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Many nonprofits exhaust themselves trying to film, email, post, and tweet their way into fundraising, often without a baseline of what actually works. But most are left with that very question: What really works when it comes to donor communication and nonprofit marketing?
With findings from a recent research study on donor communication, Qgiv and Campaign Monitor partner to uncover five data-backed tactics that you can employ quickly to make the most of your nonprofit’s marketing strategy.
Here are five key takeaways you’ll learn:
Jared: So let’s let’s jump right into it. So we’re all here to learn more about how to communicate with donors and we’ll jump a little bit into the study that Campaign Monitor and Qgiv partnered on. But that’s kind of what we’ll explore today.
So before jumping into the content, I just want to go ahead and start us off with some introductions.
Since you can’t see my face, there it is for you all to see. I am Jared, and I work at Campaign Monitor. Campaign Monitor, just to give you a quick overview: email marketing platform with built-in segments, automation, really easy ways to make the most out of every donor and supporter communication. That’s what we do, and I’m the lead of our content over here at Campaign Monitor, so I oversee all of the blog and guide production—webinar production—and I was able to oversee the production of this big research study we did around nonprofit marketing and donor communications, so I’ll be able to share some of our insights from that.
And then I want to introduce to you, Abby.
Abby: I am the nonprofit education manager over at Qgiv. So if you’re not familiar with Qgiv, we’re an online fundraising platform, and our mission is to help nonprofits raise as much money as they can, so they can carry out their missions more effectively. The way I kind of fit into that role is I learn all the best practices that are out there I work with people like Jared to run studies to understand what donors want from us, and then I turn that into knowledge that you can use to raise money more effectively. So the big takeaway here is that even if you don’t work with Qgiv, if you work with another organization, everything you’re going to learn today—at least on my end—is going to be applicable to you, especially as we’re going into year-end fundraising.
Jared: Perfect yeah and to jump off of that, that’s the name of the game: is to really equip you as nonprofit fundraisers and marketers—and whatever role you have at your nonprofit—to make the most out of all of your donor management, donor communication, fundraising. So, to Abby’s point, I would just want to echo that whether using Campaign Monitor today, or another email platform, all of these tactics and stats and takeaways should be able to equip you now and down the road, no matter what platform you’re in.
So let’s dive in and I’ll give you an overview of what’s on today’s menu.
We’ll go through five sections. We’ll go through how to get donors to give outside of their routine, email practices that actually get more from fundraising, upgrades for your campaign pages, using story to power every message, and how to mobilize donors and supporters.
We’ll be covering a pretty wide gamut of email, digital marketing, your campaign pages even just more generalized messaging tips and tricks. We’ve pulled out a lot of really good data from the guide, which I’ll introduce here in a second, so it should be a really good webinar. Let’s dive in.
I’m gonna give you guys a little bit of background with the nonprofit study that we conducted/ We started with a question a couple months ago. And we were asking: Nonprofit fundraising and marketing is sometimes a black box—it’s like, how am I actually connecting with these donors? And am I making the most out of every connection there? And are there ways that I can draw more supporters in?
So we started this question: what is going on that isn’t quite hitting the mark? Maybe some practices that nonprofits have wrong, or maybe perceptions that aren’t quite aligned with donors. How could we conduct some research to help them change that, and turn things around?
We took that question and we surveyed more than a thousand donors of a variety of backgrounds and demographics, and then we also surveyed 500 nonprofits—I’m sure some of which are probably on the line listening to this webinar—and through that we gathered a lot of findings. Findings about where donors perceive certain nonprofits and their communication, where nonprofits think they can make the most out of donors, and where there’s overlap—which is great, that means that nonprofits have it right—and also where there’s some misalignment, talking to some tactics about how we can improve that.
We’ll go through some of the really juicy findings from that guide, but I definitely encourage you to go on to Campaign Monitor’s site, and you can find that under our Resources section. It’s really, really good information. It’s a little long, but there’s an executive summary at the top that gives you the key hits. Some really good information to dive into and make sure that your nonprofit is firing on all cylinders.
That’s the overview of the research, but we’ll uncover some more of those findings as we dive into each section. So let’s get into it section 1: how to get donors to give outside their routines.
1. How to get donors to give outside their routines
Jared: We have some stats about routine giving: the stats on the left are from our friends over at AFP. And we see that retention rates for monthly donors (as I’m sure all of you on the line know) are way higher when people are locked into giving on a recurring basis. And you know obviously that also means that they have a much higher lifetime value over time, so getting donors to give beyond just a single time gift, or maybe once a year, and converting them to more consistent donors is really, really important. I’m sure it’s very top of mind for everyone listening.
Let’s break down some of the findings we got from the guide to see how that shakes out.
In polling all the donors and nonprofits, we found that nearly 70 percent prefer to give a single gift, which again is probably not any surprise to all of you that are wringing their hands around how to get people to give more.
