Advocates as Donors Part 1: Building Your Prospect List
Posted by Guest Blogger at Sep 24, 2014 07:01 AM CDT

This article was written by Molly Brooksbank, Senior Director of Digital Engagement at Sierra Club. Sierra Club is an IMAB Nonprofit Member.

If you run any part of a direct response or nonprofit digital program (’re reading this blog), you probably know that you can get a lot of bang for your buck through online supporter acquisition. But let’s set aside online whitemail acquisition for a moment -- those individuals whose first known connection with your organization is through a donation online -- and focus on prospects.

What prospect acquisition strategies can you use to build the biggest list without sacrificing quality? Which sources drive the most donations? How can you also measure the value of advocacy? And what does conversion of online advocates to donors look like?

I’ll address the first question today, with more to come in part 2. 

Unpaid Tactics

Unpaid list growth tactics are the place to start, not only financially, but several offer the benefit of an ongoing stream of prospects with low maintenance.

  • Sign ups: Yes, old school email sign-ups are still a thing, and still provide some of the highest quality prospects you can get. It also helps to “activate” them through any kind of low bar action beyond clicking a link.
  • Referrals: These come mostly through people who have actually just taken action, signed something, or made a commitment, and who are motivated to get their friends on board. ShareProgress offers some nifty tools that are optimized to boost referrals. Of course the technology has a cost, but it falls more under infrastructure than advertising.
  • List chaperones: List swaps, or chaperones as they are often called, are all the rage these days--and for good reason. These consist mainly of organizations sending one another’s petitions to their own audiences (either paid, or metered to create an even swap). And, while they can be a little more work, joint petitions (vs. swapped ones) and campaigns like the Union of Concerned Scientists’ “Got Science” quiz can have solid returns, too. The investment in staff time isn’t negligible -- though you often can leverage existing work -- but the payback in qualified prospects can be exceptional if the creative is strong.
  • Sub-branded content: This takes a little more explaining, but essentially, if you have maxed out what you can do on your main program, consider innovating new digital streams targeted to specific audiences. Sierra Club launched a purely online digital advocacy program called Sierra Rise, which focuses its campaigning strategy on audience interest and response. Where to focus is determined through extensive issue and message testing, following up only what really works and moving on quickly from tests that flop.

Paid Channels

If you’re looking for immediate financial ROI, you want to drive people directly to donations through most paid channels, but paid sources can be a great source for reaching prospects and advocates, too.

  • Petition (and other) direct acquisition sites: Don’t let the cost to acquire a prospect dissuade you until you test. Some sites that charge a bit more can do so because they provide better quality leads. Not everything works for everyone, so test a few angles over a few months or a year, and find out which will work best for you. But don't get married to any one source, and DO test old sources again -- quality can change a lot in a couple of years.
  • News and media sites: You’ll find that some news sites -- often the more partisan ones -- offer petitions with email sign up. There are even a few that offer this service at no charge because they generate value and loyalty with their targeted audiences by supporting well-aligned organizations.
  • Social advertising: Facebook ads for acquisition are still a bit more art than science for most (not all) nonprofit practitioners, but they are worth digging into. It’s relatively easy to get started, and you can target on a wide range of parameters including lookalike audiences. Applications like Action Sprout are also useful to capture names in-site.
  • “Traditional” digital advertising: Search, donation form visitor retargeting, household IP targeting, and cookie-based predictive models -- the options can be overwhelming, but a small test will go a long way. Always consider what the minimum test size is. If you don’t have this expertise in house, this is also where hiring consultants can be the way to go.


Once you’ve identified a source is fit for your organization and goals, there’s still always room to improve. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and a solid content strategy are fundamentals to supporting organic traffic and advertising. Web optimization testing tools like Optimizely are relatively straightforward to get started with -- though you’ll want to spend thoughtful time on which tests have the greatest potential. 

More to come in part 2. 

What other strategies have you used to drive large volume donor prospect acquisition? Share your thoughts in the Comments section!

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Nonprofit Technology Served and Underserved: Recap from #14LCS
Posted by Joleen Ong at Sep 16, 2014 07:03 AM CDT

On September 3-6, over 250 nonprofit changemakers connected in San Francisco for the 2014 Leading Change Summit (14LCS). The Summit was organized in three tracks: Impact Leadership, Digital Strategy, and Future of Technology. For integrated marketers, the Digital Strategy track was an opportunity to engage in deep discussions, activate ideas, and explore ways to create change in the sector. All three tracks worked towards the finale event: the Idea Accelerator, where participants switched gears to move from ideas to action plans. 

