2015 Digital Fundraising To Do List #3 Allocate Budget For Paid Social Media

No More Free Social Media

The writing has been on the wall for a couple of years now. Facebook, needing to more effectively monitise its massive user base, has been gradually changing the way in which content published on brand pages is shared organically with followers – so as to encourage more brands to pay to promote their content. Last year this decline in ‘organic reach’ hit the point where the average organic reach of brand page content was around 6% – and falling fast.

Then came the official statement that from January 2015 Facebook is “bringing new volume and content controls for promotional posts, so people see more of what they want from Pages”. A statement widely seen as heralding the final death of free organic reach for promotional content – and that includes content you publish on your organisation’s branded page promoting fundraising asks.

So, what’s a fundraiser to do in the new ‘Pay to Play’ world of Social Media Promotion?

Well, the first thing is not to panic. Despite repeated rumours of its demise, Facebook remains the most popular social network world-wide (outside China) and older consumers are becoming increasingly active users – which is handy, as they’re the consumers most likely to be donating to charity too. So, while you may well need to change the way you use it (and other social media – as Twitter looks like going the same way) there may well still be a role for Facebook activity in your fundraising programme.

Begin by conducting a careful and honest review of just how well your own Facebook activity is really performing in support of fundraising. Not just in terms of how many Page Likes you’re getting (although we all know how much senior management love those charts), but also assessing how your levels of reach are changing for different types of content, what traffic Facebook is driving to your website, and just what that traffic does when it gets there.

Then, get online and learn about what options exist for targeting paid social content. You’ll find that these range from traditional demographic, lifestyle, interests, and ‘lookalike’ targeting to Custom Audiences through which you can specifically target people who already donate to you. The latter is especially interesting for fundraising – as it offers a targeted Social Media extension to your donor development activity (and several fundraisers I’ve spoken to recently have reported good results from tests of this).

Once you understand the options, allocate a testing budget and design some proper, robust tests to assess the real potential of paid social activity to directly support your fundraising programme. Just as you would with any other paid channel, take the time to look around and talk to other fundraisers to find-out what is and isn’t working – both in terms of targeting and the content and fundraising propositions being used. Aim to make 2015 the year you get some good benchmark data on the potential of paid social for your fundraising – which you can build-on when planning for 2016 and beyond.

Lastly, if you come across anyone who is still under the impression that Social Media is a free extension to their digital fundraising programme then do them a favour and gently bring them up to date with the way the world is changing. As, despite discussion of failing organic reach having been ongoing for a long while now, the belief that ‘Social Media is Free Media’ remains hard to shift in some quarters.

Only time will tell, but I’m hoping the shift towards paid promotion will actually bring a much needed dose of realism to the use of Facebook for fundraising – and so help lead to far greater Social Media fundraising effectiveness overall. For too long the perception that Social is a free engagement channel has led to it being pretty badly managed by many organisations when it comes to fundraising. Now that we need to start paying for it, hopefully it’ll be treated with a bit more rigour and respect – and deliver a lot more income as a result.


This post is the third in a series suggesting things I think fundraisers should have on their 2015 Digital Fundraising To Do List. The first two are:

#1 Conversion Rate Optimisation

#2 Get Serious About Email Fundraising


A must read for all digital fundraisers – latest free Global Digital Statistics Compendium from We Are Social


It’s that time of year again – when fundraisers the world-around take a breath after the end of year seasonal donation high and get ready to do wonderful things in the year ahead. So, when better to get yourself a good dose of digital market insights to help underpin your planning.

Step forward those generous folks at We Are Social – who are back with a better than ever update on their annual Global Digital, Social, and Mobile Statistics Report.

As well as global summaries, within the reports 376 pages you’ll also find country-specific sections, so you can get some real insight on your own markets as well as understand how you fit into the world-wide picture.

And, best of all – it’s free to download from SlideShare. What’s not to love!

Happy planning!