But we also found that donors said 75 percent of them could be compelled to give beyond that normal cadence—maybe that single time gift or that once-a-year donation so there’s obviously more to this fact of people saying, “I like to give just once, and that’s my regular cadence, but I am willing to give beyond that.” And then, meanwhile, we see that 90% of nonprofits that we surveyed thought donors could be inspired, so that lines up with that 75% of donors.
Nonprofits do acknowledge and they are in line with donors saying I think that there are ways that we can inspire more donations it’s just a matter of how. And I’m sure that’s why many of you are here. So as we look at some of those questions, how do we compel them to give?
So nonprofits thought that these are the top three ways to motivate donors to give outside of their regular cadence.
Those are the top three that we heard from nonprofits.
We asked the same question to donors—and I believe this question had like 10 different options that people could choose from—and donors said something a little bit different.
They said the number one thing to compel them is
That third one lines up with the request from a donor relationship manager—it’s that personal connection, right? And even the other two that donors said also have to do with that personal connection. They want to see stories from someone the organization has helped, they want to see how their dollars are actually going to help real people, and they’re much more likely to give those extra dollars when presented with urgency—something is time-bound, or there might be an opportunity that is really time-sensitive.
Those communications need to take that into account to really maximize compelling donors.
Here are some takeaways from this section.
First, present a goal that’s urgent and specific. That goes back to that first point that donors reported on. Saying a laissez faire goal over the course of a year, or, sometimes campaigns are ongoing—maybe it’s time to shift that thinking and to convert it into smaller goals that lead up to a bigger goal, and be specific and urgent with that communication to really inspire people to give and donate.
Second thing to call out is that messaging matters. It’s not enough to just send a personal note from someone at your organization. That’s great, and of course all of you I’m sure are doing that to some effect—but the message in that note is vital, and presenting a specific need and showcasing that with pictures and stories. Like we said in that last slide, donors really want to see where their dollars are going in terms of actual stories that it’s people being impacted, or the effects of their donations, of the work that is happening so if you’re curious to see what that looks like, I do have some good examples in an email, but that will be in the next section.
That’s a good segue into talking about email practices to get more from fundraising.
Jared: It’s probably pretty widely known that email is a very low-risk easy method to get into for many nonprofit fundraising and marketing professionals. It’s extremely low cost compared to something like direct mail, and sending out the same newsletter on three or four pieces of paper with a stamp and an envelope versus one digital newsletter, so it’s probably pretty accepted that that email is a really good channel.
But I know that a lot of nonprofits struggle to see a good return from email and see a lot of other channels giving them more return in terms of fundraising. Let’s talk about some practices that can flip that script around and dive into that.
In terms of regular communication from nonprofits to donors, we found, when we polled donors, that they prefer to receive emails from nonprofits over any other channel or medium. That includes channels like Facebook and direct mail. That isn’t to say that direct mail is not important or effective, because of course it is. But there is something to be said for this perception from donors that they prefer to receive regular communications via email.
Maybe that means that you put in 50% of your marketing budget into direct mail when maybe that should be back down to 40%, and put a little bit more into regular cadence of email because that’s what donors prefer to receive to stay in touch with everything that your nonprofit is doing.
Then the other part of this in terms of email is that piece that I mentioned a minute ago about hearing from a representative at your organization.
So 58% of donors responded that they’d prefer to hear from an individual person within your nonprofit. I know that’s a pretty common practice these days—if you’re not doing that, if you’re not addressing specific campaign pleas or regular communications from a specific person, whether that is head executive or your director of fundraising whomever, that’s an easy win to start building that sort of personal connection with your supporter and donor audience.
Email, again: really easy wins to just start implementing today. But in terms of ramping up the impact of that communication, one key change that we’ll cover up next is content.
Content is just a fancy marketing term for the copy, the text. the images, the story, the video—everything that is in a message. That’s content that you are giving to your audience to keep them up-to-date on everything that you’re doing, to compel them to give, or to update them on where their gift is going. Content is key, and the way that you structure that content and what you choose to include can make or break an effective communication.
Let’s look at some of the content types that donors prefer to receive. Again, we polled more than a thousand donors, and, when given options, the top three choices were:
Those results and donation spendings are obviously very similar, but the key here is donors really want to see the impact of their dollars and make sure that everything they’re doing to give and support your organization is going to where you said it would be, making the most impact on the world. That’s why they’re choosing to give to your organization to begin with, so let’s look at some email examples of a few Campaign Monitor customers that I think are doing this really well.
This is a little zoom in on the body of that email—this is from New Zealand Red Cross. There’s some real deep story from Katherine, the project partners coordinator for New Zealand Red Cross.
We see there’s this establishment of regular emails to their Red Cross partners once a month, and she tells a story about how she’s amazed at what the donor is able to do. “We were faced with this disaster, but when we asked people to support, we saw a tremendous turnout, and we are able to give shelter to this many people.”
Of course we also see real people that they impacted at the very top of the email: that photo of the family and the Red Cross volunteer.
All of that combines to be just a really impactful message. And even though the intent is not to gain more donations right from this newsletter, it does build that sort of trust with your donors and make sure that over time you’re reassuring them that this is where their support is going, and this is where you can be sure that everything they donate is going to go to a good cause.
