A Needle in a Haystack

Apr 05, 2023

You’ve heard the idiom ‘it's like looking for a needle in a haystack,’ right? It’s based off of the concept that it would be super difficult to find a metal sewing needle in a tall pile of dry grass, also known as a haystack. My husband experiences this seemingly daily with his keys, his glasses, his cell phone, the remote control, etc. We joke that he’s ‘The Finder of All Things', but that’s only because he’s spent so much time looking for things when he was ‘The Loser of All Things'. Maybe you’re married to that same person!

This turn of phrase made me think back to 2013 when our giving stats weren’t what I knew they could be. We needed more consistent donors. We needed those donors to give more than a one-and-done end-of-year gift. And, ultimately, we needed the total amount of all those donations to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. So, something had to change, but what?

At that time, we had about 20,000 people in our database. Most were donors at some time in our three decades of history. And like many others, maybe even you, we were using a shotgun approach. Specifically, in marketing, the shotgun approach is a strategy that targets a large and diverse audience with the same message.  Generally, it’s an approach that is indiscriminate, haphazard, and uses quantity over quality. 

Lots of nonprofits use this approach. And, as haphazard as it is, it can work. But the results are mediocre at best, similar to the results we were seeing in 2013. And even worse, because there is no method to this madness, you never really know why a donor responds to the call to action.  And without this knowledge, you can’t replicate it.

Today, let’s talk about why you need a Left Brain Marketing Method and some Right Brain Marketing Moxie.  You can move away from the shotgun approach to marketing with a ‘do-less-but-better’ system. That new system will not only demonstrate good stewardship of your budget, but it is kind to your team. After all, they deserve to see that the deliberate actions they are taking are leading to the results you’ve all been seeking. 

Left Brain Marketing Methods:  You always hear people talking about the Shotgun Approach, but rarely if ever hear about the Rifle Approach to marketing. Unless you have an unlimited budget and aren’t concerned about being a good steward of your budget and time resources, this needs to stop now.

Right Brain Marketing Moxie:  When you are committed to the mission of your nonprofit organization, you want to raise as much money as possible.  The term nonprofit is often mistaken for ‘no profit’ as in, ‘we don’t make a profit’.  That couldn’t be further from the truth. The more donations you bring in, the wider impact you can make in meeting your mission. So, yes, if you care about your mission at all, you do, in fact, want to increase your income annually. There is a right brain ‘needle in the haystack’ approach to doing this.

TV gif. Tina Fey as Liz on Thirty Rock rocks her head and looks ahead with focused determination. Text, "Let's do this."

Left Brain Marketing Method:  The Shotgun Approach is great if the target you need to reach is big and wide.  For example, if you’re a brand marketer, like Tide or Crest, and everyone needs to use some version of the product, then you need to get your brand’s name in front of them. The consumer is going to buy the product since we all need to wash our cloths and brush our teeth. But they have a choice in what specific brand to purchase.

It works like this…a shotgun can fire a large number of small pellets in a large, random area, a strategy used to target as many people as possible to hear about a product or service. Literally, anyone anywhere in the vicinity of the target will learn about it—think commercials during the Super Bowl or billboards along the highway. So, this approach can and does work—when it makes sense.

Times Square Dax Norman GIF by Walter Wlodarczyk 
However, the Shotgun Approach is typically executed when the target audience seems too diverse to focus on any one segment. Nonprofit marketers tend to use this strategy when they water down their message to something generically about philanthropy or generosity, something that will appeal to just about everyone.

 But is your audience too diverse to focus on any one segment? I learned in 2014 that it’s not.

You’re a conversion marketer. Not everyone is a philanthropist. Not every person is generous. Not every donor believes in endowment. You’re trying to do more than get the consumer to know your brand’s name, so it is important who gets your message. If it's important that specific people get your message because they are the ones likely to do what you ask them to do, then the Rifle Approach is for you. It helps marketers, like you, focus on specific, high-yield prospects. Specific, high-yield prospects clearly wouldn’t include everyone in your database. For example, there are probably not a lot of shampoo companies marketing to Seth Godin, Adam Grant, Mr. Clean, or any of their brilliantly bald friends. They’re simply not the right demographic. The same goes for your donors. That’s why you need to be targeted.

The scary part is that your mind will play a numbers game. You’ll think it’s better to do a direct mail piece to 10,000 people if 5% of them act, even in a small, one-time giving type of way. But if you play that game, you’re playing checkers, when you should be playing chess.

Chess is strategic and requires some forethought. Your donors need you to be thinking this way about them. Sending a direct mail piece to 1000 people who you know are charitable, who love your mission, and who have the capacity to act on the request you make of them—that’s your sweet spot.

I did it. I tracked our data for more than five years as we were doing less but better.  We saw nothing but gains. We gained donors. We increased donor loyalty with multiple donations being made annually by our donors. And the bottom line amount raised increased markedly.

So, try it. Track your results. Pivot when your data tells you it’s needed. And spend less time and money mailing to the masses who don’t look forward to receiving your messages.

Friends Lol GIF by HBO Max

Right Brain Marketing Moxie: I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, "How do I find those needles in the haystack? How do I find the 1,000 donors in the group of 10,000 that are the best donors for me to target?"

Part of it, of course, is your left brain method of using a database to make quality decisions about who the donors are that have an affinity and capacity for your organization—and you can tell that by their giving history. But if you’re really interested in making a profit, increasing the number of dollars you raise each year, and growing the impact of your mission, then you need to find the needle in the haystack.

How do you find that tiny little needle in that ginormous haystack? Simple, you become magnetic. When you use your creative right brain to send out ideas that are magnetic, you begin to reliably and affordably attract an abundance of your ideal donors.  You have officially opened the door to making your organization the go-to place for their charitable giving. These specific donors are your needles found in the haystack by the creative marketing magnet that I like to call moxie. Add in a dash of moxie and those needles open your mail, read it, and respond to it. You’ve officially used your magnetic personality to separate the donor wheat from the donor chaff, the needles from the piles of tall dead grass that no one has time to sift through without magnetic marketing tools. 

This is why I write this blog. The left brain and the right brain need to work together. One side, then the other. None of that dreaded multitasking. That leads to a lack of concentration which ultimately lends to losing your keys, your glasses, your cell phone, and your remote control. And, as someone famous once said on the internet, ‘Ain’t nobody got time for that’.

All My Best,

[email protected]
dawn brown creative, llc.  

P.S. Fundraising is hard, even though you make it look
oh-so easy! ♥

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