Harness the latest giving trends for digital fundraising success

Published in TheDatabank Blog on March 14, 2017

With all the seismic shocks that are occurring across the political and social spectrum this year, nonprofit organizations have their hands full engaging their volunteers, donors and stakeholders to plot their best path forward. Concerned citizens and activists across the country are busy mobilizing to take action on causes they care deeply about.

While plenty of people are out in the streets holding rallies and visiting their elected representatives, the digital landscape has become ground zero as a prime organizing and engagement channel. Nonprofit organizations are pushing the envelope on their digital efforts to engage activists, grow the size of their email lists, and raise money online.

In the area of digital fundraising, numerous giving trends are driving strong performance among nonprofits that are hoping to capitalize on highly engaged constituents.

Here’s my review of 9 key trends and opportunities for digital fundraising success

Email Is Back: Email is re-emerging as a communications channel that is trusted again. With the over-saturation of social media, people are turning back to receiving email from organizations they trust. 2017 is a great year to re-envision and reboot your efforts to keep in touch via email with your constituents, volunteers, and donors. Some things to consider:

  • Does your everyday email template or your email newsletter need a creative refresh?
  • How does it look on mobile?
  • Is it time to rewrite your welcome email for new subscribers?
  • How can you improve the look and feel of your next email fundraising appeal?

Make Mobile Great: For most organizations in 2016, mobile dominated email opens and traffic to websites, and that trend is continuing in 2017. Movable Ink reports that across industries, 69% of opens were on mobile device, highlighting the importance of creating a great mobile experience, from email subject line to website landing page. For fundraising, this means making sure your donation page is mobile friendly, so you don’t miss any donors who want to make donations via their phone.

Keep it Personal: For years, email messaging has been about blasting the same content to your whole list. This year, your focus should shift towards sending smaller batches of email to people who fit certain interest criteria. The key to success with online messaging is relevant content and email list segmentation. You need to send the right content to the right segment of your email file at the right time. They might be people who attended an event, downloaded a PDF from your website, donated a one-time gift, or signed up as monthly donors. More personal engagement and stronger cultivation leads to better fundraising response.

Embrace Automation: It’s important to use automation effectively during key transactions such as email subscription, event signups, and online giving, since these often the most opened and read emails. Review all your thank-you emails on a regular basis to make sure the language is personal and fresh, and never miss the opportunity to suggest another follow-up action. The most important automated emails are for new email subscribers and also for donors.

Graphics & Video Increase Performance: Testing and experimentation by thousands of nonprofits have shown that use of graphics and video make a strong positive impact on fundraising response rates. Metrics show that images on social media platforms perform 300 percent better for social sharing. Put simply, it’s time to write less and show more. Write better headlines and shorter copy. Use a graphic to present a call to action. Embed a video to replace a paragraph. New technical developments in email — notably the ability to embed HTML5 video in emails — offer some new opportunities to showcase your video content. This requires more forward planning to execute, but the rewards are worth it. (This handy Email on Acid article lists the email providers that support HTML5 in emails. Databank clients, see our support document, Can I Embed a Video in an Email?)

Focus on Monthly Giving: Last year saw skyrocketing growth in monthly giving among donors. 2017 is your year to increase the prominence of monthly giving options for your donors. Not only does monthly giving provide an easier on-ramp for donors with tighter budgets, it also increases the long term value of a donor, since most stay on your donor file longer, and often make additional one-time gifts. Be sure to feature monthly giving on your main donation page, and do a special campaign annually to recruit new sustainers.

Reboot Your Donation Page: Completion rates on donation pages average around 25%, which means most nonprofits have some opportunity to improve their fundraising revenue. Review your donation page to look for ways to freshen up your main call-to-action headline, use a new photo to engage prospective donors, and remove any clutter on the page that might be distracting. Test your page for improvements throughout the year, so you’re ready for success at year-end. Read a recent article of mine on this subject on TechSoup.

Think Peer-to-Peer: There was strong growth in 2016 for organizations that used “social fundraising” and “crowd-funding” to engage with donors, particularly among disease fighting charities, faith organizations, and school and alumni networks. This trend will continue to grow as “micro-donations” become a more acceptable type of digital fundraising. Recruit a new donor with a $5 ask, and watch them grow.

Invest in Multi-Channel: There’s a lot of scrutiny about whether social media presence has a positive impact on fundraising. Social media platforms have evolved into hybrid community, content, and advertising platforms that require financial investment for optimum results. We’re learning that making an advertising investment on social media platforms during a digital fundraising campaign often has a positive impact on revenue coming in through email and the Web. In December 2016, more nonprofits were using social media advertising to reach their donors and email subscribers as a means to promote their fundraising campaigns and seek higher response rates. This “multi-channel effect” is an important development which nonprofits need to adapt to and invest in in the coming years.

I have little doubt that 2017 is going to be a breakout year for many nonprofits, as we witness a historic surge in civic engagement. Now is the time focus on stronger constituent engagement, faster email list growth and higher fundraising performance as your organization mobilizes its supporters, fans and donors for mission success.

Michael Stein has been a writer and digital strategist to progressive social causes for over two decades, and strives to help organizations succeed with marketing and fundraising in a multichannel and multiscreen world. He is the author of three books and numerous articles chronicling the rise of digital marketing, mobile engagement, and online fundraising. He works as a consultant and coach to nonprofits, foundations and educators, and can be found on the Web at OakwoodDigital.net and on Twitter at @mstein63.

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