Many not-for-profit organisations are conscious of generating the highest possible return on fundraising and marketing budgets. And rightly so.
Firstly, those budgets often come from hard-earned donation revenue.
I don’t use the term ‘hard-earned’ lightly. The not-for-profit sector is incredibly competitive—with over 66,000 registered charities competing for donor dollars in Australia—and fundraising can be difficult.
Secondly, there’s a strong public expectation that not-for-profit organisations always use any funds in the most efficient way possible.
In their research report Understanding Australian givers to maximise the impact of not-for-profit organisations, McCrindle research agency notes that: ‘for 70% of givers, keeping marketing and administrative costs low (below 20%) matters more to them than [seeing an organisation] grow overall donation revenue.’ To foster trust and credibility among your supporter base, it’s crucial you run efficient, highly effective campaigns that consistently deliver maximum value.
There’s also a simple sustainability equation to consider. It’s inherently problematic if your digital fundraising activity costs more to implement than it generates in donation revenue, and a clear sign that something needs to change.
If you ever find yourself in that boat, here are seven proven techniques that will drive greater value from your digital fundraising campaigns.
1. Minimise your reliance on third-party cookies for clearer data and improved campaign optimisation.
First up, it’s crucial to note that third-party cookies—a long-favoured approach for tracking website visitation and behaviour—are being phased out.
As data privacy becomes more prevalent as a serious public concern, third-party cookies have come under enormous scrutiny. Now, many of the larger tech heavyweights, like Google, Apple and Mozilla, are phasing out support.
Why? To run a successful digital fundraising campaign, it’s crucial you draw on clear and comprehensive data that your advertising platforms can self-optimise for.
2. Be mindful of how you define and configure conversion on different advertising channels.
The settings for each channel in your campaign should be configured to optimise for specific types of conversions. This approach recognises the distinct function of various channels within a prospect’s overall journey towards donating.
For example, almost all paid search activity should be optimised for a donation as the conversion. This is because paid search, as a channel, is about facilitation of intent.
Paid search is typically designed to connect with:
- people actively searching for your organisation, or
- people who have already made the decision to donate, and are in the final stages of selecting an organisation to receive that donation.
The same logic doesn’t apply to a platform like paid social, because it’s far rarer to see donations come directly through that channel. Here, it’s better to optimise for clicks or engagement with a view to remarketing, because social is about building awareness and interest in your organisation’s mission. Establishing an initial connection, with a view to a future conversion.
Why? Many digital advertising platforms feature self-optimising ad serving mechanisms. If you configure these platforms with a clear definition of your goal and a series of variables to test (like ad creative, audience, placement, and many others) the platform will automatically refine the configuration most likely to deliver on your goal. To make the most of this feature, you need to set things up correctly from the start.
3. Recognise that your configuration should evolve throughout the duration of the campaign.
A good campaign is rarely a set-and-forget proposition.
Imagine you’re running a fundraising campaign to coincide with the end of financial year. This is a common—and often highly fruitful—initiative for organisations with Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status.
Your objectives should change over the course of a two-month campaign. As a result, so should your approach to campaign management.
Early stages of the campaign will likely focus on generating reach and awareness. You may test multiple audience segments to get a sense for traction; you might experiment with different stages of remarketing across different channels.
You may begin to see large volumes of traffic arrive to your site as a result of early activity to drive awareness. This is especially common with social advertising. You could use this traffic to build a remarketing list for another platform like Google Ads, ensuring that people will continue to see additional campaign imagery and messaging on other platforms like YouTube, Gmail, or display advertising.
This approach turns traffic which may not necessarily result in a first-time conversion into a potential future source of value.
Over time, the drive for donations should become more explicit, and remarketing can help in this capacity. As the campaign continues and you move closer to June 30, more people will donate. So it’s crucial that you stay top of mind and connect with people multiple times throughout the consideration phase as things ramp up.
The rule of seven—a classic idea in old and new school marketing—suggests people should be exposed to marketing messages seven times in order to trigger a behavioural change.
Remarketing ensures your campaign message will connect with warm prospects multiple times.
4. Appreciate the halo effect and know when to persist with a seemingly ‘underperforming’ channel.
Coined by American psychologist Edward Thorndike, the halo effect (sometimes known as the halo error) is a form of cognitive bias. It refers to the tendency for positive impressions of one commodity to positively or negatively influence feelings towards other commodities.