Here’s another example from another Australian organization called Orange Sky. I’m going to show you two examples from them. This one is a regular newsletter sent out from the founders of this organization. And they even use video in this email to really show the impact that they are physically having. You can actually visualize: if I gave a hundred dollars last month, here’s where that’s actually going.
If you can see in the top paragraph of this email, they give very specific numbers that this nonprofit helps homeless people wash their clothes. They have these buses that go around Australia and provide a laundry service for people that otherwise wouldn’t be able to wash their clothes. They give actual details around loads of washes, numbers of showers they have able to give to this community, and you can see very quickly right from the opening paragraph: this is where your donation is going, this is what we were able to do.
Here’s another newsletter that they send out. This they send out to volunteers. This was a campaign they did in September to encourage safety among their volunteers and this one comes from their program manager.
And, again, even just the use of a little picture builds that personal connection. We see the strong branding like Orange Sky in the top left. There’s a familiarised branding with this organization, and that’s always good—you definitely want to make sure that every newsletter is branded. but we also see people: people that are being affected and impacted, and then also the people that are soliciting donations, that are doing the work.
We can build that personal connection with them through each and every newsletter that we send out. I thought these were two great examples.
And that leads us into takeaways for this section.
Elevate every email with both the content types that we talked about and then just some of the easy wins that we talked about in the last section. Don’t forget donors want to receive stories about how your nonprofit has affected real people, how your services have helped.
They also want to see results and where their donation money is actually being spent, how it’s being used. So figure out ways to weave that into every newsletter, into specific campaign sends, into different updates.
The second one I just kind of hinted at a moment ago: personalize your messages. Show specific results from their giving. If a donor gave to a building fund campaign, but they didn’t give to providing more wells in the field or something like that, make sure that you’re updating them primarily about where they gave. They really want to see where the results of their giving is going and how, if they continue to give, how that impact is going to change.
So really personalizing that content, even down to the campaign level to show where this specific donation in this specific campaign has gone, really helps people feel like, “I can trust this nonprofit, I know they’re doing great work, and I want to continue to give more.”
Another way to personalise your emails and really make sure that you’re segmenting well is through the use of segmenting by giving amounts.
So this would allow you to really segment the once-a-year givers and help mobilize them into more regular givers. Maybe it’s to segment your monthly givers and you know figure out ways to show their impact, and say, “If you gave $10 a month more, it would produce X amount of impact over what you’re already doing.” And that could be to that entire audience of regular recurring givers.
And then, of course, you can also use that to really personalize for major donors, and make sure that they are seeing a broader scope of everything that they’re doing to impact your organization.
That wraps it up for the email conversation. Next up, we’re going to talk about upgrades for your campaign pages. So over to you, Abby.
Abby: Thank you. Jared did a really great job exploring what donors want to hear from our nonprofits and how we can use stories to get them involved, inspired, and motivated to support us. And that is a really important step, particularly for donors who are not familiar with us.
The next step in this donor journey is to actually land on your donation form. I’m going to take the foundation that Jared just established and look at how our donors’ motivations and what they want to hear from us can be applied to the second half of their journey and how it can affect their decision to give, and their giving process.
The first thing I’m going to look at then is how we can apply the findings to our donation forms.
To revisit what we want to establish: We know donors want real stories. They want to see real results, and they want to know how we are actually going to spend the money they give us.
And there are some really powerful elements you can apply in a donation page to answer those questions and give those donors what they want. I’m going to give you some real-life examples from real nonprofits that go over elements you can add to your own donation forms and how they will motivate donors to actually give.
We’re going to cover six high-level topics and then I’m going to show you what actually looks like in practice.
So you’ve built a beautiful appeal, or you build a beautiful email, and you send it out to your donors. They have read inspirational stories about real people that you have helped with their money, so your donation form then can reiterate those inspirational stories and create a sense of continuity for the donor as they move through the donor journey.
We also know that urgent requests are very motivating to our donors, and you can use a call-to-action that mirrors the email’s call-to-action, so if you have an email asking donors to give immediately because you’re coming up on the Thanksgiving season and you need to restock your shelves, if the call-to-action on your donation form if it mirrors that call-to-the-action in your email it will be much more effective than if it was a different call to action.
We’re also going to look at using real images of real life people who have benefited from your services. One thing to remember here is that donors, when they give, are not necessarily giving to you, the organization (which is a blow, I know). They are giving to people who are benefiting from you. So we’re going to explore what that looks like on a donation form and how to connect a donor to the people you’re helping using your donation form.
I’m going to show you the power of a campaign tracker. I’m going to show you how to add trust indicators to your donation form. We know that donors want to see how we’re actually spending their money and that’s where our trust indicator comes in.
And then I want to show you how to create multiple donation forms to one, give donors multiple opportunities to donate, and then two, to target the appeals that you’re sending your donors based on a number of the factors Jared mentioned, like giving capacity, their history with your organization, and other elements.
This is an example of a donation form that gives donors exactly what they want.
