How to Fundraise When the Media Spotlight Shines on Your Organization’s Mission

Mal Warwick | Donordigital Account Director Wendy Husman and Whitney Broadwell, Senior Resource Development Officer at International Medical Corps presented a session together at the 2016 Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Jose in March 2016.  They discussed how to harness the opportunity to grow your email list, increase your social followers and raise money when your organization’s issue is in the news. Review the presentation deck to learn more about how to prepare a fundraising and communications plan, how to implement that plan on short notice, and how to leverage unexpected events into more supporters for your organization.

Client Highlight: Mercy for Animals

A team of Mercy for Animals undercover investigators is exposing the cruel and secretive factory farm and slaughterhouse industries. Last year, through the use of undercover investigations and hard-hitting advocacy work, abusers were brought to justice and major corporations like Walmart and McDonald’s were convinced to introduce sweeping animal welfare policies.

Mal Warwick | Donordigital is working with Mercy For Animals to create its direct mail program and expand online fundraising. MFA just experienced the most successful year-end fundraising season in its 16-year history, with an increase in number of gifts, response rate, and total revenue.

We worked with Mercy For Animals to brand its sustainer program “Investigation Allies” and create a series of appeals inviting supporters and advocates to become monthly donors. We also helped introduce a tracked welcome series promoting monthly giving to new advocates and supporters.

The organization now has over 1,000 sustainers, helping to fund its core programs month after month. Many sustainers made additional gifts this December thanks to targeted appeals.

Read more about MFA’s undercover investigations >>

No Kid Hungry wins Blackbaud 2014 Impact Award for its #SaveSummer campaign

summer-meals-2014-1We’re thrilled to celebrate the news that our client No Kid Hungry has won a Blackbaud 2014 Impact Award for Best Multi-Channel Marketing for their Summer Meals Campaign — which our agency had the honor to work on.

No Kid Hungry conducts an annual campaign that spreads awareness about childhood hunger, helps connect kids with food, and raises needed funds during summer months when kids are more likely to be hungry.

Many families donʼt know that free meals are available to kids and teens at thousands of sites nationwide — in fact, only 3 million children are participating in these programs.

To help increase this number, No Kid Hungry created a SMS program where people can text FOOD to 877-877 to find summer meals sites near them. They have also created an Action Center where people are directed to action they can take, both online and in-person, to promote awareness of and support for summer meals.

blackbaud-impact-awardNo Kid Hungry launched an integrated multi-channel campaign to #SaveSummer for kids that lasted from mid-May through the end of July 2013. The campaign included 13 email messages, one direct mail package, an mobile phone texting campaign, numerous social media posts, a coordinated web presence, a lightbox asking single gift donors to “make it monthly,” and a video.

No Kid Hungry took advantage of several opportunities to make this program a huge success. The Arby’s Foundation has been a crucial partner in No Kid Hungry’s work over the years, and provided matching funds up to $100,000 to encourage increased donations. National spokesperson Jeff Bridges has used his platform to help us raise funds, build relationships, and increase awareness of the need for, and the existence of, free summer meals for children.

The campaign was a huge success. We surpassed our matching gift goal by over 50%, acquired over 800 new donors, and enrolled over 150 new monthly donors. Over 40,000 letters were sent to Congress asking members to visit a summer meals site, and almost 50,000 individuals used our mobile texting service to locate a summer meals site (100% increase over prior year).

photo-thumbnail-wendyWendy Marinaccio Husman is a Senior Account Executive at Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing and advertising company.

Three online strategies to improve a monthly donor sustainer program

Fresh from the 2014 Bridge to Integrated Marketing Conference in Washington D.C., I’d like to share a few digital strategies for improving your organization’s monthly giving program. I co-presented with Jeanne Horne, Senior Manger for Digital Communications at Share Our Strength, and I’ll share a few examples below of techniques Donordigital has implemented for Share Our Strength.

Monthly donor upsell lightbox

upsell-lightboxThis technique encourages single gift donors to convert their donation from a one-time gift into a monthly gift. Donors are presented with a “pop-up” lightbox while making a donation on the website, with a recommended monthly gift amount that is proportional with their intended one-time gift. If they choose to convert their donation into a monthly gift, their credit card is immediately processed with the initial sustaining gift only; if they prefer to make the one-time gift, their credit card is processed with that gift only. The process is completely secure and does not involve any additional steps for the donor—the next page is simply a thank-you page.

