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.

What we learned about multichannel fundraising from raising money at year-end

Although it seems like eons ago, our team at Mal Warwick | Donordigital is still taking stock of what the year-end giving trends mean for our client programs, and for nonprofit fundraising as a whole.

Many programs we manage experienced strong revenue growth in their online channel, driven by Giving Tuesday, as well as other tried-and-true techniques such as matching gift challenges, website lightboxes and homepage takeovers, improved donation pages, an increasing volume of email appeals, better mobile optimization, advertising and retargeting, and coordinated social media engagement.

It will take a bit longer to see the full results of the direct mail efforts, but we know that this channel will continue to provide a lion’s share of overall direct response revenue – and will for many years to come.

While integration still may feel challenging in actual implementation, this year-end season reinforced for me the power and necessity of integrated fundraising for overall program success. Here’s why:

  • We saw a big surge in direct mail donors going online to make their gifts, including the use of custom URLs. The upcoming match-back analysis we’re performing for many clients, will clarify how big this mail-to-online effect really is.
  • Targeted email messages to individuals receiving direct mail appeals reaped high response rates and average gifts. Even when these groups were small, response rates were often triple the average email response rate and revenue per email sent was very high.
  • New targeting tactics allowed for a fuller experience and supported all efforts. Facebook ad targeting of email lists members and direct mail donors served impressions to individuals primed to give – a tactic we know helps overall fundraising. In addition, many of these campaigns generated enough gifts to cover the modest costs of the efforts.
  • It’s about the donor experience! The multitude of email messages from my favorite charities I received in December was immense. But I remembered those that reinforced that message in the mail, in email and social media. I knew what I wanted to give to and why!

How can you measure the effects of your integration efforts?

  • At Mal Warwick | Donordigital we carefully track multichannel giving shifts between the online, mail and telemarketing channels through a careful analysis of donor data, and do this bi-annually for many of our client programs. The shifts in giving channels often reflect not just changing donor trends, but also changing investments that the organization is making to grow each channel. Most importantly, it allows us to create strategies that prioritize multichannel conversion.
  • Multichannel giving analysis allows us to identify donors’ origin source which informs our recommendations for acquisition investment. Based on first gift, who is most likely to convert to another channel? How does the ROI compare for different origin cohorts? What we see consistently is that a higher percentage of online generated donors cross over to also give in the mail, than the reverse. This trend points to the importance of having a mail program that can work seamlessly with online.
  • We’ve seen a dramatic increase in donor value when our clients convert single channel donors to multichannel giving (especially direct mail donors to online). We also see much higher upgrade rates to $250 or more from donors who are multichannel, more conversion to monthly giving and significantly higher retention rates. It’s clear that multichannel behavior has a big impact on donor value and increased attention to an integrated strategy will result in overall revenue growth.

Integrated, multichannel fundraising efforts are yielding valuable results and stronger long-term value for many organizations at year end and throughout the year. The focus of integrated strategy should continue to inspire more single channel donors to convert to cross-channel giving. This in turn will deliver stronger renewal and upgrade revenue to help direct response programs thrive, while engaging supporters more deeply into the organization—and most importantly deliver the best donor experience!

Mwosi Swenson, President and CEOMwosi Swenson is the President and CEO of Mal Warwick Donordigital. She has over 20 years experience in direct response fundraising and is one of the nation’s leading experts in direct mail, online and integrated fundraising.

Best Practices for Mobile-Friendly Email Design

When designing for mobile optimization, it is important for the design to be easily resized for various widths from desktop width (about 640 pixels across) to mobile width (about 320 pixels across). Thus, designs need to be as fluid and flexible as possible. Below are some standards and practices we have found that work best for rendering emails on both mobile screens and desktop monitors.

  • A mobile optimized layout, because of its limited width, is best reduced to a single column. This means that the traditional desktop email layout (which often features large, photographic images and multiple sidebars) renders horribly on a mobile device, often with elements and multiple columns rendering as a confusing jumble. Additionally, the mobile browser often resizes photographic images, creating a loss of image quality and text legibility.
  • Mastheads need to be as clean, simple, and straightfoward as possible for resizing. This is best achieved by having a single logo or simple image, less than 300 pixels wide, be the sole occupant for the space.  Or, alternately (but not recommended) the logo can be placed in tandem with a short “live-text” headline using a “universal” font (such as Arial, Helvetica, Verdana, Times, Georgia, or Courier).
  • Sidebars, if absolutely necessary, also need to be as clean and as simple as possible. Because we need the layout to be as fluid as possible, a solid background color and/or a single, solid, hairline border are strongly recommended over gradient or image backgrounds. The sidebar should be less than 280 pixels wide, so that it rests comfortably within the smaller 320 pixel mobile width. Keeping your sidebar on the slim side also means that your sidebar image won’t need to be resized and suffer from a subsequent loss of quality. Sidebars ideally stack above the main copy on mobile screens and, in a sense, become a sort of masthead with a headline and call-to-action up front. Because of this, it is recommended that sidebars be kept copy light and as succinct as possible.
  • Borders are often used to wrap around entire email messages. In a mobile-optimized environment, these work best as a thin hairline of a single solid color (again, avoiding gradients or images).
  • The rounded corners often seen in web and email design elements are not recommended because of cross-browser incompatibility and errors in rendering in the slimmer, mobile environments.

