2014 Washington Nonprofit Conference: Digital Fundraising 101
It's often the punch line of jokes, the way the D.C. area handles snow — and it's true that sometimes even the mere threat of snow is enough to cause much of the region to shut down. But when snowstorm "Pax" hit the area the night before the DMA Nonprofit Federation's Washington Nonprofit Conference, event planners decided the show would go on. And let me tell you something you may already know: Fundraisers are hardy souls! Our breakout session, "Digital Fundraising 101," took place early the next morning, and not only was the room mostly full … it was full of folks who were engaged and ready to take in everything the conference had to offer.
Presented by Mikaela King, vice president of integrated marketing at Defenders of Wildlife; Sean Powell, director of The Engage Group; and me, Heather Marsh, director of digital marketing at ABD Direct, it was designed to be an everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-ever-changing-world-of-digital session — specifically covering best practices for email, websites, online acquisition, social media, testing, integration, retargeting, responsive design and mobile optimization.
That said, I bet you might be wondering: Can an entire channel of fundraising be covered in an hour? No. OK, well, maybe, but not in the depth we had planned, and certainly not with an audience full of great questions, comments and experiences to share. (And, so, we'd like to apologize to the attendees for our inability to get through all of our planned content!)
The session kicked off with our tl;dr (too long; didn't read) summary of digital fundraising basics: The only things that matter are your website, your email list and your messaging.
Make your website work for you by having a sign-up ask on every page. Instead of using basic "Sign up for our eNewsletter" language, focus on copy that provides a compelling reason for the user to participate.
Environmental Defense Fund does this well, using a clear call to action: "Stay informed, get urgent news about environmental issues, and find out when your voice can make a difference."
Allow visitors to make a donation in as few clicks as possible. Don't be afraid to prominently feature donation asks throughout the site, as the website is the best place to educate constituents about your need.
Every fundraiser should have these basic Web tools:
- Google Analytics
- Lightbox functionality
- A/B/V testing tools such as Google Experiments or Optimizely
- Quality-control tools such as BrowserStack, Browsershots, Browserling, etc.
OK, now that your website is optimized for fundraising, what's next? As we learned during the dot-com bubble in the '90s, "If you build it, they will come" isn't a solid online strategy. Here are the most common tactics to increase website traffic and grow an email list:
- Organic website traffic through search engine optimization
- Paid website traffic through search engine marketing (SEM) — Utilize Google's Grant program for free SEM
- Petition networks (Care2 and Change.org are the most popular examples)
- Remarketing (also called retargeting) — This now-common technique targets previous website visitors with banner or text ads related to the section or context they viewed.
- Ad buys
Once you've started to build your email list, spend some time planning your welcome strategy. Build your welcome series to engage new donors and prospects. Surveys, videos, social share links, advocacy actions and sustainer asks are all popular techniques within the first several emails. Continually offer a "next action" on the "ladder of engagement."
A successful email program must have a mix of different types of messages. If ever in doubt of this, switch to an appeal-only program and watch your open rates plummet and your unsubscribe rates soar. Email marketing has the unique position of being a user-managed medium — unsubscribing takes only a few seconds, and you've lost them forever.
Organizations like Defenders of Wildlife use a wide variety of campaigns:
- Action alerts
- Event invitations
- Specialized messaging
When creating emails, Defenders of Wildlife uses this "magic formula": Audience + Offer = Messaging
Identify key audiences, then develop offers to engage them and finally create appropriate messaging.
Using that formula, Defenders of Wildlife created a highly successful Cyber Monday campaign by offering a discount to donors who had previously donated through its Adoption Catalog.
Other key takeaways from Defenders of Wildlife:
- Schedule emails when you have something to talk about — donors can tell if you're "faking it."
- Ugly can work! Techniques like highlighting text can boost response rates.
- Thank your supporters! Defenders provides updates to those taking action or donating, especially when the organization has success to report on. Schedule updates around key times, such as Thanksgiving and year-end, and allow space to add more as needed.
You'll often hear the statement, "Best practices are best practices for a reason." We take a slightly different approach, one focused on building best practices for each specific organization. Create a testing plan targeted for specific results, and test, test and test again until you reach statistically significant results.
- To improve open rates, test "from" lines and subject lines, including the addition of unique characters, as well as day and time of email send.
- To improve your clickthrough rate, test graphic or text calls to action, imagery or types of actions/asks.
- To improve response, test ask arrays, copy length, form elements and format, and offers.
When evaluating your test results, look at the whole picture. While you'll often see a correlation between increased open or click rates and increased revenue, that's not always the case.
This was especially true for The Wilderness Society when testing into a new "from" line shortly after its new president came on board. Moving from "The Wilderness Society" to "Jamie Williams, The Wilderness Society" resulted in a 4 percent increase in open rate and a corresponding increase in revenue. However, testing "Jamie Williams, The Wilderness Society" against "Jamie Williams" resulted in a 7 percent increase in open rate but a significant decline in revenue.
Be sure to segment key audience groups during testing to evaluate results accordingly. It's very possible your activists will respond differently than your prospects or high-dollar donors do.
As for the items we didn't have time to cover, here are the highlights:
- Channel integration: Single-channel marketing doesn't exist anymore. Break down internal silos to ensure data integration and coordinated messaging for a good donor experience.
- Social media for fundraising? This is a tough one. It's a great engagement, cultivation and branding tool, but unless you happen to be an organization like Red Cross during a disaster, it won't be moving any mountains for your fundraising goals.
- Responsive and mobile optimization are rapidly moving out of the "nice to have" category into the "need to have" area. Right now, roughly 25 percent of website traffic comes from mobile devices. Can you afford to turn away 25 percent of your revenue by not delivering a good user experience?
- What's next? Lightboxes, sustainer intercepts, pop-ups and mobile campaigns are quickly becoming standard.
Do you find these discussion topics to be intriguing? Then please join us at Nonprofit Digital Day June 11 in New York, when we'll be able to spend a full day digging into Digital 101 and 201 topics! More information will be posted in the coming weeks here: http://www.nonprofitfederation.org/events.
Heather Marsh is director of digital marketing at ABD Direct.