Donordigital has tested this lightbox technique to ensure that they do not significantly increase donation form abandonment. We have found that this technique increases the number of monthly gifts collected via a website donation form above simply including a monthly giving checkbox on the form. For Share Our Strength’s current campaign, the lightbox is mobile optimized and also mentions the $100 match offered by the Arby’s Foundation for each new monthly donor.

Upgrade request to current sustainers

Increase your monthly gift email topIt’s important to ask current monthly donors to upgrade their gifts after they’ve participated as a monthly donor for some time. We recommend asking at least once per year—but waiting at least four months after activation to request an upgraded gift. Of course, prior to this request, you need to ensure you’ve properly stewarded your monthly donors.

When requesting an upgrade, it’s best to choose a specific upgrade amount based on the current monthly gift amount. We created a special field in the database to house the requested upgrade amount so that we’re able to use it in donor communications. We also created a special form on the email landing page so that the donor would not need to re-enter their credit card information to upgrade their giving—saving hassle for the donor as well as eliminating the hassle of duplicated monthly gifts for Share Our Strength.

Triggered email series to prevent attrition due to credit card issues

Please come back Hunger Core triggered emailOne of the most difficult issues with a monthly giving program is involuntary attrition as a result of credit card expiration and re-issuing. Donordigital worked with Share Our Strength to create a triggered email series for monthly donors whose cards were about to expire, whose cards just expired or were not charged because of another issue, and donors whose cards lapsed several months ago. These messages are launched automatically on a rolling basis and direct people to call the donor services line or make a gift online if they prefer.

Jeanne and I will present more information about these ideas in August at the DMA New York Nonprofit Conference. If you can’t make it to the conference, you can still view our slides from Play it again, Sam: Monthly giving programs for sustaining donations ‘As Time Goes By.’

Donordigital can help your organization craft a monthly donor strategy, implement that strategy, and/or complete projects like the above and more. We love giving advice and can let you know what we think would help your organization the most.

photo-thumbnail-wendyWendy Marinaccio Husman is a Senior Account Executive at Donordigital, the  online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company.

Use our sample email communications calendar

UPDATE on July 18: Read Wendy’s latest article – Three online strategies to improve a monthly donor sustainer program

Keeping tabs on upcoming email communications and segmented audiences can be difficult. Donordigital uses a simple spreadsheet to help clients plan their messaging and track which audiences are receiving each email.

We invite you to download this sample email communications calendar to use as a template for your own planning. Use our calendar to help ensure you’re on top of your messaging. It’s also a useful tool to visualize the message stream each of your key audiences is receiving, particularly your monthly donors, major donors, integrated groups of constituents who are receiving messaging in other channels, and VIPs (board members, corporate sponsors, or whoever is a VIP for your organization). Often these groups are receiving too much or too little messaging.

We hope this tool is helpful for you. You can download it by clicking here: Sample Email Communications Calendar

P.S. Come back next week for an overview of my 2014 Bridge Conference session on monthly giving with Jeanne Horne of Share Our Strength. The slide deck for Play it again, Sam: Monthly giving programs for sustaining donations ‘As Time Goes By’ is available on Slideshare.

photo-thumbnail-wendy Wendy Marinaccio Husman is a Senior Account Executive at Donordigital, the  online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company.

No Kid Hungry online fundraising campaign focuses on donation impact

kid-2In November 2013, No Kid Hungry and Donordigital collaborated on an interactive online fundraising campaign designed to help donors feel more connected with the impact of their gift. The mission of No Kid Hungry is to end childhood hunger in America, and Thanksgiving is a prescient time of year to spread awareness of their work and inspire people to join “Team No Kid Hungry.”

The campaign was promoted through an email series to No Kid Hungry’s house file of half-a-million usable email addresses, and posts to the No Kid Hungry Facebook and Twitter feeds. The email series was mobile-optimized.

When people clicked through to the landing page, they saw a large, partially obscured image of a child served by No Kid Hungry. The bottom half of the page was a donation form with a two-column-plus-sidebar design that we tested into as a result of 2 rounds of multi-variant optimization testing in 2013.

Upon making a donation on that page, the “tiles” obstructing the image of the child would peel off, revealing an adorable, happy, well-fed kid. We aimed to create an experience for the donor that would be delightful—immediately displaying the impact of their donation.

All the photos used in the campaign were images of children touched by the work of No Kid Hungry. In addition, once the child’s image was revealed, we would share the story of that child and their family, and the No Kid Hungry programs that helped them.

SOS_Tiles-ThankYouPage_Alternate_1aOn the “thank-you” or “confirmation” page, the donor saw prominent social sharing buttons in order to share the image and story with their friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and by email. In addition, we sent a message as part of the email series that brought people to a page with images, stories and social sharing opportunities for all the children in the campaign.

