— by James Hornitzky – 5 min read

2020 has been a big year with huge ups and downs, and we are only a third of the way through. With the bushfires earlier this year and the global coronavirus crisis, there has been a significant increase in funds raised through digital channels.¹ From our experience, we have seen some clients doing particularly well in emergency appeals for both bushfires and coronavirus.

However, there is a greater challenge now that lies ahead. While it’s expected that your core supporters will continue to give, it’s difficult to say how fatigued the donor base is and how many economic factors of high unemployment and reduced salaries will reduce giving moving further into the year. Coupled with the loss of face-to-face and other physical channels, it is essential if you’ve already trialled digital acquisition methods successfully, to move a significant amount of that investment online to acquire new donors and supporters.

While that’s not news to anyone, I believe that the scale of the issue will change quickly over the next 6 months, and so it’s critical to accelerate the development of the digital components in your acquisition program now, regardless of which stage you are at.

There are a few key elements that I think are important to focus on in running a successful acquisition campaign; the offer, your digital marketing strategy, the website experience, and your platform plus third-party integrations. 

The Offer

As with any campaign, the most fundamental element of success is a strong offer and effective communication of that offer over time. Now with more charities competing online, more than ever, it’s important to have a strong comms framework and understand which type of supporter will respond to which type of message. 

Dan’s article on tips and the technique of solution pairing is particularly important here – you need to have a good handle on what you can do about the problem you are solving and how you can make that emotionally matter to the donor. 

For advocacy and donations, we’ve seen a lot of success with a multi-step acquisition process that looks something like the following:

  1. The initial offer is something that gives value for no monetary investment – a petition sign up, an information guide, or some kind of digital gift
  2. A follow-up communication flow, using a combination of digital and/or telemarketing to attempt to convert the donor to a single gift (or potentially RG, depending on the strength of the message) 
  3. Follow-up to convert to RG if they haven’t already, or to reinforce the impact of their contribution

The above is fairly standard and has been around for a while now, however, a few key points to be looking out for specifically in our current climate are:

  • Digital gives you a lot of options to make the initial offer more creative, for example:
    • Petitions 
    • Quizzes where donors specify details to get the answer
    • PDF information resources, for example ‘Diabetes and COVID’ or ‘Pets and COVID’
    • Downloadable ‘fun’ resources, like emoji packs, icons or wallpapers
    • Activity packs to do at home in isolation
    • Virtual events and activities – this goes more into DIY/P2P so we will leave this here for this article.
  • The highlight here is to be creative and try a few different approaches – there is a need to stand out from the oversaturated market.
  • There is also the opportunity to provide supporters with an experience they can share with friends and family in this period of isolation. Over 45% of Australians are feeling anxious about the future.² So anything you can do to provide your supporters with the feeling of positivity and connection will be a great start.
  • To elaborate on the above point, what many of our supporters seek in a time of uncertainty, is a greater sense of control and efficacy. This is another aspect that your charity should consider; that you can give this—and a sense of reassurance—that the causes you’ve been telling them about for so many years, still require their support and involvement. This is what genuine donor care should deliver – a supporter’s degree of control in an uncertain time.
  • Obviously, the stronger you can tie the steps together, the greater the impact will be. This is quite easy for petitions but maybe a little harder for more fun things like activity packs (although, with the right use case it can still be done well). 

With digital, you can push multiple messages into the market, and so to tie those steps together effectively, you need to make sure you are tracking and tagging the right people into the right follow up pathways. 

Digital marketing strategy

Most digital marketing strategies look fairly similar at the outset:

  • Use Facebook and Google channels as the primary methods of advertising, potentially with a couple of other online channels like Snapchat, Bing if appropriate
  • Use marketing automation tools like Pardot, Campaign Monitor, Autopilot and Mailchimp to take donors through the journey
  • Use lookalike audiences and remarketing to target the right audience broadly.
  • Test and refine ads in weekly or biweekly iterations.

Many businesses have reduced spending significantly in the wake of coronavirus, which means there is a window of opportunity to test new ideas and potentially increase ROI on digital marketing ads. The main challenge is that other charities, like yours, may look to do the same thing, and so it’s important to use the time wisely to further test and refine some ideas.

Given the window of opportunity, there are a few focus points we suggest looking into:

  • Because we are looking at a period where things have changed, testing different messaging and concepts is really important to find what works (in some cases, multiple things work for different audiences). Whilst you still need to fit messaging into the overall creative framework, different copy, imagery and variations will have different outcomes that can often be surprising.
  • If you haven’t tried Facebook Lead Ads already, do it. For the right kind of acquisition campaign, we’ve seen some good CPL.
  • Generally, we use AdGrants more for awareness and service delivery acquisition, however, given the reduced overall spend have a look at how you can use the grant to help you with a campaign or two.
  • LinkedIn Ads for the right ask are still worth a look. There is still uncertainty in the corporate space but if it’s the right offer or case it is still worth testing.

The Website Experience

The best thing to do for online conversions is to keep it simple. 