Okay, I’m going to take a second to brag on this organization. This organization is an organization called Mercy Ships. They are a phenomenal organization that has large hospital ships that travel the globe offering medical care and mostly surgeries to people who do not have access to that kind of medical care. And in this campaign they are just blowing donors away with the impact that a donation can make.
First, they have a real visual story. You’ll notice there’s a before-and-after image—their donors love before-and-after images, because they can really visualize the impact that they’re able to make with their gift. And this is just a little design tip: if you choose to do a before-and-after photo, put the emphasis on the after photo so donors can visualize the impact that they can have.
It’s often tempting to focus on the before photo because we can think it tugs people’s heartstrings—it’s a little more emotional. But we found that donors actually respond better if the emphasis is on the happy outcome instead of the sadder need.
There is a definite sense of urgency here. If you notice at the top of the donation form, here there’s an emphasis saying you need to give today so you can multiply an impact.
There’s a second line where it asks people to give today: That call-to-action is bolded so that really does create a sense of urgency. If you’re asking your donors to give, they can say well I’ll come back to this tomorrow. If you’re asking people to give today, it’s a lot harder emotionally to postpone a gift.
There is a specific call-to-action which is really great. There is the yes, I want to donate $19 monthly call-to-action, and then there is another call to action to make a one-time gift. And if you’ll notice, there are really powerful impact statements and options. So if I do not have a ton of money, and I can’t give $300, I might be able to opt into making a monthly payment.
And you’ll notice here because, as we mentioned earlier, recurring donors have a higher retention rate and donor lifetime value, there is that little tag there that says making a monthly gift can have the biggest impact, so the ask is smaller in terms of dollars but the impact is higher.
This is another really great donation form. This is a fantastic example of how you can have a powerful picture even if you don’t have actual people who are benefiting from your work.
There is even more donor-centric language and impact statements if a donor reads this. They know exactly what their money will pay for and then over there on the right-hand side of the form there is this really cool little additional piece of information, and it’s a trust indicator.
So one thing that many donors—especially if you are working to acquire younger donors—donors increasingly want to know that their donation dollars are going toward people that they want to serve. If you can add an indicator like this, showing a donor that if they give a gift of $250 dollars that the majority of that will go to your mission, that will have an enormous impact both on a person’s likelihood to complete the transaction and the odds that they’re going to give a larger gift and give in the future.
This may not be something that strikes you as being particularly appealing, it’s not cute, it doesn’t play into the emotional stories that you may be telling, but for a lot of donors this is a really compelling piece of information that can make or break their decision to give. So consider adding a trust indicator like that one.
This is an absolutely phenomenal campaign by City Rescue Mission that shows you another really cool example of communicating donor impact.
One, they obviously have a really beautiful picture, it’s focused on the people that they’re going to be helping. There’s a heartwarming explanation of what a donor is actually paying for when they give: warm meals, safe shelter, life-changing programs—all of those phrases that they chose to use are calculated to make a donor feel really great about making a gift.
And then this is absolutely one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen on a donation form: They have donor centric language and impact statements, but the impact statement actually updates if you change your giving level.
You can see on the left hand side if I opt to give a $200 gift, the form shows me that my gift is helping 113 people. If I up my gift to $500 dollars, like I did on the right, that number updates and shows me that I’m helping 282 people, so I can really understand the impact that a gift is going to make and how making a gift of a higher or lower denomination is going to affect the impact that I make.
So we’ve got the basics down for our normal donation page. Now I’m going to talk a little bit about why you should consider building unique campaign pages for different programs, different segments of donors, and different times of year.
Building specific campaign pages gives you a lot of flexibility, and a lot of ability to give your donors relevant opportunities to give.
If you’re on your homepage, and you go up and you click on the donate button, I’m probably going to land on your annual giving form.
Supplementing that form—not replacing it, supplementing it—with other forms can help you do a lot. You can tell different stories for different campaigns and have that story be consistent across your social posting, your email appeals, and your donation form. you can tweak the suggested donation amounts to fit into the goals that you have for this campaign or the cost of a program. You can build different emails for different donor segments.
You can target recurring donors. You can target maybe mid-level donors, you give a little bit more than your average donor does and you can really refer people who have a loyal and long-standing relationship with your organization to a form that calls that out.
You can also explore different donor capacities. If you target your baseline donors, your mid-level donors, and your major gifts donors, you don’t want to send a donor who gives $10,000 every year a donation form asking them for $20, and you wouldn’t want to send a $20-donor a donation form asking for $1,000. So you can really tailor your form to different donor capacities.
And then, purely from a bookkeeping perspective, giving your different campaigns and programs their own donation form can make bookkeeping a lot easier. So instead of pulling a report for many thousands of transactions on one form and trying to sort through restrictions, or sort through different bank accounts that different restrictions point to you, can pull one report of one donation form that supports one program, and your bookkeeper will love you.
On the right here I do have an image that is another Mercy Ships donation form. And this one, if you noticed on the previous screenshot that I showed you, I think the base request was for $19 a month, and then the base suggested donation amount for one time I think was $50. That is available and accessible to a wide number of donors. This donation form is a little more pointed.
