A Conversation With Michelle Hurtado, Head of Google Ad Grants

Michelle Hurtado
Global Head of Google Ad Grants

Jeff Ostiguy, Vice President of Marketing at THD, sat down with the Global Head of Google Ad Grants, to discuss Google’s commitment to the nonprofit sector, Ad Grants program changes and how nonprofits can be successful with Google Ads.

THD: Michelle, thanks for taking a little time to talk with us today! Can you give us a brief history of the Ad Grants program?

Hurtado: Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Google Search is critical in this. We saw how effective ads on Google Search results pages were and so we started the Ad Grants program so that resource strapped nonprofits could have good access to share information on Google.com. We’ve now been giving free Google Search ads for 16 years, directly in alignment with Google’s mission. We hope that we’re helping nonprofits amplify their vital work and grow with Google: by supporting nonprofits to raise awareness, get people involved, and fundraise.

THD: What does the Ad Grants team look like? We often hear it is a small team of volunteers.

Hurtado: Ad Grants has been a small team historically but we have doubled in the last year! We are a dedicated group of 12 and we have team members who have been with Google for 14, 15 and 16 years, sitting across 6 different offices.
We also have partners we work closely with. For example, we have our Certified Professionals Community of agencies and consultants who are knowledgeable about Ad Grants and dedicated to nonprofits, so we recommend their services. We also partner with universities to offer a program for students learning online marketing to volunteer with Ad Grantees through the Google Ad Grants Online Marketing Challenge.

Last year we served about 51,000 nonprofits so we also rely on volunteers to scale our support efforts. You’ll see many of our volunteers on our educational resources such as videos and livestreams on YouTube and our new Community forums which are great platform for nonprofits to ask questions and get help quickly.

THD: In January of 2018, a number of new performance and structural guidelines were put in place for the program. Have the changes had the impact on performance that your team had hoped? What trends or changes have you seen since you made the changes?

Hurtado: Yes! We reviewed our program policies to add clarity and raise standards of quality for our free advertising grants. We want our Grantees to all be in compliance with these policies and we hope they act as a guide to optimize accounts. For example, we don’t permit single word keywords because they don’t often make a good match with a relevant ad and a user taking action on your site, so that policy prods nonprofits to build out keyword lists.

Performance metrics like conversion goals met show positive results and click through rates have more than doubled. My team is committed to helping nonprofits use their Ad Grant successfully.

THD: Have a large number of Grantees been suspended since the policy changes were implemented in January of 2018? Are more nonprofits opting to use automated options like Smart Campaigns?

Hurtado: Many nonprofits have been impacted by the policy changes but almost all fix the issue and are reactivated. Smart Campaigns is an excellent option for Grantees that can’t invest the time to manage their online ads regularly. This campaign type can be set up in just 15 minutes, and then works to constantly improve an ad around a goal, measure its performance, and show clear, understandable results. More nonprofits are using Smart Campaigns as they see the ease, but it’s still a low proportion of our Grantees.

THD: How do you plan on making compliance more smooth for all parties involved?

Hurtado: We want our Grantees to have a good experience with us and we have provided a lot of educational opportunities to nip compliance issues in the bud. Currently, we are developing an on demand report so Grantees can check compliance proactively that we think will help a lot. We send out a monthly report by email and recommend Grantees confirm their correct email is associated with their Ad Grants account to ensure they don’t miss our notices, and check spam folders just in case.

THD: One of the biggest challenges – and opportunities – nonprofits have is balancing the role of Ad Grants with their paid programs. What is Google’s point of view on how to manage that? How should nonprofits view Ad Grants vs. paid Google Ads and how can they avoid competing with themselves?

Hurtado: Indeed, Ad Grants doesn’t cover all online ad opportunity. We encourage Grantees to get to know online ads through Ad Grants and learn about what’s worth investing more in. Ad Grants is limited to Search ads on Google.com after paying ads, so investing in some paid ads extends your reach significantly and has additional features to market specifically to supporter lists and use image and video ads to drive retention and advocacy. Additionally, when something is in the news or when there is high seasonality, Grantees can capture more of that increased interest by supplementing their Ad Grants account with a paid account.

It’s important to note that Ad Grants accounts do not compete with paid Google Ads accounts. Grantees can literally duplicate their Ad Grants account to a paid one if they wish to ensure they get the top ad position. Investing in paid Google Ads may result in significantly more volume so it’s worth considering.

THD: We have seen many nonprofits be very successful with Google Ad Grants. What are your top tips when managing and evaluating the performance of ad campaigns?

