Tips for Creating an Online Strategy
No matter how successful their direct-mail campaigns, organizations of all budgets, sizes and missions should consider what else they can be doing to bring in more donors, especially as new opportunities — Facebook, Second Life, SMS, MySpace, e-mail, Twitter, etc. — explode onto the scene.
So says Eric Rardin, director of nonprofit services at Care2, an online social network of nearly 10 million people worldwide concerned with a healthy environment and living sustainable lives.
Rardin spoke in May in the Network for Good webinar "Creating an Online Fundraising and Marketing Strategy to Thrive in Tough Times.”
"There's a huge amount of excitement about the potential of the Internet and being able to present to hundreds of millions of people online and connect with people all over the world to get them excited and passionate about your cause," Rardin said. Though enthusiasm sometimes outpaces actual returns, "many organizations have seen some success with a variety of these different spaces online," he added.
When new tools emerge, there's a great deal of excitement and a lot of buzz over the "next big thing," he said, referencing a chart by Gartner Consulting of the "Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies" from 2008. People then flock to these new tools and embrace them, but often without a systematic approach that guides how they're going to use the tools, an understanding of what makes the tools different from other ways of communicating with supporters online, and a way to really make the most of the tools.
When the hype trails off, organizations realize they've invested a lot of time and energy into the new technology without very good returns. Then instead of sticking with it to see if it will become a productive channel, organizations often jump to another new technology. Rardin called this a "cycle of despair."
An online strategy is a plan of action for using the Internet and other digital media to achieve a goal or set of goals. Facebook, Twitter, SMS, Web advertising and search engine optimization aren’t strategies but rather tactics that can be used to achieve an online strategy.
Rardin noted that the majority of online donations come to organizations through their Web sites. Therefore, he stressed, before organizations invest staff time or money into online marketing or outreach, they should ensure that their Web sites are able to capture new contacts and accept donations.
"You've got to have a Web site that's functional, that is really optimized so an individual can easily donate online, easily sign up to hear from you online," Rardin said, “because the whole point of all this other online outreach and promotion and connecting on Facebook and what not, the goal of all that is get people to come back to your Web site to do whatever it is you want them to do — whether it's take action, sign a petition or make a donation."
Define your online strategy with the following steps:
1. Define your goals.
A possible goal could be to get, say, 2 percent of funds from online sources by the end of next year. "That's a nice, concrete, very measurable goal," Rardin said. Other goals could be to raise awareness of the organization and an understanding of what it does, to drive traffic to a specific advocacy page, or list growth — all of which should be done in an effort to grow donations down the road.
2. Identify tactics.
Rardin suggested organizations invest in a branded donation page that is user friendly and doesn't treat donors like shopping carts. Key elements of a donation page are branding and customization; support for recurring and anonymous donations; automatic tax receipts; tell-a-friend and e-mail sign up; tributes and program designations; and thank-you gifts and premiums.
Other tactics he suggested are:
- search engine marketing, which can be used to drive traffic to a Web site donation page or for branding;
- e-mail list growth services, which can help an organization identify donor leads, are great for engaging an audience and help with branding;
- e-mail marketing (list purchase/rental), which can be used to drive traffic to your site where contact information can be captured and for further branding;
- display advertising, which is often eye-catching and good for branding; and
- social-network outreach, which is mostly about branding and building community.
3. Implement tactics in a way that can be measured and tracked.
Have a plan for measuring and evaluating each of the tactics you implement before starting, and count staff time when calculating costs. Below is an example of an online strategy with a goal and tactics that can be measured and tracked:
Goal: Raise money.
Tactic 1: Grow e-mail list externally, then ask for donations
Measurement: Cost of list growth/donations received. Look back over last six months and then again in 12 months.
Tactic 2: Outreach on Facebook using Causes, then ask for donations
Measurement: Staff time invested growing and engaging community/donations received on via Facebook or through Web site
Tactic 3: Twitter campaign to get traffic to donation page on site
Measurement: Staff time growing and engaging followers/donations received on Web site
4. Assess tactics.
Assess those tactics showing the greatest return, including less tangible values like engagement, branding, etc., and refine how you use them while testing new tactics.
Some ways to measure success include looking at:
- number of donor leads
- number of actions
- number of new e-mail subscribers
- clicks to site (but at what cost?)
- cost per donor; action; subscriber; click
5. Repeat steps two through four until you achieve your goals.
"Finding donors and raising money online is more important than ever," Rardin said. "A thoughtful strategy will vastly help improve your chances of success in online outreach.
“You don't have to be everywhere,” he said. “Just start where your current donors are, and that may mean your e-mail list and that may mean coming to your Web site. You don't have to be on HighFive and Bebo and Twitter and Facebook and Friendster and Flickr and everything else. Just find out where your people are and how to connect to them from where they are to being on your e-mail list and donating on your Web site."
Learn more about upcoming Network for Good webinars.