This one asks specifically for a donation of $1,000 or $2,000, and the call-to-action is less urgent but more pointed. In this example, Mercy Ships probably would have sent this not to their complete donor base, they probably would have targeted mid-level donors who have a history of giving consistently and who probably have a history of giving gifts at or around $1,000.
So this is an example of a page that was built specifically to target a definite donor segment, whereas this form is a little different. The base is back at that $19 a month, the base one-time gift is suggested at $50 a month. This is much more accessible to a wider base of donors.
And this one was actually built for a holiday campaign. This is built for Giving Tuesday, so this has a broader appeal. it would have been sent to more people, it was probably published more on social media, and the organization would have focused less on sending this appeal to a small, specific segment of donors, and more to a wide variety of donors with different giving capacities.
This also would have made their bookkeeping a lot easier, and this one we know that all of the donations are going to save lives in a particular country, so they would have needed to keep those funds separate. This is probably going to an organization-wide fund so the bookkeeping wouldn’t have had to be so specific.
These are just two examples of ways you can upgrade your donation pages and your fundraising campaigns in general by building donation pages specific to a program, a donor segment, or group of people.
Here are the takeaways from this particular section.
The number one thing that we want to do is communicate to donors how their gift is going to make a real impact on real people. Some ways you can do that is by including images that tie your donors to your mission. We saw a couple really beautiful examples of how to do that.
Share stories of how your money is used. If a donor is giving $,1000 to fund an operating room in Benin, let them know that. The more specific we can be with how we’re going to use a donor’s money—while being honest—the more effective that campaign is going to be.
If you are able to, add a trust indicator that shows donors that you’re going to use their money responsibly. If you’re not comfortable showing a trust indicator like I did earlier, some other trust indicators you may want to include on your campaign page include a Guidestar link.
If you have a profile on Guidestar and people want to see your 990s and see how you actually operate, that’s a wonderful trust indicator. You might want to include testimonials from donors who’ve given in the past. Anything that you can do to reassure your donors that they’re going to make a good investment in your organization, those trust indicators are very powerful.
Reiterate the decision to give. One thing that is tempting when we’re a nonprofit: We want to think that by the time the donor lands on our donation form, they are committed to giving to us. And that’s not necessarily the case.
I’ve talked in a different webinar with a different speaker that we found over 80% of people who actually land on your donation form never give a gift. So the more we can reiterate a person’s decision to give, the more we can show them stories and impact, the more successful your campaign is going to be.
And then if you’re running multiple campaigns and programs, consider building supplemental donation forms that you can use to target different segments of donors.
That can be for different campaigns, different events, different donor segments or giving capacities. The more specific you can be in your appeals, the more successful those appeals will be. So take a little bit of time to build a couple of different donation forms, and see if your donors respond to that well.
Abby: I’m going to take you through an example of how you can use the story that is driving your email communication and your fundraising campaign to power every message associated with that campaign.
We know from the Campaign Monitor study that nonprofits and donors are both aligned on the fact that we want to tell stories, and donors want to hear stories. So here’s how we can do that.
You probably recognize this little girl. I just showed her to you a minute ago. This is M’mah Benessah, she is a little girl who had a facial tumor and benefited from Mercy Ships’ floating hospital.
The way Mercy Ships told her story took donors on a journey through a problem that existed, and how donors were able to help this little girl.
At first they received an email telling this girl’s story and pointing them to a blog entry, which is in the upper right hand corner. They explain a little more about the challenges the little girl faced: She had a tumor above her left eye, she thought she was going to lose an eye, she was made fun of.
The nonprofit really focused on telling this heartbreaking story—but then she was introduced to Mercy Ships, and, because of donors’ generous contributions, she was able to receive the facial surgery she needed to save her eye and live a happy life.
So they’ve told this beautiful story. Donors are prompted to land on this donation form, and the accompanying form reiterated the story. M’mah’s picture is on the top of this donation form, so from the email to the blog to the donation form, donors have bonded with this little girl and the difference that other donors were able to make by supporting this organization.
They land on this form, they see the option to make a monthly gift or make a one-time gift, but the emphasis is on monthly. They already know by the time they landed on this form exactly the difference they could make in someone’s life by giving to this organization. This is a really beautiful way to bring a donor through a journey, showing them the need, showing them the potential outcome, and communicating the impact they can make in the future.
When you’re building your campaign pages, take Mercy Ships’ example and use authentic people or examples, tie donors into the real story that is happening in your campaign, and then show them the impact that they can make by supporting you.
You might not be working with a little girl who is in desperate need of facial surgery. You might be working with an animal shelter—this is a prime example that can be used for you
An organization in Asheville, North Carolina, called Brother Wolf: They’re an animal rescue, and they were brought this tiny puppy who had chemical burns all over her. They had told her story in an email, and they shared the story on the blog.
Both the email and the blog article led to a campaign page that had Hope the puppy on the top of the campaign form. Donors were able to see exactly how they could support this puppy’s progress.