Hurtado: Whether a nonprofit is brand new to online marketing or already feels pretty comfortable, I have a few recommendations: First, define success metrics. What are the few things your organization wants people to do when they come to your website and how do you know when a goal is reached online? Second, make your organization’s website a priority. Structure the website around key goals and ensure each webpage has a clear call to action. Make the user experience easy and mobile friendly – and refresh content often. Next, set up free Google Analytics to understand what happens on your website and link your goals in your Ad Grants account. The first will help you understand who views what content and the latter will help you improve your ad performance. Then, have a dedicated owner who can be proactive with new ads: learn from user experience on your website, test new ads, be ready to respond to current events and seasonality like Giving Tuesday.

THD: The Google Academy for Ads is a tremendous resource, but it can be a little overwhelming. For a nonprofit marketer, who is familiar with Google, but not with all of the tools and programs available where would you suggest they start?

Hurtado: There is a ton of information out there for nonprofits to educate themselves on how to successfully manage their Google Ads accounts. As for the Google Academy for Ads, it is a fantastic resource but we suggest nonprofits using Ad Grants get started with our tailored educational resources that are program specific and use nonprofit examples for easier consumption. We offer a range of educational and support options for our Grantees because successful online marketing takes commitment and we want to help nonprofits achieve their goals online. A few support options to note:

First, our Help Center hosts tips on how to be successful with Ad Grants such as outlining how to create effective ads and automating your bids. Second, we have our Community forums which we actively monitor for questions. Third, we host educational livestreams and videos on a variety of topics on our YouTube Channel, including how to raise ad quality and how to select keywords. We also develop case studies regularly to highlight how our Grantees are using our program and specific product features to reach their goals. These can be found on our website. Lastly, our Grantees can also leverage the Google Ads support line for help and optimization suggestions. The number is 1-866-2GOOGLE.

———————–

Everything you do in market – brand marketing, direct marketing, content, PR – it all contributes to building awareness for your organization. With awareness comes interest, and that interest is an opportunity. A solid search strategy is a critical part of how your organization can rise up and meet that interest.

If you feel like you aren’t getting the most from your Grant account, get in touch with us here at THD – we can help.

The $2.3 BILLION coffee cup

This past week a simple setting and editing mishap resulted in $2.3 billion in free advertising for Starbucks. And the best part, it wasn’t even a Starbucks cup – it was a generic craft services cup.

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/07/starbucks-got-2point3-billion-in-free-advertising-from-game-of-thrones-gaffe.html

GoT Coffee Cup Blunder

It certainly speaks to the strength of the Starbucks brand (people just ASSUME it’s Starbucks), but it’s also a lesson in influencer marketing and how nonprofits can be a part of popular culture.

Sure, it’s unlikely that Jon Snow will show up wearing your company’s golf polo. But cultivating those relationships online and making sure your celebrity and athlete advocates have a bunch of your “swag” can better your chances of them tweeting on your behalf, or showing up somewhere (and having their photo taken) in your T-shirt.

Greenpeace opportunistically – and creatively – capitalized on the buzz by inserting themselves into the conversation and making the case for the dangers of single-use plastics.

https://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/game-of-thrones-coffee-cup-snafu-draws-greenpeaces-attention

Food (or coffee) for thought…

Experience Matters

Before you read the rest of this blog, I’d like to ask you a question.

How do you think your donors would rate their experience with you? On a scale of 1 to 10. Not your mission or your purpose, but the experience they have with you?

Be honest.

Do you think they would tell you that they feel truly heard, appreciated, and recognized? That they are getting something out of the value exchange? Do they feel like you know something about them — beyond when their last gift was or how much it was for?

So, with that rattling around in your brain, I’d like you to meet my friend Jane, your donor — everyone’s donor, really.

Jane

Who is Jane?

Well, Jane gets direct mail and email, and sees your social posts and banner ads. She’s largely channel agnostic in how she consumes information, and as she bounces between channels, her peers play an important role in her decision-making process.

She’s busy, impatient, maybe a touch skeptical — and her favorite consumer brands (Amazon, Patagonia, et al.) have raised the bar in terms of what she expects experientially in return for her money.

Finally, maybe most importantly, Jane doesn’t define herself in the way many fundraisers do. She doesn’t see herself as an active, mid-level, major, or lapsed donor.

She probably doesn’t even know what a “sustainer” is.

She’s a person, a person who cared enough to make a contribution to your organization.

Once we have acquired Jane and she’s gone from being unknown to known, what do we want her to do next?

