I met her the first time last year at the Bridge Conference. She works for Doctors Without Borders. This year she attended, and as we conversed, she said that she remembered me. I was a little surprised, as I didn’t think I’d made any impressions, so I asked why.

Last year, I gave her a whole packet about me, with samples of my direct mail writing. She said it was incredibly easy to hand that to someone and say, “I met a copywriter. Here’s his stuff.”

Advocate #2 (though she was advocating for me long before I actually knew it!). Success #2.

There’s a Point to All This

So, based on that experience, I have 3 networking take-aways for all those out there just getting started, or changing it up, or looking to go deeper.

1. SHOW UP. OFTEN.

You won’t get to actually meet people if you just sit at home and e-mail. Would Stephen have been asking for my card again if he had never seen me the first time? Probably not. I’d be another face in the crowd, or “just another copywriter”, unless I actually showed up to 2 different meetings he was attending. When I showed up, when you show up, you demonstrate your commitment to your craft, to the industry, and to your peers. You might not know everything, but at least you’re ahead of those who don’t even bother to put in that much effort.

Nobody’s going to hire you on the first time they meet you. Marketers know it takes 6 to 8 touches to get someone even interested in a brand. The same is true for you as a professional. Don’t just assume it’s going to happen after the first coffee conversation. Go where they are.

Show up.

2. BE PREPARED.

Know your audience. In all of those conferences last year, I knew I would be meeting professionals who work with direct mail. So, I prepared a direct mail packet, to demonstrate that I do, in fact, know how to write for direct mail.

Plus, having that packet made it ridiculously easy for someone to evaluate my credentials. I wasn’t asking them to try to remember, days and days and days later, to take extra steps to visit my website to see samples. I had done the hard work for them, and I know that people appreciate when you make it easy on them.

Heck, that’s the only reason I read Unconscious Branding. It was ridiculously easy to find; all I had to do was look in my bag at the DC conference, and there it was. In the same way, all Tiffany had to do was to grab hold of whatever I’d already given her, and then give that to her colleague who works with copywriters. That professional, too, is going to be automatically able to see my credentials, without the hurdle of visiting my website, because I was prepared for my audience.

3. BE MEMORABLE.

Tiffany remembered me. Because I showed up and I was prepared. Stephen remembered me. Because I showed up, and I was prepared. I was also professional, not amateurish, and I had my “story” ready to go. I am memorable to them, because I have something unique about me. I have a good story to tell, I know why I’m doing what I’m doing, and I know what sets me apart. All of these mean that I’m not “just another copywriter,” but I’m actually quite unique.

Knowing why I want to do what I’m doing is a great help when figuring out how to present myself at these networking meetings. If you’re not memorable, you’re not … memorable.

This doesn’t mean you should show up in a pink clown suit, or stand up on top of the dinner table and announce your availability over the next 3 months and your prices, in a loud (okay, probably also drunk) voice. Those are the bad kind of memorable.

It does mean that you should know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and why that’s important. That’s the good kind of memorable.

Look, I’m Not Saying It’s Easy.

In fact, it’s downright depressing sometimes when I think of the number of times I’ve been groped by TSA for virtually no return.

But, then, I think about those two conversations in New York, and I know it’s worth it.

Maybe not today.

Maybe not tomorrow.

But … someday, those networking connections are going to pay off.

Big time.

Because networking is not about getting a job right then and there. Networking is about building a network.

If you build it, well –

You know the rest.

fundraising industry

Impressions of the DMFA Awards

Last week I attended the DMFA Awards (formerly DMFA Package of the Year) in New York City. This is the profession’s signature event of the year and showcases the best of the best in direct marketing for fundraising. It was my first time attending, and I came away with some new conclusions and reinforcements of others. The results are in, I won’t comment on that because I’m not a voting member of the DMFA, but you can read about the winners here.

Today, though, I’m offering 4 takeaways (and 1 bonus!) about the event.

 

1. Acquisition Really Is That Difficult

The conventional wisdom is that using direct mail to acquire new donors is plagued by high costs, low success, and low returns on investment. The numbers reinforce that conclusion. There were 7 packages entered in this category. Of those, the least expensive clocked in at a cost of $1.09 to raise $1. More than half are $1.66 or more, with multiple packages over $2.00. That means, if you spent $16,600 on a package, you would get a return of only $10,000, losing money.

The reason for such high costs is the extremely low return and low average gift. With response rates in the 0.5% to 1.5% range, and average gifts less than $40, it just doesn’t result in any profit for the organization after including package development, postage, list rental, and creative costs. Conventional wisdom holds for these “best of the best”. Should other nonprofits expect any better?

Naturally, I ask, If direct mail acquisition is so expensive, why do it at all? The answer is in #2 below.