This campaign was also bolstered by celebrity support and a challenge match. No Kid Hungry’s national spokesperson Jeff Bridges signed two of the messages in the email series, telling stories of individual children helped by No Kid Hungry and incorporating an image of him with one of No Kid Hungry’s young clients. Additionally, one of the messages that dropped around Thanksgiving included a challenge match from Tork Foods.

Because this campaign was a departure from No Kid Hungry’s usual donation requests, we kept even closer tabs on the campaign metrics. The Thanksgiving campaign converted better than the typical donation form during the month of November. We believe that this is because it was unusual and special (an effect that would wear off if it became typical).

This campaign was a success in part because of No Kid Hungry’s wealth of images of adorable children the organization has helped and stories of those kids and their families. No Kid Hungry conducted several trips to work sites across the country in 2013 to gather these, and it was important to us to share authentic stories from people on the ground who have been touched by their work.

P.S. You can read more about how Donordigital created this innovative fundraising tool in this blog post by Junior Web Developer Nick Robitaille.

photo-thumbnail-wendyWendy Marinaccio Husman is a Senior Account Executive at Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company.

Children’s Hospital Oakland goes mobile-friendly

Donordigital has been thrilled to work with Children’s Hospital Oakland and the Children’s Hospital & Research Center Foundation during the past six months on a number of online projects, including improving the organization’s donation forms, email templates, and email signup experience, as well as integrating its online and offline communications.

Our first project with Children’s Hospital Oakland was to create mobile-optimized email templates in Convio for email appeals and e-newsletters, thus assuring the best possible reader and donor experience.  We streamlined the design with a focus on call-to-action, images of kids, and organizational branding.  We determined the best design based on organizational needs, and ensured those could be delivered in a mobile-friendly format.

Here’s how they went from a non-mobile-friendly e-newsletter format to a mobile-friendly format (click to enlarge either screenshot):

old-enews    new-enews

And here’s how they went from a non-mobile-friendly email appeal format to a mobile-friendly format  (click to enlarge either screenshot):

old-eappeal     new-eappeal

Children’s Hospital Oakland is now employing these new mobile-friendly templates for their year-end fundraising campaign.

Please sign up for Children’s Oakland’s e-mail list today and see them for yourself!

WendyPhotoWendy Marinaccio Husman is a Senior Account Executive at Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company. 

Soliciting monthly sustainer gifts during the holidays

Our research on behalf of our clients has shown us that the lifetime value of a monthly donor is higher than that of a single gift donor. Blackbaud’s 2013 Online Marketing Benchmarking Study for Nonprofits found sustainer giving grew by 27% last year, compared with overall online giving growth of 11%. Yet many organizations avoid requesting monthly gifts during the holiday season, since single gifts offer a higher average gift and nonprofits are counting on the huge year-end bump in fundraising the holiday season brings.

Here’s how to capitalize on the year-end surge in generosity and grow your group of supporters who invest in your organization during the holidays and throughout the year.

  1. Clear the path to organic gifts: Ensure your donation forms include the monthly giving option and that it is easily accessible on the page. You can likely use built-in functionality for this. Simply providing this option next to the single gift option will result in many “organic” monthly donors to your program. If you’re comfortable being a bit more aggressive, you could have the monthly donor option automatically selected or list the monthly donor option first.
  2. Send a dedicated email: Send an e-appeal specifically requesting monthly gifts during the holiday season. We recommend our clients send a dedicated monthly giving message at least quarterly. This message should communicate the positive impact of monthly giving on the organization, the convenience of monthly giving, and any benefits your organization offers. You may or may not wish to offer a premium. To alleviate potential givers’ anxiety, you should mention that donors can change or cancel their monthly gift at any time. During the year end period, your dedicated email could offer a special matching challenge. Consider working with a Board member or corporate partner to provide a matching challenge of $100 per new monthly donor, or a match for the entire first year of monthly gifts for new sustainers.
  3. Piggyback on what you’re already doing: Promote monthly giving in your e-newsletter articles in November or December. Include a monthly giving “buckslip” in your acknowledgement letters. Provide a monthly giving checkbox on your direct mail response form. You don’t have to go too far out of your way—just consider what you’re already doing and determine how to incorporate a sustainer ask.
  4. Increase your ask amounts: People are more generous during the holidays. Take a look at your monthly giving ask amounts and consider increasing them. You may also want to change the pre-chosen gift amount (the donation amount that is checked when the person arrives on the donation form) to a higher amount.
  5. Monthly donor upsell lightbox: The monthly donor lightbox allows you to retain your regular donation form. It adds a pop-up once donors press the submit button on their gift, offering to make their gift monthly. The lightboxes we build for our clients calculate an upsell based on the amount of the originally planned single gift, and they allow gifts over a certain amount to be processed uninterrupted (for example, $1,000 gifts or more). They also securely carry the credit card information through and apply it to the correct gift.  Click here to view an example from Share Our Strength.
  6. Update your welcome series: If you already have a welcome series, you should consider altering it for the year-end period (for example, eliminating a message to reduce the period of time people are suppressed from other messages). Many new online donors will be joining your email list, and many of them will receive the welcome series. Consider creating a welcome series specifically for new donors and adding a monthly giving appeal to that series. If you don’t have time to create an entire welcome series of messages, you could create a triggered email that is automatically sent under certain conditions; within a few weeks of an initial gift is a ripe period to ask single gift donors to become monthly donors.
  7. Get the data right: It’s important to get your target audiences and suppressions correct during the holidays. Ensure you are suppressing current monthly donors from dedicated monthly giving asks. Check that you’re on top of any suppressions you want to create for donors during year-end so they don’t receive another appeal immediately after making a gift. If you have a new donor welcome series that includes a sustainer ask, make sure you aren’t sending it to new sustainers.

