How fast is your online giving really growing? The data may surprise you

Big Data. Predictive analytics. Customer behaviour modelling. These are just a few of the buzzwords you’ll hear around most organizations today. With more data at our fingertips than ever before, there’s good reason for it. And a lot of what customers and donors will do in the future is dictated by what they’ve done in the past. But sometimes your data might not be telling you the whole truth…

Direct response marketing tools have been and continue to be very effective today. They provide you with immediate feedback on whether your marketing or fundraising campaign has been a success. And like much of the marketing we’re exposed to on a daily basis, direct response fundraising techniques have evolved over the years.

Go back 1o or 15 years. Direct mail and catalogues were thriving. Calculating your success was fairly easy. Look at the cost of sending out your package. Compare that with your revenue. Remove the lowest performing segments. And repeat.

Almost all of the most successful charities have been successful because they made an investment in direct mail years ago. And it’s these donors who are still making the vast majority of donations today. The only thing that’s really changed is the way in which they choose to make their donations.

Many of these traditional direct mail donors are now giving online. As they’ve become more comfortable with shopping, banking and doing so much more online, they’re also increasingly comfortable with making their donations online.

In many cases, it’s something offline that prompted their gift though

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. That could be your direct mail piece, a news article or even speaking with a friend. There’s no donor sitting on the couch at home who thinks ‘I haven’t made my donation to X charity this month’. There’s always something that prompts them to give.

Often this is direct mail. Yes, you can direct them to a specific URL in your direct mail appeal. This is a useful tracking tool. But in our experience only a fraction of the donors who give online (about 10%) will use this link.

The other 90% will just do a quick Google search, or possibly go direct to your main URL (if it’s easy enough to type in). This is where the tracking becomes difficult. Now you’ve got a ‘general online donor’ as most organizations would classify them. And this segment is probably growing quite quickly for you.

But there really isn’t such a thing as a ‘general online donor’. There’s always a prompt that causes them to make that donation. They’ve chosen to make their gift online because that’s convenient for them. They’re not thinking channel-by-channel like you are. They know you have a website and they know they can make their gift there. Simple as that.

Of course, it’s not that easy because you’re likely getting questions from your board about shifting your fundraising dollars into this “fast growing” online channel. Looking at the numbers this might seem like the right choice, but you’re potentially setting your organization up for failure if you do that. Because while online giving is growing, much of the donations are being prompted by other channels.

So what can you do to avoid this pitfall? One thing is to track overall revenue from your direct mail donors (all channels) and not just revenue received through your direct mail appeals. Yes, you’re likely sending emails and posting on social media, and some of these activities could be prompting the gift. That’s just fine. By tracking all revenue you’ll have a complete picture of each donor and how they give. Again, the donor is not thinking channel-by-channel—they’re thinking “I care about this cause, and I’m going to make a donation today.”

You can also track your general online gifts for a period of two to three weeks following your direct mail appeal. You’ll never be able to say 100% for sure that the mailing prompted the donation but, if it’s received shortly after your mailing arrives, you can be pretty sure it did. This is especially important at the end of the year when so many donors are choosing to go online for the convenience.

Another thing you can do is setup your annual budget with three separate revenue streams—direct mail, email and online. Create a separate budget for each stream, but when reporting back to your board or ED just report on the overall revenue figure. If they ask about the specific channels you can tell them you used a combination of direct mail, email, social media and online fundraising to reach your target.

That brings up another very important point. Integration is key to success. You can’t control how your donors are going to connect with your organization. What you can control is the message. And it’s vital this message is consistent. So make sure that your messaging is consistent across all channels. If it’s not you’ll just confuse donors and decrease the likelihood you’ll get a donation.

At the end of the day, having access to more data is a great thing. We just have to be careful that we’re not relying on the data too much, because sometimes it won’t lead us to the correct solution.

This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Direct Marketing.

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Ryan Garnett

Ryan Garnett is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) with more than 10 years of experience helping non-profits raise more money for their causes. At Harvey McKinnon Associates, he’s the head of integrated marketing and helps clients develop strategies for integrating their efforts through all channels including direct mail, telemarketing, email, and social media.