Make another gift, right? So we ask her — probably a lot.

But what does Jane want? What does Jane expect?

Maybe she wants to make another gift, and if she does, great! Or maybe she just wants to learn more about who you are or what you do, what her contribution will help accomplish — maybe she wants to be an advocate or start a fundraiser of her own.

Maybe she doesn’t want to do anything at all.

As fundraisers, we look at retention rates and we get excited (with good reason) about multi-year retention rates of 70% or 75%, but that’s a percentage of a percentage. Truth is, somewhere around three-quarters of your donors make one gift and are never heard from again. Our research shows that the average lifespan of a donor is less than two years.

Of course, this leads to a never-ending (and costly) search for more Janes.

To mitigate this, we tend to ask “how?” How do we retain Jane, how do we get her to deepen her investment?

At THD, we propose it’s time to start asking “why?”

Why did we lose Jane? What about her experience caused her to drift away?

It’s time to shift our focus to understanding Jane the person, not the donor — what motivates her, what excites her, and what will keep her engaged with us longer.

How do we value a donor?

What value exists in a donor who’s empowered and motivated to go deeper? There is real value in advocacy. There is earned media value in that social video share. And we have all seen the explosion and tremendous impact of peer-to-peer fundraising.

Our data makes a compelling case for the value of multiple relationships. On average, donors with two organizational relationships (e.g., donor/advocate or donor/fundraiser) are 49% more valuable in year one and 38% more valuable five years in. With three relationships, the value factor is even greater (e.g., donor/fundraiser/advocate), 97% and 85%, respectively.

Heck, in 2017 alone, 63 million Americans volunteered 8 billion hours of their time to nonprofits. At $24.69 per hour, that accounts for a staggering $197.5 billion in value*. That’s billion, with a B.

Bottom line: the key to increasing donor value is a better experience that gives the donors options, multiple ways, and reasons to remain engaged — which ultimately extends donor lifespan.

The more ways they connect (or don’t), the more we can learn. And the more we know, the better we can make the experience.

We call this the Donor Experience Value Chain.

With so much data available to us, we can develop strategies offering touchpoints that continually inform us about what is important to donors. While every stage might not include giving, the bond between an organization and the donor becomes stronger, the term of the relationship extends, and the opportunities to ask become greater and land with more authenticity and impact.

Initial Engagement

We have identified six key stages in the donor experience. These stages will seem familiar in many ways, but it’s not the definition of the stages that is important. It is understanding the value of donors in these stages. Having a view into how people are migrating can help us refine our approaches and move people into/keep people in the most valuable stages.

Onboarding

So, this might be starting to sound a lot like donor journeys.

Journeys are presented as a set of predicted or preferred paths. While these are helpful, we think that looking at an experience, and the value of a donor at various stages of that experience, is of far greater value to a fundraiser. We aren’t trying to map people along a particular journey because, ultimately, with the amount of channels and engagement points available to a donor, the number of journeys is almost infinite.

This is where things are getting pretty exciting here at THD.

We are working to aggregate the data available to us into views that will help us understand how donors on file are progressing through their lifecycle, the value over the course of their lifetime, and how our work is influencing these moves.

Summary

In addition to the standard KPIs we all live by, we are introducing a new way to understand the health and composition of your file. This will help us augment and improve the way in which we segment and communicate with our donors, extend the length of their relationship with an organization, and, ultimately, improve the lifetime value of a donor.

We will be at the DMA conference this week in D.C. talking all about donor experience. If you see someone wearing a button that looks like this, come say “hello”!


Experience Matters

*Independent Sector https://independentsector.org/news-post/value-of-volunteer-time-release/

You Say You Want a Resolution…

It’s the New Year. Make any resolutions? Broken any yet?

Oh, and please, that friend that says “My resolution this year was to make no resolution.” You know they have a list longer than a CVS receipt.

Big or small, some we talk about, some we keep private — we all make them. And why not? Even a broken resolution provides us with some motivation to be better, right?

It got us thinking here at THD about resolutions that fundraisers and fundraising agencies like ourselves might want to put into place in the year ahead. How can we make better connections with one another — and our donors — in a year that will no doubt present challenges and opportunities, both familiar and new?

Here are a few (nine in fact) we thought of and WE’D LOVE to hear yours.

So leave some in the comments, send us a note, heck, give us a call — whatever works. As a follow-up, we’ll publish some of what you told us. And maybe even create a big list to inspire us all this year.

