I’ve got to admit it. Sometimes it’s tough being a digital fundraiser in a direct mail fundraising world. I see a heavily disproportionate amount of money invested in direct mail fundraising compared to digital. I also understand why. Digital has still not even cracked 10% of fundraising revenue generated industry-wide. Direct mail still works, and it generates a lot of money that keeps nonprofits in business.
Sometimes it’s hard to convince a client to invest $X into a digital strategy or tactic when there is no clear answer to what the ROI will be. This is especially the case for organizations that have little to no history of online fundraising. Sure, industry benchmarks exist, but performance is still unique for every organization. As such, many nonprofits default to direct mail as a safety net because it has proven to work. It’s often a dependable cash cow that you don’t want to take food (i.e. investment) away from. I get it. Direct mail is safe, digital is unpredictable if you don’t have a track record in which to base projections. Closing the risk gap of digital fundraising happens 1) over time and 2) the moment you start. You have to start.
To get their toes wet, I’ve seen many nonprofits only employ digital marketing and fundraising from October-December and be silent the rest of the year. Sure, they’re still sending direct mail pieces year-round; however, their email subscribers and social media accounts remain practically dormant for 9 out of 12 months. It can be a tough balance because they want to rely on direct mail the rest of the year due to its consistency, yet they are hurting the long-term health of the overall fundraising by not building out digital touchpoints more frequently. It’s not that organizations don’t want to invest more heavily in digital, they do. Many either don’t know how, don’t have the resources (i.e. staff and/or knowledge), or the budgets.
Even though the number of donors giving online is increasing, an important fact to grasp is that donors are not becoming digital-only donors. Donors are starting to connect, engage, and donate through online means via nonprofit websites, email, mobile devices, and social media. A donor may give by check one month, but respond to an email the next month. This is why it’s important to have a year-round digital marketing and fundraising plan in place for your nonprofit. That said, here are 6 reasons why you need a year-round digital program for your nonprofit:
Sending emails consistently throughout the year positions your organization to have a more solid relationship in place with your donors when it comes to the year-end giving season. Throughout the year, they get to see the difference they’ve helped make possible, right in their inbox or on social media.
Storytelling through images and video adds another dimension to the stories you can tell via a direct mail piece. While there’s a certain level of personal attention you can provide through a direct mail letter, you can also provide an interactive experience to that story online.
When your digital campaigns run parallel with your direct mail campaigns, it allows donors to more easily give in the channel in which they prefer to give. You may be leaving money on the table if you’re only relying on a mail piece, but a donor prefers to give in response to an email (and vice versa).
Every client that I’ve worked with has experienced an overall higher average gift through online gifts than direct mail, so there’s that. I recognize that sounds like a bold statement, but I would be willing to bet you’ll experience similar results.
This one is pretty simple. This more times your brand is in front of your donors, the more your brand leaves an impression on them. If your organization is not top-of-mind when it comes to donating, then another nonprofit will be. Branding is an offensive strategy.
Communicating with your donors through multiple channels increases the likelihood that they will actually see and respond to your messages. For example, if your email open rate is 15%, then that means 85% of subscribers didn’t read your email. From a direct mail standpoint, we really have no way of knowing how many people throw your mail piece away without reading it. We only know response rates. You gain more coverage of your donors actually seeing your message when you express it through different marketing channels…..year-round.
Running a digital program year-round is not a “nice to have,” it’s a “need to have.” The biggest hurdle is to just start. You can do it!
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