Finally, don’t forget to ask your current sustainers to make an additional gift at Year End. You can re-purpose a message you’re sending to the full list to recognize that the person is a monthly donor and ask for a special additional year-end donation. Some organizations call it a “13th month” gift.

Wendy Marinaccio is a Senior Account Executive at Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company. 

Grow your email list without spending money

Many nonprofits understand the importance of growing their email list but simply don’t have the funds to invest in list-building efforts. We’ve compiled a guide to the best free strategies to build your file without spending a dime.

Organizations must consistently build their housefile email list to counteract list churn—the inevitable people who unsubscribe, get a new job and leave the email address they used to subscribe to your list, or just stop opening your messages.

Clear the path to signup on your website

Your home page likely has many calls to action and calls for attention, so it can be difficult to make the case to include email signup in your website masthead and on the home page. In addition, so many people now visit your site on mobile devices that it may be hard to access those fields even if they exist. A best practice is to place the organic email signup box above the fold on your home page—top right is a typical spot.

In addition, you may want to consider an email signup lightbox on the home page that pops up to request people join your list.

Any internal Web pages that receive a lot of traffic should also have an email signup box. In addition, pages like the News & Information page and the E-Newsletter page should offer a signup box.

Finally, take a look at your email signup survey itself. Is it a length that discourages completion or are the data entry fields below the fold? A best practice is to simply ask for name and email address and gather additional information later, once you have the person signed up.

Example from Food & Water Watch (click to enlarge):

Example from Human Rights Campaign (click to enlarge):

Online actions

For any actions your organization is already conducting online, ensure email address is being captured (petitions, pledges, etc). It’s also important to make sure you are overtly communicating that a person is being added to the house file, and will receive ongoing email messages. You may need to work cross-departmentally at your organization to accomplish this.

A great (yet time-consuming) way to promote email signup is to create a fun contest, quiz, or raffle. You will need to use your organization’s resources of partnerships and staff time to promote the quiz or contest as widely as possible once it has been created. An added bonus is that these efforts can be shared with friends who may also be inspired to join the list.

Example from No Kid Hungry (click to enlarge):

List exchange

List exchange is a technique whereby like-minded nonprofits will each send a message to their lists on behalf of one another. The size of the lists exchanged should be equal, and typically organizations choose to suppress donors from these messages.

An example of a list exchange: the San Francisco AIDS Foundation would send a message to its constituents promoting a Project Open Hand. Recipients would be encouraged to sign up for Project Open Hand’s initiative or action, thus signing up for their email list. A few days later, Project Open Hand sends a message to its list promoting San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Typically these messages include some sort of action to be taken (signing a petition, etc).

The organization with the smaller list goes first and then that number of email addresses is matched by the other organization. The two organizations compare lists at the beginning to exclude crossover. These exchanges are usually done through a third party agency (like Donordigital), similar to the way direct mail lists are exchanged through a list broker, to ensure that everything is carefully coordinated.

Chaperoned Email

Chaperoned emails are sent on your behalf by a corporate sponsor or other community partner to its own house file or employee list. The message would talk about the great work of your nonprofit and why that organization supports you, or could be a “forward” message from your nonprofit to their list.

