What Financial Marketers Can Learn From Nonprofits

Nonprofits have learned how to generate massive ROI by turning data into personalized marketing messages. Smart banks and credit unions will steal their playbook.

After 20 years as a marketer in the banking industry, I decided to take a career detour and accept a role as head of fundraising for an environmental nonprofit. I was passionate about the cause and was sure that all my best practices honed through a career in marketing would be a game changer. It’s true that — over the course of several years — I was able to leverage a different mindset and analytic viewpoint to drive growth in fundraising.

However, now that I am back working as a financial marketer, I am amazed at how many best practices from the nonprofit world can be applied to financial marketing.

Nonprofits view their donors as their lifeblood, and rightfully so. For nonprofits operating on a tight margin, one major donation can mean making payroll in a given month. While larger nonprofits don’t have a paycheck-to-paycheck problem, they still recognize that donors drive the organization, and they work to put donors at the center of everything they do.

In the people-based marketing arena, we often talk about “customer centricity” as the key to elevating results. But in two decades of working with banks, I have not seen any organization live and breathe it the way nonprofits do.

Every decision is made with the donor in mind — from choosing what projects to fund and deciding when to expand services to communication strategies, donors are at the core.

Nonprofit managers ask, “Will my donors support me? How can I partner with my donors on this journey? How do I communicate my mission in a way that resonates with each individual donor?” Now replace “donor” with “customer,” and those are all relevant questions for financial marketers.

It’s All About Data + Personalization

Nonprofit fundraisers truly know each of their major donors. They know what they like to support, when they last gave and how much, and what other nonprofits they donate to. Their databases are their “secret sauce” and they tediously manage what goes in and what comes out. They use this data to create truly personal communication and experiences. Whether it’s through the mail, phone, or online, the best nonprofits carefully craft their message to each donor and carry it through in all channels.

In the banking and financial service space, the scale at which marketers need to operate means we cannot personally know each customer, but we can adopt a mindset to create one-to-one relationships.

As a marketer, your key advantage in deepening customer relationships is the data you have on your customers. What channels do they engage through? How are they using your products today? Why are they contacting you in the branch or call center? What does third-party and credit data tell you about their external relationships and needs?

Marketers need to synthesize this data to truly create segments of one by leveraging marketing technology to drive dynamic content and personalized offers. Tools such as decisioning engines can manage thousands of next-best actions and deliver a message tailored to a specific customer need, interaction, or interest.

Know what your customers respond to and learn from it. Nonprofits often have a portfolio of services and projects. The best nonprofits know which donors support which projects and tailor their communications around specific causes about which donors are passionate.

Do we know if a customer thinks one of our offerings is a waste of time? Why do we consider 0.50% response to some campaigns a success, and what can we learn from the 99.5% of customers who don’t respond? We consider 30% open rates on email a win, but what about the 70% of customers who don’t open an email?

Again, for the financial marketer, technology is the key to success. Using contact and response history and integrating channel data across all customer touchpoints — a central contact history database — has long been a best practice. But, are all of your channels and touchpoints feeding into this database? And more importantly, how are you using contact history to influence each customer’s next offer and channel of delivery?

Ease Up and Apply Less Pressure

Nonprofits keep donors informed and engaged with relevant content about how their contributions make a difference. Read the next newsletter or mailing you get from your favorite charity, and you will see the word “you” everywhere: “you make a difference,” “you make it possible,” “because of you.” Nonprofits know that sharing success — and putting the donor at the center of that success — means donors feel connected, and they are more likely to give when the next ask comes.

Key Questions: Are your customers tired of seeing your offers? What relevant content are you sharing with your audience that helps them feel more connected to your brand?

Banks and credit unions have come a long way in developing financial education and guidance content. Visit any big bank’s website and you will find dozens of blog posts, infographics, and articles. The opportunity for marketers is to leverage this content and integrate it with your marketing message. Whether the content is about meeting financial goals, managing debt, or getting ready for retirement, it can be used demonstrate to customers that you care and want them to succeed.

Take a cue from nonprofits. Thank them for their business, combine it with relevant content, and seamlessly integrate into your marketing messages. Do this and they will be more likely to respond when the next offer comes.

Channels Don’t Matter

For several years, we have been focused on the idea of omni-channel marketing. This is — and should still be — an aspiration for many marketers. The idea of consistent marketing messaging and customer experience regardless of channel, device, or location is a worthy goal. However, some nonprofits have achieved this by transcending channels.

Back to the idea of donor-centricity. Rather than thinking about what message to deliver in each channel, the best nonprofits think about how their donors engage with their brand. Channels are an afterthought. What’s important is what matters to the donor, and then delivering that message to them in a way that is compelling.

Rather than thinking about the next email campaign or next direct mail offer, as a financial marketer you should be thinking about what’s next for each customer. You should ask yourself, how can I leverage my unique knowledge about what’s important to a customer, and use that knowledge to improve their lives – and the bank’s bottom line. Then you should build a brand interaction and messaging strategy for that customer and deploy it consistently wherever the customer engages.

While banking and nonprofits are worlds apart, thinking like a fundraiser from time to time can allow you to step out of the minutiae and focus on what motivates your customer to act. It can allow you to ask, “What does my customer care about?” and “Am I letting my customers know how much I value them?” It can allow you to best use all the tools and technology at your disposal to engage in a conversation that is relevant and fulfilling for the customer, and drives meaningful results to the bottom line for your organization.

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