Strategies for Successful Online Fundraising
Are you new to online fundraising? Is your program small and not raising much money? Don't feel discouraged or overwhelmed! Every organization raising millions online today started off small, too.
One nonprofit with whom we work began online fundraising in earnest in 2007. That year, their year-end email series raised $15,000. Fast forward to 2011 — the year-end email series raised more than $127,000. That's over a 700% increase in just four short years.
Let's look at some strategies and tactics that helped this group achieve success online:
Email appends were used to find email addresses for donors.
This, combined with an organic approach (asking for email addresses on mail pieces and at events), yielded email addresses for about 21% of the mail file in the first year.
Quarterly email appends are conducted to continually replenish the email file.
With a 16% annual churn rate, it is important to keep acquiring new email addresses in order to build the subscriber base.
Relevant and engaging emails are sent each week.
Content is king! This group's emails are interesting — sometimes they present new information, other times they alert supporters to an urgent situation. Sometimes they ask for money, other times they ask supporters to take an action. The point is that supporters want to read their emails because they know they will be engaging.
Within each email, supporters are encouraged to forward the message to a friend. This organization continues to acquire a healthy number of new email supporters through forwarded emails (and it's so easy!).
They followed their supporters.
This organization's supporters turned out to be very email responsive, so the organization assumed that they were probably in other places online. So, they started a YouTube channel with the few videos they had — promoted it, and challenged themselves to build upon this over time.
A Facebook page was launched and today has 54,000 fans. Keeping the page dynamic takes the work of one or two staff members, who make sure to provide interesting, relevant content, and engage with their fans regularly. This has proven to be a fabulous way to raise awareness, foster a sense of community, and even grow the email file.
They also ventured into the world of Twitter, and though this is less of a focus, the group has more than 13,000 followers. Is this raising money? No. Is this raising awareness and improving their online presence? Yes.
Integration has been the key.
All of these efforts would fail if they occurred in a vacuum. This nonprofit knew that for their email program to succeed, it must be integrated into all channels.
Informational emails and email newsletters are sent regularly to donors and non-donors on the email file. This is the bare minimum required, however.
Email campaigns are segmented by donor vs. non-donor, and by type of campaign (appeal, acquisition, sustainer, renewal). Donors and non-donors are often broken down further to account for their known interests. Whenever possible, emails are versioned to reference the topic the supporter is most interested in. It shouldn't surprise anyone that this helps with response rates!
Twitter and Facebook are cross-referenced on each other's platform, helping drive followers or fans on each site. In addition, both are promoted in emails to the house file, and, of course, on the website.
Many email campaigns are designed to have a social media tie-in. In direct response marketing, we know that when someone "does something" they are primed for making a gift soon after. Asking donors to go to Facebook and post on a wall, or watch a video on YouTube, or sign a petition on the website — before asking them to give — is another key way to drive donations.
And of course, most email campaigns tie directly to a direct mail campaign. When supporters hear from an organization across multiple channels on the same topic, the response (regardless of where they choose to respond) improves.
While all of this is hard work and requires patience, diligence, and creative thinking, the amazing thing is that once you get to this point — your online program keeps growing.
Eventually, you'll get into a groove and find the sweet spot — you'll know the frequency of emails to send, you'll know what supporters respond to, you'll know what segmentation makes sense for your organization. In a nutshell, your online program will become a regular part of your marketing mix — not the sporadic program it once was.
And, with that, you'll notice that growth simply continues. In part because you're smarter and know what works, but also because your subscriber base is doing some of the work for you.
So keep at it! Start small but think big. Take risks. Monitor what larger organizations are doing and try some of their tactics. And remember, relevant, regular, integrated content is king!
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UPDATE on Insight: LMN&C's Statistical System
Lautman Maska Neill & Company is excited to announce two new features in Insight, our proprietary statistical system. Most of the many nonprofit organizations we work with are now taking full advantage of Insight and our reports have been fine-tuned to meet each organization's unique needs. The new features provide even more detailed analysis.
The most widely used Insight feature is the testing report which determines a test winner at a statistically significant confidence level. We have expanded this feature by developing a multi-organization testing report. This enables us to aggregate results for the same test among similar organizations to allow for a larger sample size, more readable test results, and the ability to streamline analysis.
We have also developed a gift array report that provides a snapshot of all the gift amounts received for any single campaign. This helps us identify giving level trends that inform decisions regarding ask string builds, upgrade strategies, and other strategic decision making.
What's up next for Insight? On-boarding the rest of the groups we work with and adding even more features. Advanced donor value analysis, file audits that determine historical trends, and expire based renewal series reports — all at the push of a button — are just a few of the many new features in store for Phase 3.
