Benchmarking a worldwide NGO

WWF, formerly the Worldwide Fund for Nature, is a global organization acting locally through a network of over 90 offices in over 40 countries from Australia to the United Kingdom.  The organization’s Global Membership Initiative engaged Donordigital to conduct an online benchmarking study of 13 offices, ranging from the UK to Brazil to Indonesia.  The goal of the study was to understand how different country offices performed in terms of online activity such as website traffic, email messaging, and online fundraising, and to set some benchmarks for achievement.

We combined data from Google Analytics with online fundraising numbers provided by the country offices to produce a global benchmark report.  We also provided specific critiques and recommendations on online and mobile fundraising to each country office.

Comparing how different countries are impacted by local technology trends was insightful.  There’s wide variability on how social media drives Web traffic in various countries, and how many people access WWF sites from their mobile phones (where India is the leader).

Nick Allen is co-founder and chief strategy officer of Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company.  Contact: or phone (510) 473-0366.

8 good online fundraising resources that help us learn

While the basic principles of online fundraising aren’t changing fast, the tools and tests of the ways that work are.  So it’s really worthwhile to keep up with the cleverest people in the world who are writing about them.  Here are 10 sources that can help you raise more money (and avoid some big mistakes).  Most are available as email newsletters, RSS feeds, or apps.

  1. The Agitator.  If your organization is cutting its budget and you can only afford one daily email, this is the one!  (Just kidding, it’s free.) Tom Belford and Roger Craver consistently find the most important research and campaigns and write passionately about them.
  2. Mashable, the indispensable mega-site covering social media, includes substantial coverage of nonprofit issues in the “social good” section.
  3. Beth Kanter.  Whether she’s in Beirut or Boston, Beth manages to turn out a daily post which usually contains at least one nugget, if not a complete how-to on a new trend in social networking. Sample: “I had the pleasure of experimenting with a text polling app to find out the composition of the audience and their experience with…how to integrate the use of mobile technology into multi-channel campaigns with an emphasis on social…    So, while we were waiting,  I asked the panelists to take bets….”
  4. Katya’s Non-Profit Marketing Blog.  Katya Andresen, COO of Network for Good, always has useful and provocative ideas on online marketing.
  5. Kira Marchenese’s Online Communications for Nonprofits. Insights on social media and web usability for nonprofits always has news you can use.  In recent posts, Kira, director of Internet communications at Environmental Defense Fund, writes about RFPs and “why most Facebook marketing doesn’t work.”
  6. Chronicle of Philanthropy’s daily “Philanthropy Today” newsletter.  Indispensible coverage of the sector based on the Chronicle’s own excellent stories as well as major media coverage.
  7. Mark Phillips’ “Queer Ideas.” The head of London’s Bluefrog agency explores what’s working and what’s not from the UK point of view.  From a recent post: “Choice is becoming a buzzword in fundraising. But just how important is it? …organisations like Kiva, DonorsChoose and CRUK (with MyProjects) have done rather well by offering people a chance to decide how their donations are used. …But is choice the key factor that lies behind this level of fundraising success?”
  8. UK Fundraising.  A UK version of the Chronicle, this weekly newsletter includes news you can use even if you’ve never heard of the organizations making it. Sample: “As part of its annual Cards for a Cure™ campaign, Hallmark Cards is asking adults and children to declare their love for their mother on an online ‘Mums Wall’, with the most ‘liked’ messages turned into…”

Nick Allen is co-founder and chief strategy officer of Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company.  Contact: or phone (510) 473-0366.

My daughter doesn’t talk on the phone

My 15-year-old daughter doesn’t talk on the phone.  She only checks her email when her school uses it for homework assignments.   She only responds to text messages and Facebook – and she can spend all evening on her phone, texting and Facebooking.  She helps keep me focused on social media even though I still send hundreds of emails a day and even pick up the phone for old-fashioned voice calls.

Convio’s Going Social: Tapping into Social Media for Nonprofit Success white paper published in 2010 is an excellent handbook for reviewing what your organization is doing with social media and determining how to do it better.  While we all know that Facebook and other social media is not producing much revenue – remember my daughter – it’s wher a lot of people spend a lot of their time and it’s essential to building relationships with donors who will give through email, your Web site, or – increasingly – their smart phones.  Here are some of Convio’s “ten key benefits” of social media:

  1. Learn what your supporters are saying (and increase trust and loyalty by allowing them to give you feedback).
  2. Drive traffic. (Some of our clients are getting 10% to 20% of their Web traffic from social media.)
  3. Improve results on search engines with keyword-rich content.
  4. Drive visitors to online donation pages.  (Some of our clients saw this after the Haiti earthquake.  You can also create a donation tab which enables people to enter their credit cards within Facebook and send the info via an API into Convio or another tool.)
  5. Enable supporters – especially your most passionate “influencers” — to distribute messages about your organization to their friends.
  6. Acquire new contacts and build your email housefile.  (While many Facebook fans figure they can get all the info they want about your org via Facebook, some will sign up if you provide the sign-up form.)
  7. Show your supporters that you are where they are (my idea, not Convio’s).

