online fundraising

Nonprofit email is down - keep your email up with these tactics

You may have heard - nonprofit fundraising email had a bad December.

M+R surveyed 23 organizations and found December 2018 email revenue was down 18% for the median. (For more stats, click here)

This downward trend in email performance fits the larger, still developing narrative that small-gift fundraising is falling on hard times. Whether uncertainty in the economy, the new tax law, email overload, or something else, our work as fundraisers appears to be getting more difficult.

But the news is not all bad - especially for those nonprofits who have a deep understanding of digital. For example, email response rates are up 26% and revenue up 2% for those who reduced email list size. This approach to email hygiene is critical if we want to beat spam filters and actually connect with those we email.

Which is why conducting a robust and ongoing email hygiene program is one of our two key tactics for beating the odds with email.

Improving email tactic #1

We have to be comfortable “breaking up” with our email connections who have ghosted our outreach attempts. When we send emails that are ignored (not opened) by a large swath of the recipients, our ability to reach ALL of our list members is severely damaged. Inbox providers like Gmail and Yahoo punish those who send to unresponsive lists by sending more of our emails to spam more consistently. (Sound interesting? Read more on email spam flagging here)

So if you want to stay out of spam folders, ditch those who don’t open what you’re sending. One easy way to do this is the “break up” email. You might literally use a subject like “It’s us, not you” or something else to playfully suggest

“hey, we get it, you’re not that into us. That’s OK. We’re going to remove you from a lot of future emails unless you click below and let us know you want to stay together.”

The last piece is key. Give the email recipient the chance to stay with you. If they’re reading that email, it means they’ve opened it (the whole point, really) and they are paying attention. In fact, this can be a great data refreshing exercise, because you can request new information when the person re opts in to your email program. Provide a link to an OPTIONAL data form that can pull new email addresses, social media account info, phone numbers, volunteer interest, etc.

And keep redoing this process every six months. Remove those who don’t open the “Break up email.” Because remember - recent stats say smaller email lists actually raise more revenue.

Improving email tactic #2

Make people glad they opened and clicked on your email. Give them content that reminds them why they followed you in the first place.

It’s not easy, but a robust video program coupled with a resource-intensive online ambassador program leads to annual fund AND seven figure fundraising success. Many of Groundwork’s partners have unlocked six figure gifts through these tactics while also injecting an energetic burst of new, warm major gift prospects.

To enjoy game-changing digital fundraising success requires content. Did you know that 72% said they stopped giving due to “poor, vague, or irrelevant” content? (Source: Abila Donor Loyalty Study) 3/4 of your donor churn can be fixed by fixing content.

Invest in video producers. You can hire an in-house team, hire out, or do both. Ultimately, your goal should be at least one new piece of video content per week for social media. The top performing social media videos can then be shared with your email lists. “Hey - this is our most popular video!” subjects with no or a passive fundraising request. This builds trust and engagement with your email audience and boosts open rates to maintain your email program’s overall health. Then, when you need your list, it is healthy and ready to provide conversions during busy events like giving days or end-of-year campaigns.

Next, get your ambassadors involved. Find your top group of about 10 to 50 ambassadors. Personally manage the relationships with these ambassadors and produce content that features the ambassadors. When someone is actually in a video, telling their story about why they support your mission, that ambassador will share that content more aggressively than anything else your org can produce. Plus, you have the added benefit of more authentic content that audiences resonate with.

Content is everything. And good video content is everything times infinity (Statistically speaking). Commit to content your audience wants to see, then email it to them regularly (as well as share across social media).

Email may be down, but a healthy email list combined with robust video engagement can keep your fundraising and engagement numbers up. Good luck!

Want to learn more? Email me at GroundworkDigital.com.

How to Find Fundraising Technology for Your Nonprofit

There is an amazing amount of powerful, game-changing technology on the scene today. Whether you’re launching a giving day, identifying online ambassadors, or engaging major donors around their social media behavior, in modern fundraising, if you want to do it there is probably a tool for it.

