When used in concert with each other and with your other fundraising strategies, omnipresent technological companions such as TVs, cell phones and computers can help you net more quality donors and perhaps even nudge them into the fundraising holy ground that is monthly giving.
Michael Johnston, president of Toronto-based Internet-fundraising consultancy HJC New Media, talked about this in his session on direct-response fundraising trends at the 43rd AFP International Conference on Fundraising in Atlanta in early April. His focus: integrating online strategies with other mediums — a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
“A planned marketing mix is more effective than a random selection of distribution channels,” he says.
For example, the Howard Dean campaign was revolutionary in raising money online, netting more than 500,000 online supporters and featuring peer-to-peer fundraising. What’s more, after the 2004 tsunami and Katrina in 2005, hundreds of thousands of people went online and gave to organizations for the first time. The challenge, Johnston says, has been how to combine the strengths of different mediums to keep those new donors giving and, even better, to keep them giving monthly via guaranteed electronic funds transfers.
While a lot of organizations are amassing a great many donors and non-donor constituents online, most haven’t used the phone to communicate with them, Johnston says.
Oxfam Canada, an international development organization that supports community programs in food security, health, nutrition and democratic development, acquired 18,000 new donors who gave to tsunami relief. About half donated through a toll-free phone number, and half gave via the Web. The organization wanted to convert these emergency donors to a monthly giving program it devised. (For a more complete look at how Oxfam did this, see the sidebar.) HJC worked with Oxfam to test different combinations of offline and online “asks,” with different test segments to see which channels could best be used in combination with each other to get one-time donors to convert to monthly giving. The test groups were broken down into the following:
1) Donors who gave through the Web after the tsunami and were sent e-mails asking them to join the monthly giving program.
2) Donors who gave through the Web and received a phone call ask to become monthly donors.
3) Donors who gave over the phone and received a follow-up phone call to convert them to monthly giving.
Which group performed the best? “The people who gave through the Web who received an e-mail solicitation converted at .2 percent. The people who received a phone call who were phone donors already converted at about 7.5 percent and the Web donors who received a phone call converted at 13 percent,” Johnston says.
“And the neat thing,” he adds, “is the demographic group converting to monthly giving from the Web were young men. This kind of holy grail. The people we’d never been able to get to go to monthly giving before.”
Using the Internet as a fundraising medium is a relatively new strategy, so there aren’t any tried-and-true strategies, but, Johnston says, “clearly, using the phone as a follow-up with flash philanthropy is just an incredibly important thing to do, and most organizations haven’t done that.”
Dave Lavoie, core donor officer for Oxfam Canada, says he thinks it has to do with the trust factor involved in getting people to become monthly donors.
“It works best person to person,” he says. “It’s [one] person talking to another person and creating that trust that makes a difference.”
From one screen to the next
Many organizations have found success driving donations through DRTV spots. According to ASPCA Vice President of Development and Communications Jo Sullivan in her interview for the cover story in the April 2006 issue of FundRaising Success, the ASPCA pioneered DRTV as a fundraising channel for animal-welfare agencies in the United States in 2004.
Johnston also works with clients to digitize TV spots and run them as online campaigns, which works to both solicit and motivate people to give. SOS Children’s Villages Canada was running a DRTV spot featuring Mike Holmes, a craftsman with a popular home-renovation TV show, and features a digitized version of it on its home page.
“A DRTV spot is dominating the home page of this organization, which helps orphaned children,” Johnston says. “[Holmes] is a very popular character, and so we run these online and offline campaigns and they seem to work very well.”
Don’t forget the workhorse
In Fall 2003, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence launched a branded online campaign and microsite, the NRAblacklist.com, supported by a print-ad campaign. The microsite featured a petition visitors could sign. According to Johnston, the site had a visitor-to-signer conversion rate of 40 percent and, as a result, increased the Brady Campaign’s e-mail list from 38,000 to 101,257 in less than three months.
In an effort to capitalize on its expanded e-mail file, the Brady Campaign did something some might see as counter intuitive when dealing with online constituents: It sent them direct mail. The organization mailed 33,000 non-donor e-constituents an acquisition package in September 2004. The results proved the strategy to be a wise one: Those mailed responded at a rate of 1.26 percent and sent in average gifts of $24.22, with a net per acquired of -$6.22.
The success of this strategy was reinforced when, in March 2005, the Brady Campaign mailed 12,000 non-donor e-constituents who responded at a rate of 1.07 percent and sent an average gift of $23.40, with a net per acquired of -$12.13.
But wait ... there’s more
Text messaging, just catching on in the States, has worked well in Canada, the United Kingdom and throughout Europe, Johnston says. For example, Amnesty International Canada’s program called TXT2WIN encouraged people to send a text message to the organization to enter a contest to win tickets to see U2 as a part of its Make Some Noise project.
The American Red Cross’ Text 2HELP was one of the first text-message donation programs in the United States. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the ARC worked with the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, an international association for the wireless telecommunications industry, to institute the program to support its Disaster Relief Fund, which it promoted through ads in newspapers. Through the program, which ran from Sept. 6, 2005, and Oct. 31, 2005, people could donate $5 to the Red Cross by texting the organization the message HELP.
Jeff Simmons, director of technology programs for the CTIA, says people with cellphone plans with participating carriers who texted the word HELP to the ARC’s short code number would then receive a message asking them if they, indeed, wanted to donate to the Red Cross. If they answered “Yes” they then got a confirmation/thank-you message back. The donation amount showed up on donors’ cellphone statements for the next billing cycle, and the cellphone carrier company remitted the amount to the ARC. Simmons says the technology is still very new and CTIA plans on getting more equipped to offer this service. “We want to be able to respond as an industry to catastrophic and/or devastating circumstances that occur as a body and we are working to provide that functionality,” he adds.
Some other new-ish strategies to think about include gift registry; peer-to-peer e-mails, e-Cards, and paid placement, such as banner ads on well-known sites with special landing pages. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, for example, worked with CNN to include a link to its site on the news station’s Web site next to an article about a drunken-driving accident.
Finally, Johnston touched on one decidedly low-tech idea: direct dialog, which puts people on the street engaging in face-to-face conversations with passers-by. Used by organizations such as Greenpeace, Amnesty International and the World Wildlife Fund, direct dialog was pioneered in Europe and has helped organizations raise millions of dollars.
While you might feel ready now to jump on one or more of these exciting new trends, Johnston stresses the importance of using them as a strategic part of your overall plan.
“Ninety-five percent of the charities out there don’t have a plan on paper at all,” he says. “They have a direct-mail plan, they have a telephone plan, but they tend not to combine old and new media in Excel charts,” he says, adding that benchmarking and goal setting are key to understanding your current conversion rate and figuring out ways to make it better.