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…

Social Media Advice… From Winston Churchill

winston-churchill_1202859c

“It’s a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

Ok, he didn’t say that about social media, but… he said it.

Social has become second nature to all of us. As much a part of our daily lives as getting our morning coffee. In fact, ask yourself, what comes first in the morning? Getting that coffee or checking your feeds?

So does anyone else see the irony in how much talking we do in the non profit world about how to use social?

The bad news? Ol’ Winny was right. Social isn’t easy, it takes resources, careful thought and planning.

The good news? I’m not going to give you yet another case study in all the things we’ve done right in social under the headline of “Look how easy it is…”

Instead, I’d like to share a couple reasonably simple, useful tools that you can take advantage of today. Tools that can in fact make things just a little bit easier for you.

Let’s start with Facebook.

In late August Facebook introduced a new “Donate Now” call to action option for ads and pages. All NPOs should have this CTA appearing on their cover photo but that’s really just the first step. More significantly you’ll be able to test multiple CTAs including “Donate Now.” With this extra flexibility you’ll be able to design your posts to align with the CTA and hopefully improve conversions. You’ll no longer be forced to use “Learn More” as the CTA in an appeal post.

Facebook has also begun testing lead gen ads that will allow people to subscribe in stream – without needing to click through to your site. Any time you are trying to acquire new leads, simplicity and minimizing the number of clicks is key. So between Facebook’s ability to target and this kind of seamless experience, it’s hard not to be excited about this.

Finally, while it’s not necessarily new, it’s worth spending some time getting familiar with Facebook custom audiences. We all know that changes in Facebook’s algorithm have made it hard to rely on organic reach so combining some tried and true segmentation strategy with a small investment tailoring posts to your constituents could go a long way.

#WhatsNewWithTwitter

Twitter’s lead gen cards aren’t new but may be new to you as they have flown a bit under the radar. Like those being tested by Facebook, Twitter offers these custom tweets that allow you to collect email addresses within the tweet. Twitter offers targeting and the ability to promote to constituent lookalike audiences like Facebook as well. On a cost per conversion basis it’s worth testing as part of your acquisition strategy.

Just a couple weeks ago Twitter announced it had lifted the restriction on characters in direct messages. This won’t have any impact on the way you currently post to Twitter but it could have a profound impact on how you engage key influencers. Instead of a short note thanking someone for their support and asking for more, you now have the ability to send a more personalized note and make an impact at first contact. A relatively small functional change in the grand scheme of things but a large opportunity for you.

#Donate

Finally, remember when mobile giving was supposed to change the way people give? Ultimately it was done in by limits on gift sizes and the carriers taking too large a share of each gift. It seems, however, that a new startup might have developed a platform that could be what text2give aspired to be.

GoodWorld has a program that makes it fairly simple to give to a participating charity using just a #. How does it work? The first (and probably hardest) step is that donors will have to sign up and register a credit card with GoodWorld. If someone attempts #donate and they aren’t registered, GoodWorld will send them a link.

Once registered, all they need to do is go to your Facebook or Twitter page, enter #donate followed by the amount they want to give. Simple as that.

Yes, there are some fees per transaction (4.8% to GoodWorld and 2.2% to the donor’s credit card company) but they aren’t excessive. As an NPO, to participate you can register at http://goodworld.me.

Since I started with a quote from Sir Winston, I thought I’d close with one that’s apropos as well:

“Never, never, never give up.”

Keep testing, keep learning and find what works for YOU. Social is not a one size fits all platform.

BTW, our blog is new so follow us for more fundraising news, insights and advice from deceased world leaders.