But this embarrassment of riches has its challenges.

First, there is option paralysis. In our efforts to continually improve Groundwork Digital’s services, I just did a search for “social media influencer platforms.” The first page of search results was littered with blog posts promising “25 best…” “40 best…” “57 best … influencer identification platforms!” Even artificial intelligence and machine learning now have multiple players in the nonprofit space with wonderful platforms like Gravyty and QuadWrangle continuing to expand their tool sets and client lists.

Then, once you’ve made a decision and purchased software, do you have the talent to make the most of your investment? This is the issue that we so frequently see in the nonprofit and higher education spaces – amazing tools that are collecting dust on the shelf, because the fundraising teams either don’t know or don’t have time to learn how to use those tools.

Some forward-thinking organizations have hired to manage new technology. The University of Connecticut Foundation is one of those organizations. After recently taking the reins, UConn President and CEO Joshua Newton quickly hired a “Director of Business Intelligence” to “change the way we communicate with and solicit our alumni.”

UConn has hired a position to focus on "business intelligence" and finding the best technology to lead their engagement and fundraising efforts.

UConn has hired a position to focus on "business intelligence" and finding the best technology to lead their engagement and fundraising efforts.

“Knowing of the micro-targeting and customization in how we are approached as consumers, (the UConn Foundation) wanted to utilize that same approach and technology,” said Newton. “We hired a Director of Business Intelligence from the corporate world. It was a deliberate and intentional move on our part to begin to allow us, and each alum, to have an individualized relationship with the university.”

Hiring a technology expert is something we at Groundwork would recommend every large organization consider. Or, consider restructuring the responsibilities of your current team to better utilize technology your shop owns now or may soon acquire.

Whether you’re hiring or restructuring a position, the following are talents and skillsets present in the right candidate to lead your nonprofit out of the dark ages and into an innovative and more efficient future.  

First and foremost, your new technology expert should be a top-level fundraising strategist.

And they need to be more than a digital expert – they need to know multi-channel fundraising. Coordinated and aligned multi-channel fundraising campaigns typically perform best. That’s why your technology expert should know how email, direct mail, digital advertising, phone programs, and social media work together.

A technology expert also needs to be more than an annual giving specialist. Perhaps even more important than online giving software are the increasing set of tools that make major gift work more efficient and effective. This is why your technology expert should be aware of what keeps gift officers and directors of development up at night. The tech expert should understand what is possible in terms of data capture and management and which platforms can make the most of your data as it relates to your most capable donors and prospects.

Next, find an innovator to operationalize your technology.

An “innovator” is someone who can think out of the box and reimagine your current technology suite. The innovator can also recognize how the right new platforms could transform your fundraising shop. This is particularly difficult to do with in-house staff as their ideas and concepts are intertwined with your existing approach. With technology, a fresh perspective can be tremendously helpful.

Finally, you need unbiased ideas and recommendations.

It may seem obvious, but you can’t turn to a tech vendor for tech recommendations. Oddly enough, sometimes the tech vendors are not even the best ones to actually sell you their technology. A vendor only knows your team so well. The full toolset, the politics, the capabilities of your team – all are important factors in selecting new technology and an internal team member or consultant who knows you well is in a far better position to select the right technology based on these factors.

Between CRMs, websites, online giving technology, and a host of other platforms, your organization likely spends well into the six figures and possibly more on technology. This is a good thing, but also a substantial challenge. To make the most of this technology, you need a person or team focused on integrating the technology with your operation. Find someone who is equal parts fundraising pro and technology geek to take the reins of your tech and watch your operation grow because of their presence.

Need help? Groundwork Digital leads technology selection and implementation projects for our clients. Click here to email us and learn more.

M+R Study Shows Changing Face of Philanthropy Looks More Digital Than Ever

Online giving is continuing its meteoric rise in prominence with a 23 percent increase in 2017 after a 15 percent jump in 2016.

This coming from the always wonderfully comprehensive M+R online giving benchmark report.

