My test for great digital fundraising content

I mentioned this simple “test” that I use when reviewing or planning digital fundraising content when I wrote about Truly Personalised Video Thanking back in January, but it has generated so much positive discussion when I’ve been using it in workshops and planning sessions since then that I thought I’d give it a short post of its own. So, here it is again:

Does your content make good use of the digital opportunities available to really bring someone closer to your work; help them understand the impact their support will have; motivate them to give (or give again); and make the experience of supporting such that they want to share it with their friends?

Breaking it down, to help illustrate what I mean:

  • Does it make good use of the digital opportunities available to really bring me closer to your work? Through digital we have a whole host of new ways to engage supporters in more relevant, authentic, and genuinely interesting ways than ever before. Yet all too often I still see online fundraising content that looks just like traditional printed material pasted onscreen or into an email (especially when it comes to those generic, text-heavy monthly eNewsletters that so many orgs persist in sending me). Take a look around at how other brands (nonprofit and commercial) are capitalising on new ways to engage through digital, and think about how you might be able to use some of these to really bring your supporters closer to the work they enable you to do. And remember – just because you send me a video doesn’t mean that you’re bringing me closer, especially if it’s more along the lines of a corporate promotion than an authentic window on the work you want me to support.
  • Does it help me understand the impact my support will have? Fundraising is all about inspiring and enabling people to help change the world for the better – and a key part of this is helping them understand the impact their personal support will have on what may well be a massive and complex need. Again, digital potentially offers new ways to achieve this that simply aren’t possible through traditional print or broadcast content – if we use it well.
  • Does it motivate me to give? If you’ve ticked the previous two boxes then you should be well on the way to motivating me to give. But don’t just bask in the warm glow of great content and take my donation for granted. You still need to make it very clear that you do need my support – and make it really easy for me to give it.
  • Does it make the experience of supporting such that I want to share it with my friends? Thanks to the ubiquity of social media these days, I can share your content with my whole social network with just one click. But my making that click depends on┬áthe experience I have when I engage with your content, and make my donation, and whether I feel it would be interesting/fun/relevant for my friends to experience too.

To help get some new content ideas moving, you can check back to a couple of my related posts on Personalised Video Thanking, and Strategic Blogger Outreach, as well as taking a look at the latest Oxfam ‘See For Yourself’ campaign to find a non-supporter to visit one of their their projects and report back on how donations are being used.

Plus – if you’ve seen any great content that you feel passes the ‘test’, then do share it by leaving a comment below…

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Social Media is not killing Email – so what’s your next excuse for not using Email as well as you could?

Each time we see a significant evolution in the way consumers communicate there is always a temptation to jump to the conclusion that the latest method will surely kill-off the previous methods. Presumably such predictions were bandied about after Alexander Graham Bell made his first telephone call back in 1876 – yet the mail service didn’t die-out as a result of the adoption of telephones. Rather more recently, there have been suggestions that email will kill-off traditional mail ever since I got my first email address back in the early ’90s (remember Compuserve?) – but it hasn’t happened yet (although that debate does continue).

As such, following the incredibly rapid adoption of Social Media over the last few years it’s not surprising that people are having the same discussions again – ‘surely if everyone is tweeting or facebooking then they’ll no longer be using email?’. Indeed, this was the very idea being put forward in a WSJ Tech Article I spotted towards the end of last year entitled: “Why Email no longer rules”.

However, it turns-out based on a growing body of research evidence that the rumours of Email’s imminent demise at the hands of Social Networkers are incorrect. Here are just a couple of examples to illustrate what I mean:

Firstly research from Nielsen back at the start of last year. This is particularly interesting because Nielsen analysts had previously gone on record stating that Social Media was more popular than email, based on a global analysis of internet usage. However, when they went on to do more detailed research examining just how Social Media use decreases Email use they actually ended-up disproving their original hypothesis and instead proved that social media use actually leads to increased Email use – as illustrated in the chart below. You can read more about their research here.

More recently, this same finding has been confirmed by US Relationship Marketing Agency Merkle in its ‘View from the Social Inbox’ report released just last month. Based on research conducted in late 2009, they too found that active social network users are more likely to be avid email users. With 42% of social networkers checking their email 4+ times per day compared to just 27% of non-social networkers (as shown below). You can download the full Merkle report here.

So, now that we have a growing body of evidence that Email is continuing to be a key online communication channel – despite the overwhelming popularity of various forms of social media – here comes the important question… Given Email’s continued, if not growing, importance – just how happy are you with the way you’re using it to engage with your supporters?

This question has been particularly front of mind for me recently as I’ve been working with two large UK charities to help develop their online fundraising strategies and in both cases opportunities to improve email use have offered some of the greatest income growth wins.