We resolve to…

  • Focus on developing a comprehensive marketing strategy for those “valuable with so much potential” mid-level donors
  • Collaborate with colleagues (who are also struggling) to design manageable solutions to the ever-elusive revenue attribution challenge
  • Pick up the phone! A two-minute phone call instead of 18 emails can do wonders for a relationship… and carpal tunnel
  • Break down data silos that impede a truly representative view of our donors
  • Stop blaming Trump (this is not an endorsement, but rather a challenge to dig deeper)
  • Continuously remind ourselves that donors, regardless of the labels and names we give them, are people. Their total experience, not just past giving behavior, is what will motivate them to stay engaged
  • Pay attention to what the file is telling me — and take steps to set up my program for long-term prosperity, even if it means short-term pain
  • Take risks with creative and push boundaries
  • Place a buzzword jar in every conference room (all contributions going to charity, of course) to end the use of terms like ‘viral marketing’, ‘content marketing’, and ‘synergy,’ to name a few

So, there you have it. A start, anyway.

Happy New Year from THD. Let us know what you’re resolving to do more of, less of, better than before, or just differently in 2019 — and here’s hoping we see you soon.

Cheers!

Google, Facebook, Network for Good and The Unknown Known

Facebook and Network for Good have done a good thing.

Partnering for native, embedded, fee-free donation processing helps nonprofits gain increased visibility, delivers a seamless experience and ensures that 100% of the money collected goes to supporting your organization, which is great for you and exactly what the donor wants.

So, everyone wins, right?

Uh... yahh... about that...

Not so much.

Turns out that all the donor data collected stays with Facebook in accordance with their privacy policy. What exactly will they do with this information is unclear, but odds are the answer isn’t ‘nothing.’

There’s your fee.

They have also partnered with Google and others to embed this giving experience (like on Google’s Knowledge Panel), and in addition to donor data never reaching the nonprofit there are real fees ranging from 3 to over 5%, but that information is not immediately clear to the donor.

Now, let’s be honest, your donors are smart people, many a bit cynical, and they have no idea who Network for Good is…

But, if they thought for a moment that any part of their gift was going to end up in Mountain View or at 1 Hacker Way, or that the act of making a gift would only be adding to the deep reservoir of data that Facebook and Google have amassed, I’m guessing they might be more than little reluctant. The partnership helps mitigate that.

Let’s be honest Part II. Both Facebook and Google need this.

DIVERSION

Attaching their name to doing good in the face of repeated data scandals and eroding consumer sentiment is just savvy PR. Facebook in particular has been going out of its way to promote the tools to potential fundraisers and nonprofits alike. They are also offering new features like allowing individual fundraisers to be able to set up their own matching gift campaigns and all the tools and resources available for nonprofits through Facebook for Social Good.

No doubt, some of you reading this have seen nice, even significant, returns showing up from Network for Good thanks to people ‘donating’ their birthdays and prominent donate buttons in the Google Knowledge Panel. And while the checks are wonderful, they must come with a nagging sense of frustration that you don’t know who these people are and you certainly can’t do anything to nurture your relationship with them.

We know the online donor is harder to attract, acquire, and even more difficult to retain.

So, what can you do when you don’t know who they are? How can you bridge the data gap?

Take a look at your donor journey and see where you can tighten up.

A couple of quick thoughts:

  1. Optimize email collection on your site. If they find their way to your site to learn more about where their money is going, make sure you are prominently promoting email capture.
  2. Don’t forget mobile. 80% of social media time is spent on mobile devices* and nearly 60% of all Google searches are on mobile devices**, so inquisitive donors are likely to find their way to you on their smartphones. Make sure your site is optimized to convert.
  3. Page Abandonment. Don’t give up without a fight. If people get to your site and sit on key pages (particularly donation forms) for too long, serve up a pop up encouraging them to complete their gift.
  4. Tighten up your remarketing strategy. Odds are, if someone makes a gift to your organization through Facebook or Google they have or will eventually show up on your site. With the knowledge that only 1.2% of nonprofit site visits result in a donation***, what about the other 98.8%? Set up remarketing campaigns through Facebook and Adwords (display, Gmail, similar audience targeting) based on site visitation, donation page bounces and/or views of key pages that appear along the path to donation. Stay in front of them so next time they come to your forms.
  5. Friends of Friends. Take advantage of Facebook’s targeting capability. If someone sets up a fundraiser on your behalf, there’s a pretty good chance they are following you. With a few hundred dollars you can set up campaigns to target friends of your friends with asks to like your page, subscribe to emails, etc.

