This year's ANA Winter Conference took place online and in-person in Washington, D.C. Maïca Pichler, THD's senior director of digital strategy & operations, shares her perspective after both attending and presenting alongside Eloise Caggiano VP of development, marketing & communications at American Parkinson Disease Association.
Q: You're just back from attending the ANA Conference in person, and we are eager to learn more. Can you give us a rundown?
A: I knew going in that this would be a very niche conference, and I noticed right away that there were a few recurring themes in the presentations — some common buzzwords. Let’s be clear, I’m not negatively using that term – what I mean by this is that these were essential ideas, and people were having substantive conversations. And I'd love to get beyond the buzz with you here. The two that most stood out were omnichannel/multichannel and authenticity, both of which got me thinking about donor-first strategy.
Q: Interesting. Let's start with omnichannel/multichannel. How was this a recurring theme?
A: This one was on my radar because it related to the presentation we were delivering there, and it seemed to come up in almost every session as people were talking about cross-channel, multichannel, omnichannel, and reaching supporters in different spaces. It was fascinating how the presentations played off each other throughout the conference.
At one session, I heard a great point of view: The channel a donor uses is not a reflection of their values but simply their preferred mode of communication with your organization. My takeaway was that the channel should not drive how you talk to someone. Donors are connecting to the cause, not the channel, so there needs to be thoughtful, deliberate communication with people across all channels.
That thought-provoking “myth of the multichannel donor” idea was woven throughout the conference. Several presenters (myself included) discussed how omnichannel/multichannel donors aren’t magically more valuable just because they engage with a cause in multiple ways. Rather, they are of higher quality because organizations are fostering more authentic and stronger connections with those donors in multiple places.
These ideas resonated beyond the conference setting and made me think about the advice we give to our clients: Show up authentically (every)where your donors are – not where it’s convenient to you or with content dictated by the channel — but by being nuanced to the donor, their individuality, and their behavior. Each channel is a pathway and conduit to a meaningful connection that amplifies impact.
Q: With all this talk about omnichannel at the conference, does this mean organizations need to actively add emerging or missing channels to their mix?
A: The buzz around omnichannel underscores how imperative it is for organizations to have a nuanced relationship with supporters. It is not easy or something to be taken for granted. It’s not something that happens overnight, and it needs to be done thoughtfully. So going into a new channel just because it’s the hot new thing doesn’t make sense.
Organizations and their marketing partners need to have strategic conversations about how channels can support the mission or whether the channel will better connect with existing supporters (or be a source for new ones). And if you add a channel, will you be able to properly support it in a way that enhances the donor experience – not just because it’s a new, bright shiny object?
For instance, everybody right now is rightfully asking about TikTok. It’s blowing up, and it’s an excellent question to ask. But just because it’s hot doesn’t mean the answer is yes for a specific client’s organization. We would guide our client by prompting with questions like:
Q: Let's talk about authenticity. You mentioned that this was another “buzzy” conference theme you noticed. What was memorable for you about it?
A: Let me first address authenticity in relation to donor communication channels. It’s not just a consideration when choosing a channel; it’s also a consideration when thinking about how to use the channel. Can you find a way to use it successfully? In a way that is authentic to your brand? For example, while it may not be brand-appropriate to jump on this week’s TikTok dance trend, are there other content applications of TikTok that could be (like explaining bite-sized research results or answering common questions about your niche)? Will this experience feel like an authentic addition to your audience’s relationship with your brand?
In the nonprofit space, authenticity is not just about your brand, but it is crucial to the personal relationship that your audience has with your brand and mission. How is what you are saying and what you are doing reinforcing a relationship that feels believable so that your message activates the impact you wish to achieve?
Even in our presentation at the ANA, where we were speaking on the subject of marketing automation, we stressed the importance of authenticity. While our content was highly operational and technically focused, we underscored how even the smartest strategies would be undermined if messaging wasn’t created with authenticity, customization, and simplicity.
There was another excellent presentation at the conference that illustrated the power of authenticity in achieving buy-in from cause stakeholders and reaching the target audience with a critical message to influence behavior. It focused on an impressively effective grassroots campaign to educate Black & Latino communities in Atlanta about mask usage during the pandemic, relying on community-credible local artists, civic leaders, and celebrities to help craft the message and inspire action. The key to success was ensuring that the messengers were authentic to the community and felt authentically connected to the message. Forced authenticity would be a fast track to failure, and they spoke openly about how they had failed and then recovered stronger by reevaluating the authenticity of their messaging and messengers. It brought up a pitfall that we marketers should keep in mind: If you’re trying too hard to be authentic, then you probably are not authentic. It got me thinking about crafting messages in the brand’s voice: Write in the voice; edit only for clarity. Once you begin editing the voice, you lose authenticity.
Q: You mentioned these two themes resonated with you in the context of audience/donor-first strategy. Why do you say this?
A: Those two ideas matter because solid, modern, nonprofit communications need to be donor-first. We need to reach people with messaging that connects to them — the authenticity piece — and we need to reach people where they are, in all the places where they are — omnichannel.
In this day and age, audiences expect everything to be customized to them, and they expect it to be automatically customized to them across every channel they’re seeing. The pandemic has accelerated this expectation for everyone, everywhere. That is the true donor-first world in which we’re living. People, as consumers, have high expectations about the brand experience. And we have got to be thinking about our donors as consumers.
At THD, we are all about the audience first — and for our clients, that means donor-first. When you are considering channels, there are some questions that need to be asked. Which ones are your audience using? How do we reach them throughout their day, whether on connected TV, through their phones, on different social apps, or in their inboxes and mailboxes? And how do we do that in a way that is true to your organization’s brand authenticity but, first and foremost, true to the relationship authenticity?
One thing that we talked about during our ANA presentation on automation is that organizations can do this so that donors don’t even realize they’re on an automation journey. A good automation journey considers all channels, is authentic, and is donor-first. The content a target receives should make obvious, contextual sense as to why they are seeing it — whether on one journey (for example, as a donor or volunteer) or multiple ones simultaneously. Leaning into automation technology facilitates authentic, omnichannel donor-first journeys that deliver a nuanced message wherever the audience encounters us, without additional work.