A marketing or fundraising strategy is crafted to achieve a desired business outcome. How that strategy is implemented and the business outcome achieved can come in a variety of ways, using an array of media channels.
When interviewing experienced fundraisers for my book Attracting Donors Online – Digital Fundraising that Works, I posed this question to them “Are fundraising strategies online different to offline?” And I got a mixed response, but by and large most of these experienced (predominantly traditional) fundraisers said ‘Yes, they are different’. I disagree and we proceeded to have a conversation about what is strategy and what are the tactics used to execute a strategy?
I firmly believe that a marketing or fundraising strategy is designed to achieve a desired business outcome and then executed using all available means – digital fundraising channels being one of those means. I do agree that within an overarching fundraising strategy, there will be channel strategies. However, they’re all still working towards the one goal.
A strategy of Engagement
Engagement strategies are usually designed to reach large numbers of people and raise awareness of a brand or issue. Marketers, Advertisers and Fundraisers have for a long time believed that TV is the best channel to do this, and they’re not wrong. But that doesn’t mean that other channels can’t be effective as well, and now that the internet provides marketers with access to a global community, the possible reach is almost infinite. But it’s harder to predict and plan for huge online reach, whereas TV ratings can give us a clear line of sight.
So your strategy is to engage and raise awareness of your organisation with a prospective audience. If I was to execute this engagement strategy for you online, I would recommend a channel strategy that included Social Media and online PR, which are built around pushing out content that is engaging and memorable and that people want to share and talk about. Our online engagement plan will also include carefully selected banner ad placements on popular, high profile website home or category pages that get hundreds of thousands of visitors each day.
To maximise the impact of the great reach we’ve achieved with the above social, PR and advertising tactics, I’d also want to have a strong and wide reaching online presence for your brand, in the form of banner ads across a wide variety of websites. You must ensure your online media is targeting only “Australian eyeballs”. This tactic aims to show your ad, lots of times (a high frequency), to your target audience. We do this so they remember the ad and are compelled to click on it to find out more. The average user needs to see an online banner ad 4-6 times before they will consider clicking on it.
As you can imagine, a high reach and frequency engagement strategy is expensive to implement, regardless of which channel you use. Purchasing the Homepage banner placement on NineMSN.com.au will cost in excess of $100,000 for one day. But it reaches lots of people, like TV does.
It should go without saying that your online engagement campaign dates should be perfectly aligned with any offline marketing and advertising planned. For instance, maximum impact will be achieved by aligning the sponsorship of a popular TV program with the purchase of your NineMSN homepage buyout.
The ability to Acquire New Donors
Online has long been accepted by the retail and corporate worlds as one of the strongest direct-response channels. Most acquisition based marketing strategies will use offline channels to raise awareness and then use complimentary online activity to convert the sale. In the non-profit space we are seeing this used well in Direct Response TV where a website URL or SMS response allows the engaged prospect to act quickly in the moment of inspiration.
However, digital is a superb acquisition channel in its own right. Whether your acquisition is the capture of a prospects detail, a complete donation, the purchase of a virtual or real product or simply a commitment to action – online channels can achieve this for you.
There are a number of ways to acquire new supporters through digital channels. There is Affiliate marketing – where partner websites who have your desired audience convert the sale for you and receive a commission on the transaction value or a cost per acquisition for non-financial conversions achieved. I’ve had great results using Affiliates for adoption products and merchandise. Admittedly it is less effective for straight donation asks. These acquisitions are achieved through text links, banner ads and email communications on third party websites and to their opt-in databases as well as through pre-qualified surveys and co-registration promotions. You can also use co-branded email communications to partner’s customer databases or by purchasing the ability to send a message to a targeted list of subscribers who match your prospective donor profile.
Your acquisition strategy can also be implemented through mobile marketing of SMS messages to prospects (SMS is an opt-out channel) and targeted banners within mobile websites and applications. In my experience mobile delivers strong response rates to action requests and product downloads as well as low-dollar-value donations.
But it is email marketing and fundraising that will be the star of your acquisition strategy, if you do it properly. A well-crafted email, to a loyal database of supporters who are engaged, feel valued and are informed will convert far better than any warm leads you may purchase. Throughout my career I’ve been able to deliver a 13% average conversion rate on email appeals with highs of 17% and for advocacy campaigns, which are often considered a softer conversion, the take up rate can be over 60% if it’s an issue that is important to your supporters. The secret to doing email well is to segment your lists and talk to supporters about the topics that are important to them as individuals. You find out what they care about through analyzing their email behaviour over time and through a commitment to quality content and testing.
Using digital channels to Retain Your Supporters for longer
A loyal supporter base is built over time on trust and respect. I advocate using content as the backbone of all digital strategies because it can be used to push out to new audiences as well as to pull in people who are looking for what you offer. Google used to classify websites in two ways – either they were a research website, or they were a transactional website. And then came Social Networking websites, known as ‘social media’, which create a third category. Social networking websites share content and facilitate communication. Social media isn’t new, it’s just another way of communicating; essentially it’s the new form of ‘word of mouth’.
If your organisation places a strong emphasis on retaining your existing supporters (as you should because it costs less to retain an existing donor than to acquire a new one), then they’re going to love digital. After you’ve acquired a new donor, it’s important to start your retention strategy straight away through an onboarding process. The process of nurturing a new supporter is one of the strongest indicators you will have as to how engaged this donor is in your cause and how active they are likely to be. The first two weeks after a supporter’s first action is when they are most interested and we need to use this time to start building a relationship that will last, hopefully, a lifetime. Online fundraising channels offer the ability to plan, sequence and automate many of your onboarding communications.
Your retention marketing needs to be more organic. You may have planned your supporter journey for 36 months – this outlines what stories they will be introduced to and when your financial and non-financial asks are placed in the timeline. But it’s important to also have regular updates on progress and how their money is being spent. This new information is to engage the donor in conversations that are current and topical.
The content you create for your supporters can be distributed across multiple digital and offline channels. Search engines will index your pages and send people who are looking for information that you have. You may push a key story out via an SMS notification, through your social media brand pages and to your email database as well. And of course all of your content should be available on your mobile/web site for supporters to browse and discover your work at their own pace, in their own time.
When we’re putting together content plans for clients, we always plan the Media Releases, social media and email communications a couple of weeks or months in advance so that we can create themes and stay focused on content areas that are most important to their donors. I find that forward planning gives the information a more natural flow and means you can introduce elements in a logical order. I should insert a disclaimer here. The cohesive messages designed in forward planning will mostly benefit your biggest advocates who consume everything your organisation puts out there. Most of your supporters will only see bits and pieces of information, so it’s essential that each communication can stand-alone. But for those supporters who pay particular attention you need to reward them with a good experience that continues to broaden their knowledge and keeps them interested.
Content calendar planning gives you options to schedule some of your SMS, social and email communications whilst still allowing you flexibility to be reactive when a situation that arises where you want to inject a new topic into the calendar. Above all else, forward planning reduces stress for your team and gives the supporter a better view of your organisation.
In this article I’ve outlined how an engagement, acquisition and retention strategies might be executed online. It’s important to point out that the story and content plan for an Acquisition strategy will be different to the stories used in a Retention strategy.
If you insist that digital strategies are different, I can absolutely build you a stand-alone digital strategy. BUT, I guarantee you will reach more people and make more money for your cause if you integrate the digital channels into your overall fundraising strategy.