The Summit was guided by the question: How will you move forward in your organization? Whether it’s an idea, project, or need that has to be met -- how can professionals in the nonprofit sector utilize the technology available to more effectively meet their mission?

The Changing Landscapes of Nonprofit Technology

The conference began with the opening plenary, “Moving from Diversity to Inclusion: Changing landscapes of nonprofit technology,” led by keynote speaker, Deena Pierott (photo right), Founder of iUrbanTeen and President and CEO of Mosaic Blueprint, and facilitator, Lisa Heft from Opening Space.

Deena asked the audience: “Who does technology serve, and who does it underserve? What happens when we leave [audiences] behind?” 

In a mission driven sector, the audience, which was mostly nonprofit, reflected deeply on this statement. The message from this keynote resonated with participants and carried on throughout the rest of the Summit, where some participants, including Nam-Ho Park, Managing Director, West Coast and Director of Mobile Services for Forum One Communications, started a discussion at the unconference session on Friday, September 5 about “who technology does not serve,” with Deena.  

Who Are We Not Reaching?
During the Digital Strategy track workshop led by facilitators Bridget Marie Todd, former Digital Strategy Director of the New Organizing Institute, and Deepa Kunapali, Founding Partner of the Brain Trust, Deena’s question continued to provoke a range of responses and reflection. The room was filled with marketers that ranged from small and medium-sized nonprofits to consulting firms. While conversations ranged, many avoided the typical, “who are our target audiences, and how do we reach them?” but instead focused on questions like, “who are we not reaching or measuring in our current marketing efforts? Who should we be?” 

Demonstrating Impact
Another topic discussed was how integrated marketers can demonstrate impact in an effort to persuade their community to take action -- such as to donate, sign up, attend -- and how to widen the scope to broader audiences. This requires the support and alignment of all staff in an organization. 

Although participants differed in mission, attendees found parallels in discussing processes and strategies. For example, on Day 1, participants worked in groups to develop a digital strategy based on a hypothetical scenario: Convince a local councilwoman to vote “no” on imposing mandatory rations on water. Participants also discussed two digital campaign case studies: #Ferguson and #ALSIceBucketChallenge, and examined how both campaigns unfolded online, the moments that were capitalized on, and the effects they've had on the country.

During the three days of deep discussion and brainstorming ideas, participants were challenged to think big about where the gaps might be in their technology, and if given the coveted hypothetical resources, what tool or program could be invented to help them more effectively meet their missions? 

The Idea Accelerator 

At the end of Day 3, participants from all tracks could pitch their preliminary ideas during the Microsoft evening reception. 24 individuals pitched ideas, from projects such as “Conference Match,” an app to facilitate networking for conference goers through matchmaking, to timely resources such as “Campus Light,” a website that facilitates peer-to-peer communication and resources for specific colleges to support students experiencing harassment, depression, and psychological disorders. The 24 ideas pitched were inspiring, concrete solutions of how the nonprofit sector can create social change. 

Yee Won Chong, a Strategist, Trainer, and Consultant for social justice, and former Development and Communications Director at the Western States Center, took home both the Community Choice Award and First Place for the project, “Say This, Not That,” which exemplified how technology can address the sometimes invisible actions that can result in exclusion. Inspired by Gandhi, the project aims to promote nonviolent communication by helping people identify harmful words, and “communicate with more humanity.” 

“I wanted to connect technology to my interest in nonviolent communication and to educate people about how our words can cause unintended harm,” said Yee Won. “Words matter, and it’s surprising how certain acceptable, everyday words convey violence. This platform we pitched addressed topics such as violence, racism, classism, sexism, and ableism." 

All Idea Accelerator participants are encouraged to continue refining their pitches, work on their projects, and document their progress going forward on NTEN’s blog. The full list of winners and pitches can be found on the 14LCS website

Takeaways from the Leading Change Summit

Key takeaway from the Leading Change Summit: 

  • Marketers are often responsive to the situations in front of them, for example -- what digital strategy should be put in place in response to a current event taking place, such as Ferguson? 
  • However, marketers must be savvy about also developing proactive, integrated solutions to meeting their broader organization strategy, and question: What unintentional exclusion might be happening with the very tools that we use to engage our audiences? 
  • Nonprofit organizations are a public trust, and it is the responsibility of the sector overall to be responsive, but with eyes wide open to the bigger picture ahead. 

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Don't Put All of Your Direct Marketing Eggs in One Basket
Posted by Guest Blogger at Sep 04, 2014 07:00 AM CDT

This article was written by guest author Sandra Paul Bishop, VP Client Services, CCAH.

"Don't put all of your eggs in one basket" are certainly words to live by. And, when a nonprofit organization is concerned, we can update that to include "direct marketing eggs." Those eggs include the full array of omni-channel marketing tools including mail, email, phones, advertising and social media. There's no reason to stop at one, two or even three.

And plenty of reasons to add to your toolbox.

Let's face it -- your donors are very busy people. And, they will never see everything you send to them or put in front of them -- never. So don't give it one best shot. Every nonprofit must be sending out multiple messages to every donor. But those messages must be cohesive, relevant and work together. There should not be distinct channels working independently. Your email, website, Facebook page and direct mail should seem like they're coming from the same place. The styles may and should change, but the message shouldn't.

We have seen over and over that a donation given through one channel may have been initiated through another channel. Folks that are saying no on the phones… are giving online or in the mail. Folks that receive a year-end match campaign in the mail… give through a follow-up phone call. And, folks that "like" you on Facebook... take an action and then give a seemingly organic gift on your web site.

In addition, we have seen that donors giving through multiple channels are the most valuable donors to an organization -- they give more gifts, period.

Within your annual renewal series is a great place to start. Most series start at the end of December/beginning of January. That first mailing is greatly enhanced by an autocall received just as the mailing arrives in the donor's mail box. Then it's followed by an email renewal… or two or three. And don't forget the "catalog effect," where donors receive your mail piece, place it next to their computer, and then go online to renew. An organization's website plays a crucial role in the donor engagement path. Make sure your home page reflects that it is renewal season with a donation lightbox and prominent front page imagery. In addition, your social media sites should also work in tandem with the campaign.

Some may say that social media is the new kid on the block, not because it is incredibly new, but because we are still figuring out how to monetize those views, clicks and likes -- and it changes all the time. But in some ways, when prospects see a tweet or a Facebook status update from a nonprofit, it can be incredibly effective in reinforcing a message. This is where the importance of the cohesive messaging shines through. No matter which media or element of a campaign a donor is looking at, the experience should be as fluid as possible -- you don't want them to hesitate for a moment.

Here are your top 3 takeaways:

  1. Donors will never see your message if you only try once -- reach out to your donors and potential donors in multiple ways, multiple times.
  2. Sync up your messages across channels. Make sure they all look and sound like they come from the same place -- after all they all do!
  3. If you haven't tried true multichannel marketing before, start with your renewals where you can get a big bang for your buck.

Sooner than you know it, you'll be juggling eggs like a pro! Please share your tricks and tips for effectively implementing surround sound fundraising campaigns in the comments section below. We’d love to hear what YOU are doing.

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It's Not Too Early to be a Year-End Fundraising Superhero: Part Two
Posted by Chris McKinley at Aug 28, 2014 07:03 AM CDT

As I stressed in last week’s blog post, year-end fundraising planning begins now. End-of-year fundraising can make or break your fundraising budget. Here are the remaining two critical strategies you need to know now.

#5: It’s December and the superpower strategy is high frequency.

Sending a lot of emails makes many of us very uncomfortable, but try not to let this feeling dictate strategy. Research shows that in the month of December there was an average of seven email deployments per organization (source: M + R 2014 Benchmarks).

At Grizzard, we did some research of our own. We gave online gifts to 70 different organizations in the month of October and monitored how and when organizations campaigned online and offline. We found that the average number of emails sent in the month of December was eight (8.42 to be precise), three of which were sent in the last week of the month. Several organizations sent as many as 15 emails in the month of December and as many as five emails the last week of the year. One organization sent seven emails in the last week of the year. Organizations sending the most emails tended to be larger and very digitally mature.

This year Christmas is on a Thursday and New Year’s Eve is on a Wednesday. At a minimum, try to be in inboxes on a weekend day, Monday morning and Wednesday early morning. Most online giving will happen between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 31, within each time zone.

Based upon timing of the 2014 holidays, Google analytics and email behavior reporting, I am recommending four email deployments between 12/27 and 12/31. That said, expect an up-tick in unsubscribe rates of approximately 1 to 3%.

#6: Finally, pretend to be the real superhero, the donor.

The last week of the year is the most important time for online marketing and fundraising. Given that the last day of the year can bring in as much as 33% of your total December online revenue, making the online giving experience as easy as possible can dramatically increase your results.

Online is a convenient channel for donors giving their last minute gift. The last thing donors want is to have a donation experience that is difficult and frustrating.