You can do this with children, you can do it with grownups, you can do it with puppies, you can do it with almost anything. If you can put a face to your campaign, donors will be more likely to support that face.
Abby: I’m going to go into how you can take your donors and supporters that you have been showing these beautiful stories to and relating their impact to and mobilize them to then expand your donor base and build visibility for you in the community.
So I’m going to go into the next level: What you do after you’ve built this donor base? We’re going to then turn those donors and supporters that you have spent so much time and effort acquiring and turn them into advocates that will raise money for you.
If you are not familiar with peer-to-peer fundraising, I promise you have seen it in the past. Maybe you don’t know what it’s called—the jargony term for it. In peer-to-peer events, nonprofits recruit donors, supporters, volunteers to raise money on their behalf. If you’ve ever had a kid participate in a walkathon and they had to take those pledge sheets around to your co-workers and neighbors, and sign up to donate to this walkathon, you participated in a peer-to-peer event.
These campaigns typically include a fundraising goal, and then there’s a period of fundraising activity, and that all culminates in a final fundraising event. Not all nonprofits culminate everything in a fundraising event, but that is the most common format.
But there is a reason that peer-to-peer fundraising is so powerful right now, and it all boils down to another finding that Campaign Monitor uncovered in this study.
When we asked donors and nonprofits what they wanted from a relationship with another donor or nonprofit, nonprofits revealed that they kind of view events as a way to finding donors. Maybe you’re hobnobbing at a galam maybe you’re sharing hor d’oeuvres at a happy hour—nonprofits really look at events as a powerful donor acquisition tool.
But that doesn’t jive with what donors are taking away from events.
Donors do not tend to view events as a way to find new nonprofits. And this is really because, for the average donor, they probably aren’t going to buy tickets to go to an event put on by a nonprofit that they haven’t already supported.
Peer-to-peer fundraising can help bridge this gap between what nonprofits think events can do and what donors want from events.
We know that donors want three things: they want real stories about real people, they want to hear those stories from real individuals—not a nonprofit as a whole—and they want to know that their donations are going to make a real impact. I’m going to show you a little bit how peer-to-peer fundraising can affect this, and I’m going to tell a little bit of my personal story, because this is actually a screenshot of an event I participated in just a few months ago.
A peer-to-peer fundraiser combines super personalized storytelling and donor advocacy. As a general rule, the people who are going to be raising money for you are people who have already been involved in your nonprofit and what you’re doing.
They’re going to be able to share their own stories and share that story with their friends, family, coworkers, and other networks.
For a donor, they’re able to share their experience and how their involvement has made an impact, and then their networks are going to see their friends are advocating for your organization. So it’s really powerful social proof and it gives donors everything they’re looking for when they’re looking for a nonprofit to support.
I will say this: For this to work, a peer-to-peer that needs to be well executed. It is definitely not a hands-off fundraising strategy. You need to be really involved, even though other people are actually raising the money for you. But, done well, what you can do is take donors who have financially supported you in the past, and get them to upgrade their financial support to being an active advocate for you in the community.
This not only helps you expand your donor base—you’re reaching people who may never have heard of you before—but you are also able to strengthen your relationship with your existing donors, because they have gone from only supporting you financially to being invested in your success from a time perspective. You’ll see these people are more likely to be involved with you in the long-term, and then you will have them advocating for you in the community and raising money for you.
This is a very goofy picture of me and my husband after we paddled this enormous swan boat across the lake to raise money for a peer-to-peer event. And one of the things we saw as we participated in this event is that the organization we were raising money for, Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine, sees an influx every year of new donors who have never heard of the organization before, because people like me (who have a different network than the people at Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine) are sharing a nonprofit’s story.
Participants will share their activity and their fundraising status with their friends and their family. They’re telling stories—their own stories and your stories—and they are exposing other potential donors to your story, your mission, your work, and the impact that they can make by supporting you.
This is also a really powerful fundraising tool to use if you want to build visibility in your community. This picture here on the right is a picture of two Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine employees meeting with our local mayor to announce that we had set aside the day of this event as a city-wide holiday. That’s an option that you can use if you want to expand your visibility.
But even if you don’t choose to take photo op with the mayor, you do have the opportunity to share stories and results, you’re able to reach new networks of people you otherwise wouldn’t be able to access: people who are passionate about you, are advocating for you. And there’s all kinds of results in a heightened visibility of your organization, your work, and your value in the community.
So, of course, you get the dollars that you raise in this peer-to-peer fundraising event, but you do have the potential to expand your donor base.
The real question of course I’m sure you’re asking is: Does it actually work? And the answer is: yes.
Peer-to-peer fundraising is one, a very powerful way to raise money that you need for your job, but it’s also an opportunity to engage people who are already supporting you and raising money, sharing your impact, and recruiting new donors.
Once you have run a peer-to-peer fundraising event, you have an expanded donor base and the knowledge of what they actually want to hear from you.
