Best practices for online fundraising (part 1)

Best practices for digital fundraising are a funny thing to define.

Digital is relatively new and changing all the time – even just defining ‘digital’ is changing*. Because of that, best practices for online fundraising aren’t prescriptive**.

So here you go – my no-bullshit, non-definitive list of best practices for digital fundraising that (shouldn’t) rapidly go out of date:

1. Test. All the time.

I yammer on about testing for a reason: it’s the single best way to figure out how to engage with your audience and send them stuff you’re doing that they’re interested in too (and want to support!)

I wrote a testing guide, and there are lots of ideas for testing all over this blog.

There are a few things personal to you to make testing work best:

  • Be open to learning new stuff
  • Test your assumptions
  • Be OK with it being wrong, just learn it quickly
  • Actually change how you do things

2. Go to where your audience is

Find out who your key supporters are*** and then do some research on where they are online and how they use the internet.

Go for the low hanging fruit – focus your resources accordingly. Find out where you’re getting the best return, then test and optimise.

It’s almost 100% guaranteed they have an email address if they’re under 65 – and they’re checking it regularly. So building an email list probably makes sense.

If you’re in the UK, 82% of 45-54 year olds use their mobile phone to access the internet (65% of 55-64 year olds do too) – that’s significant, because odds are your online donors are aged between 45 and 65.

And top three things they’re doing online: checking email, searching for information on goods and services (how’s your website?), and looking at social media. That key age cohort is just as likely to use the internet for social media as they are to do their banking.

So it’s up to you to figure out what social media they use. If they’re on Facebook, go there. If they’re on Instagram, go there. You get the picture.

Remember this most of all: Use smart data to figure out where you should be putting your efforts. And then test!

3. Send good content when you have good content

I want to emphasise good content. Because you’re testing all the time, you’ll figure out what that is based on what’s resonating with your supporters (track actions to actually figure out what people like).

Here are some good ideas to help start you off:

  • Rapidly respond to things that are affecting you, especially stuff in the news (your equivalent of disaster funding!)
  • Let supporters know how you’ve spent/are currently spending their money
  • Give people a sneak peek behind-the-scenes – and it doesn’t need to be super-pro (probably better if it’s not)

Test what’s resonating with people.

Edit: Here’s another way to approach it from Jeff Brooks that I like

4. Make it as personal as you can

People love the human touch, and they love that you’re not just a robot.

There are lots of opportunities to add the personal touch – especially through email or social media when it’s SO easy to reply in real time. The Women’s March showed the potential of Messenger bots in being able to provide a personal experience to people online without necessarily needing a person involved.

And just because I’m talking digital, it doesn’t mean you have to keep your communication in the online space (even if their donation came in online).

Try calling, or hand-written cards, or anything else that’s been working for you in fundraising so far. And test out ways to do that same kind of personal touch in digital ways too (e.g. texts, IMs, video… so many choices).

**********

Finally, a reminder: the single best thing you can do is test.

 

*Until fairly frequently, mobile was being chucked in its own category (hint: it’s digital)

**Beware anyone who tells you otherwise, especially consultants

***Don’t know? Ask them!

And check out the Office of National Statistics (UK) website for up-to-date internet stats. Tons of gold here.

How to run tests to make your online fundraising program great

I talk a lot about testing, and for damn good reason. As a digital fundraiser, you should be testing everything, all the time.

If you’re not sure how to go about testing, I’ve created a little guide to help get you started – and realise where you might need extra help*.

So here you go: Fundraising is Awesome’s guide to running awesome experiments.

(I’ve put it on its own page because it’s pretty long, and it’s also easier to bookmark it)

Take me to the testing guide

BONUS BONUS BONUS: a downloadable testing checklist!

 

*My biggest tip – become best friends with your tech and data people.

Email: the metrics that matter

I’m a pretty massive nerd, and one of the things I like the best about digital-first fundraising is the fact that you can measure and analyse all sorts of data.

If you’re running an email program, there are only a couple of metrics you really need to be looking at.

Action rate
For me, this is the metric I look at to judge an email’s performance.

It’s better than click rate – through the action rate, I can see how many people were driven to take action, but I can also figure out pretty quickly where in the chain something is going wrong if my email performs badly. If your click rate is high and your action rate is low, it usually means something’s up with your landing page.

Amount donated (if it’s a fundraising email)
It’s up to you whether you choose to look at average donation or total amount donated, but this can help you see if your email is inspiring people to give a higher or lower gift than normal.

Unsubscribe rate
Establish a baseline unsubscribe rate and just keep an eye on it. Unsubscribes aren’t always bad anyway [link] but if they suddenly spike, you should definitely look into why.

A quick note on open rates
I don’t really even look at open rates when I’m assessing email performance, because ultimately I don’t want people to open my emails and then do nothing with them. Generally, look at open rates if your email is deeply underperforming – it could be an indicator of deliverability issues.

Otherwise, just keep your focus on the action rate.