No Puppies? No Problem: Digital Marketing When You Don’t Have Easy Imagery
Big-eyed kittens and cute puppies are great ways to catch donors’ attention and play on their heartstrings. But sadly, we’re not all animal welfare groups, and we need creative that represents our missions and brands. There are many techniques and tactics that can help you make the most of digital marketing when you can’t rely on easy imagery.
The American Association of University Women (AAUW) is one of the nation’s leading voices promoting
equity and education for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy and research. Since its founding in 1881, AAUW has never hesitated to take positions on the fundamental educational, economic, social and political issues of the day.
During the 2015 end-of-year campaign, AAUW worked with CCAH to cut through the noise to promote equity and education for women and girls and meet their fundraising goals by employing smart strategies. “Compelling creative and engagement strategies are critical to furthering AAUW’s mission,” said Christy Jones, vice president of membership and direct response marketing for AAUW. “Utilizing these tactics has had an incredible impact on our digital programs.”
The strategies employed to assist AAUW are applicable to most organizations—whether or not you have a pile of adorable kittens featured on your homepage.
The cadence of your campaign can be crucial to your overall success. Cadence encompasses both how many messages and how frequently. When developing campaigns, repetition is key. Donors need to see consistent messaging and imagery over time. Every audience is different—some can tolerate a much more aggressive cadence, while others need time between messages. It’s important to know your audience and to identify what’s too little and what’s too much. Not meeting your goals is the best indicator of insufficient messaging, while a drop in response rates with a spike in unsubscribe or opt-out rates indicates too much.
For the end-of-year campaign initiated in December 2015, AAUW launched four emails, eight Facebook posts, two blogs and one direct mail campaign over the course of three weeks. Messaging intensified as the Dec. 31 deadline drew closer. The timing of these launches often overlapped, so donors saw the same messaging and creative on multiple channels. This technique helped build a crescendo to the end-of-year deadline.
Using Deadlines, Matches and Goals
AAUW effectively used a deadline, a match and a goal during its end-of-year campaign. Deadlines, matches and goals are tried-and-true direct marketing techniques for a reason—they work! And the most consistently profitable deadline for nonprofits is midnight, Dec. 31. What could be more tangible to the average donor than the end of the year? Closing out one year and ringing in a new one is meaningful and important to everyone—we mark it with fireworks, after all.
When talking about deadlines, I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention tax deductions. Dec. 31 is the deadline for making donations you want to qualify as tax deductible in that year. If donations to your organization are tax deductible, convey this message in your copy, in the text of your graphics and on your landing pages. Goals during end-of-year campaigns also boost response rates. As fundraisers, we use goals all year round, but AAUW’s goal during the end-of-year campaign was so much more tangible to donors than other goals. At the end of the year, an organization’s need to raise dollars is real to donors. They understand that for an organization to continue its important and world-changing work in the new year, it must have a certain amount of money on hand.
“Matches—like AAUW’s Mooneen Lecce Giving Circle match—are very effective devices for lifting response rates and average gifts,” said Jones. Yet, match money is often hard to come by. So, if match opportunities are
limited, save them for campaigns when they can do the most good. The end of the year is one of those times.
The Power of the Personal Story
Personal stories can do so much for online fundraising. AAUW shared the stories of girls who have participated in summer camps and workshops designed to encourage girls’ involvement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). These stories gave first-hand accounts of the impact that a donor’s gift has on these girls’ lives and education. Showing the impact of giving is an effective way to get donors to open their wallets.
Personal stories that show an organization’s successes also give donors the “warm fuzzies.” A big reason why people donate to nonprofits is to feel good about themselves. And personal stories help do that. If you thought a happy puppy pulls on donors’ heartstrings, that’s nothing compared to the story of a young woman who has decided to major in engineering in college after attending one of AAUW’s STEM programs.
Personal stories also qualify the impact of an organization. We can throw statistics at donors all day long, but stats are stats—and they are boring. Donors connect better with stories and derive more inspiration from them.
I saved the best tactic until last. Remember in the section on cadence how repetition was key? Repetition’s impact goes well beyond the number of touches. It also involves how you communicate with donors. Donors,
like you, live in both an offline and an online world. Receiving your message over multiple channels—mailboxes, inboxes, Facebook News Feeds and mobile devices—reinforces the message content and keeps your organization top-of-mind. It also gives your audience many ways to interact with your organization and allows them to donate in their preferred way. Use every channel available to you, and be consistent across those channels. That way, once donors get their preferred reply device, they are already sold on you.
In AAUW’s end-of-year campaign, CCAH used email, direct mail, social media and blogs. We knew that some of those channels—social media and blogs, especially—weren’t going to be huge money-drivers, but they are invaluable ways to reinforce the story through repetition. Multiple touches led to strong results on other channels. For example, the 2015 direct mail campaign evidenced amazing growth over the previous year, raising 36 percent more revenue. And the email campaign’s click-through rate was double the industry benchmark.
Put Down the Panda Cub Pictures
By now, unless you work for a zoo, you should be ready to stop trying to make a panda cub picture work in your e-appeals. Instead, strategically plan your cadence.
Find the personal stories that will create an emotional bond. Utilize classic techniques like matches, goals and deadlines. And use all your marketing channels.
These techniques will make your marketing more effective than adorable imagery will. And they’ll keep your communications true to your mission and your brand.