So you’ve run a peer-to-peer event, you have seen your financial supporters advocate for you and share your stories, you’ve seen an influx of new donors and now you have the tools you need to show them real stories, show them real impact, and give them personalized details—all through email fundraising.
Now you have the ability to start the cycle over again: you retain donors, you share the same stories, you invite them to get more deeply involved, and you mobilize them again.
So that is how you can create a self-sustaining donor cycle, using the findings that Campaign Monitor explored in the earlier part of this presentation, zhuzhing up your donation forms and then actively mobilizing those donors to raise money for you in the future.
Jared: So lots of really good stuff. Obviously a handful of takeaways that I’ll just blaze through real quick.
We talked very early on about giving donors a specific goal, getting personal with every communication, making sure to connect donors to a very real and personal person that is at your organization or that you are affecting, thinking about how to use those different content types we talked about to elevate your newsletters.
And one of those content types being real results. Real impact of donations and things like that, putting those forth into both your emails and then also your campaign and appeal pages.
And we talked for a while about optimizing content for different types of donors, how to be personalized and segmented, explaining where every dollar is going. Abby showed some great examples of people using authentic photos and imagery of real people being affected, which ultimately ties donors into that story.
And, ultimately, using all of those tools to mobilize your donors in terms of peer-to-peer fundraising and getting additional supporters involved.
Jared: So I have my webinar concierge Sydney on the line sitting next to me, so she’s going toss some questions out mine and Abby’s way.
Sydney: The first question is one for Abby. It’s from Jolene, and the question, “Is is there research that indicates monthly giving amount for segmented baseline donors and middle-level donors?”
Abby: So what are we looking for, a baseline donation amount for monthly givers?
Jared: I think it seems like it’s baseline for monthly givers, somewhere in the middle range: Is there any research to indicate what is suggested to pre-populate in your donation forms?
Abby: Sure. One thing that we’ve encountered a lot when we’re trying to set baselines for different fundraising campaigns is that every nonprofit is different. We have different donor segments in Lakeland, for example, than you would have in LA.
For a Lakeland-based organization, we might start the suggested giving amounts for a monthly donor kind of low—we may start at $20. An organization that is in a more affluent city or works with more affluent donor bases may start at $50.
Instead of trying to set a baseline donation amount, I have two recommendations. One, do some experimentation. I would probably start with $20 a month and work up from there. If you aren’t getting a lot of bites, lower it and see if that helps.
Another thing that I would really strongly suggest you do when trying to establish what your donors’ baseline preferences are is always include the ability to enter their own amount. And the reason I really strongly urge people to do that is if you are setting maybe your lowest suggested donation amount for a monthly gift at $20, but someone lands on your page and all they can afford to give you is $15, you don’t want to lose out on that $15 donation.
If you wanted to establish where your own baseline is and you’re in your donors’ minds, I would take a look at your one-time transactions and look at the different levels or people.
If you see that the average gift that’s made on your donation form is $25, I’d maybe start with a $25 baseline suggested giving for monthly donors. If the average gift on that particular form is $75, maybe bump your baseline up to $40 or $45 give people some wiggle room and base all of your suggested donation amounts on your donors’ established giving patterns.
Then no matter what you do, give donors the option to set their own amount, just because you don’t want to alienate a donor who wants to give but feels that they can’t afford it.
Sydney: Jared, this next one is for you, from Bridgid. And the question is: “Does the length of emails affect donor response or engagement?”
Jared: Great question. So we get a lot of questions at Campaign Monitor around length of emails, what should I include in an email, should it be designed should it not be, and I think it totally depends on your specific audience.
There are a few consistent scientific trends with email that we know. One is having a good, strong header image is really great to keep people captivated in your email, no matter whether that’s a newsletter or an update or an appeal. Having a good, strong header image is great.
And then just below that you should have some type of headline to let people know what is going to be in that next section of the email, whether that is the single section or if there are a handful of sections like if it’s a monthly newsletter. Those headlines should really make it skimmable so that people can opt in or out of those specific sections based on their interests.
The cool thing is, with a lot of email marketing platforms like Campaign Monitor, you have the option to A/B test. And all that means is you can send out two different campaigns to the same audience and test content within an email.
So what I would suggest you do is maybe look at a monthly newsletter, or a specific appeal, or something like that, and test the length of one. See if you get more click-throughs to your campaign page, or to a video, or whatever you’re trying to drive them to. See if there’s a difference between the shorter one and the longer one.
It may be test with a handful of different campaigns that you send out, and see if you can see a trend of: my audience really just wants to get to the meat of something, so we need to stick to one headline one body and one call-to-action button for them to click, or maybe it’s that we see a higher revenue from email when we have a longer story and people are really involved in the details of that story and go all the way through to the end they click the button and they tend to give us more because we told more of the story in an email.
Definitely suggest testing here into that length. That will go a very long way.
Sydney: All right, Abby, we’re coming back to you. Jolene is looking for suggestions on building donor pages that are linked to donor segmentation.
Abby: Ooh this is a good one. The way I would suggest building this out:
One, I am going to assume that you’re using a donor database or a CRM. The reason I am hoping that’s the case is because that will make your life way easier if you’re trying to segment your donors based on their giving level or past experiences with you.
