Next best action – How to always deliver the right message at the right time

What is ‘Next Best Action’?

Put simply, any next best action tool or algorithm should be about delivering the right message at the right time to the right audience. In fundraising terms, this entails presenting the right offer to the right supporters – but more broadly, in terms of engaging charity supporters, it could embrace other service, delivery or engagement messages.

For example, should we be sending supporter X a raffle campaign? Or is the regular giving conversion a better offer for that individual? Or should we perhaps be communicating instead about the potential to volunteer in our service delivery programme?

Almost all of us regularly encounter obvious examples of this from corporates such as Amazon or Netflix, in which they suggest books, films or music for us to purchase, based on our recent purchasing or viewing history.

Such tools generally use sophisticated algorithms such as collaborative filters or basket analysis, which will look at groups of products that may be bought together.

Why Next Best Action?

Next Best Action does pretty much what it says on the tin: delivering the most relevant message to each supporter should increase your response rates and engagement levels, and ultimately increase income.

It will create happier supporters who become better-informed about the aspects of your work that they are most interested in.
In practical terms, campaign calendars are becoming more and more crowded and the pressure on charities to be more aware of their frequency of communication is constantly increasing – not to mention the implications on consent and GDPR. So a sound NBA strategy provides the means to significantly improve the targeting of what you send to each individual. For example, let’s say you are given a limit of three communications per month.

You can make sure that each of those communications is as relevant and productive as possible – rather than just based on ‘which campaign comes first’, or ‘which campaign shouts loudest’.

Applying NBA to Charities

It’s important to recognise that we are describing here could be seen as the holy grail for fundraising and communications departments. Before we get over-excited and subsumed by the glamour… it’s worth recognising some of the context and constraints surrounding NBA in a charity context.

  • Breadth of product offerings – with a few exceptions most charities only have a small number of products to offer. Next Best Action works well for the likes of Amazon because they have thousands and thousands of different offers to put in front of you. But what happens if the choice is really only between a cash appeal, a raffle appeal and a regular giving ask? (Charitable trading is a slightly different kettle of fish and there could certainly be applications here.)
  • Regularity of communications – as already noted above the Amazon model works well with a wide portfolio of offers and regular communications across these, involving repeated viewing of a range of similar products in the calculated likelihood that one or more of them will be of interest. This again could be harder to apply in a largely offline model, and even where digital is a large element of the programme the product limitations exist.
  • Availability of collateral – finally the model requires the fundraiser to have a library of offers at their fingertips, ready to go at the right time for any given supporter. The current reality is it takes a long time to prepare the creative for a campaign so they are tied to specific calendar points. And that’s not to mention the need to print vast quantities where mailings are required.

None of these provisos is insurmountable: indeed charities looking to the future must be thinking about how they address these issues anyway as we move into a digital age and towards a very different model of fundraising. But in the meantime, we have large income streams to protect and enhance, and need solutions that will enable us to improve with current processes.

The Solution

Wood for Trees has developed an alternative approach which builds on current processes (while still aligning with them) to put the supporter at the heart of the decision-making process, rather than the campaign or the department.

The Wood for Trees Next Best Action methodology creates a framework which enables fundraisers to select supporters on a predetermined timescale (e.g.quarterly) to ensure they are being delivered the
most relevant communications for them during that period. Working on top of existing selection models (whether full propensity models, more simple RFV or segment-based) the principle is to calibrate all potential responses against each other, determine the response metrics for each individual, look at the communication options available in the next period, and then assign individuals to the most appropriate messages.

The metrics can be tweaked to cover ROI (long term or short term), responsiveness or any other engagement metrics and/or global rules; exclusions can be applied above these to ensure that only those supporters eligible for selection are included in any given communication.

The model will then feed back the results of these communications and enable on going enhancement and optimisation – effectively further enhancing and optimising its performance as it goes.

Culture Change

Our Next Best Action framework has the potential to make a considerable impact on the way campaign budgets and targets are set and how audiences are prioritised. Charities should be aware of the possible impact on organisational culture and process and prepared to be proactive in managing the shift to a Next Best Action led programme.

The process requires a big shift in planning, away from individual campaign targets and metrics to a more supporter-centric view which should ultimately achieve higher income across the whole programme.
So although supporters might respond to a raffle and improve the performance of that campaign, they may be more engaged through a challenge event offer and therefore add more value to the bottom line if they are given this offer instead.

Target audiences will be planned across departments and no longer at the whim of individual campaign managers. Communications will be optimised across all offers and channels with the supporter at the heart of the decision making.

The Benefits of Next Best Action

In summary, the Wood for Trees Next Best Action methodology has the potential to:

  • Improve the efficiency and reduce the complexity of existing campaign selections
  • Allow campaign selections to be run months in advance
  • Allocate supporters to a calendar of campaigns based on their likelihood to respond and the value of that response to the organisation
  • Allow the setting of campaign criteria based on predetermined short, medium or long-term goals
  • Create optimum selection volumes for each campaign based on predetermined criteria, such as ROI or response rate
  • Remove the need to manually prioritise campaigns for supporters
  • Output supporters not selected for campaigns (to be included in alternative activities)