In conclusion, because of the wide array of monitor and screen sizes in both desktop and mobile environments, your email templates need to be simple and flexible. Because mobile and desktop emails are not separate entities, but rather one email that adapts differently when rendered on different devices, your templates need to have simple mastheads that fit to any size screen, a single, slim sidebar that can stack above or below the main body copy, and as few extraneous design embellishments as possible.

This all said, simple does not mean designs can’t be attractive and attention grabbing. In a world where we are increasingly bombarded with information and visual stimuli, designs that are simple and elegant tend to cut through the clutter much more effectively than designs that are ornate or busy. For an email message to be successful (both in and out of the mobile environment), it is better to keep your layouts simple and elegant than to loose an audience due to clutter or poor browser rendering.


Mobile-Friendly Desktop Example with SidebarMobile-Friendly Mobile Example with Sidebar
Click thumbnails to zoom

Anthony Blair Borders is the senior web designer at Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company. Contact: or (510) 473-0368.

Making the Most of Convio for Online Fundraising

Each of our clients goes through the important process of selecting a technology platform for their online fundraising and constituent management needs. Part of our role at Donordigital is to help our clients optimize the use of their platform to maximize the organization’s fundraising performance.  Most of our current clients are using the Convio platform (now a Blackbaud company).  While Convio has some powerful capabilities right out-of-the-cloud, we’ve implemented some creative solutions to raise more money online.

  1. Present a donation page after an advocacy alert is completed.Most online advocacy systems offer a thank you page after a visitors signs a petition or takes an action, but this can be changed in Convio to present a donation page.  The text on the page should first thank the visitor for their completed action since it’s crucial to thank your supporters. Then make a brief case on how a financial gift will help even more. They’re already on the donation page so it couldn’t be easier for them to give right away!  We’ve seen higher than ordinary completion rates for donation pages when using this technique.
  1. Use the full name of a constituent’s state to create a more personalized experience.Prospective donors love it when something feels personal, and Convio allows you to spell out the first name of their state (e.g. California or Texas) rather than the abbreviation (CA or TX) in subject lines or in the copy.  The long version of the state name is useful for many scenarios; for example, a national organization can send an email message nationwide thanking “You and other supporters in [your state] for helping to [feed hungry kids].  Just remember to include an “else” in your conditional for constituents with email addresses but no physical addresses. Here’s the s-tag you should use (the exact conditional command may vary): [[S1:home_stateprov_long]].
  1. Refresh an imageeverywhere it’s used for ease of updating.This makes it possible to, for example, easily change the image of a donor premium on multiple pages—so that the prospective donor sees the same brand experience everywhere she looks. Include relevant premium information in the image, and by updating the image in Convio (as opposed to putting in a separate new image), Convio will refresh the image anywhere it’s used within about 20 minutes. So if you have that premium featured on three (or 34!) donation pages, all three locations will be updated by this one change.
  2. Customize an appealaccording to interests.You can send the same message to everyone on your list, but conditionalize part of the message so that those with a marked interest in a particular program area are served up a fundraising ask that will be more appealing to them. For example, an email describing the work of your organization could have a general appeal for everyone, except for those who have indicated elsewhere that they’re interested in a new program you’re launching—those constituents could see a different ask for a restricted gift to that initiative.
  1. Schedule when your donation forms are automatically unpublished, and select an evergreen form where people will be directed to instead.Is there a deadline for your donation campaign? This method makes it possible for those who try to give after the deadline to still make a gift, but any reference to the expired campaign (e.g. an expired premium offer or matching gift opportunity) will no longer be visible.
  2. Use an action alert as a petitionif you’d prefer to deliver e-signatures to the target of your action alert instead of having them emailed directly by the Convio system.Just set up the target with an email address at your organization that you can use just for this purpose (the inbox will get flooded with action alerts). This method allows you more flexibility; you can access those emails anytime you need them. You can download all the signatures (responses) once you’re ready to deliver them and can then choose to deliver via email, mail, a media-covered in-person delivery, or some other method.

Mal Warwick’s nonprofit fundraising newsletter has new editor

Photo of Mal WarwickThe venerable Mal Warwick is giving up the editorial role of his newsletter that he’s been writing and publishing for the past 25 years, and passing the baton to Dan Doyle, who succeeded Mal as President and CEO of Mal Warwick Associates.

Mal has moved on to a new, full-time job as managing director of the One World Futbol Project.

Read and subscribe to Mal Warwick’s Newsletter.

Michael Stein is a Senior Account Executive at Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company. Contact: or phone (510) 473-0364.