Then what I would do is take a campaign that you’re running—so I’m just going to pretend that you are an animal shelter, because I don’t know what you do. I would kind of establish the baseline story that you’re going to tell your donors—I’m gonna go with Hope the dog because that’s what I was just talking about a minute ago.
And I would have one, your primary donation form that is going to be linked to your website (that might reference Hope the puppy, it might not) then what I would do is I would clone that donation form and change the suggested giving amounts.
So I would probably look at one-time donors that have given to you in the past, maybe their experience with you is limited to maybe like one to five donations, and I would use a baseline donation amount there. Maybe you start with $25 and run up to $250.
Then I would look at your monthly donors and I would write and their email a little bit differently. So maybe I would open it by saying, “I know you’ve given loyally to this organization in the past. We have this new need: We have a tiny puppy that needs urgent medical care. Would you consider making an additional gift?”
Then I would link them to a form that is similar to the first form, but references their past experiences and thanking them for giving above and beyond the money they’ve already dedicated to you.
I would probably look at mid-level donors and, just like monthly donors, what defines a mid-level donor is going to be different for everybody. For some organizations a mid-level donor might be someone that gives $2,000 or more. For another organization a mid-level donor might be someone that gives $500—it really just depends on how your donors tend to give.
I would target mid-level donors and say, “You’ve shown that you’ve been heavily involved in the past. We have this little puppy that needs urgent medical care. Can you please make an additional gift this year to help us?” And maybe have suggested donation amounts that’s higher than they did on your first donation form. Maybe instead of $25 you want to start your mid-level donor gift $50 or $75 and then run up from there.
With major donors, there’s research out there that shows that some major donors are more willing to give online than they used to be. It’s probably up to you—you know your donor base better than I do. If you want to send your major donors a special, targeted email asking them to give again to support this puppy, you can totally do that.
If you are like one of the organization’s I work with here in town, my major donors tend to skew much older than my other donors, so you might want to ask for this in person. But I would look at telling the same story across your various donation forms, targeting the message, the CTA, and the suggested donation amounts to be more relevant to the groups of people that you’re approaching. I would start there.
Sydney: Awesome, thank you, Abby. So thank you guys so much for submitting all the questions, we’ve had some really great ones come through. We’re kind of getting short on time here so we’re going to wrap it up with this one final question from Brian. Jared, this is an email question for you: In terms of the subject line area in an email, what are the best practices to get the recipient to open the email?
Jared: Subject line best practices. There are a lot out there. Again, another great area to test with your audience—but a few that I would give just off the top of my head:
One is: Be clear with what is going to be inside of that email. I know a lot of people tend to rate their open rates as a pretty key metric. And while it does tell you how interested your audience is in your email content, if you’re doing that bait-and-switch tactic of this is really urgent and they get in there and it’s not really urgent, or today’s the last day to do this thing and that’s not really the case, most people will get fatigued by that, first of all.
And then second, it’s not really being upfront and nurturing of your audience. Actually saying something more like we’re fundraising for this puppy that will actually—obviously that’s not very catchy that’s the subject line, so try to be a little bit more clever than that—but something that’s a little bit more clear as to the purpose of the email will actually draw the right people in your audience to read that story and to click through and donate.
We actually have a lot of benchmarks around nonprofit open rates on Campaign Monitor, if you want to see how you stack up—if your open rates are great or not. But don’t let that be the huge motivator to come up with more salesy tactics in your subject line. Being clear and upfront about what the content of that email is will nurture the right donors that are interested in that subject, and draw them through to actually read instead of just open and bounce.
And then there are of course also things to take in mind with character count. I can’t think of the character counts right off the top of my head, but there are some best practices I know on our website that dictate how your subject line should be up to X amount of characters and your preheader text up to X amount, so that way most people are going to see the full message of your subject lines.
Those are two things to keep in mind. Definitely if there is something urgent that you need to communicate in your email, include that in the subject line. That’s important for people to know, especially as we talk about urgency, presenting an urgent goal being really compelling to donors. If it’s truly urgent, put that urgency upfront in the subject line.
But if it’s not, think about ways that you’re nurturing this real person opening your emails. And think what you would like to be told in a subject line yourself.
Jared: With that I think that about wraps it up. Of course, if you have any lingering questions, you can always hit us up on social media, both Campaign Monitor and Qgiv, I’m sure all over the web on Twitter and Facebook. So feel free to tweet or post at us and we would love to answer any other lingering questions.
And Abby, thank you so much for joining us today. Covered a lot of really good ground in a short amount of time and we really appreciate all your insights.
Abby: Definitely. And then of course, like Jared said, you can tweet at us, you can write to us on Facebook, we’re on Instagram (kind of hard to ask questions on Instagram but we’ll try). We really just do exist to help you raise more money and be more successful, and we are totally excited about donation forms so just let us know how we can help.
Jared: This is Jared signing off. Thanks, Abby.
Abby: All right, bye everyone.
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