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Marlin Communications - Blog Articles - State Fundraising

7 Things I Wish I’d Known as a Digital Fundraiser

— Written by Samara Gentle, Digital Fundraising Strategist at Marlin Communications. Originally published in F&P Magazine

The digital fundraising landscape has changed a lot in a short time. Samara Gentle looks at what she wished she’d known in 2019.

With over 10 years of experience in the government and NFP sectors developing and implementing national digital marketing and fundraising strategies, Marlin’s Digital Fundraising Strategist, Samara Gentle, has seen it all. Here are Samara’s seven things to help you improve your online fundraising efforts.

1. Digital will not replace direct mail

For any newbie digital fundraisers, this is my sage advice – while direct mail feels old school and the possibilities of digital are endless, it is with trial and error I tell you that digital will not replace direct mail, at least not anytime soon. Speaking from personal experience, and with other peers at NFPs who have done the hard yards of moving the same investment from direct mail to digital, you will not see the same results. Digital is there to compliment your direct mail, much like DTV, radio and other channels do. It can also be an awesome acquisition channel for finding new supporters for your organisation.

2. P2P events need committed internal buy-in

I’m not talking buy-in from your board, because it’s likely you already got that with your budget. I’m talking from your internal business units, your communications team, supporter care teams, corporate partnerships, etc. The success of a P2P event does not just rest on the hands of your digital or community fundraising person, it requires support from all aspects of your organisation to see success. For example, being able to tap into the amazing skills of your supporter care teams to make phone contact with fundraisers or working with your communications team on a PR and promotion plan. One synergy that can give a huge boost to your event is your corporate partnerships team. Working with them to have KPIs on recruiting corporate teams, workplace giving or corporate donations/partnerships for flash challenges or dollar match days can take your P2P event to a whole new level.

3. Don’t underestimate email and SMS

They may seem like the boring digital channels, but they are by far the most fruitful. Average gifts by supporters your email or SMS are often much higher than other channels like Facebook. Incorporating email and SMS into your overarching donor communications journey can provide timely touchpoints in a highly personal way. Think of emergency appeals, the urgency of receiving an SMS from a charity supporting people or animals on the ground, or the timeliness of an SMS or email reminder for Tax and Christmas.

4. People give to people not machines

I’m certainly not the first to say it, however, it begs reminding that donors are more likely to respond to simple, relatable messaging. Research and numerous experiments from our Partners at NextAfter confirm that often the longest and plainest type of digital communication to a donor can be the most successful, especially when it’s focused on the story and the emotion. In short, does it feel like it’s from a human or a marketing team?

5. Get tracking right at the beginning

I’m lucky to have learnt this lesson early on in my career, but tracking is vital for measuring success. Before kicking off any new campaign make sure your Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics and UTMs are ready to go. To measure the success of channels fairly, your tracking must be right from the beginning. You don’t want to be caught trying to do these the day you go live or once you’ve found there’s no tracking in place at all. If it’s been a while since you’ve reviewed your tracking, make it a priority before your next appeal or campaign.

Getting the tracking right also means when it comes to planning your budgets for upcoming campaigns, you know exactly which channels have been more effective and where to invest more.

6. Everyone should be doing 2-step

I’ve sat in multiple meetings with fundraising leadership teams and a common struggle is a declining database. If you haven’t heard of 2-step acquisition, it’s a vital strategy for database maintenance and growth.

Step 1: acquire a lead via a pledge, petition, or some form of value exchange.

Step 2: follow up with a phone call or email series for this person to become a regular supporter of your organisation’s mission.

The sooner you start using this tactic, the smaller the gap you’ll be trying to fill. If your organisation hasn’t done a 2-step acquisition before, it’s important to treat the first campaign as a test. Testing of multiple propositions and mechanics is essential to find the most cost-effective and best converting results for a long-term rollout.

7. The age of low digital CPAs may be over

Legislation hasn’t caught up, but tech companies have started to become more accountable to their users. Due to the changes being made from Facebook to Apple Mail, data is decreasing rather than increasing, which is driving up the CPA across many channels. It’s not impossible to overcome the rising CPA, but it does mean including more considered and robust testing in your digital channels to make incremental changes for long-term benefit.

For example, in September last year, we were able to bring down rising CPAs for most of our client’s campaigns by testing and refining imagery and copy. For some, we even achieved lower CPAs than the year before due to the unique event in a very crowded market. It may take more time and effort, but it’s still possible to combat rising digital costs.

Samara Gentle is a Digital Fundraising Strategist at Marlin Communications, a full-service creative fundraising agency.

For more insight into digital fundraising, join us at Fundraising Forum 2022 where Samara’s colleague, Tim Brack, will present the session Obsessed with digital optimisation: acquiring more donors and dollars online