Examples of chaperoned emails:

  • A local business sends a message to its own email list describing the work of your nonprofit with a personal story explaining the reasons why the owners/staff are involved. They invite their customers to join them in some sort of action on your behalf and ask them to join your email list, with a link to your website email signup form.
  • A community partner sends an email to its list introducing a “forward” from your nonprofit’s Executive Director. Their message would explain why they support you and why they think their house file should read your message. The “forwarded” portion of the message would describe your work and a recent issue and invite people to join your list to stay up-to-date.
  • A corporation sends a message to its internal employee list describing its support of your work over the years and recommending its employees sign up for your email list; everyone who joins will be entered into a raffle for a chance to win something provided by the corporation.

Social Media

Promote your email list on Facebook and Twitter. Request email signup in social media posts, and include an email signup component in anything you create that is sharable on social media.

Add a sign-up within Facebook if possible so that people do not need to leave Facebook to join your list. If you have created an action, quiz, or contest on your website with an email capture component, you can promote it on Facebook as well using “iframes” technology.

In-person efforts

Add email capture to your office receptionist’s and membership assistant’s script to gather email addresses when supporters contact you by phone.

Re-write your donor acknowledgement letters to mention your email list in thank-you letters and ask them to join. Also add an email address line to mailed donation response forms, with opt-in language setting the expectation that person will receive email from your organization. If these efforts are slow to take hold, you may consider offering a small incentive (like a decal or temporary tattoo) that can be easily mailed to the person if they submit their email address.

Ensure staff, volunteers, and others working out in the field on your behalf are gathering email addresses and getting them back to the office. If you have a physical location the general public will visit, include an email signup box there. You’ll need to be sure there is a procedure in place for email addresses to be hand-entered on a regular basis.


All efforts that increase site traffic are likely to improve the chances of the signup box being successful. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) will help in that regard and can even be geared toward list building as a goal. You can direct more people to your website by optimizing use of your (free) Google Grant (or paying for search terms if you do not qualify for one). If the email signup box is easy to find, this should result in additional organic signup.

You can also adapt your Search strategy to direct people to sign up for your house file. You may want to create a special search landing page explaining your work and why people should sign up for your list, with a short email signup form.

You can also request email signup directly in a Google Ad, like this example from Crate & Barrel (click to enlarge):

Third Party Sources

Look into campaigns with organizations that allow you to gather email signups for free on their site.,, CARE2 and Causes are community Web portals that allow you to create actions on their site and will send you contact information for the people who sign up.

Once your organization is ready to make a financial investment in growing your list, working with co-registration vendors like and Care2, placing paid advertising, and sending chaperoned messages with publications like Mother Jones and Alternet are a great way to continue building your list and create a good balance of organic list members and people who would not otherwise have known about your work.

Follow Up

It’s important to keep tabs on your own house file and know your own benchmarks. As you increase your list-building efforts and conversion efforts, you know what to continue to invest your resources in, whether that is time, requests of partners, or financial.

Recommended benchmarks to set and then keep an eye on are the number of new list joins per month and new list abandoners per month as well as email performance metrics (open, click-through & unsubscribe rates) for your new constituents. Plan in advance so you have a method to identify how people are joining the list. Source codes in URLs are a good method.

Once you bring new folks onto your email list, you’ll need to have a stellar “welcome series” of messages ready for them right away.

Tune in to a future edition of the Donordigital newsletter for ideas for how to reduce churn on your house file.

Wendy Marinaccio is a Senior Account Executive at Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company. 

Using mobile phone marketing to build an email list

AIDS Walk San Francisco benefitting our client the San Francisco AIDS Foundation just took place July 21, 2013. Over 20,000 people walked in Golden Gate Park in support of HIV prevention and care. The San Francisco AIDS Foundation took advantage of the opportunity to grow its email list at the event by promoting a text-to-join program, gaining nearly 700 new email subscribers at the event.

San Francisco AIDS Foundation promoted a sweepstakes in which they gave away an iPad in exchange for joining the email list via SMS. They worked with Mobile Commons to create a 3-step series of texts to gather AIDS walkers’ full name and email address. Approximately 1,000 people started the series and 90% of them made it all the way through the process.

San Francisco AIDS Foundation followed up the next day with an email message thanking them for participating in the walk and joining the list, and confirming their name and email address—and a few days later with an e-newsletter focused on event photos and impact. The first message had a whopping 50% open rate and 0% unsubscribe rate; the second email had a 38% open rate and 17% click through rate with only 2 unsubscribes.

In addition to raising $2.5 million in order to provide free HIV prevention and care services to their clients, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation also gained an engaged new list segment.

Wendy Marinaccio is a Senior Account Executive at Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company.  Contact: