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4 Reasons to Run a Digital-Only Fundraising Campaign

fundraising nonprofit Mar 30, 2020

When most nonprofits think of digital fundraising, they usually think of digital as a marketing channel to support or supplement direct mail. And honestly, that’s how fundraisers should think of digital (for now), especially when creating multi-channel campaigns. For single-channel campaigns though, you’ll find that most fundraising is done via direct mail only rather than digital-only. This is due to a number of reasons that may include anticipated ROI, historical performance, or the ‘ol “this is how it’s always been done” approach. Yet, there can still be value to running digital-only campaigns that stand alone from direct mail. The following are 4 reasons that you may want to add digital-only campaigns to your marketing mix this year:


1. Test Creative

There are many creative tests you can do with direct mail, which include everything from the envelop size and design to premium items like address labels. For digital, there are creative assets that you can test as well. One advantage of this is learning what types of creative test best via digital channels, then applying those learnings when you do run direct mail and digitally integrated campaigns. Depending on the size of your email file and/or digital media budget, you can quickly conduct A/B or multi-variate tests. Three recommended types of creative tests are:


  • Copy: What kind of stories and/or copy resonate the most with your donors? You can test different types of stories or express different types of need. Consider testing long vs. short copy, testimonies/quotes vs. organization’s point-of-view, list of needs vs. description of needs, or upbeat tone vs. somber tone. There are several ways to test copy, but those are some thought-starters.
  • Images: You can test images in a variety of ways including emotions (happy vs. stoic), distance (further away vs. close-up of subject’s face), state of need (picture of before need is met vs. after need is met), and more. Here’s where you can get creative with the types of images you want to test.
  • Offers: In this case, an offer is equated to a dollar amount and what that dollar amount will accomplish for your organization. This can be done a few different ways. For example, you could test a different giving level for the same need, i.e. $20 to feed a family of five vs. $40 to provide 2 meals to a family of five. You could also test the same dollar amount towards different needs, i.e. $20 to feed a family of five vs. $20 to provide a night of shelter. Depending on the results on these tests, you can learn how your audience responds through digital-only channels.

Testing Tip: Only change one thing at a time. For example, if you’re running and A/B test, don’t change the copy AND the image AND the offer. Just change one of those variables per test.


2. Quick Learning

Digital campaigns allow you to fail or succeed quickly when it comes to learning. This means you can learn digital testing results in a matter of days and sometimes hours, then immediately make adjustments. This is much different from direct mail which usually takes weeks and sometimes months before you know if a campaign was successful or a total dud. In addition, you have the ability to pull back budgets or investments quickly if a digital campaign isn’t working. With direct mail, once a ship has sailed, there’s no bringing it back, to the detriment of sometimes failed campaigns that lose money big time.


3. Reduce Costs

There are costs associated with direct mail that don’t apply to digital, primarily printing and postage. At the same time, the misnomer exists that digital is inexpensive. That assumption is quickly put to rest for any nonprofit that has taken on digital projects such as a website redesign or dabbled in digital advertising. Digital is not cheap, but there are some cost advantages, especially when it comes to smaller-scale tests and campaigns. As with direct mail, you will find scalability in costs as your digital program grows. For example, an organization with 200 email addresses won’t have the same cost benefits (ROI) as an organization with 200,000 email addresses. However, especially if you design and deploy emails and digital campaigns in-house, you can save on production and postage costs.


4. Shorter Lead Times

A big plus for digital-only campaigns is the speed to deploy a campaign. This is especially important during times of disaster or high urgency. Realistically, you can concept, write, design, and deploy a digital campaign within a day across email, social media, and online advertisements. This means that you can literally go from zero to communicating with your donors and raising funds within the same day. Digital-only campaigns have been a game-changer for disaster response programs as millions of dollars can be raised the day of a disaster while emotion is high, versus a direct mail campaign that hits homes several days or weeks later. You could also use this shorter lead time as an urgent match campaign to deploy across digital channels, i.e. “your gift will be matched within the next 48 hours.”

Digital channels to start trying out or testing campaigns would be email, social media, and Google Grants (search engine marketing). This can bring in easy money left on the table because you haven’t taken advantage of a digital-only campaign. My recommendation to run digital-only campaigns is not to take away from direct mail or integrated campaigns. It’s a recommendation to think of digital outside of just a direct mail campaign extension. So here’s my challenge to you: This week, think of a campaign you can create just for digital channels. Decide what digital channels you will use to execute this campaign and set a start date. Then, get to work on creating the assets needed. You got this!

Your turn: If you’ve run digital-only campaigns, share your experience! What approach did you take, what channels did you use, and what did you learn?

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