Network for Good’s Online Giving Study: A Call to Reinvent Donor Relationships from January 2011 is also filled with useful information as you plan 2011 and beyond. This study reviews what NFG learned from $381 million in online donations made through the Network for Good system, which powers charity Web pages; portals where donors can find charities, such as,, or; and for social media sites such as Facebook Causes and

  1. Donors who gave on organization-branded Web pages gave larger gifts, and more money over time, than donors who gave through portals or social media.
  2. “Cumulative giving over time is a key metric to measuring donor relationships.”  We all know this, but often just look at individual gifts, not “lifetime value.”
  3. Donors who made their first gift on a charity’s Web site (on a charity-branded page actually sitting on a secure Network for Good site) gave larger gifts and more money over time, portals were next, and Facebook givers gave the smallest initial gift and the least amount over time.  Again, this makes sense, but I never thought of it.
  4. 22% of all online giving in the Network for Good universe took place on the last two days of the year (2003-2009).  Does that fit with what you saw this year?
  5. Average gifts online are dropping because (a) online giving is more mainstream, not just affluent early adopters, and (b) at least in the Network for Good example, there are a lot of gifts from Facebook Causes, where donors are younger and give less.

Nick Allen is co-founder and chief strategy officer of Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company.  Contact: or phone (510) 473-0366.

Can your organization take advantage of mobile “impulse philanthropy”? – and what it may do to your donors

Nearly all our clients are trying to figure out how to use mobile phones for fundraising and cultivation.

Ever since the Red Cross raised $31 million from $10 text-to-give messages to help the suffering in Haiti, nonprofits have been lusting after what Jim Manis, president of the Mobile Giving Foundation, calls “impulse philanthropy.”  Others have been worrying that, as mobile devices surpass PCs and laptops in a few years as the main Internet access points for most people, will younger donors adopt this “impulse” giving in place of long-term loyalty to organizations.

First, the facts.  The Red Cross and Wyclef Jean’s Yele were the only big winners in mobile giving around Haiti, with the Red Cross getting nearly all of it.  Among the hundreds of other organizations responding to the earthquake, a dozen or so each raised a few hundred —  nothing to sneeze at, but a fraction of what they raised from emails and their Web sites.  And when people give via text messaging, the organizations don’t get their contact information, apart from one text message asking them to opt in to ongoing communications.   Nine of 15% of donors opt in to ongoing messaging, said Jim Manis of the Mobile Giving Foundation, which works with the mobile carriers to manage donations.

Apart from Haiti, there have been a handful of other successful efforts over the last few years, such as Alicia Keyes’ text-to-give appeals at her concerts to benefit her charity fighting AIDS in Africa charity.

In any case, very few groups have made mobile work – yet.  Of course, you don’t want to use email or your Web site to ask supporters to give via mobile when they could give much larger gifts online, with full contact info.  Mobile might be good to get impulse gifts from people you couldn’t reach any other way, or who won’t give any other way.  If you could be on dozens or thousands of billboards with your mobile number, that might get new gifts.  If your quarterback could ask for mobile donations from the 70,000 folks in the stands – and many more watching on TV – that could work (though groups who have done this have generally been disappointed in the results).  If you’re an aid group and there’s another Haiti, you want to have your mobile giving program ready, especially if you can convince Michelle Obama or Sarah Palin to promote it with PSAs.

At a recent conference on mobile giving, Tim Sawer of World Vision, shared some of the wisdom he’s garnered as head of new products and new channels for the giant development organization, which is also a master of marketing.  Allow the donor to give via their channel(s) of choice, he stresses.   World Vision has gathered mobile numbers in churches and by asking for them from the stage at events, then followed up with a fundraising appeal.   The mobile donor demographic sweet spot is 18-35 but then World Vision sees a pretty even spread among other donors under 70.  These donors are giving to the cause more than to the organization, so specific asks — $10 for a malaria bed net or $10 for a water project – work best.