2015 Digital Fundraising To Do List #2 Get Serious About Email Fundraising

Email Fundraising
Despite all the attention that continues to be devoted to Social Media across the nonprofit world, I don’t know many fundraisers who wouldn’t acknowledge that the primary means of engaging with their donors online is actually through email. Sadly, I also don’t know of many who are really pleased with the fundraising results they receive through their email programmes.

And this underperformance seems to be getting worse not better as time goes-on – as highlighted in last October’s Luminate Online Benchmark Report, which (as reported by Mike Snusz of Blackbaud) showed email appeal volume up over 70% among the 794 nonprofits surveyed, but the all important email appeal conversion rate down by 25%.

So, what is going wrong with Email fundraising? Is it simply that donors don’t like to respond to email appeals?

I don’t think so. From discussions I’ve had with fundraisers all around the world (and from what I see in my own inbox) I think the truth is that very few organisations really take email fundraising seriously. Certainly nothing like as seriously as they take their direct mail fundraising.

It may be because email programmes are not run by fundraisers; or because of problems integrating offline and online donor data; or simply because low results have led to ever lower expectations. But what I see time and again is that email fundraising programmes are being run with none of the direct marketing rigour that even the most junior direct mail fundraiser would recognise as DM101.

In a channel where the potential exists to offer content-rich, personally-targeted digital engagement and asks, most fundraisers still send one size fits all email appeals and e-newsletters with no sophisticated segmentation and minimal testing – and just accept the resulting dismal income returns.

To be honest, I can’t think of any other direct response channel which is so badly under-used by fundraisers.

So, that’s why I’ve put Getting Serious About Email Fundraising as second in my 2015 Digital Fundraising To Do List (just behind Fixing your Conversion Rate Optimisation).

I’d encourage anyone involved in online fundraising to invest some quality time thinking through how they might improve their use of this key digital channel by applying some good-old offline direct mail techniques.

To help kick-start your thinking, here’s a list of common email marketing mistakes from my old agency colleague Jeff Brooks over in Seattle. Alternately, seek-out the keenest direct mail fundraiser you can find and ask them what old school direct marketing nous they can share to help improve your email programme.

2015 Digital Fundraising To Do List #1 Conversion Rate Optimisation

Fundraising Conversion Rate Optimisation

In my first post of the New Year (Why Bitcoin probably shouldn’t be top of your 2015 Digital Fundraising To Do list) I promised to share some thoughts over the next few weeks about what I believe digital fundraisers should be prioritising on their 2015 To Do lists. So, to get started let’s focus on the one thing without which none of your other online activity is likely to deliver good results – namely Website Conversion Rate Optimisation.

Back in January 2012 I wrote about the crucial importance of fundraisers getting serious about how they track and improve the conversion rates of their fundraising pages.

I wrote that post in the same week User Experience specialists Nomensa had released their white paper ‘Creating the Perfect Donation Experience’, which included alarming research findings showing that 47% of donors give-up before they have made the donation because the online journey is not intuitive and engaging. I found this statistic worrying but not especially surprising, given the lack of attention being given to tracking, evaluating, and improving the conversion of traffic to donation websites at that time.

What I find both alarming and surprising is that two years on from that report, so many of the fundraisers that I hear voicing concern over the difficulty they experience growing their online income are still focusing the vast majority of their efforts on traffic generation and next to nothing on conversion rate optimisation.

Assuming the Nomensa finding still applies (and sadly I see little to suggest that the sector has got to grips with conversion optimisation so as to change it) this means that for all the effort and budget being invested in attracting individuals wishing to make a donation, almost half of them will be failing to become donors because of a lack of attention being given to optimising their website experience.

If you were to tear-up half of the donations you receive to a direct mail appeal then you would clearly be a crazily bad fundraiser. Yet failing to pay proper attention to what is happening on your donation pages could well be amounting to the same thing.

So, that’s what I’d say should be top of your 2015 To Do List. Before spending time on new ways to bring more people to your donation pages – work-out just what you need to do to properly measure, evaluate, and optimise the experience they will have when they get there.

