By Jonathon Grapsas This article was first published in Professional Fundraising in December 2010
As a colleague once said to me, having an amazing website with all the bells and whistles on offer is like building the world’s best department store in the desert. Useless if no one visits.
And that’s what online fundraising often looks like to me. A lot of pizazz, little substance.
It’s easy to get caught up in the hysteria of the latest tools available to digital fundraisers, but they are just that, tools. And in fact they distract from what recruiting donors via any channel is all about: telling someone something remarkable about what you do. So incredible they’re compelled to stop there and then to act.
So what’s working right now?
Finding hand raisers
It’s far easier to get someone to commit to something small, followed by something a little bit bigger. We’ve seen it on the street when asking individuals to commit to an action first before any financial request. Same logic applies to online prospects.
Think about an action, or actions that you can ask people to agree to do prior to asking for a gift. Online surveys work in garnering interest; because they provide a way for prosects to tell us what they really think, rather than simply complete an action that feels like one way traffic (charity to prospect).
Channels complimenting, and not competing, with each other
You need to look at acquiring donors in a channel neutral manner. Think about the best way to converse with someone, and then depict which medium you’ll use to have that conversation.
Digital acquisition is in reality multi-channel acquisition. It’s tough to convince someone through paid search, a banner advertisement or an email that they should become a regular giver. Much easier to have this dialogue on the phone. Easier to build a case and close the transaction. The point is that channels should converge, not compete.
The ‘what’s in it for me’ factor?
In a recent pilot project with a Canadian client, we were conscious that we needed to provide something real and meaningful to prospects. We knew it wasn’t enough to offer our thanks and the opportunity to share their voice.
Mindful that those we were targeting have a strong sense of ‘what’s in it for me’, we offered incentives, linked to the organisations mission, for prospects to become participants. It worked. 6,000 prospects (5% of those we approached, and twice more than we expected) gave their precious time to share their views. No doubt driven by the chance to get something back, as well as the opportunity to strengthen their voice.
Once you’ve committed someone to come on board as a regular giver, do everything in your power, especially early on in the relationship, to reaffirm the decision they made.
The honeymoon period covers the first 30 days post sign up. The time when both parties should be madly in love with each other, in each other’s pockets. Or inboxes. Sharing the love, sharing stories. Reminding your new supporter what a wonderful choice they made, before that dreaded buyer’s remorse kicks in, and divorce ensues. Don’t let it get to that stage.
Spreading the load
Online recruitment isn’t about one vehicle. The most effective programs test and tweak several initiatives. Paid and unpaid search like Google AdWords, banner advertising, e-blasts to tepid sources. The point is about not focusing on just one, yet testing the water across different vehicles to see what works.
The non negotiables, things you must get right
Follow up and timing
If your digital recruitment efforts include following up those who have raised their hand, or those that have made a single gift, then commit to it. And do it.
I’ve seen the best laid plans fall over because so much effort has been spent on the initial push to acquire, forgetting the need to follow up and convert to a regular gift. Multi staged approaches hinge entirely on getting the follow up right, and alongside that getting the timing spot on. It’s all about testing what works for you, but my experience is the quicker the better.
Not getting sucked into conventional wisdom
Who was it that said online fundraising should be different? That copy should be shorter, punchier and written by someone different?
The fundamentals of good direct response fundraising apply. Get someone’s attention, tell them something remarkable, provide a clear action and solution, and make it so easy you have no option but to respond.
Of all the fundraising myths to be debunked, top of them is that online fundraising must be different (read ‘shorter’) than offline fundraising. There is little empirical evidence to support this. Get the basics above right and the results will follow. Don’t get sucked into ‘conventional’ wisdom.
The way forward
What excites me right now is the potential of online intent data. In short, this is where you’re able to connect with people based on their purchase or browsing behaviour on other sites. Intent data helps you find online those people who are already exploring the territory in which you operate.
Imagine you’re on your favourite travel website, looking for flights to Munich in April. The information is captured by a cookie, and the travel website can then sell that cookie through a data exchange company. Other companies selling flights to Germany or Europe may use this as an opportunity to reach out and offer you a similar flight or holiday.
So powerful is this information that it is now considered by US direct marketers as the second most effective tool for digital marketers in driving sales. Only transactional data has more impact.
Surely we can see the parallels for us charity folks.
Someone online is searching for an eco-holiday, offsetting carbon or looking at hybrid cars. These are the people environmental organisations want to find, prospects to whom they can show off their programs. The key, then, is to find the right vehicle and get these people excited about it. The connection may not lead straight to a financial gift, but it does introduce you to prospects that have already put their hands up.
The other aspect of digital savvy that has me thinking is the concept of re-targeting. That’s a means whereby you can identify people who have visited your site previously, and locate them in other spots once they’ve left your site. I see it as a form of online prospect reactivation. Par for the course for direct marketers at credit card companies and tel-comms, yet to be tried by most charities.
Is it all worth it?
Should we bother? We’ve seen the numbers and frankly online giving is still a tiny chunk of the pie. Other avenues like face to face are still streets ahead when it comes to volume of new supporters.
That’s true. And attracting digital donors, particularly regular ones, is really hard. But if we can find the hooks to get them through the door, the data we’ve captured in different countries shows they can be worth on average around £600-£800 net after five years. Simply because they stay on board.
Frankly, we’re not paying enough attention to all this in the charity world, even though it’s available right now. It might feel a little like Big Brother, but let’s be honest – it’s like siphoning from a funnel. When you get to the narrow end, you want to be talking to individuals who are in the right spot and frame of mind to hear what you have to say.
Targeting in the digital space is getting a lot more interesting. And so too is finding donors online.