The ongoing challenge, Sawer explains, is to move the donor toward loyalty to the organization – from impulse to a relationship, from giving to a cause or event to giving to the organization.  The other challenge is to make the back-end work – to see if you can ID the donor in your database when all you may have is her mobile number – and to manage the donor across channels.  Asking for mobile numbers in all donor communications across channels is going to be essential, Sawer says.

Nick Allen is co-founder and chief strategy officer of Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company.  Contact: or phone (510) 473-0366.

What seven organizations learned about converting more donors on their web donation forms

Want to persuade more people to actually make a donation when they visit your donation landing pages?

There’s no single set of changes — horizontal or vertical gift strings, Charity Navigator logo above or below — that’s guaranteed to work for your organization. But we did find out which elements on donation forms most influence “conversions” — and this knowledge can make your testing faster and cheaper, just in time for the year-end giving season.

Based on extensive tests with seven “power users” of Convio’s fundraising platform, Donordigital and Convio have published a new whitepaper, “Beyond Best Practices: What seven organizations learned about converting more donors on their web donation forms”, that can help you improve your donation pages and raise more money. Participant organizations included CARE, PETA, The Nature Conservancy, WWF, Defenders of Wildlife, National Wildlife Federation, and American Diabetes Association.

Our tests revealed marked differences from one group to the next with the same variables, and undermined the assumption that there are form best practices at the variable level — in fact they’re largely elusive. But there’s a silver lining. Since many creative changes on donation forms have little to no impact on user behavior, the ability of marketers to identify the changes that matter most can save lots of time and money.

Nick Allen is co-founder and chief strategy officer of Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company.  Contact: or phone (510) 473-0366.

Year-end fundraising: It’s never too early

December is National Fundraiser’s Month and online fundraising programs often raise one-third to one-half their annual revenue in December, especially the very last week of the year.  It’s never too early to make your year-end plan, get buy-in, and gather the assets you’ll need.

Here are some basic guidelines for what’s worked for many of our clients, but things are constantly changing online, so be sure to try at least one new tactic each year.

  1. Make sure your home page makes the case for giving in a powerful and prominent way…and makes it easy to find the donation form.  Many donors will seek you out in December, even without email appeals; more and more donors who get your direct mail will visit your site to make their gifts, as the tax-deductible deadline approaches.  You may want to try a “homepage hijack” – replacing your normal homepage with a special donation page (with a “Go to homepage” link) from time to time in December and/or a “lightbox,” a highlighted rectangle covering part of the home page and asking for donations.  You might want to feature a countdown calendar during the last week of the year.
  2. Make sure your donation “landing pages” are as effective as possible in converting visitors into donors.   Testing now can help improve your pages.  You can also look for “best practices” from organizations such as CARE, Amnesty International USA, Defenders of Wildlife, and Nature Conservancy, who have optimized their pages (though no one landing page layout works best for every organization).
  3. Email often (but not necessarily early).  Most of our clients raise very little before Dec. 15, but emailing around Thanksgiving and in early December puts you on the donor’s map of expectations for later giving.
  4. Email often.  The more you mail in December, the more you’ll probably make. While we all worry about irritating donors and prospects by sending them too much email, they’re already inundated by everyone else in December, so they’ll probably not even notice your extra frequency.
  5. Make your best pitch. So be sure you make the case for giving and highlight the Dec. 31 tax-deductible deadline prominently on the home page and other high-traffic pages.
  6. Consider a matching gift.  This one is controversial because many of us believe year-end is the time you don’t need to sweeten the offer.  On the other hand, we’ve found that matching gifts increase response and sometimes average gift, even at year end.
  7. Figure out what to do on Facebook.  For the first time, you can create a special page (tab) where you can accept donations via an “API” that send donor credit card information into your CRM system, such as Convio.  Few organizations have raised much money this way, but it seems worth trying for year-end, as well as for emergencies and news-driven issues.  You might test a lower gift string on Facebook, given that heavy users tend to be younger and don’t normally use Facebook as a place to give.
  8. Last but not least:  Consider what to do with your largest online donors, the people who gave you $500 or $5,000 online this year or last year.  These folks have indicated they like to give online (though they may give by mail or to your major donor folks too) – and they can provide a major boost in December. Of course, you should have been cultivating them all year, online and off, but now’s your last chance.  Can you send them several Outlook-looking emails from your CEO or ED, trying to speak to them one to one and inviting them to dialogue directly with you?  Can you invite them to a phone or in-person briefing on “what your donations accomplished this year”?  Can you at least recognize their special importance in your emails to them, and make sure their gift string is appropriate to their giving history?

Nick Allen is co-founder and chief strategy officer of Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company.  Contact: or phone (510) 473-0366.