At THD, we advocate for a diversification of your fundraising approaches and channels. Understanding your donors and their channel preferences should drive your strategy, so we aren’t going to go so far (as others have) as to say stay away from these programs. In fact, how can you? Facebook is encouraging people to donate their birthdays as they come upon them and you certainly see your friends doing the same. It’s good content.

So, continue to invest in your content and your online presence so donors think of you first and implement some or all of the steps above to make sure you’re doing everything you can to capture folks whenever and however they are showing their support.

*Comscore
**Hitwise
***Benchmarks 2017, M+R

What are you talking about?


SOAPBOX

We like to tie ourselves in knots trying to find the right mix of fundraising and cultivation for our audience segments, but have you ever taken a step back and asked yourself, “Do they care?”

It’s always a pleasant surprise to see a large gift or a number of gifts in response to a cultivation piece even though you ‘don’t ask.’ But, you’re a non-profit, you’re fundraisers and the recipient has become conditioned to anticipate an ask, even if there isn’t one. Of course, when you ask, people give, but the response is as much about a reaction to the impression, is it not?

This is a wild over-simplification, of course, and I’m certainly not saying that the right mix isn’t important. Rather, I’m using it as a way to get us all thinking about how your direct response program should be aligned with your organization’s content strategy more broadly.

Ultimately, your direct response program should be structured to make the right ask of the right people at a certain stage in their journey — online or off. That’s why it’s important that your content and messaging is consistent with or expands upon the narratives and key themes that you’re talking about further up in the ‘funnel.’ Not only will your DR creative in mail, email, social, display, etc. feel more cohesive, but it should be deepening the level of interest and engagement with the constituent; less of a blunt force ask.

The rapid feedback loop inherent in your DR program also gives you a channel to test into some narratives to see how your audience responds. Email and paid social are two channels that come to mind as lower-cost opportunities to stress test some of your messaging ideas.

Let’s not forget there is efficiency in this as well. Whether you’re developing content in house or your agency is doing so, atomizing the content in this way helps you derive more value from its production. That compelling infographic shouldn’t be locked away in a report or a blog post. Let’s leverage that in an email header, a compelling social post and more. Have an important statistic or a quote? Find a way to work them into the design or copy of your DM materials and really drive those impactful points home. That’s what your donor and prospects are looking for, right?

Proof.

By the way, when you’re planning your content development, are you paying attention to what your website is telling you? Are you looking to see what pages people are spending the most time on? What pages are driving people deeper? What pages appear most along the path to conversion? Conversely, are you investing in content that people frankly don’t seem to care that much at all about? There is a wealth of information buried in those web analytics, so dig in!

Start by integrating those content planning sessions, taking learnings from all parts of the organization and letting them inform your plans. Develop a comprehensive content calendar inclusive of your DR schedule and leverage all your content to the fullest!

Are you tuned into the right channel?

Jeff Ostiguy
Jeff Ostiguy
Vice President, Digital Marketing

Multichannel… Omni-channel… Cross channel… Pan channel. So many buzzwords … and I think I just made up that last one on the spot.

But… wait! Don’t go!

I know you don’t want another blog post about why these buzzwords matter, so I’m not going to write one. I’d rather talk about diversification.

For direct response fundraisers, this is the lens we should be looking through. Trying to be everywhere is great, but if we’re being honest, not always realistic from a budget perspective. So instead, how do we develop strategies that are not quite so channel dependent?

Let’s start with email.

If you’re like most NPOs, somewhere between 15 and 30% of your digital revenue is coming from email. If you’re on the higher end or above, it might look good on the bottom line, but it’s something that should concern you a little bit. No, email isn’t dead, but its role in the fundraising ecosystem is changing. Attrition and deliverability are real problems, and while the tools we have available are helping us be more responsive and strategic in our approaches, we know email still requires a great deal of care and feeding to keep it viable and productive.

Email needs help.

In the grand scheme of things, email is really just another targeted ad impression. Other than search, it remains the easiest to directly attribute revenue to but if you’re judging email on that basis alone you’re doing yourself a disservice. Also, when you factor in platform costs and all the care and feeding mentioned above, I think you’d discover that your real email CPM isn’t that different than other paid digital channels.

We have seen our clients’ email programs without exception benefit from support in display and social. Opens, revenue, etc. all improve with investment in other digital channels.

It’s not just about investing in those channels to support email however – it’s about lessening the revenue burden ON email.

Invest in targeted paid digital media.

Aim to build a program that strategically leverages targeted paid digital media – such as paid display, paid search and paid social – in combination with more rewards or incentive-based cost per acquisition donor programs. Once established, you’ll find these can each become their own revenue streams and pillar strategies.

