Digital Fundraising – What, How and Why

Here we discuss some of the common challenges with achieving digital fundraising growth. Based on our founders 10+ years of experience working with some of the world’s biggest and some of the world’s smallest charitable organisations.

Over the last ten years I’ve been really lucky to work with some amazing organisations that do incredible work across the world. My work in digital fundraising has been interesting, exciting and sometimes frustrating, more on that later!

I feel privileged to work with lots of different types of organisations. Whether they’re focused on helping children get off to the best possible start in life. Or working to protect animals across the world. There’s a certain satisfaction working with not-for-profits that you just can’t get working for a corporate.

I’m proud to be involved in digital fundraising and look forward to continuing to be involved in one way or another for many years to come.

Whilst much of my work is focused on digital fundraising, I’m also involved in lots of other exciting projects from advocacy campaigns to helping organisations reach the very people that they’re looking to assist.

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    Jon Dawson, CEO of Digital Ninjas
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    Where Did My Digital Fundraising Journey Begin?

    My journey into the land of fundraising started in 2010 when I took my first digital fundraising job for UNICEF Australia.

    Before this I’d was working for a range of businesses, both large and small.  In these roles I was involved in digital marketing to help these businesses sell everything from fridges, to CDs (remember them) and credit cards.  My role at UNICEF saw me charged with helping one of the world’s best known organisations raise money to help protect the rights of children across the world.

    One thing’s for sure, working with organisations in the not-for-profit sector is super motivating. How many other digital jobs let you feel like you’re making some kind of positive impact on people’s lives, no matter how small a part of a big machine you might be?

    I’ve seen digital fundraising flourish at a number of organisations and seen others who have got off to a really rocky start, sometimes achieving little to nothing. The aim of this article is to try and share some of the factors that have been critical to the success of digital fundraising in organisations that I’ve worked with.

    CDs, a blast from the past. I learned some useful digital fundraising skills whilst marketing these online.
    CDs, a blast from the past, nothing to do with digital fundraising but I learnt some neat digital tricks whilst marketing them

    Digital Fundraising People

    The frustrating thing with lots of organisations (both not-for-profits and corporates) when they go out to market to find people to work in digital they often only look at people who’ve already worked in their industry.

    At UNICEF, I was lucky, the senior leader was ready to take on people who had the general digital skill set in place who didn’t necessarily already have solid experience in digital fundraising.  This meant that the skills that I had learned to market CDs and video games online could be tweaked and reapplied to life in a not-for-profit.

    This is key.

    You don’t need people who have lots of experience in fundraising.

    You need people who have lots of experience in digital and who have the ability to learn fundraising quickly.

    This means that you need people in your organisation, or at least who are close to your organisation, who can get the new digital recruit up to speed on fundraising best practice but you really don’t need to limit your search to only those people who have worked for charities before.

    You’ll need somebody who has the knowledge and character to be able to build robust business cases and convince senior people within your organisation that success in the digital world needs investment in digital channels.

    When I talk about investment in digital, I don’t mean simply build a new website, the investment you’ll need to make in order to see success comes in many forms.

    If you’ve recruited a digital expert then you’ve already taken the first step to investing in digital. If you haven’t then you should start considering whether you need to hire internally or whether you can start with support from external partners before building an internal team.  Remember that managing external consultants and agencies still takes time and if you’ve got internal expertise to lean on you can drive your external partners to deliver better results!

    Investing In Digital

    Getting the right person is often viewed as the first step to digital success.

    This isn’t technically correct.

    The first step is that senior leadership, must understand the scale and nature of the digital opportunity. You need to sell it to your board and the other senior directors within your organisation.

    Often organisations will fail because digital is treated in one of the ways below:

    1. Do it on the cheap from a people perspective“oh those young folk know all about Facebook, we’ll just get somebody who is used to playing with it all day and they’ll be able to get us going”. Wrong. Digital fundraising requires the same skillset as any digital marketing job. You need people who “get” digital, to start with you’ll need somebody who has a keen eye for numbers and understand web analytics, this person will be able to help you identify the opportunities and prove that any investment you do make is measured (see point 2 below).
    2. Do it on the cheap when it comes to media investment“digital is such a cheap channel to acquire new supporters, we only really need $1-2k this year and we’ll be able to save the world”. Wrong. You’ll need to invest much more than this to get any kind of decent result from digital.  You might need to start with a new website, or at least some revamped landing pages, then you’ll need to get people to the site/landing page and start testing/measuring results.  $1-2k of media might get you some initial results but it probably won’t be enough to pay for a new agency or contractor to help your digital person manage the activity.
    3. Not understanding the lifetime value of people who are acquired through digital – when compared to other fundraising channels many people often expect digital to be the “cheap solution”, it’s usually not.  Whilst digital might not be the channel with the lowest cost per acquisition for your organisation it will often provide a better long-term return on investment because digitally acquired supporters will usually stay with your organisation for longer and quite often donate more than those that have been acquired through other channels.