This means:

  • At each step in the process, you focus on one action only – e.g. if you are asking people to sign a petition at the first step, don’t then ask them for a donation (unless there is a very very good reason to).
  • Online forms should be as short as possible. The great thing about multi-step donation is that you can collect details sequentially, so you are only ever asking for a small amount of information at one time.
  • If you are running multiple messages, look at how you can tie them together to your platform, or potentially create a few different landing or donation pages that match the message closely.
  • Each step should have some kind of feedback or way of closing the loop. For example, if someone fills out a petition, then within one week there should be a communication to them about their impact and what the next steps look like.
  • Longer-term, there still remains the issue of donor care/supporter journeys over a 12+ month timeframe as part of the larger organisation, so be aware of how your campaign will fit into the bigger picture.

Donors expect to get an impact from their donation – in many ways, it’s what they are buying. I think this is one of the biggest continual challenges for our sector as it is difficult to provide exact detail in where the donations are going and the direct impact of that individual donation. 

We see some good examples where charities have used dollar handles on donation pages to show their supporters how different donation amounts from them can provide different levels of assistance to the cause and apps that let you track your impact over time from simply purchasing a charitable good at the supermarket ; however I think there is more opportunity here to do something a bit more concrete.

Platform and integrations

It’s really important that your platform doesn’t get in your way, and allows you to execute the experience as flawlessly as possible. A few focus points:

  • If your main website platform supports donation or two-step functionality, then it’s a good option to use. If your website platform doesn’t have this kind of functionality, then you are probably best starting with an off the shelf platform like Raisely.
  • You need a good marketing automation platform that will let you send follow up emails, and let you know what’s happening. More flexible tools like Autopilot will allow you to create a more dynamic experience.
  • As much as possible, your web platform, CRM and marketing automation platform should all be tied together and share data. For some systems, you will be able to use a tool like Zapier, for others, the only option will be custom integration, which is something that we do quite often. If you are starting out it’s less of a concern to do this upfront, but over time this can build up, and so it’s important to at least have a plan of what to do later.
  • Tracking, whilst basic, is absolutely essential to know what’s going on and how to improve. Google Analytics needs Google Tag Manager and the right events setup so you can see what’s going on, you want to be able to get the eCommerce data in analytics so you can drill into other dimensions and sources that are driving sign-ups and donations.
  • For more advanced users, you can go to Heatmap and user tracking tools such as Hotjar and be running A/B tests via Google Optimise or other software. 

The Big Picture

So far, we have covered the main points required for a single campaign. The final point is to talk about the big picture.

With the departure of many of the physical channels, the big question is right now, can we replace these channels entirely with digital and achieve similar results? My answer to this question is ‘sort of’ – I don’t think anyone in the NFP industry has the answer at the scale that is being proposed. However, if you look at other industries that live and die online like eCommerce, I think it’s possible. 

To make this happen, I think there are 3 points that need to be considered:

  1. Rather than having 1 or 2 campaigns throughout the year, you need to be prepared to run 4 to 5 different campaigns, including a strong mix of ‘always-on campaigns’. This is to test multiple concepts to see what works and what doesn’t. It also allows you to explore different sections of the potential supporter base more widely – different messages that work with different people. Ideally, all campaigns will work, but in reality, we expect that they should average out and combine to achieve the same outcome. 
  2. Supporter journeys/donor care are highly important in retaining donors post-acquisition, and there is a strong opportunity to do this through digital. Whilst there has been a lot of buzz about this in previous years, I still think there is room for improvement – to be a lot more specific in terms of where and how far the donation is going and scorecards that show you impact over time. Yes, the issues of tied funds and donation allocations are not going away, however, I still think there is more space to explore here.
  3. I think the mindset has to shift from being a very specific campaign or appeal focus to a long term product offering mindset – and we’ve seen some of our clients like The Fred Hollows Foundation, Médecins Sans Frontières Australia and The Smith Family do this. There needs to be more emphasis on long term value offered to the supporter from the outset. This is quite a jump in thinking from a lot of the advice we have covered earlier, even with the multi-step acquisition, but I believe this is a bigger trend of social enterprise and value exchange that is just waiting to be unlocked. 

Child sponsorship is probably one of the best examples of this thinking, and whilst it is now not as successful as previously, it is one of the greatest advances in continued value and feedback that has ever been produced in the charity sector.³ I’m sure there are more opportunities to do more like that in many organisations.

Wrapping up

From addressing 4 focus areas for a good online acquisition campaign to some thoughts on the big picture and how you might start to shift your thinking going forward, there are lots of tips and tricks in there that will work differently for you depending on your team capability and organisational scale. 

However, no matter where you are at, the underlying message remains clear – invest in your digital acquisition strategy now because it’s where things are going, and everyone needs to be ready for the bumps in the road still to come.

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¹ https://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/article241753846.html
² https://mccrindle.com.au/insights/blog/how-australians-are-responding-to-covid-19/
³ https://marlincommunications.com/portfolio/the-smith-family-back-to-school-campaign/