Did you text WILDLIFE to 20222 to donate for Gulf Oil Spill?

Did you text WILDLIFE to 20222 to donate $10 to National Wildlife Federation’s Gulf Oil Spill Restoration Fund?

I didn’t think so.

While text-to-give mobile giving raised about $37 million for Haiti – almost all for the American Red Cross – it’s not generally ready for prime time … yet.

In the meantime, the most practical use for mobile by nonprofits is going to be for advocacy, organizing, and information sharing, especially with the demographics who are more likely to rely on their phones rather than their PCs.   Low-income Hispanic immigrants are a perfect audience for the pro-immigration campaign, Reform Immigration for America.

Says Online Director John Brian McCarthy:

“We have over 150,000 subscribers in our SMS network. I can’t give you an average response rate, because it varies so much by the ask and we send so much less frequently than email that it’s tough to normalize – an ask to call Members of Congress might generate 30,000 calls while an ask to call in and leave a voice mail about why reform matters to you might get just 1,000, and an ask to attend a local rally is nearly impossible to track.

“That said, we’ve generated more than 325,000 calls to decision-makers since we started the program last year…  Another SMS metric relates to a series of house parties we hosted last October – out of the 1,000 house parties the campaign sponsored, more than half were self-organized by individuals who signed up to host via SMS, with thousands more people texting in to find a house party near them (and that was when we were at just 80,000 subscribers!).”

In the next few years, most of us are going to be spending most of our online time on some kind of mobile device, whether it looks more like an iPhone or an iPad.  Mobile commerce tools from Google, Apple, PayPal, and/or Visa will make mobile buying and giving easy, reliable, and significant, at least for people under 40 or 50.  (Texting, with its 140-character limit will morph into something that looks more like email or Facebook updates by then.)

With a major disaster (Haiti), a major brand name (Red Cross), and major TV promotion, mobile can bring in the $37 million (around 4 million gifts at a fixed $5 or $10 apiece).  Apart from the Red Cross, most organizations raised a few tens of thousands of dollars from mobile – and they didn’t get donors’ contact info to thank them and resolicit them; even getting opt-in to continue communicating is difficult with the current mobile fundraising program, governed by AT&T, Verizon, and the other carriers.

Meanwhile, the average Web site gift for Haiti for the organizations that also did mobile was well over $100 or $150, and they got donor information and email addresses to continue the conversation. So if an organization gets a mobile gift from a person who has given, or would give, a Web gift, it’s a major loss.   What’s more, giving via text or Facebook Causes could be a worrisome signal that some younger donors actually prefer to make a nearly anonymous one-off gift to avoid getting on a list for ongoing appeals, according to Chuck Longfield, founder of Target Analytics.

As with Facebook, another channel which isn’t effective (yet) for fundraising,  mobile is here to stay.  And organizations need to be where their supporters are, discussing sharing, educating, advocating … and cultivating.

Nick Allen is co-founder and chief strategy officer of Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company.  Contact: or phone (510) 473-0366.

Boost online response by optimizing your donation landing pages

Most organizations devote lots of time and energy into developing clever creative for their online campaigns and e-mails, whether it’s the Tck Tck Tck global warming campaign or AmeriCares “Send your mother-in-law to Darfur” gift catalog.

But if you’re trying to raise more money online, the first thing you may want to try is persuading more of the people who already click “donate” on your Web site or in your e-mails to actually make the gift on the donation landing page.   Surprisingly, 80% or 90% of the people who go to the donation page typically don’t actually complete the transaction.  And if you can improve your “conversion rate” by 10%, that’s 10% more donors – ka-ching! – without spending a nickel on more e-mails or Care2 names.

Over the last three years, Donordigital has been running landing page optimization tests that have increased conversion rates – the percentage of people who land on a donation page who actually make a donation – by 10%, 20%, even more for some organizations and some pages.  Of course, your mileage may vary, but if you optimize your landing pages, you’re pretty likely to increase your conversions and your revenue,  even if you have to pay a consultant to help you.

So what makes a better donation page?  While every organization gets different results on different pages, these are some of the variables that seem to make a difference for many organizations:

  • Show at least some of the form fields on the donation page “above the fold” (what you can see without scrolling).
  • Cut out unnecessary fields, such as title (unless you will really use it) and how-did-you-hear-about us, and ones that donors are reluctant to fill out (phone numbers).
  • Make the button say “Donate” not “Submit,” make it larger and colored; don’t include confusing and unnecessary buttons such as “back” or “cancel” (sometimes the default in to your software).
  • Provide a clear and compelling “ask” headline (Donate to save the whales!).
  • Show the “secure transaction” symbol from VeriSign or another provider above the fold.