 

2. Renewal Really Is Where You Make It Up

With response rates at 6%, and average gifts at $142, it’s no surprise that Renewal mailings are where nonprofits really see the value of direct mail. Efficiency improves dramatically, because: you’re mailing to proven names, you’re mailing to a much smaller group, and the people who you’re mailing to already have some connection to the organization you can build on. And it shows.

Costs to raise $1 are as low as $0.04, with many below $0.30. The average is only $0.23, which means to replace the $10,000 you got in Acquisition giving, you only need to spend $2,300 this year. That’s now a $7,700 profit, which overcomes the loss from the year before.

Plus, these mailings represent just one campaign. Throughout the year an organization may produce 4 or 5 or up to 10 packages. If each one garners a 5%-6% response, that’s potentially 30%-50% of your mailing list giving again. It’s easy to see that Renewal is an essential part of fundraising, and should never be taken for granted. Doing so would mean ignoring a big opportunity and leaving a lot of money on the table, so to speak.

 

3. These People Are Not Naive

In any industry there are best practices for a reason: because they continue to work. The Mid-Level Renewal packages have higher cost to create and mail compared to standard Renewal and Acquisition packages. Average cost per piece for Acquisition is about $0.55, while Renewal is $0.93 and Mid-Level Renewal goes up to $1.90. This is because these donors have a tendency to give more, so it makes sense to spend more asking them to give. More color printing, more special reports, more benefits such as tickets to events, etc. The result is often higher response rates and higher average gifts ($307) in this category, leading to more money for the organization. That’s a good thing.

However, because of the need to “spend more to get more”, it does not translate into more efficient fundraising. The cost to raise $1 on Mid-Level Renewals is still about $0.20, which means you’re not really getting more bang for your buck here.

It simply means that you’ve got to continue doing this, and doing it well, because mid-level donors are that much closer to your highest tier, where you can start talking about large gifts and bequests. Should you try to cut costs and squeeze the pipeline, downstream giving would certainly suffer from the resultant smaller, less engaged donor pool.

 

4. It’s Hard To Compare Apples And Term Papers

E-mail is becoming more popular, because of the significantly lower production and distribution costs. For a while many predicted this, and the cultural shift to electronic communications, would lead to the death of direct mail . However, the existence of the DMFA (and all its members) nullifies that conclusion. The reason? E-mail fundraising just isn’t that much better than direct mail. Costs to raise $1 for this category range widely, but average around $0.18. So while you can potentially have a wider, easier, faster reach with e-mail, it’s not going to be kicking direct mail to the curb any time soon.

As well, e-mail response rates are a tenth (or worse) of physical direct mail, so it’s hard to make comparisons as to which is better for the organization. It’s almost like comparing two completely different types of things, like a piece of fruit and an academic exercise. Ultimately you need both, and used in their own right ways.

The final category of awards is Multichannel. That is, perhaps there’s an e-mail campaign integrated with direct mail. Or you’ve got some Facebook ads along with a series of e-mail blasts. How do you measure all of these “impressions”? Is an e-mail worth the same as a Google ad? What about reTweets, do they get included? And where is the measure of the return on investment from your donor seeing 6 different ads, then navigating to the website independently, and donating there? It’s daunting to create a holistic view of how this channel works, and because of the lack of standardization, it is hard to know what numbers (impressions, clicks, etc.) represent better results here.

Because there is so much disparity in what defines this category I’ll fall back on the cost to raise $1. And, here, like everything above, the average works out to about $0.21. All told, this may be the wave of the future. But, like e-mail’s inability to dislodge traditional mail’s place as a staple of fundraising, integrated digital impressions will become another tool, but not the only one.

 

Conclusion

This was my first time attending the event. I found the participants welcoming, willing to talk and listen to my story when I told it, and extremely competent in their respective areas of expertise. There is no magic trick that will make one campaign stand out against all the rest competing for attention, and most fundraising is about the same efficiency. I learned a lot, made some important connections, and look forward attending again next year. This meeting reinforced some of the assumptions I’d been making and invalidated others. For that alone it was worthwhile.

 

Bonus Impression – The After-Party Is More Than Just Socializing

Just like the for-profit business events I’ve attended in the past, I was able to hang around long enough to get invited over to the after-party. There I got to continue some conversations and make some new impressions. And, just like in the for-profit world, once you get people a little more relaxed and out of the “show” of the main event, they’ll start giving you their real opinions. Like which companies are just screwing up the southeast region, and who could be doing a whole lot better by changing to that other supplier with the lower overhead cost.

These aren’t the things you’ll hear about in any of the general sessions or over lunch at a traditional business conference or meeting. But they’re where a good portion of the real work gets done. I’m very grateful for the chance to play “fly on the wall” to a couple of these conversations, and I hope to be able to leverage these insights for the benefit of all in the future.