Why Bitcoin probably shouldn’t be top of your 2015 digital fundraising To Do list

Bitcoin Fundraising

There has been a whole lot of discussion and a fair amount of hype over the last couple of years about the growing use of the digital cryptocurrency Bitcoin as it evolves from a secretive online currency used on the Darknet to something you can use to buy pizzas with.

Understandably, this has led to quite a bit of talk in the fundraising world regarding the importance, or otherwise, of adding bitcoin donation functionality to charity websites – and a number of organisations have already started to test this, including the RNLI in the UK and United Way in the US.

With Boxing Day 2014 seeing the inaugural Bitcoin Bowl college football game, promoted through the antics of its mascot Mr. Bitcoin, the Bitcoin hype looks set to continue apace this year. So, while not wanting to quash any Bitcoin-fuelled new year spirit of fundraising innovation, I thought it might be a good time to suggest four things to think about before you spend too much of your time on Bitcoin fundraising in 2015.

1. Bitcoin users currently represent a small, specialised market
While it certainly is growing, Bitcoin is still a very long way off being a mainstream payment option and there is no real evidence as yet that it is approaching the point where adoption goes beyond a relatively small number of tech-savvy innovators and early adopters. Estimates of the size of the active Bitcoin userbase vary widely, but most put the number at somewhere between 500k and 5 million world-wide (and I suspect the active base is closer to the lower than the higher estimates).

Added to this, Bitcoin users don’t currently look like your usual online donors. A typical Bitcoiner is apparently a 33 year old male, with above average household income, living in the US or Northern Europe. Some fundraisers believe that this very disparity is the key opportunity offered by Bitcoin – highlighting it as a way to attract younger donors. However, the truth is that attracting sufficient young Bitcoin donors to represent a viable income stream is unlikely to happen simply because you announce that you can take their cryptocurrency gifts.

Any non-profits whose brands are already relevant to this audience may not find this a problem – but I imagine they’ll be few and far between. The majority of organisations are likely to need to invest some serious effort in defining and supporting a fundraising proposition attractive to the tech-savvy, youth consumer demographic to generate sustainable income. Interestingly, in line with this, United Way has focused its Bitcoin initiative on funding for their Innovation Fund.

Combine the current market size with the challenging profile of the typical Bitcoin user and I fear that most Bitcoin fundraisers may be fishing in a rather small pool for a few years yet.

2. Bitcoin value is highly volatile
With its exchange rate to the US$ fluctuating from over $1,100 to under $320, during 2014 Bitcoin was the most volatile ‘currency’ in the world (although for a while the Ruble gave it a run for the title) and there is no certainty that this will not be repeated in 2015. As such, to make the most of Bitcoin fundraising your finance team will need to keep a very keen eye on exchange rate trends.

3. The smell of the Darknet remains
While several well known consumer brands, from Dell to Expedia, now accept Bitcoin, it retains its historic (and ongoing) association with dubious and downright criminal transactions on the DarkWeb, which for some years yet may lead to non-Bitcoiners questioning whether you’re asking for ‘dirty money’.

4. No fundraising team has unlimited time and resources – so you must focus where the largest fundraising opportunities lie
I have written before about the danger of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) leading to fundraisers trying to test every new digital opportunity that comes along and as a result not being able to focus sufficient time and effort on those tests most likely to deliver the best income returns. Many of these may involve far less trendy things than Bitcoin, such as properly addressing Conversion Rate Optimisation on fundraising pages, but are more likely to lead to increased online income.

I remain very interested in the long-term potential of ‘independent’ digital currencies like Bitcoin (and even more interested in potential applications of the block chain platform beyond Bitcoin). However, I believe there are so many other opportunities to deliver digital fundraising growth in 2015 with more potential than Bitcoin fundraising that if you’re serious about prioritising your time based on income potential (and not just PR potential) then Bitcoin will not come even close to the top of the list.

“But if we shouldn’t spend our time on Bitcoins, where should we spend it?”

Well, I’m very pleased you asked that. Because there are an exciting range of other digital fundraising opportunities that I would say should certainly be on your list for consideration this year – and over my next few posts here on Giving In A Digital World, I’ll be sharing some specific ideas about these.