A recent test showed a 28% increase in conversions (over the currently used “control” donation page) on a page that featured the VeriSign secure page logo above the fold, apparently making donors feeing more secure about giving to this well-known organization.

You may also want to create different landing pages for visitors from different sources.  For example, visitors clicking on the main donate link on your home page may know more about you than some of the visitors coming from a search on Google or Yahoo!.  E-mail landing page may work better if they make reference to the e-mail message that brought visitors to the donation page, but you can assume the visitors need less information and less assurance about your organization because they are read the e-mail and are probably signed up for your list.  Conversions are naturally higher on most pages in December because year-end giving and tax deductibility motivate many visitors.

So how do you do it?  There are two choices: A/B testing and multivariate testing.  In A/B testing, you test your current (“control”) donation page and an alternative one, then direct half your donation page traffic to your “control” page, and the other half to a page you think will perform better.  The more sophisticated technique, multivariate testing (MVT), enables you to test many variables at once.  However, but it’s more complicated to set up and requires more traffic to the test pages to get statistically valid results.  While there are commercial multivariate testing platforms such as Interwoven Optimost, Google offers the excellent – and free – Website Optimizer product, which integrates nicely with the free Google Analytics (which you’re already using, right?)

Nick Allen is co-founder and chief strategy officer of Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company.  Contact: or phone (510) 473-0366.

Mail and online integration: where’s the tofu?

Integration of online and direct mail fundraising has been staple topic of conferences for at least five years now.  So it’s time to separate the results from the hype.

Yes, of course you should seek to integrate your mail and online programs, and the larger the mail and online programs, the more upside for integration.  Of course, you want to enable your supporters to donate by whatever channel they choose for a given gift – the BRE, the donation page on your site, or plain unmarked bills delivered to your door.

While online giving has grown significantly over the last five years, most donors still give by mail.  Just 9 percent of donors came in online in the most recent evaluation of 12 national organizations, but they account for 21 percent of new donor revenue because of much higher gift levels.  The online donors are younger and have higher household income (because they’re working, not retired).

Over the last three years, the donorCentrics ™ Internet Benchmarking program that we’ve worked on with Target Analytics has shown that up to 25% of online acquired donors make at least one gift online, but that few mail-acquired donors give online.  When mail donors do migrate to online giving their gifts are larger; and when online donors give in the mail, they give small gifts.

Some of the giving difference is certainly age – most online donors are over 60, many over 70, and these folks are less likely to give on.  Habit also seem to be a factor:  The longer a mail-acquired donor is on your file, the less likely she will make an online gift.  However, these numbers are averages, and your file may differ, especially if you have a younger mail file (such as a group like Human Rights Campaign) or if earthquakes, hurricanes, or other high-profile emergencies motivate your mail donors to go online to give.

As you probably know by now, online donors have higher lifetime value than mail donors, mainly because their average gifts are so much higher.  Multi-channel donors are even more valuable.  But even mail donors with e-mail addressees on file who have not given online are more valuable, either because the e-mail messages they receive motivate them to give more in the mail, or because the donors who offer you their e-mail addresses care more about you.  (What about donors whose e-mail addresses you have appended?  We don’t have the data, but it could be they are more affluent and/or younger than those for whom you can’t find an e-mail address.)

So what should you do?

  1. Add your online activists and subscribers to your mail acquisition program.  They’ll often perform as well or better than any non-house list – and they are free.
  2. Ask mail donors for their e-mail addresses, and send your 0-24 month mail donor file to an appending house like FreshAddress or Tower Data for appending. That will cost 15 to 35 cents per matched name, depending on quantities.
  3. Send e-mail newsletters and/or advocacy actions to your mail donors to give them another touch point.
  4. Send e-mail appeals to your direct mail donors either to repeat the message they’re getting in the mail, or to fundraise during late-breaking opportunities when there is no time to mail. Sending e-mail to arrive just after the postal mail seems to increase response the most, but test it if your file is big enough.
  5. Integrate your membership renewal efforts to make sure that supporters get the renewal message in the mail, in e-mail, on the Web site, on your Facebook page, even in your tweets.
  6. Don’t expect fundraising miracles from integration; the two donors groups are still separate, though there’s increasing convergence.
  7. Ask your donors what they want in surveys, focus groups, on the phone, and when you meet with them.

Nick Allen is co-founder and chief strategy officer of Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company.  Contact: or phone (510) 473-0366.