Direct Response Television for Fundraisers

By Brent Kuhn in Non-Profit on June 28th, 2012

As a fundraiser, you may be considering DRTV for some very good reasons that may include:  telling your story with more depth through video, attracting younger donors, or perhaps finding a whole new target audience that has never given to your organization before. But beware, there are some BIG pitfalls and it will not work for all fundraisers. BKV’s perspective on DRTV for fund-raisers DRTV seldom works for fundraisers or you would see a lot more of it on TV.  Don’t be fooled by the PSAs you see.  We believe that regardless of whether you proceed with true DRTV you should consider doing PSAs.  The only costs are the production and distribution costs and in today’s social world they can be particularly effective.  This is another conversation to have, but needless to say that if we ended up doing DRTV for you we would use the footage to get some PSAs and social impact.  The point is that you can tell a PSA from a DRTV spot by its shorter length and either no or little call to action.  A DRTV spot is loaded with calls to action! Why does DRTV seldom work for fundraisers?  Very simply…general “please donate” offers do not work on TV no matter how good the cause.  No matter how great the rationale you have (for your general offer), DRTV will not generate a respectable return on your media investment. Here’s what works:  An offer that is specific where the donor can visualize where their money is going and what it is doing.  Ideally it should be a continuity offer that asks for multiple months of commitment.  Here are examples of successes all from BKV experience. The king of offers is child sponsorship…send $25 per month to support a specific child.  Donors are given the details, 80% of the money goes to the child in the form of hot meals, education, etc.  We have done this for many years with Christian Children’s Fund (now ChildFund International) and Save the Children. Working for Helen Keller International we and our client came up with two highly specific and successful offers:  1.) Send $1 to help us deliver one mega dose of Vitamin A to a child from a developing country. Then we said how many children do you want to help and can you help on a monthly basis? 2.) “Old people” in developing countries, oftentimes would start going blind around the age of 40. The cause was simply cataracts.  It cost $20 per cataract surgery.  This made for a simple ask…”Please contribute $20 to let one person see again…how many would you like to help…would you do this on a monthly basis?” Step 1:  Finding the right offers to test So as you can see from the above, you have to come up with a strong offer.  You have to craft a number of offer alternatives that you think may work.  No, we can’t know for sure, that is why we need to test several.  But from our 30+ years of experience we can tell you offers that are unlikely to work and we, both client and agency, don’t want any part of a probable failure.  So, our recommendation is to stop at this point if we can’t find an offer that we at least believe in. Step 2:  Finding the best creative Offer is king, but in the world of DRTV fundraising weak creative can kill an otherwise good offer even faster than in other media like direct mail.  You must show need, and I mean really show it.  Child sponsorship agencies always would prefer to show success rather than “flies on children”.  That is understandable.  But it is wrong.  We must show need.  Also, we do not believe in overly produced DRTV commercials, slick commercials.  They won’t work any better than a less expensive spot and the slick ones can sometimes even hurt response for non-profits. This is the key go or no go point, before significant money is spent.  We need to look hard at what we have produced to this point before we go into production. Step 3:  The media test You should plan to spend $75,000 to $100,000 on a media test that will determine directionally if we have a winner or a loser and if it is not a big loser (where we stop) what we need to do to push in the direction of success.  We will monitor every variable in our test from the time of day the spot runs, to the type of program it runs on, day of week, station, market, creative, offer, and more.  Generally speaking if our initial test yields a return of anything below about 3x of what our goal is we can cobble together the right combination of the above variables to have a high likelihood of producing a success on the next round of testing. Some details:  We believe in long spots, 2 minutes and 60’s.  Two’s can be harder to buy but are worth the effort particularly if your charity requires more explanation or graphic examples.  We buy only remnant inventory to start with and thus you will experience very high preemption rates.  If our preemption rates are too low that is an indication that we may have paid too much for the spots.  As we evolve we will actually find that paying a higher price for certain fixed location spots works because they deliver an audience that is so responsive that it offsets the premium.  There is much more to talk about in media but I think I have painted the general picture.  BKV excels at media buying because we are very, very good with the details.  Successful media buying just comes down to good math…matching up the responsiveness of spots with a media cost that works and negotiating hard. Step 4: DRTV no longer stands alone Not too many years ago when a DRTV plan was put into place and telemarketing and fulfillment were arranged for, you were ready to go.  Today we must plan associated digital activity. First, you need a landing page that ties to the TV commercial and offer.  You will usually get over ½ of your response coming to the landing page and oftentimes much more.  This is good as it is less expensive than inbound telemarketing.  Also, it will give NRC the opportunity to show prospective donors more video footage and tell a deeper story.  But again, this is a testing variable as too many distractions from sending in the donation can hurt. Second, when a successful DRTV campaign rolls out there will be a nice lift to your paid search and SEO results.  So you must have your SEO work maximized and plan to put into place a paid search campaign or expand the one you are doing.  Today BKV’s number one billing medium is digital media.  We do lots of free standing digital campaigns but digital now supports all other campaigns that we do. DRTV footage will also give you another great tool to enhance your social campaigns.  If you are not already doing so, you need to reach into the blogosphere and send them this new material and recruit bloggers to spread the word. Summary A DRTV  campaign along with the associated digital support and enhancements can open whole new frontiers of fundraising for you.  But it carries risk.  If you can produce a specific offer with need oriented creative you are heading down the right road.   If you head down this road you must have the discipline to “pull the plug” before you go into production and media buying if operations, program, senior executives or whoever water down the offer or creative…because it won’t work!