But what about attribution?

I know this opens a bit of a Pandora’s Box… attribution. Don’t freak out.

If you’re newer to some of these channels, start by establishing some simple time-based attribution models, giving more credit to view-through conversions that happen within hours and less to those that happen within days. Learn and set expectations for the number of new donors acquired through different techniques and model the LTV of these donors against the investment.

With first party data targeting you can send less email and protect the integrity of your database knowing that you’re making your impression in other channels – mail included. The objective, ultimately is simple; increase overall digital revenue through increased visibility and discoverability.

Does it require investment? Yes.

Should you expect a net positive return immediately? No.

Can all this lower funnel spending be more efficient with support from the brand? Yes, but that’s for another post.

Far too often, lower funnel direct response tactics are being asked to do both and as such, expectations for revenue are inflated.

But I digress…

Set achievable goals

You can definitely set goals for your various tactics. A 2 to 4% conversion rate for search, 50 to 60% return on ad spend through paid display, etc.

Track the value of the new donors acquired and the incremental value from renewed and reactivated donors and measure your success against the growth in your site activity and overall revenue generated online.

Over time, you will grow your digital revenue stream and lessen your reliance on email to carry so much of the weight.

And now, a shameless plug.

If you’re going to be in Chicago for the DMA conference, and want to hear more about this, come check out our session ‘Making the Most of Your Digital Program’ at 2PM Central Time on August 29th. You can heckle me if I say omni-channel or multichannel.

Taking the Guesswork Out of Digital Acquisition

Jeff Ostiguy
VP, Digital Marketing

Let’s play a little fundraising word association.

When I say, predictable, reliable, formulaic, you think?

Digital, right?

Of course you don’t. You think time-tested direct mail.

When I say digital you probably think, costly, unproven.

Well…
erroneous
It’s true that we don’t have the same kind of return models developed for digital just yet but that doesn’t mean that you can’t go into a digital campaign without a set of expectations for your return on investment. The key is setting the right expectations.

More on that to come, but before we get to how… let’s talk a little about why investing in digital is important.

First and foremost, the digital fundraising landscape is shifting – constantly. Email is a mature channel and other platforms are starting to play increasingly important roles.

In M&R’s wonderful 2016 annual report they pointed out that email attributable revenue was up across the board some 25%, but most email engagement metrics (open, clicks CTR, etc.) are in fact, down.

How is this possible?

It’s simple really. There are more organizations competing for share of mind and share of wallet through more channels than ever before. Realistically, you can’t be everywhere of course, but you have to acknowledge that the path to conversion is not linear. Instead, people bounce back and forth between channels, looking for more than a picture and a call to action. They have high expectations for the organizations they support and the opinions of their peers shared and consumed through social platforms has tremendous sway.

Now, we could easily veer off into a conversation about content (I see a future Straight Talk post about content strategy), but for now, let’s put that aside as table stakes and focus more on how to be in the right place at the right time and feel good about your investment.

6x-graphic

Six times.

That’s what the top 25 organizations in M&R’s report spend on digital per dollar raised online – $.12 to $.02.

Is all of that money raised directly from response to a display ad, or paid social post? No, not even close. But, those strategies – as well as your mail program – are having a direct impact on the performance of your email efforts by surrounding the donor as well as driving new donors and prospects into the pipeline for you to cultivate.

Quick aside, are you measuring site
traffic and organic gift trends around the time
a mail piece lands in mail boxes or
when an email deploys?

We are all getting better at our email programs. Segmentation is better, design is better, we’re learning the right cadence and messaging approaches to maximize the return from our best and most responsive donors.

But, those same donors are being bombarded with messages across channels. This bombardment isn’t just coming from other organizations. Your donors are no doubt receiving other communications from you as well and they don’t distinguish a newsletter, from an advocacy request, from an appeal. As this happens, your emails may start to get “tuned out” by an increasingly large percentage of your database. So, while you might be seeing solid returns from email in your current program, there are warning signs you should be paying attention to.

Is your active digital donor file getting smaller? Better retention and increasing average gifts are great, but they could be masking a bigger issue.

Have you noticed emails going to spam when they weren’t before? Are your open rates declining? These are symptoms of issues related to your sender reputation and if you keep sending to an increasingly disengaged donor, lapsed donor or prospect universe this could become a HUGE problem.

Bottom line, you have to diversify your channel approach and you must keep acquiring.

free-lunch

I love this cartoon. It’s such a great representation of where we are now.