While the M+R reports shows online giving is up, securing those online gifts has become more complicated as the historically chief digital channel – email – is seeing engagement drop across the board with click through rates, open rates, and conversion rates all seeing reductions of six, one, and six percent respectively.

BUT, notably, email revenue increased 24 percent and accounted for 28 percent of all online fundraising. In part because we are emailing our supporters more than ever before.

So what does this mean? Ultimately, some nonprofits are doing online fundraising very well and gobbling up big numbers of the massive online audience. Which means those who are not taking advantage of digital will increasingly be losing their donors to the organizations that are doing digital right.

What can you do to be sure your development operation is among the digital winners? Below are three paths to consider following right away…

Everything starts with video – so start producing more video

57 percent of everyone who watches a nonprofit’s video will eventually make a gift to that nonprofit. (Google, 2013)

Simple, authentic video on Facebook is both affordable and effective for engaging donors and landing gifts.

Simple, authentic video on Facebook is both affordable and effective for engaging donors and landing gifts.

Video is, by far, the Facebook algorithm’s top choice for allowing content to be seen by your fans. And the Pew Research institute’s numbers tell us that roughly four out of five North Americans are now on Facebook.

Yes, video can be expensive. But it is worth its weight in gold when you consider how powerful video can be on social media, online, and with email.

And video doesn’t have to be expensive.

According to ThankView, the more raw or authentic the video, the more likely it is to drive giving. When comparing “uploaded” and often higher quality videos to the spur-of-the-moment “webcam” variety videos, the webcam videos enjoyed a 15 percent click through rate on a call to action (most typically “give now”), while the more polished “uploaded” videos only saw a 10 percent click through rate. A five percent difference on clicks to a “give now” button is substantial and has an immediate impact on fundraising.

In other words, don’t allow a desire for perfection to paralyze your video production efforts. Instead, democratize your video. Train your staff, volunteers, donors, students, grateful patients – anyone with a smart phone – to become guerilla video producers for your cause. Not only is this an affordable way to increase your video output, but data is telling us this lower-quality content might even be more effective at securing gifts than more professional-looking video content – especially when viewed online.

Make sure your video (and all digital content) gets seen

As prominent as Facebook is, the platform’s algorithm is now rendering the network virtually worthless to organizations if you’re not willing to invest in ad spending. While that is discouraging, the good news is that it doesn’t take much spending to make a big difference on Facebook. A $200 campaign, boosted by online ambassadors, can have tremendous reach and real impact in terms of fundraising success.

And again – ambassadors matter. Facebook will reward content with far more views if it notices a large number of people engaging with that content. If you can reliably drum up a few dozen likes and shares with your ambassador core, that will lead to substantial viewership for that content. Couple ambassadors with a small ad spend and the reach will grow exponentially.

In addition to deploying ambassadors and ad spend on social media content through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, be sure you’re sharing content via email, as well. Groundwork’s clients have been enjoying newfound email success through a combination of simplifying email messaging and relying on video to carry that message. Here is a quick outline of how to make this happen for your organization:

  • Focus on minimal text in the email body – ideally, the email’s body should address the recipient by name, include a pithy one- or two-line message and a link (maybe with a thumbnail) to a website featuring a video. Essentially, the email is a gateway that introduces and redirects the recipient to your website to consume the content. (Don't try telling the entire story in the email ... email is a gateway, not a novel)
  • The website to which the email directs recipients should be a simple page featuring the video, a call to action (“Give Now” “Register Today”), and not much more (Resist the urge to send them to your homepage ... in most cases, you want to be more focused)
  • Test everything you can – sender, subject, format of content
  • Use the word “video” in subject lines …and test it against emails that don’t have “video” in the subject line

Ultimately, it’s about multi-channel donor engagement, because our donors use multiple channels. And when we produce a sophisticated, coordinated, and aligned campaign across email, social media, and traditional channels like phone and direct mail, we see gains in fundraising across all channels.