For more information on how Insight can help meet your analytic needs, please contact your account team or email Bryan Evangelista, Senior Account Executive, at email@example.com.
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Make the Most of your Downtime this Summer
Summer offers a slight breather for fundraisers — between analyzing the year-end fundraising blitz and the next big fall fundraising push. Here are some suggestions for using your window of "quieter time" this summer to improve your program and become a better fundraiser.
Tackle the file clean-up you've been putting off.
On your database, take the time to eliminate duplicate records, ensure flag codes are being used consistently, archive old records and clean up notes fields. Maybe your challenge is a poorly designed filing system, which leaves you hunting for information. Whether you have a paperless office or a combination of paper and electronic filing, take the time now to reorganize so you can work more efficiently. Once fall comes, you'll be glad you did.
Audit your program.
This is the perfect time to review your last 24 months of results: what's working? What isn't? Do you need to retool your plan to achieve better results? If results are down and you're not sure where to start — ask a few trusted colleagues to help you review your packages and results. An objective perspective may help you uncover simple changes that will help you improve performance.
Research new vendors.
Maybe you've been considering outsourcing acknowledgments or changing telemarketing partners. This may be a good time to call colleague organizations and find out who they're working with, and if they're happy. Even if you're not prepared to change vendors now, you can do the legwork so you're ready with an RFP when the time comes. You can gather information, research your options, and get your request for proposal in order.
Create a testing agenda for the year.
If you don't have an annual testing plan, consider setting one up. It's a great way to review your annual calendar and plan tests for all of your campaigns. You can schedule tests so that you can roll out with winning strategies throughout the year — ensuring you get the most bang for your testing buck.
Revamp your acknowledgments.
This is a good time to review your thank you letters to make sure they're timely and relevant. They should reference the program the donor gave to, and you should have a version to welcome new supporters. Include information on planned giving and monthly giving if you can. Above all, your acknowledgements should make donors feel great about their decision to contribute to your organization.
Clean up your swipe file.
This is the perfect time to toss duplicate or outdated samples in your swipe file and file new samples you've collected. And if you don't have a swipe file — this is a great time to start one. Make gifts to a variety of groups and see how they acknowledge your gift, cultivate your support and try to renew your giving. It's a great way to get new ideas. Bonus tip: Don't just give to groups that are similar to yours. You can get some great ideas from organizations that are different.
Decide which subscriptions to keep and which to ditch.
There are a plethora of good fundraising e-newsletters and blogs — but there are so many you can't read them all. You know which ones that you always make time to read and find useful — those are the keepers. But the ones you continually save to read later? Go ahead and unsubscribe. Chances are you won't miss them.
Have some fun!
It's summer, after all. Leave the office on time, and take advantage of your free time. Take that class you've always wanted to try or schedule time with friends you haven't seen in a while. Life is short - make the most of your summer!
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Lautman Gives Back Featuring Lesley Hostetter
Helping nonprofit organizations make a difference in the world is something that Lesley Hostetter does all day long in her role as Senior Account Executive here at Lautman Maska Neill & Company. But she doesn't leave that passion at the office when she goes home at night.
Since 2001, Lesley has been a volunteer with a wonderful organization in Arlington called The Reading Connection. This local nonprofit has a simple mission: to help children in local homeless shelters and transitional housing by reading to them.
Studies show that children who are read to have a better chance of succeeding in school and in life. So once a month, Lesley goes to a homeless shelter in Alexandria to read books to the children. Lesley says that she likes volunteering for The Reading Connection because it combines her love of children and books. Her favorite aspect of the work is seeing the kids engrossed in a story and their excitement about their next chance to read with her.
Thank you, Lesley, for making a difference for children here in the DC area.
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Client Profile: Citymeals-on-Wheels
Founded in 1981 by Gael Green and James Beard, the mission of Citymeals-on-Wheels is the same today as it was then: To provide nutritious meals and companionship for all homebound elderly in New York City.
For 30 years, Citymeals-on-Wheels has been successfully doing just that. In 2011, they served 1.7 million meals to nearly 17,000 frail seniors and dedicated volunteers collectively spent 42,567 hours providing companionship and delivering meals.
Two acquisition mailings in 2011 raised over $434,000, 100% of which went to prepare and deliver meals. Those mailings also brought in over 7,300 new donors to Citymeals-on-Wheels. Despite the economic challenges of the past couple of years, Citymeals donors have remained generous, loyal and extremely dedicated to their mission.
In the fall of 2011, Founding Executive Director Marcia Stein stepped down from her position after nearly 30 years of dedicated service and Beth Shapiro was appointed as the new Executive Director.
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