For example, if paid search is delivering a 22% conversion rate and paid social is delivering a 0.08% conversion rate, the halo effect may lead us to mistakenly conclude the channel with the lower conversion rate is redundant.
It’s important to acknowledge that no channel exists in a vacuum in the context of a fundraising campaign. Equally, attribution is rarely an exact science.
Sometimes, a certain channel or tactic may appear to underperform when compared with the superficial return-on-investment of another. Before making any snap judgement, it’s crucial to test whether that channel is playing an important function higher in the conversion funnel.
How might we test the importance of different traffic sources or channels? There are a couple of options, each with benefits and drawbacks.
This involves looking back across the traffic source for donors who visited the site multiple times before donating to see which channels were part of the journey.
However, the reliability of this data can be questionable. It’s challenging to track the same person across multiple devices, and the degradation of third-party cookies makes it hard to track users over time. Use of first-party tracking will make this type of reporting much more reliable in future.
Comparative analysis of previous campaigns
Another option is to look at the archive of campaigns your organisation has run previously. If last year’s Christmas campaign was run with a significant paid social effort, and another Christmas campaign was run with little-to-no paid social, the comparison could give you insight into paid social’s likely impact on bottom line.
However, this analysis is indicative only, and subject to a wide variety of uncontrolled variables, both internal and external.
5. Use a blend of Google Ad Grants and paid advertising.
For those that qualify, Google’s Ad Grants program is effectively a free addition to your budget.
It provides up to $13,000AUD per month in search advertising shown on Google, and the application process is straightforward and relatively quick to complete.
To meet the eligibility requirements, your organisation must:
- Be registered with the Australian Charities and Nonprofits Commission (ACNC), or
- Hold Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status within the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), or
- Be income tax exempt for not-for-profit organisations as defined by the ATO.
Additional criteria stipulate that:
- Your organisation is not a government entity.
- Your organisation is not a hospital or healthcare provider.
- Your organisation is not a school, academic institution or university (Google for Education offers a separate program).
While Google Grants can be a powerful supplement to your marketing budgets, it’s worth acknowledging that the program comes with certain constraints and limitations.
Google Grants are highly unlikely to perform in a competitive space, where multiple organisations are bidding on keywords that are not inherently tied to a single brand. ‘Animal charity donation’ is going to be contested by a wide range of charities, so Grants likely won’t have the desired impact. A term like ‘guide dogs Australia donation’ is less likely to be competitive, making Grants a more viable option.
Google Grants are also limited in terms of targeting and format. You can only run paid search through a Grant account, for example.
Most Grants shortcomings can be offset through paid advertising, so the ideal solution is to have both running in conjunction. The key thing is learning to distinguish when and how to use each of them, and how they can best work together.
Two tactics to try here include:
- Create a similar campaign that is set up in both a Grants and paid account. Ensure Grants is on and paid is off during non-peak periods, and vice-versa during peak times.
- Introduce campaigns and keywords into the Grants account. Then, based on your understanding of keyword volumes and the performance data Google Ads provides, migrate any underperforming keywords or ad groups into your paid account.
6. Invest in Microsoft Ads.
Microsoft Ads run on Bing, the default browser installed on every PC device. As an observation, many people over 50 will buy PC devices (given most people this age were introduced to using computers prior to the Mac revolution) and rarely replace the default browser.
This age group is also a highly valuable donor bracket (for both conversion rate and average value of donation).
For a potentially lower investment, you can connect with a highly valuable donor demographic and deliver a significant windfall.
7. Optimise for higher value conversions, not just conversions in and of themselves.
This sounds obvious, but it can represent an untapped goldmine.
Sometimes, when you’re so focused on specific campaign objectives, you can miss the forest for the trees. Or, focus so intently on engaging new supporters and nourishing them on the path to conversion that you neglect to optimise for the highest donation possible.
A/B testing becomes particularly important in this approach.
In A/B testing, you compare two versions of the same landing page (or donation form) over a period of time to determine which delivers more value.
There are many different things you can augment or optimise to invite a higher donation amount. You could:
- Test different variants of microcopy to tell a more engaging story about how donations are used by the organisations.
- Test and reorder the donation amounts from highest to lowest or change the minimum amount you suggest.
- Add imagery, graphics or animations to the donation form.
So, there you have it, seven techniques to help you get more value from fundraising campaigns.
If you’d like help implementing any of the above—or running a donation or advocacy campaign in general—give me a call or flick through a contact message.
There’s nothing I find more interesting and rewarding than supporting not-for-profit organisations to achieve their mission.