    To summarise the need for investment comes in three forms:

    1. People – digital fundraising takes time so you’re going to incur some kind of people cost even if you don’t hire a new person to handle everything.
    2. Infrastructure – you’ll likely need to get changes made to your website (you’ve got a website, right?) and even if you’re happy with your website if you’re just getting started you’ll need to allow for time to implement analytics solutions to help you measure results.
    3. Media and external management – to get people to your website you’ll need to invest in media.  Even if your strategy is largely earned media focused (PR, social sharing etc.) you’ll still likely need to pay an agency or freelancer to help you along the way.

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      Jon Dawson, CEO of Digital Ninjas
      Jonathan will get back to you soon

      Digital Fundraising Priorities

      When you’ve got your digital team in place, it’s important to make sure that their work is structured and prioritised accordingly.

      I’ve broken this down into 3 key areas for simplicity.

      1. The Basics
      2. Growth Kick-Starters
      3. Scaling & Testing

      Digital Fundraising Basics

      Before you invest. Make sure you’ve got these digital fundraising basics in place:

      • You can measure results – as a minimum you should have Google Analytics in place with some goal tracking to measure the number of donations you receive.  These goals should be broken down into monthly vs one-off donations (because the value of each of  these is usually very different).  Ideally you would have eCommerce tracking in place and have deployed Google Analytics via Google Tag Manager so you can measure lots of other micro-conversions and really get into the detail on how your supporters are using your website.
      • Your users can easily navigate your site – with more people than ever before using mobile phones to access the internet it’s crucial that you test how your site behaves on mobile devices – can people easily scroll and view content? Can they view the site without having to pinch and rotate the screen? Are call to action buttons (and text links) easy to press with a fat finger?
      • Your content is compelling – if you’re going to be asking people to donate to your cause, then you really need to make sure that your content is amazing.  On a basic level you need to tell people why you need their money and what you’re going to do with it, in an ideal scenario you’re going to tell them a story in a really easy to read and digest format that compels them to give to your cause.

      Only when these basics are in place are you ready to start on step 2. Investing for growth through digital channels.

      Growing Fundraising Through Digital

      To start seeing some results from digital, I’d recommend starting with some of the items below.

      • Use paid search – no matter what your cause, there are bound to be people out there looking for information on it. You need to make sure these people know you exist. Thankfully Google offer their Google Grant programme (apply here), which offers $10k of free AdWords ads per month, it does come with some restrictions, which can make it tricky to raise funds directly from it but you should definitely be using the Google Grant.
      • Pay for paid search – you can’t rely on the Google Grant alone to help you generate funds. You’ll find that other organisations might be bidding on some of the most profitable keywords on Google and so often running a separate paid account is the only way to reach people using these keywords. Plus smaller players like Bing don’t offer an equivalent to the Google Grant but may still have people who you really want to reach using their service.
      • Social media – using social well can be really powerful. Unfortunately it’s no longer enough to just post something on Facebook and expect it to get shared widely, even if you’ve got a lot of page likes.  Because social channels are so crowded, you’ll need to invest in boosting your posts or a dedicated ads campaign to really start seeing some results.
      • Collect data – using things like Facebook lead ads, or incentivised lead generation pages on your website can be a great way to collect the contact details of those people who are interested in hearing more about your work. You can then take these people on an amazing ride through automated email and potentially even text messaging to encourage them to learn more about your cause and the people that you’re helping before encouraging them to become financial supporters.  Read more about fundraising lead generation programmes.

      So far in this article I’ve been quite acquisition focused, purely because it’s often a good way to start justifying initial investment in digital channels. i.e. invest $XX and get $XXX back.

      However, don’t take your eye off the retention ball. I know I’m not offering anything groundbreaking when I say it’s often easier (and more cost effective) to ask existing supporters to donate more than it is to try and find new ones.  Customer and supporter acquisition is expensive, no matter what industry sector you work in!

      I’m not going to go into lots of detail on retention campaigns as many organisations are doing the basics already.

      Suffice to say that digital communications can be a super effective channel for keeping your supporters coming back for more. Try some of the following techniques to give your retention programme a boost (each of which can also be used as part of your acquisition campaigns):

      • Email – it’s an oldie, but email is still super powerful! Be mindful that open rates and click through rates will start to dwindle if you’re using stale or old lists. Through carefully planned messaging and execution it’s possible to keep your email lists delivering solid results over time.
      • Remarketing – there’s no need to only use this when you’re acquiring new supporters.  Make sure you’ve got a clearly defined remarketing strategy to keep your existing supporters interested and your cause at the front of their minds.

      Scaling & Testing

      Testing should really be embedded in your approach from day one. Whether you’re A/B testing creative or running full blown landing page tests (not as hard as I’m making it sound).

      Key points when it comes to testing:

      • Always test – whenever you’re running activity make sure you’ve got some kind of test in place.
      • Don’t overdo it – it is possible to have too many test variations. Too many variations can limit your likelihood of finding a statistically significant test winner.
      • Structure your tests – make sure you’ve got a clear testing priority matrix.  If you need help with this get in contact with us and we can provide you with a template to work with.

      When you find an activity or a test that works, make sure you’re ready to scale. By scale we mean, make it bigger, make your results bigger, this usually involves upping your investment and making multiple optimisations to your proposition, messaging and media buy.

      You’ll need to do this quickly, the digital landscape changes quickly. Depending on the type of cause you’re fundraising for you risk missing opportunities if you’re not ready to pull the trigger when it comes to upping your investment in digital.