Email isn’t “free”, but it’s a low cost way to reach younger, high value donors, and we are all really good at it, right?

Social is a fantastic “free” platform to tell everyone about the incredible work we’re doing and better still, our followers will tell everyone how amazing we are…FREE.

Right?

sad-trombone

(wah-wah)

Nope.

The best email programs are those that are reinforcing the messaging of a multi-channel strategy and are written and delivered strategically to convert.

“Free” social no longer exists. The audience that sees your organic posts is getting smaller and smaller.

Google is making it harder and harder for an org to get into an inbox at all, let alone the “primary” folder. If you haven’t already, do a little research into the number of people on your file with Gmail accounts and how many of those people are never seeing your message.

They have also sunset Google Grants Pro and we can expect more changes to Grants in the future.

great-expectations

Ok, so we have discussed the whats, the whys, the challenges and the realities.

One absolute reality is that investing in digital is not just a critical part of your future, but a huge opportunity in the present. With so many options, many of them fairly low cost, take advantage of digital’s unique ability to allow you to test and learn – not just tactics and vendors, but messaging and creative.

Everybody loves a good list, so here are the top 8 things to consider as you gear up to invest in digital.

  1. Have An Attribution Model. No one clicks on banner ads, and if they do, it’s probably on a mobile device and it’s probably an accident. Odds are, the vast majority of the response will come from people who saw the ad, not those who clicked on it. There is no standard industry practice for view through conversion attribution. Some apply a blanket 20%, but we don’t find that to be appropriate. It’s more than fair to give significantly more credit to someone who converts within a day of seeing your ad…or an hour. 2, 3, 4 days, that’s where a 20% attribution is more fair, particularly if you account for other things in the market. Once you get outside of a week, you can think about giving that revenue back or attributing a much smaller %.
  2. Be Fair. Do you make money on direct mail acquisition? With the rare exception, we know the answer is no. So don’t expect to do so in digital. If anything, you’ll lose less money in digital and you will have significantly greater ability to adapt and test into what works. Not to mention the fact that we know that the donors you do acquire through digital are more valuable.
  3. Re: Google. Google is not so much a problem as it is a challenge that we have to acknowledge and accept. Like social, Google is increasingly becoming a pay-to-play platform. Google Grants is great, but limited. The $2 bid cap lets you keep the lights on from a discoverability standpoint but severely limits your ability to get aggressive on donor-centric terms or execute strategic conquesting. The same applies to social. To move the needle, you have to target your message and to target your message, you have to invest.
  4. Paid Search Matters… A Lot. See above. Search indicates intent. Get to the top of the consideration set if someone is signaling intent. Grants won’t get you there in competitive environments. Optimize your campaign mix between paid and Grants and a small paid investment can go a long way.
  5. Pay For Performance. If you want predictability, there are plenty of CPA based lead and donor gen opportunities that give you the ability to set your budget and get a return that you are comfortable investing in.
  6. Think Incrementally. Far too often, the answer to “how do we pay for digital acquisition?” is to move budget from another program. We get it, budgets are limited, but push for incremental funding for this work. Don’t rob Peter to pay Paul as they say. The best performing programs let channels support each other, don’t ask one to fund the other.
  7. Be ready. Once you acquire a lead or a donor, remember that the work doesn’t end there. If you bring someone on through a particular tactic or partner, be sure to a) onboard them deliberately and thoughtfully, don’t just drop them into the ongoing stream of appeals and b) have the infrastructure in place to measure their performance over time. This data will be critical in informing future investments.

That’s it. Easy right?

I’ll leave you with one final thought, #8.

Don’t. Stop.

The six most dangerous words in digital?

“We tried that, it didn’t work.”

It’s true, sometimes it won’t work, but you have to keep testing, keep learning and finding the right mix of tactics and partners for your audience.

We hope this helps!  Questions, comments, or other things you’d like us to discuss in Straight Talk, send us a note.

To Make A Long Story Short…

pencils 2“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead”.

Over the years this quote has been attributed to Mark Twain, T.S Elliot, Churchill, Cicero and others, and rings absolutely true to writing digital fundraising copy today.

Inboxes are cluttered, difficult places to navigate, so how do we rise above the noise?

Timing, segmentation, personalization, great offers and great stories to be sure, but we all know that already.

What else?

In M&R’s most recent annual benchmarking study, there are a couple of data points that really stood out for us here at THD.

  • Email attributable revenue, up 25%
  • Email fundraising page completion rates, up 3% (nice job on those responsive forms!)

