Online Fundraisers: Time to Aim Higher
Most organizations fail to use Internet communications to cultivate and engage middle and major donors — an expensive omission. That’s the key finding from a landmark study of the “wired wealthy” released last year by Sea Change Strategies, Edge Research and Convio.
The study arose amidst concern that organizations’ online fundraising efforts too often resembled digital direct mail, a stream of solicitations aimed at acquiring small gifts, with little thought or effort going to more generous donors.
In all, 23 nonprofit organizations participated in the study, which sought the views of donors who had given at least $1,000 to one of the participating groups. More than 3,400 surveys were completed.
Among our principal findings:
→ The wired wealthy are an important source of donations. While they represent only 1 percent of participating groups’ donor files, they donate nearly a third of the money raised from individuals. Donors report giving a total of roughly $10,000 away each year.
→ Cluster analysis shows that wired wealthy fall into three distinct psychographic groups:
- Relationship Seekers (29 percent of donors surveyed) demonstrate a keen interest in connecting online — they are amenable to a high frequency of communications and are interested in a range of online activities (notably video);
- All Business (30 percent) are the opposite: they want minimal online contact with groups they support; and
- Casual Connectors (41 percent) represent the swing voters — they want at least some engagement with groups they support.
The relative proportion of these three clusters differs from vertical to vertical. For instance, groups in the environment and animals vertical have a higher proportion of Relationship Seekers, while health charities have relatively more All Business donors.
→ Wired wealthy donors are underwhelmed with the quality of most nonprofits’ Web sites and e-mail communications — fewer than 10 percent of surveyed donors find charity Web sites or e-mails inspiring.
Applying the research: Conservation International
Conservation International (CI), one of the world’s largest global conservation groups, sought to apply the wired wealthy findings in its online fundraising efforts this past year end. The results were encouraging — online donations grew nearly 20 percent over 2007.
Strategic principles guiding the CI year-end efforts came directly from the study recommendations: Give donors more control over communications options so All Business donors could opt out; treat donors as serious program partners; maintain a high proportion of cultivation communications (as opposed to solicitations); establish and follow a disciplined narrative arc uniting communications into a coherent dialogue; and use multiple Internet channels, including video.
The theme of CI’s campaign was “Lost There, Felt Here” — the intimate connection between conserving tropical forests and slowing climate change. Every acre of forest preserved reduces enough greenhouse gas to be the equivalent of taking 20 cars off the road for a year. The campaign included text, pictorial and video updates reflecting the general Lost There, Felt Here theme from multiple perspectives.
Communications were substantive and rich in detail and facts, yet also emotionally compelling and visually stunning. More than a third of the year-end e-mails were pure cultivations. During this period, CI launched three new videos and also unveiled Team Earth, a visually spectacular digital magazine that serves also as a substantive program update.
One objective of the effort proved elusive: we were unable to segment donors by psychographic cluster, and we did not have time to offer the nuanced subscription options the wired wealthy study suggests donors want. We plan to roll these enhancements out over the course of 2009. The CI efforts lend concrete experience to the clear message of the study: Any group that ignores middle and major donors in their online efforts could be leaving a lot of money on the table. In these perilous economic times, that could be a costly mistake.
Beth Wallace is vice president for digital marketing at Conservation International. Mark Rovner is a founding principal at Sea Change Strategies. The full Wired Wealthy study report can be downloaded free at www.SeaChangeStrategies.com.