If you’re in the same boat, then don’t feel too downhearted – because you’re certainly not alone. According to the 2009 Adestra/Econsultancy Email Marketing Census, 72% of email marketers (from both commercial and non-profit organisations) admitted that they are not using email as effectively as they could – despite acknowledging that it offers the best ROI of any online activity other than natural search. Interestingly, as shown below, the top two reasons given for not using email effectively were ‘Quality of email database’ and ‘Lack of strategy’, with ‘Poor technology’ 7th in the list – reflecting the fact that many organisations now have access to the technology required to undertake pretty sophisticated email programmes, but their strategic planning has yet to catch-up:

With most of the online fundraising buzz these days tending to be focused on some form of social media activity, it’s good to be reassured that dear old email is here to stay – and, in the light of this, to be prompted to make time to consider whether you’re online income is suffering because you’re not using it as well as you could be.

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2009 email fundraising and advocacy benchmark report just released

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It’s May again, which means that the latest update of the annual M+R and NTEN eNonprofit Benchmarks Study has just been released.

The study, which provides cause-specific benchmarks across a range of email metrics is based on data from 32 US nonprofit organisations, but I’ve always found the results to be a good steer for European nonprofits too.

The headline take-out is that despite the recession most of the organisations taking part in the study saw their online fundraising up overall from 2007 to 2008, driven by more donors giving online but at lower average values than seen previously.

Beneath this overall trend is a wealth of data across both fundraising and advocacy activities that anyone involved in email communications is bound to find useful.

You can download a free copy of the 2009 report here.

The eNonprofit Benchmarks Study was first released in 2006, so it offers the potential to examine the latest data in the context of previous years to illustrate some multi-year trends. Unfortunately the latest report doesn’t provide much insight beyond the 2007 to 2008 comparisons, but you can still download the 2008 Report and also the 2006 Report (there wasn’t one in 2007) to look at the trends yourself.

Great results from email fundraising appeal by Ecojustice Canada

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With so much buzz these days focusing on Facebook fundraising and Twitter campaigning, it’s nice to hear of a good-old email campaign delivering great results for a nonprofit – in this case for Ecojustice Canada (pointed-out to me by old friend and former colleague Lynne Boardman, now at Harvey McKinnon Associates in Vancouver).

Born out of a desire to help protect an endangered community of Canadian west coast killer whales, the appeal highlighted their plight by explaining that only 83 of the whales remained and asked supporters to take action on their behalf by becoming one of the first 83 people to give a gift to the Honour an Orca Campaign. In return for a donation of $50 or more the donor would not only be supporting a lawsuit to help protect the remaining 83 but they, or a nominated friend or loved one, would also receive a holiday season card and set of wildlife postcards.

The appeal was emailed to just 4,900 supporters and other contacts but returned over 160 donations – beating the 83 target within three days – with an average gift of over $90, raising some $15,000 in total and helping make 2008 the best year yet for Ecojustice’s online fundraising programme. Not only that, they also received a great response to a direct mail campaign sent at the same time, assuaging fears that increased online income might cannibalize offline donations.

Looking at the email, I was reminded of the old direct mail appeal checklist that I often used to use when both briefing and reviewing fundraising appeals for clients:

  1. Need – do you clearly explain the need you want to address?
  2. Solution – do you offer a specific soution to that need?
  3. Cost – what is it that the donor can do to help deliver that solution?
  4. Urgency – why should they respond now and not later (or not at all)?
  5. Donor Context – why is this appeal particularly relevant to this donor?
  6. Donor Benefit – what does the donor receive if they respond to your appeal?

The idea is that unless you can answer each of the questions, then there is something important missing – and this goes for email as well as snail-mail appeals.

The Ecojustice campaign ticks every one of the boxes – with a very real need; a specific response to that need which required donations to make it happen; urgency based around both the plight of the whales and the timing of the law case; the context of this being a unique Canadian whale community; and the benefit of the holiday tribute card as well as knowing that you’ve done something specific to help protect the whales. All this was presented through a simple but well thought through email, that included links to the latest information on missing whales and details of the landmark lawsuit against the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Job done!

Thanks to Deanna Bayne of Ecojustice Canada for letting me share some of the details of her appeal as a guide for anyone looking to develop their own email fundraising in the future.

Online fundraising benchmarking study – how well is your email activity performing?

The 2008 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study has just been released by M+R Strategic Services and the Nonprofit Technology Network, and contains a wealth of data which will be of real interest to you if you’re involved in online fundraising or campaigning.

Covering everything from click-through and conversion rates (by cause) to how much you might expect your email list to churn, it provides some really valuable data to help benchmark your own organisation’s performance. As an update of an equivalent report released back in 2006, it also provides insight into how performance against key metrics is changing over time.

The findings are based on the analysis of data from 21 US nonprofits involved in online fundraising and campaigning, but seem to tally well with the equivalent data I see for the range of UK charities I work with.

The report is free to download here.