Web Bonus: The Art and Science of e-Cultivation
Online constituent relationship management tools enable organizations to connect with donors and prospects with increasing success. In the span of just a few years, the amount raised online by many nonprofit organizations has grown significantly. Still, donor e-cultivation is an evolving specialty that requires development professionals to be constantly on the alert to measure results and refine strategies and tactics where needed to deepen engagement with donors and prospects.
How do you know if your online marketing and fundraising program is successful? Online marketing offers limitless metrics for analysis. Every organization is unique and has its own goals, so the first step is to focus on your organization’s strategic objectives, then define the metrics that best align with your goals. What are you trying to accomplish? What is the pattern of giving? Are constituents moving back and forth between channels? Are your key metrics trending up?
There has been a great deal of discussion on the value of measuring Web site visitors, open rates and click-throughs. These are the easiest metrics to obtain, and therefore get the most attention. But do these measures tell us anything important? Some observers suggest organizations stop looking at open and click-through rates altogether and focus exclusively on other, more conclusive measurements, such as conversion rates (the percentage of visitors to a Web site that take a positive action, e.g., subscribe, join or donate). There is no one magic number for donation page completion rates — they vary depending on the form and its content, the e-mail appeal used, list quality and cause.
In January, Convio published an analysis across 30 different organizations in six different verticals on several metrics, including donation page conversion rates where constituents were driven to those pages by e-mail campaigns. Our study found a median conversion rate (people reaching the donation pages to actually giving) of 10 percent, with significant variance by vertical (3 percent to 20 percent).
Of course, before you can get constituents to donate, you need to get them to open your message and click through to the landing page on your Web site. Organizations have found significant variation in open rates based on the subject line of their e-mail messages. For example, Consumers Union recently conducted a test of subject lines and found that when it sharpened its letter and created a new subject line, open rates and click-throughs were significantly above the organization’s average. In addition to your subject line, several other factors affect open rates, including the content of your e-mail message, clarity of the donation process and incentives to respond.
One of the challenges in using open rates is accuracy. A growing number of e-mail clients block open-rate trackers, which has created a large and increasing amount of systematic errors in open rates. So if you’re going to track open rates, be sure to compare “apples to apples” — the same ISPs, time frames, similar types of message, etc.
While the value of measuring open and click-through rates continues to be debated, organizations are well-advised to monitor trends on these metrics. If a trend changes precipitously, adjust your strategies and tactics.
Benchmarking your key metrics against peer organizations can provide an accurate picture of how your strategies and tactics are performing across the sector. Be sure to compare your results against organizations in the same vertical segment, with a similar budget and e-mail file. To improve key performance metrics, consider these strategies and tactics:
1. Offer compelling content. Provide opportunities for user-contributed content to turn static copy into a conversation. Get your supporters to tell their stories online and comment on articles. For example, Trisomy 18 Foundation has realized significant list growth and additional fundraising through personal tribute pages that allow people to create sites in memory or in honor of someone, and share their inspirational stories, photos and updates.
2. Grow your list size by providing incentives to register. Consider offering compelling site functionality that requires registration to use, such as sending e-cards, or completing and reviewing the results of surveys and polls. For example, Paralyzed Veterans of America has seen success by offering free mailing labels; Easter Seals provides opportunities for supporters to gain national exposure for their creative talents while at the same time helping Easter Seals raise funds through its annual art contest; Environmental Defense asks site visitors to vote on which of the organization’s “Five Big Ideas for the Environment for 2007” is their favorite and provides real-time voting results; and The Humane Society of the United States gained an additional 225 monthly sustainers by sending an online survey to a cross-section of its housefile.
3. Make the ask as tangible as possible. Be specific about how a gift will help your organization accomplish its mission and objectives. Where feasible, illustrate what a specific gift level will help achieve. For example, Our Voices Together enables supporters to give “Gifts That Count,” such as $35 to provide a year’s supply of educational materials to an underprivileged child in Thailand or $25 to cover the approximate cost of one desk, or a supplemental stipend for a teacher or school staff member at a school in one of several villages in Afghanistan.
4. Remove distractions from the donation flow by removing the ability for visitors to click onto other pages. Test different page layouts, language, use of images and page sequences. Maximize conversion rates by inserting a VeriSign logo or equivalent. For example, the World Wildlife Fund greatly simplifies the navigation once a site visitor selects the donation link and uses the VeriSign Secure logo to provide additional assurance to the donor that her online transaction will be secure.
5. Extend your organization’s online presence to social networking sites. Use personal outreach tools to empower supporters to extend your fundraising campaigns to their online social networks. For example, Oxfam’s official MySpace page added more than 7,000 friends, and the MySpace-Oxfam America “Rock for Darfur” campaign raised more than $13,000 and added 200 new donors to Oxfam’s list, with donations larger than the organization’s average. The ASPCA’s official MySpace page added more than 4,000 friends, providing visitors an engaging user experience that included the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” audio; a survey with results going directly to the ASPCA database; a video encouraging monthly giving; and a Flash movie.
While every nonprofit organization needs to find its own recipe for online success, those achieving the most online share a number of common attributes, including driving traffic to their Web site, converting Web traffic into registered users who then can be cultivated into donors, growing their e-mail files and generating a high response rate for online appeals.
While technology is not a “silver bullet,” advances in online fundraising technology empower nonprofits to utilize these best practices and generate stronger results.
Sheeraz Haji is president of Convio Inc.