Fundraising has Changed — Here’s How to Catch Up

“How can my nonprofit raise more money?”

The answer still lies in storytelling, analytics, cultivation, and conversion. However, the nuances have changed. Having raised $2 billion online with customized approaches for organizations like U.S. Fund for UNICEF, WaterAid UK, and Heifer International, we’ve learned how to prime and activate communities of donors.

Here’s how we’re tackling key fundraising challenges in 2017.

“How can I make my organization’s story more interesting?”

Every nonprofit — including your competition — has incredible stories about their work. Successful nonprofits find a way to tell these stories while expressing what makes them unique. If you’re not telling the story of your competitive advantage, you’re sacrificing growth and donations to other, similar organizations.

Every part of your brand and your visual design communicates to donors who you are and why you matter. Take for example this evolution of visual styles from the March of Dimes. Which of the photos below would compel you to donate?

A photo of a happy baby surrounded by pink wearing March of Dimes merchandiseA photo of a small newborn in the NICU

The photo on the left is adorable — but it could belong to nearly any organization. The photo on the right communicated need, speciality, urgency and humanity. Imagery like this (and the approach that it symbolizes) drove us to raising record funds for the March of Dimes. Telling your story in a way that artfully keys into what makes your organization unique, powerful and worthy of a donor’s dollars should be central to every piece of creative you make.

“How do I make my content more relevant to my audience?”

There’s an established formula for nonprofit communications: Draw insights from demographic and first-party data for a group of people, and then craft content that speaks to the driving motivators of that cohort.

This methodology is a hangover from the world of print and TV — it fails to take into account digital media’s ability to speak with people on an individual basis, rather than as a cohort.

People are complicated. If you represent a million-member list with just a few segments, your creative executions will necessarily be inefficient and incapable of speaking to the needs, concerns, and interests of any given recipient.

So, what to do?

We swap out words, phrases, or entire passages on the fly using conditional logic (“if this, then that”). For example, a giving ask can change drastically depending on the recipient’s location and donor status:

An example of messaging powered by conditional logic

We apply this type of logic throughout the body of an email to reflect everything we know about each member of our list. We’re not sending three or four variations anymore — we’re sending tens of thousands of variations of a given piece of creative.

“How do I reach people at the right time?”

In the days when direct mail was king, nonprofits and marketers were “in market” for a short time with a mass message.

But reaching the right people at the right moment is an act of precision — it can’t be done with a blunt tool. Our automated user journeys and programs operate in-market every day, triggered by the actions — or inactions — of your community, meeting the donors exactly where they are on their individual journeys.

Based on an individual’s interactions with a website, we can trigger off-site re-marketing or serve pre-roll videos to prime the viewer to give. We can trigger a phone call from a telemarketer after a user clicks a donation email and doesn’t complete their gift. And if they don’t pick up the phone, we can even send them a piece of direct mail.

“What should I be testing?”

We love testing. A/B and multivariate testing gives digital organizations the ability to prove or disprove hypotheses on a daily — or even hourly — basis.

However, when testing seeks immediate answers rather than cultivating the Long-term Value (LTV) of the recipient, it can also erase the humanity from an organization.

Being data-driven is important, but it’s also important to maintain a 360° view of everything you know about your constituents. Test results should add to these profiles, but no single test can define your audience.

Good testing requires both volume and scale; it requires coordinated plans and clear objectives. To separate signal from noise, focus your tests on outcomes, rather than indicators like open rates, click rates, or top of funnel activities. Test your creative against engagement, dollars, number of gifts, average gift and effect on LTV — and press pause on testing the metrics that don’t matter.

“What will my community react to?”

We want every interaction to provide value to both end-users and the organizations who work with us — we can’t accomplish that if we’re sending bad creative.

Our predictive analytics tool stops us from sharing ineffective work with our community. We call it the Over/Under. It takes historic and modeled response rates and overlays live-market data (i.e. how a very small sample of live people are interacting with a given piece of creative) and predicts how the full community would respond if that creative were shared with the entire list.

This approach is driven by conditional content and allows us to track response rates — if we’ve created something that our people won’t like, we don’t share it. If the data shows that the audience will love it, everyone sees it. When we can see what will happen before it happens, we can be smarter about what we put out into the world.

These tips are just the beginning. If you’d like to know more about the fundraising landscape in 2017, come talk to us.