Five Easy Steps Toward Understanding Attribution

Chris Hubbard
VP, Account Services

Direct marketing used to be exactly that: “Direct.”

But in today’s multi-channel marketing world, that’s not the case. With donors receiving fundraising messages and brand impressions through a wide variety of sources and channels, we now must answer a more difficult but pressing question: “How did our promotional effort in channel X influence giving in channel Y?”

Most often it’s impossible to prove direct attribution, however understanding the correlation between efforts in one channel and outcomes in another helps inform campaign strategy, investment decisions and our understanding of the donor behavior.

Plus, making decisions about program investments based on face-value performance can be dangerous. Imagine cutting back on acquisition mail program volume only to find that you lost $250,000 in digital revenue as a result, too. In Press Your Luck parlance, that’s a “double whammy!”

For-profit companies are now fairly sophisticated in term of true attribution modeling. Non-profits aren’t there yet and may not be for a while. That’s okay, though. Understanding the correlations can support your decision-making process and begin to define an attribution strategy that works for your organization.

So how do you lift the veil and take a closer look at how programs influence each other? Here are five valuable steps you should make part of your regular monitoring habits:

#1 – Match your “passive” giving sources against your promotion history
Most clients have source categories like whitemail, web giving, and tributes built into their gift source coding methodologies. While these may appear to be “over the transom” gifts, analysis usually says otherwise. Compare these gifts to your promotion efforts and you’ll find that many of the donors making these gifts received a recent promotion.

With one client, we discovered that 23% of these gifts were preceded by a mail promotion within the prior 30 days…and the revenue from these was over $5 million. More so, 55% of that revenue was received within 10 days after the in-home date. While some of that giving may have occurred naturally, who wants to take the risk of finding out how much?

#2 – Conduct match backs against your recent prospect lists
While exercise #1 tells you more about existing donors giving through alternate sources, a similar analysis can be conducted on new donors. You’ll probably need the help of your merge-purge supplier to do some name and address matching of “passive” sourced donors against recent prospect files. Once the matches are identified you can calculate how long after the in-home date the gifts were made. Like above, you’ll start to see a correlation between the delivery date and these gifts.

While not a perfect science, you can determine what percent of those responses you want to attribute to the acquisition mail effort when determining how much to invest in a mail acquisition program.

#3 – Use unique URLs where possible in mail and print offers
We all know that donors and prospects don’t always use the unique URL you provide. And yet, it’s still valuable and does attribution work for you. With a unique URL, you will get more real-time learnings on campaign or test performance, particularly if you are executing a strategy where the objective is to move people online. Keep those backslashes short and relevant.

#4 – Chart media impressions against direct response revenue trends
This is a less granular measurement but starts to build the bridge between your direct response and brand communications efforts. It’s well known that larger media campaigns provide halo coverage for all fundraising efforts — but to what degree? Work with your internal teams to capture impression data as specifically as possible (daily or weekly being optimal) and then compare that information against different giving types on file.

Depending on the type of media (i.e., digital ads vs. TV spots, etc.), you are likely to find different correlations. Year-over-year and pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight trends help illuminate the effect of these advertising impressions.

#5 – Develop a time-based attribution methodology for digital advertising efforts
According to Smart Insights Display Ad CTR Benchmarks published in January 2018, all ad formats and placements averaged a click-through-rate of just 0.05%. While this is a really low CTR, we can attribute web revenue to donors who recently saw a display ad. When reviewing view-through performance from your display partners, make sure you are capturing the time of the viewing and the time of the gift. Then you can use a graduated attribution model that gives more credit to the display effort the closer it compares to the timing of the actual gift.

If you’re like most nonprofits, you will continue to give donors a multitude of options for giving and surround them with omni-channel marketing messages. With such varied donor touchpoints, we all need to become comfortable with the fact that donors will give where they are most comfortable, which doesn’t necessarily align with what is easiest to measure.

If you’re not undertaking some of these measurement exercises, it’s important to get these processes in place soon. We’re here to help, so be sure to let us know if you have questions or experiences to share!

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