This is a question I get a few times a year from different nonprofit clients. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer because it depends on overall fundraising strategy, technology, fundraising maturity, personnel and other factors. From a foundational standpoint, the way to prioritize your digital marketing channels is by the quickest path to the donation. This path will look different when comparing a startup community nonprofit versus an established international organization, but there are some sound approaches to prioritizing channels across any organization. The following order is one approach:
1. Your Website
This is your organization’s online home, where people will go to learn more about your cause. Just like your real house that you go home to at night, make sure it’s clean, in order and ready for company. You want your guests to have a good experience. Make it easy for people to make donations or sign up for email updates from your homepage. According to an M+R study, around 1% of website visitors will make a donation and sign up for your emails.
Once your website is in order and set up for donations, focus on building your email list and developing your email communication plan. Your email template should have a “Donate Now” button on each email to allow donors to easily make a gift. Your emails will contain a mix of fundraising messages and affirmation/engagement messages. Because you can incorporate video on landing pages, images and design, this is one of the best ways to engage with your existing donors and subscribers to tell the story of your organization. It’s also one of the best digital fundraising channels.
3. Search Engine Marketing
SEM is the next building block in digital fundraising after you’ve established email. You can register for Google for Nonprofits and get up to $10,000 a month in free search ads on Google. If you don’t qualify, it’s still a good idea to jump into SEM, especially around the holidays, because of the direct response nature of this channel. One of the keys for SEM is to have a well-designed, mobile-optimized landing page to which the ads can point.
4. Social Media
Although this comes in at №4, you should definitely establish your social media accounts and do some posting after your website is complete. But when you look at social media as a fundraising channel, it falls after SEM. That’s because social media is, well, social. It’s not the best place to expect a gold mine of donations. However, you’ll certainly get some gifts through social media ads. Over the past year, I’ve witnessed the importance of social media as an influence channel, as opposed to a direct fundraising channel. For example, the ability now exists where, if a person makes a gift in another online channel or direct mail, you can determine whether or not that person saw one of your Facebook ads. So, if you’re looking for a 1:1 attribution from a Facebook ad, you may not see that. However, you can determine that it influenced an online gift.
5. Online Display Ads
Online display ads are notorious for not driving online gifts directly but are great for branding and awareness. Retargeting ads are one of the better ways to get direct attribution because people seeing those ads have already visited your website. Similar to social media ads, online display should be viewed more as a support for fundraising campaigns, as opposed to a channel that will directly capture gifts. As rule to maximize success, these ads should never run by themselves without other campaign elements like email, social media and website content.
6. Content Marketing
There’s been lot of chatter about content marketing in the last few years, and nonprofits are full of great stories that can make for extraordinary content. The challenge is taking those stories of impact that the nonprofit is making and turning them into images, posts, emails, blogs and videos — and doing it consistently. Once you start, you have to keep feeding the monster, and that requires resources.
7. Conversion Rate Optimization
A newer but often overlooked tactic for digital fundraising is website CRO. This tactic focuses on the primary goals of converting website visitors into donors or emails subscribers. This can be executed through exit-intent popups, as well as dynamic content that can modify images and text based on specific website visitors instead of a one-size-fits-all website. For more information on this, check out Omniconvert, Optimizely or Google Optimize.
Another channel to consider is mobile/SMS due to the sheer scale of donors with devices. The challenge, though, is outside of text-to-give during disasters and events, this channel has yet to be proven as a highly effective standard for fundraising.
Why is this important?
If you look at the fundraising landscape for nonprofits, many still obtain most of their donations through direct mail. This is how it was five years ago and this is how it will be five years from now. I expect the scales to tip a little more toward digital fundraising over the next several years. Prioritizing your channels is important — as you obtain more donations online, you are maximizing opportunities while minimizing resources to acquire online gifts.
Now, back to that $10,000 investment I mentioned at the top of this article. While I’m not handing out money, I am encouraging you to advocate for your cause. If someone is prepared to make a donation to your organization, is your website ready?
To learn more about Digital Fundraising, pick up my best-selling book, “The Digital Fundraising Blueprint” from Amazon.
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