All great news, but how is this possible when open rates, click through rates and response rates all declined during the same time period? M&R posits volume (more people, more sends) as key factor, and that’s hard to argue against– but is there more?

Is it purely volume or is it a sign that the role of email in the conversion process is changing?

There are more organizations competing for share of mind and share of wallet than ever before. And they are doing so through more channels – email, direct mail, telemarketing, display, search, social, video, native, et al.

The donor is bombarded as a result of all the “multi”, “cross”, “pan”, whatever-you-want-to-call-it-today, channel approach — and they are self-selecting not just the organization but their preferred conversion channel.

That carefully timed and versioned email you’re sending is becoming the final trigger to convert the donor after they have been engaged with your message in so many other channels. Could it be that this is why response rates are down, but revenue is up?  Are your other channels simply teeing up the best donors to respond to your email – and if so, what does THAT mean?

For one thing, let’s start with the premise that fewer and fewer people have the time or interest to read a letter style email.

Also, with all those other channels helping support the campaign narrative, do you really need to say that much? Particularly if we acknowledge that a longer form approach won’t hold the attention of your audience (this is broad strokes of course – through testing you can learn the best approach for your various audience segments).

So, it’s time to start viewing your approach to email more like digital display advertising. Bright, vibrant images that “win the inbox” and the preview panel.  Start looking for ways to dial back copy. Let a headline, an image and a call to action finish the job that all the other work you’ve been doing started.

This is particularly important in mobile, where more than half your audience is opening those emails. Don’t make them scroll and read – give them a compelling visual experience that will drive to action.

Facebook paid $1 billion for Instagram and recently Mark Zuckerberg said he thought Facebook would be mostly video in 5 years. We live in a visual time.

Every day, we all receive dozens of appeals from worthy organizations with incredible stories to tell, but those stories get lost in the sameness of the layouts and paragraph after paragraph of copy. Take this shift as an opportunity to be creative and differentiate your brand visually.

Your Flux Capacitor Needs Service

Flux Capacitor
Today is October 21st, 2015.

It’s the late Dizzy Gillespie’s 98th birthday, Kim Kardashian’s 35th, and THD’s own Sherri Mayer and Cris Parisi are celebrating today.

The USS Constitution “Old Ironsides” was launched on this day in 1797, cement was patented in 1824, Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb in 1879… and in 1985 Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox traveled through time in a Delorean.

As Marty and Doc, they got their hands on enough plutonium to generate a charge of 1.21 gigawatts and set the date to October 21st, 2015.

The movie, released in 1989, made some pretty bold and surprisingly accurate predictions.

Some have come true…

Flat screen TVs, drones, 3D, Holograms? Check.

Artificial Intelligence? Hello IBM Watson.

Some seem close…

Hoverboards? Getting close, thanks to Lexus. Flying cars? Not so much, but probably only off by a decade or so. They also predicted fax machines on every corner… whoops!

All this got us thinking about, well, 1985 and what we, as fundraisers, might have predicted.

“My fundraising program won’t survive – my donors are dying!”

Here we are in 2015 and charitable giving is at an all-time high. Your audience has shifted, sure, but a huge number of baby boomers are just entering the most charitable stage of their lives.

“I just added an 800# into my last direct mail piece! My fundraising practice is REALLY integrated now!”

None of us could have predicted that “integration” would grow to include such an incredible, ever-evolving mix of channels. Or that good ol’ direct mail – whose demise has been forecast for decades – would continue to thrive as a cost-effective part of your marketing mix.

“My brand? What do you mean, my brand?”

In 1985 we were organizations. Not “brands” with stories, unique voices and instantly recognizable wristbands, clothing lines… or ice buckets.

Fundraising databases were stored on mainframe computers that covered the area of several football fields. Imagine telling someone in 1985 they would be in a “cloud”.

In 1985 “Omnichannel” was likely to be a new venture brought to you by Ted Turner. “Cross Channel” was a swim from England to France. A “viral” campaign was something you probably wanted to avoid. And “mobile” was… well, moving.

What hasn’t changed?

Americans continue to be among the most generous people on earth. They might lend their support differently than they did in 1985, but their ability to feel compassion – and act on it – remains the same.

Say what you want about the impact of modern technology on our lives. But no one can challenge the fact that it has provided us with new and innovative ways to support the things that mean something to us.

It’s an exciting time to be a fundraiser! Imagine what we’ll have accomplished when Marty and Doc land in 2045, in their fully electric, self-navigating Google Delorean.

BTW, the movie also predicted the Cubs would win the World Series in 2015. As of this writing…