Integrated marketing tips for making giving easy for donors:

Make sure it’s easy to find your site:

  • Optimize your PPC campaigns. Pause or lower keyword bids on poor performing AdWord campaigns leading up to mid-December and amp up your spends on best performers. Make it easy for donors to get to your site. Stay ahead of your competition with effectively built out campaigns that contain relevant keywords and be sure to allocate a healthy PPC budget for key dates the last two weeks of December. This will also create opportunity for increase in ad rank.
  • Be sure your landing pages and forms are indexed.
  • Test PPC on Bing in addition to Google. On Bing, there is less competition and it has a growing user base. Depending on your donor profile, you may be surprised with your Bing results.

Ensure that the giving experience is pleasant and easy

  • Become the user. Force yourself to experience what it’s like from the donor’s perspective when giving an online gift. Note the number of clicks it takes from email to site, from site to donation form and the number of fields and amount of time it takes to make a successful donation. Ask yourself how the process could be made simpler.
  • Next, ask someone else from another department or a friend to do the same thing. Get their feedback.
  • Fix any broken links.

Unsung Superhero: Don’t discount your cultivation program from January through November.

Beauty and the Beast would never be a great story if they were separated. Likewise, a successful year-end campaign cannot happen without a robust year-round campaign plan. Year-end campaigning can sometimes be erroneously attributed to December campaigns only – not true. The year-round and year-end campaigns work together to keep your organization top of mind and tell your story. Continual multi-channel communications conveying mission, need and effective use of donors’ funds help to keep your organization relevant. End-of-year campaigns provide the reminding vehicle for convenient giving.

Good luck!

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It's Not Too Early to be a Year-End Fundraising Superhero: Part One
Posted by Chris McKinley at Aug 21, 2014 07:02 AM CDT

Year-end fundraising planning begins now. End-of-year fundraising can make or break your fundraising budget – it is the most critical time of the year.

A Charity Navigator survey revealed that as much as 41% of an organization’s total annual revenue can be realized in the month of December, and as much as 33% of December fundraising can come from donors on the last day of the year.

What drives this desire of our donors to be so charitable? ’Tis the season of giving, a heightened sense of altruism and faith, or tax benefits? Yes, yes and YES! But, tax benefits are the number one motivator for year-end giving according to many sources and surveys. This makes December a superpower month, and the last day of the year a mega-power day!

Following are 6 Winning Strategies for an integrated approach to your year-end fundraising.

#1: Early Thanksgiving messaging or imagery can improve last quarter results.

Savvy organizations have successfully used cognitive strategies to lift year-end giving. For example, using Thanksgiving themes as early as August can yield big response and revenue returns in the last quarter of the year, when compared to non-”Thanks” theme appeals. Test this strategy to see if it’s a winner for you.

But don’t be a Super-Grinch by messing with Christmas. Christmas themes introduced much earlier than mid-November can negatively impact results.

#2: Append and retain.

Many organizations receive as much as 30% of their total online giving in the last three months of the year. Appending your offline donor file now with email addresses can boost retention and donor value. Having both a mail and an email address will afford you extra touch points in addition to appeals for donations. The mix adds depth to your donor relationships and enhances your online credibility/trust to give online.

Establishing online trust with your offline donors is essential for year-end giving success. Many donors give online because it’s usually a last minute gift and online provides a convenient and instant way to give prior to the new year.

#3: Be multi-channel, even when you think your donors are not.

Digital marketing communications prior to year-end can covertly increase donations at the end of year. Digital campaigns specifically aimed to inform and engage, can mix up your messaging across channels. Digital is a great channel to thank donors, demonstrate respect and to share stories. Personal communications will set your organization apart from competition. A healthy mix of offline appeals and online education and engagement communications will provide added depth to your donor relationships, helping your organization to be top of mind at year-end.

#4: Be social, but know what you know.

Social media and ads have a place in supporting your year-end fundraising strategies, but do not force it to be a fundraising appeal. Less than 1% of nonprofit organizations have raised a significant amount of revenue using social media and only 35% that have raised funds, have raised less than $1,000, according to a 2012 study by Blackbaud, NTEN and Common Knowledge. This trend may be changing, but don’t let the excitement of social media falsely guide you where your investment and priorities ought to be.

Your social media should support the offline and online fundraising strategies by driving traffic to your site and spreading awareness. Social links should direct traffic to rich content areas on your site. Choosing where to send donors on your site can be informed by understanding your site’s analytics and where visitors tend to convert at the highest rates.

Come back next week for the remaining two critical strategies you need to know now.

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