If you want to make sure you don’t miss any suggestions for your 2015 Digital Fundraising To Do list, you can subscribe to blog updates by email here or simply follow me on Twitter @millbry.

Meantime, if anyone has any insights to share from their 2014 Bitcoin fundraising experiences – then please do share them in the comments section below.

What’s not to Like about Facebook Likes?

Rather a lot, according to this video by the smart folks over at the YouTube educational science channel Veritasium.

If you’ve got ‘Volume of Likes’ as a KPI for your digital activity but don’t know about the murky world of click farms and the impact they’re having on engagement and organic reach on Facebook, then sit back and invest a few minutes watching their interesting video report.

It’s a really clear explanation of a pretty complex challenge facing digital marketers and fundraisers – and may well change just how much you like your Likes, for ever!

(Hat tip to @harveymckinnon of Harvey McKinnon Associates in Canada for spotting it)


Are organisational silos blocking your online fundraising growth?

Charity Departmental Silos

Research from eMarketer reveals that the UK’s love of online shopping is well ahead that of the rest of the world, with an estimated 87% of Internet users here shopping online – compared to 73% for the US and 72% for Western Europe overall. According to the latest IMRG E-Retail Sales Index this results in online now making-up an estimated 21% of all UK retail sales.

On this basis, and given all of the talk over recent years about the new fundraising opportunities that online offers, you’d be forgiven for expecting that online donations should make-up a pretty substantial percentage of individual giving here too.

But the truth is that for most charities the proportion of individual donor income received online remains irritatingly small. Indeed, Blackbaud’s 2013 SONI research says online giving represents just 15% of individual donations in the UK.

So, what’s causing the gap between our high expectations and the low proportion of income most fundraisers currently receive online?

Some say “online shoppers are just not the same people as our donors”. However, Blackbaud’s Next Generation of American Giving research found that valuable ‘Baby Boomer’ donors (born 1946-1964) said they were as likely to give online as via direct mail. While a recent report by online affiliate giving platform Give as You Live found that 22% of people aged over 75 named email as the form of communication most likely to prompt them to donate.

It seems to me that the challenge we face is less about donor audiences not evolving to embrace giving online and more about our charities not really evolving to fully embrace fundraising online.

Often at the heart of this is the fact that most charities have yet to evolve beyond the discrete silos they’ve always worked-in. But online engagement is now so all-embracing that no organisation can plan and deliver it in an effective manner whilst still working within traditional silos.

If this rings a bell, and you’re a fundraiser whose online income is suffering because of traditional silo-itis, then here are three quick tips to help you on the road to recovery:

1. Don’t treat Fundraising and Online Fundraising as different disciplines. Fundraising is all about inspiring people to help change the world for the better by funding your organisation’s work. Online Fundraising simply adds digital to the donor engagement mix. So, don’t start by thinking about doing new things online. First look at what fundraising is working for you already and consider how online activity might make it work even better.

2. Focus first on the basics that will help you deliver more income before investing in innovation. User experience specialists Nomensa report that 47% of would-be online donors give-up before donating because of badly designed websites. So, ensuring your donation pages are really effective is likely to deliver you far more income than trialing innovative new ways to fundraise online or tinkering with your Twitter feed. The clarity that you’ll gain from such focus will also mean you’re far better prepared to brief your organisation’s digital folks (who are often in a different silo) on the key things you need them to do to help you raise more money.

3. Adopt a consistent approach to planning online activities across all teams. Those organisations who are seeing their online income really grow typically use a clearly defined approach to planning, implementing, and evaluating online activities across all teams needing to use them – from Fundraising to Communications and Campaigning. That way, conflicting requirements can be addressed as early as possible; consistent and coherent messaging delivered; and effort and investment focused where it delivers best value.

If you have any tips of your own to offer in support of fundraisers suffering from silo-working – do share them by leaving a comment below…

A version of this post was first published as a guest post on the UK Institute of Fundraising Blog