Get mobile right

The M+R report was clear about the necessity of providing a quality experience on mobile. For example:

  • 40 percent of nonprofit website visitors arrived at the sites via mobile in 2017, up 9 percent from 2016
  • Mobile transactions increased by 50 percent in 2017

Groundwork’s clients are seeing similar trends. During our most recent client giving day (a large, land grant university), mobile donations were nearly three times greater than then were in 2017 (from 106 in ’17 to 287 in ’18) and accounted for roughly 1/3 of all giving in ’18 after accounting for roughly 1/5 of all giving day gifts in ’17.

If you want to be positioned to secure your organization’s share of the critical online audience, you must have a website, content, and giving experience that is optimized for mobile. Not just in technology, but also a fundraising strategy that lends to easy giving opportunities from mobile devices.

The continued rise in online giving is a difficult adjustment for some nonprofit fundraisers. Unless you are magically experiencing a boost in your operating budget, doing more in digital means doing less in traditional channels such as mail and phone. But the ROI is there. Savvy, digitally-minded fundraisers are raising more money, more efficiently. To learn more about how, click here and send us an email. We’re happy to share more clients stories and offer tips for your organization to revolutionize fundraising with tested and proven digital tactics.

Trust in Influencers

The for-profit world has been placing value in peer-to-peer influencers or "online ambassadors" for years. And the results show that trust in ambassadors is paying off for many companies.

In fact, "trust" has a lot to do with why ambassadors are so effective in modern marketing and communications.

Check out this link for some stunning online ambassador statistics

People buy based on what their friends tell them, because of trust. When a relationship starts with trust, it tends to last longer. Consider these stats from the above link:

  • 92 percent of people trust recommendations from individuals (even if they don’t know them) over brands
  • 74 percent of consumers use social media to make purchase decisions
  • 37 percent better retention is reported for customers acquired through word-of-mouth advertising

What does that mean for donor acquisition? ...and retention? The fact is, online ambassador communication works just as well - maybe better - in the nonprofit world.

In reviewing online ambassador activity that that took place on the ScaleFunder giving day platform in 2016, each ambassador would, on average, raise $125 during a giving day.

Perhaps even more staggering is this 2015 Blackbaud study that found 1 in 4 emails from online ambassadors led to a gift - a whopping 25 percent conversion rate. That's compared to 1 in 1,250 emails from the organization that led to a gift - a paltry .08 percent conversion.

Again, for those keeping score, that's a 25 percent conversion rate for ambassador-sent email versus a .08 conversion rate for emails sent by the organization.

It almost makes you wonder if you should ever send a solicitation email that is not from an online ambassador?

And it works for major donors, too. Check out the video below that details how the higher the price tag (a major gift, for example), the more peer influence impacts the decision.

Now here's the catch - it's not easy. Online ambassador programs are volunteer programs and they require careful and frequent management ...but if you do it right, you have the potential to transform your development operation for the 21st century.

And guess what? Groundwork Digital has built dozens of online ambassador programs. Click the "Contact Groundwork" button below to send us a message and set up a time to talk about how we can help revolutionize your development operation with peer-to-peer fundraising.

 

Get to Know Groundwork: Justin Ware

Justin Ware is the Co-Founder and President of Groundwork Digital.  A thought-leader in the nonprofit sector, Justin is a fundraising and content marketing expert.  Justin's work spans nonprofits, higher education, and media. In 2009, Justin was the executive producer on one of the first ever YouTube videos to win an Emmy. The "Science of Watchmen" video has been viewed nearly 2 million times and was also nominated for a Webby. Justin began his career in television before joining the University of Minnesota and then Bentz Whaley Flesser.  After BWF, Justin led digital fundraising strategy at Ruffalo Noel Levitz as well as Product Management for Annual Giving.  Justin has spoken at numerous conferences, and led consulting engagements for universities and nonprofits across the country.  In his spare time, Justin can be found rooting for the Minnesota Vikings and Gophers, skiing, hiking with his dog, and enjoying family time with his wife and two children.

Justin would love to talk digital fundraising from giving days to the major gifts program. Email him at justin@groundworkdigital.com.