Donor Acquisition Through Webinars?
I recently received an “exclusive” invitation for “select” guests to participate in a live webinar aimed at getting prospective students to enroll at a distance learning institution. Participants were promised the opportunity to interact with faculty members as they outlined their syllabus, connect with current students and even to discuss career paths with past students. In general the 60 minutes online were agreeable: informative, fun and, yes, a little pushy — with incentives designed to get prospective students signed up to a course of study as soon as possible. While I decided against this particular course of study, I realized there is a lot of potential in this webinar format for making sales, and I wondered how it could be used for fundraising.
So far I’m not aware of a webinar being used as a donor-acquisition tool (perhaps some reader will inform me otherwise?), but since I believe it has the potential to combine some of the most powerful fundraising methods currently used into one neat package, I thought it worth exploring. Pre-recorded videos can have the same function as a good DRTV spot, live interactivity has some of the elements that make face-to-face so powerful, the opportunity for a post-webinar phone call isn’t very different from telemarketing, and online payment channels could just as easily [be used as] online donation tools — all of this wrapped up in a neat professionally hosted package that is an online version of a telethon.
Let me say up front that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to test this format; this … is more about pondering solutions to some questions than really answering them:
- For which organizations would this format work most effectively?
- How to ensure that a workable number of webinar attendees show up at the right time?
- How to keep the participants interested?
- How to make sure as many as possible stick around until the ask?
- How best to handle interactions?
- What providers can currently provide the service cost efficiently and reliably?
I think this format would work most effectively for campaigning organizations that have already put considerable effort into social-media campaigning and that can draw from a pool of already existing netizens.
I’m thinking of Greenpeace, which already has collected 2.4 million (and counting) e-mail addresses specifically for its “Save the Arctic” campaign. Or Amnesty International, which has had a viral hit with its “Trial by Timeline” Facebook app (which users permit to collect their e-mail addresses). It could also work very well for organizations with celebrity ambassadors who may be convinced to lend their star power to pull in reams of participants. Who would turn down the chance to interact with David Beckham (UNICEF), Angelina Jolie (UNHCR) or Colin Firth (Oxfam) live online?
Getting participants to turn up
In order to ensure a full house, it’s important that the webinar has something important to say to potential donors — that is to say that it is more than simply an out-and-out fundraising vehicle — but is informative and even entertaining as well. Consider having a major attraction such as a campaigner live from the arctic (Greenpeace). Or a released political prisoner speaking on his or her incarceration (Amnesty). Or a celebrity speaking about his or her latest visit to a refugee camp (UNHCR).
Invite people who have previously interacted digitally with the organization but who are not yet donors — thank them for their previous engagement with an exclusive invitation (let them know that places are limited) and remind people who opt to attend by e-mail and/or SMS both a few hours and a few minutes before the start of the webinar.
Keeping people interested
Since the main idea of a fundraising webinar is to turn participants into donors, it is important to make sure people stay interested until you have had the chance to inspire them to open their wallets. A strong opening three minutes and a big draw toward the end of the session are essential. Make sure there are only captivating speakers who have something to say, and change the visual format from talking heads to emotional pre-recorded videos and audience participation regularly (roughly every five minutes). Make sure that everything is geared toward creating emotional reactions that raise and answer the (mostly unspoken) questions: “Why is this important?” “Why should I support it financially?” “Why should I support it now?’”
Lastly, I think it’s always important to ensure that people don’t feel surprised or tricked when they are asked to donate, so be up front and at regular intervals let participants know that they will have the chance to support your work being discussed.
Having a skilled webinar host is the most important element in ensuring a smooth flow between elements. Here we can learn a lot from telethon hosts who seamlessly move between interviewing interesting guests, introducing recorded material, handling questions and confidently asking for donations. Host and guests should be well briefed and practiced on what talking points are important. From a technical point of view it’s important to ensure that participant cameras and microphones and text boxes are controlled and moderated. Many people will be content to listen and watch; others will be keen to ask questions when permitted. Have a few questions already lined up for answering to get the ball rolling.
Structure your webinar so that participants have multiple opportunities to donate online or to enter their phone number for an individual phone or voice over IP (VoIP) conversation straight after the webinar has ended. Build up to a large thank-you and think about giving potential donors an incentive to donate online right away.
What services exist?
Some webinar services can comfortably handle 3,000 interactive participants (some can host thousands more with more limited interactive features): Webex.com is perhaps the most well know, but others are rated here: webinar-services-review.toptenreviews.com.
Lastly, if anyone reading this has tried webinar donor acquisition please let us know [how it worked out for you].
Jack Ryan is a Europe-based fundraiser, trainer and coach. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org