3 Things I Learned at the 2018 Bridge Conference

August 7, 2018

Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to join over 2,000 fundraisers in Washington, D.C. for the 2018 Bridge Conference. It’s a conference I have wanted to attend for a long time. I’m happy to say it managed to meet my lofty expectations!

Coming out of a whirlwind three days, I can honestly say that I’ve never been more excited for the future of fundraising! The amount of information shared during these action-packed days filled my mind with all kinds of new ideas. From donor survey design to digital ecosystem mapping, neuromarketing’s latest discoveries to the widespread adoption of AI, there was a lot to digest. But I’ve taken everything I saw and heard in DC and distilled them into my personal three biggest takeaways.

These three key lessons are shared below. I hope you enjoy!

Neuromarketing is Answering WHY

In direct response campaigns, whether it’s direct mail, telephone, or online, we’re typically able to determine what performed best easily. A/B testing, with clear control and test groups, shows us the approach that yields the best results. We can then use that information to guide future appeals. But the truth behind why the better package works is more elusive. We hypothesize, but can rarely be certain as to the reason a particular package or donation page performed better.

Neuromarketing (or neuro-fundraising when applied to donors) is pulling back the curtain on our minds’ inner workings. In doing so, it’s helping us identifying why certain fundraising approaches work best. New research is continuing to uncover what goes into our decision making and helping fundraisers generate stronger results.

We’re achieving this by tapping into heuristics – mental shortcuts that all of us take thousands of times per day. These decisions are all on auto-pilot and conserve energy and time so that our brains can spend effort on more challenging problems. By understanding the shortcuts our minds take in daily decision making, we can craft more compelling appeals and generate stronger results.

Similarly, studies are uncovering chemical changes in our brains and how that impacts our giving. One session focused on the levels of oxytocin in our brains and its impact on charitable giving. In one study referenced by the session speaker, people who received a dose of oxytocin prior to seeing a donation form gave 57% more frequently than those who received a placebo. This study, and others like it, are opening new avenues to explore in our efforts to better communicate with donors.

Multi-Channel Campaigns are Evolving

We all understand that, in today’s marketplace, single-channel campaigns are rarely the most effective. Multi-channel campaigns that integrate effectively and carry a consistent message are the ideal way to interact with donors. Multi-channels campaigns also offer donors different opportunities to engage with us in a way that works best for them.

In such a busy marketplace, it is imperative to understand the different touchpoints you have given your donors and potential donors. If you haven’t yet, undertaking a donor journey mapping exercise is a very worthwhile activity to pursue. It was fascinating to see the different journeys laid out at the Bridge Conference by the various organizations sharing theirs. Even more interesting was brainstorming how different channels could work together.

For instance, the best practice when sending out a direct mail letter is to follow it up with an email to the same audience. The two work together to reinforce the same message and remind the donor to give. Pairing social media with an outbound telephone call has a similar effect. A prospect can be identified online, contacted quickly, then brought on board as a monthly donor. Newer technologies, like geo-fencing, can now also be used to this effect. By pairing ads with street canvassing or Unaddressed Admail, it may be possible to prime donors for the gift solicitation. The one lesson I took away from all of this was simple: we’re only limited by our imaginations!

The Future is Coming (but it’s still a work in progress)

The raw power of digital technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) was on full display all week. Google, in particular, is constantly adding new features and services to improve its use. It already handles 70% of all searches online – so what comes next for this digital behemoth? This was a popular question at a number of sessions, as speakers identified how to best leverage Google and speculated on its future.

But perhaps the most exciting session focused on the role of AI and its potential to revolutionize our roles as fundraisers. Today, we are in the very early days of AI adoption curve, and it will be some time before it is widely embraced. But when that shift happens, what will it look like? Will we, as fundraisers, be able to tap into this technology to better identify potential donors? To free ourselves up to spend more time building these key relationships?

One speaker thought of it thusly: in the past, we bought names or records of people, in the hopes of making more fundraising requests. In the future, we will instead buy outcomes, driven by the predictive abilities of AI. It seems to me that, with donor retention being a key issue faced by many organizations, this is a potentially revolutionary shift in our approach.

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Ronen Tal

Ronen Tal

Fundraiser. Strategist. Data junkie. Traveler. Contingency planner. Rock climber. Amateur ramen chef.