Saturday, November 21, 2009

Digital Integration

This winter, Starlight the Children’s Charity mailed an urgent appeal to its donors telling them about how the financial crisis had hurt their bottom line. The appeal did really well, raising more than double last year’s income.

The appeal was put together as an emergency appeal, taking a couple of weeks from start to finish. Yet despite this time frame, staff still managed to make sure that the mail message was integrated with their website – in particular, their home page.

It still amazes me that a charity can run an appeal or campaign through the mail and / or phone which would usually have a message along the lines of:

• Here is a problem, a really, important problem (let’s call it problem x)
• Here is how problem x affected subject y (the case study)
• Here is what we are wanting to do to fix the problem
• We really, really need your help to do this
• This is really, really important
• Please give now to help solve/alleviate problem x

The recipient of the mailing is motivated, excited, maybe even shocked, but really cares. But what if they misplace the mailing? Chances are they go to the website homepage to find out more . And more often than not there is nothing there about the appeal! No mention of subject y, and problem x is loads of clicks away and doesn’t feature in the search engine...

Not a good look. Now, to be fair, in the real world few donors actually give online – so it hasn’t really mattered that much. But things are changing. Our benchmarking report (comparing data from 23 charities) has shown online solicited donations doubled between 2007 and 2008, and this will probably happen again (at last!) in the next 12 months.

But we also noted a marked increase in offline-solicited online donations. In the Starlight example, over $650,000 was donated in response to the appeal – and about 10% of that came in over the web. In other words, those donors received the appeal and instead of sending a cheque through the post, logged in and donated.

There is still an argument to say that including a web-donation option on a response coupon can decrease the total amount raised (because you send people away from an immediate response option), but this theory needs further testing.

Regardless of this argument, most fundraisers I know haven’t tested this, they just automatically include a web donation link.

Now, if you are writing a letter telling people this is the most important thing in the world they can donate to, and then send them to a weblink to donate there is even more of an imperative that the link and your home page reinforce the urgency of the message.

In their most recent campaign about human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Amnesty International asks for ‘an urgent gift today’ to help ‘respond to the cries of thousands of women like Bernadette.’The signatory of this letter is Andrew Philip, an Amnesty researcher.

The response coupon directs me to the Amnesty homepage (in small print),which features thestory in the appeal, though with a different case study. This is great – it is important after all!

The theme is let down slightly with a generic online donation page but at least the communications led me to that point.

But most charities don’t pull this off well, if at all. Just visit the homepage of the charity that next asks you for money and see if what they are asking for is really that important.

It should be easy to amend the homepage a bit, have a separate online donation form, and those with a Facebook and Twitter presence need to reflect the campaign too. For now, it won’t cost much, and keeps the website relevant, helps search engine optimisation and should raise a bit.

But in the future, with more and more people giving online it is going to be absolutely essential.
(Oh, if you do take online donations and get your messaging integrated – please, please, please ensure that your processes for measuring response and allocating to the appropriate campaign are working!)

Check out Amnesty’s website here (though the campaign has now changed), and there is a full Starlight Case Study here, including an entire copy of the mailpack here.

[Every month I write a column 'The Agitator' for Fundraising and Philanthropy magazine and this post is my most recent entry!]
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