There are lots of advantages to using digital channels for fundraising. The most obvious is the capacity digital channels give you to reach out and build relationships with supporters while testing what works best for you relatively quickly and cheaply.
However, many organisations have unrealistic expectations of their digital fundraising, rarely giving it the time and budget needed to properly refine a scalable model, or range of models, that can be predictably relied on over years.
Many organisations also fail to put in place the building blocks that will help them prepare for long-term digital fundraising, reducing their capacity to grow digital fundraising without hitting major stumbling blocks down the road.
But it’s never too late to put in place a solid foundation to take your fundraising online. Here are some tips for doing the (sometimes) boring work that will help your digital fundraising stand the test of time.
1. Build your relationship with supporters
This is probably something you’re already doing, but it’s good to make sure that your digital communications are underpinned by a strategy that aims to build relationships with supporters before you invest a lot of money in digital acquisition to build your donor base.
The main question is this: is your digital content focused on your supporter? It applies across channels, but especially to email and your priority social media channels. Content should be focused on showing supporters the impact of what they do and how much you value and appreciate them.
It’s been said before but it’s worth repeating – digital channels are about conversations, not broadcasting. It doesn’t mean you necessarily have to respond to every comment on Facebook but it does mean you should try to create a sense of continuation and consistency across your content. Build the story of what your supporters have made possible over time so that it’s clear that their support makes a real difference.
Email is a really important channel for building relationships and essential for your digital fundraising. Before you start paying to recruit new supporters, invest in building a strong email programme. Here are some things to consider when building yours:
- Make it easy for people to sign up
- Put in place a welcome journey to introduce people to your organisation. Use it to give people a sense of who you are and why their support is so important.
- Focus your email content on stories about the impact supporters are making but also use email as a way for supporters to get to know the people ‘behind the scenes’.
- Give people different ways to engage – try to be creative and, as much as possible, make engagement actions meaningful.
- Watch your tone. So many organisations rely on corporate speak but email is a very personal channel. Unless there’s a reason your audience requires a more formal tone, try to keep your emails warm and conversational.
2. Make your case
This is much easier to say than to do! But your digital fundraising won’t go anywhere unless you’ve put the time in to craft a really compelling story about why someone should donate to you. Think about the stories that stay with you long after you’ve heard them. They usually include interesting details that capture your imagination – something that you can really visualise. That’s the kind of story you want to create.
The story is important, but it also needs to be underpinned by a clear, compelling and simple message about what someone’s support will do. Why is their donation important, what impact will it have? Even if you can’t create a shopping list of items, make sure you give people a sense of the tangible difference their money will make.
This is a great example of how simply you can convey what someone’s donation will do from charity:water:
If you take the time to create the perfect case for support, it will help your digital fundraising do as well as you can across organic channels and help make sure your investment in paid recruitment gives you the returns you need.
3. Plan your content
This sounds simple, but for all the focus on digital going on in organisations, content planning is often ad hoc, rushed and a little bit chaotic. While that might be hard to solve, making a few small changes in how you approach content planning can really help:
- Start thinking about what content supporters might find interesting even when you’re not actively working on it. Think like a writer or journalist and look for the most interesting angle on any work you’re doing.
- Get used to keeping team notes on content ideas in one place so that everyone can see what’s come up before and think about when it might be most useful to develop or share.• Plan dedicated time to talk about content with relevant colleagues on a regular basis.
- Make sure your content is working hard. When you’re planning new content think about its longevity. For example, how many times will you be able to use an image, graphic or video? Is it time sensitive or focused on a particular campaign? Then decide what level of investment is warranted based on how hard that piece is going to work for you.
- Only invest serious money in things that you can use repeatedly across any activity over a few years. An exception to this is if you think a particular piece of content will have a huge impact and achieve a core objective for you. But only invest that budget if a) you have it to spare and b) it’s going to help you achieve something really important.
- Make simple content plans or maps, you can do it for specific channels or as a whole. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It can be as simple as something like this that will just keep you on track:
4. Focus on key channels
If your resources are limited, don’t try to do everything. Instead look at who your key audiences are and focus on the channels they use.
You can also look at the strengths of particular channels and then decide which is most appropriate for you based on your objectives. For example, Google Search is useful for finding people who are already looking for related content, while TikTok is one of the best channels for reaching younger audiences. Each channel requires a bespoke approach that matches the audience you’re interested in reaching and the way the channel works.
This is especially important to pay attention to if you’re paying to recruit new supporters. You’ll need to think strategically about the channels that work best for that and then think through how your organic use of the channel sits alongside your paid activity to make the best use of the whole channel.
5. Build your foundations for growth
This is the boring bit but I can’t stress its importance enough! If you don’t lay the foundations for growing your digital fundraising at the beginning, it can be really hard to fix later when you’re dealing with a higher level of activity and larger volumes of supporter data.
Save your future self (and future colleagues) the headache and try and do the following:
- Start with the end in mind: if you don’t think through where you want to take your digital fundraising from the outset you risk getting stuck with systems and processes that can’t expand to meet your needs. This is easier if you have an overall organisational strategy that clearly sets out the ambition. But even if you don’t have one, create your own map of where you want to take your digital fundraising in future.
- Choose your software carefully: measure any potential software against your current activity, your ambition and its ability to grow with you. For example, make sure you know what free plans include, what the tiers are for increasing activity and how easily any system you might use will integrate with other software now and in the future.
- Play the long game: it takes time to recruit and convert people through digital channels. It’s an ongoing process of learning what works best for your audiences and on which channels, so plan for that and set expectations throughout the organisation accordingly.
- Do the boring work: if you’re setting up from scratch (even if you’re not), set out very clear guidelines and processes about how you use whatever systems you have in place. This might be the control freak in me, but having tidy accounts where everything is set up clearly can really save you time and energy. The really boring but important things in this are:
- Naming conventions: if the person who set ups all emails or donation pages etc left tomorrow, would someone else be able to easily identify what’s what in each account?
- Data collection: for example, with email sign ups are you going to ask people to opt in to email but then give them preference options for what they’d like to hear about? Do you have the system and the people power to allow you to segment easily based on that? If you can’t do it right now, are you allowing yourself the option to do it in future?
- Tracking: when you’re planning new supporter recruitment campaigns, with conversion tactics in email journeys, do you know at the outset what data you’ll need to collect at the end? Have you put in place all the necessary tracking to achieve that?
Useful resources to help you get the most out of your digital fundraising
Digital Charity Lab has a huge range of resources for charities on nearly every aspect of digital. You can also sign up to their email list to receive insights and updates https://www.digitalcharitylab.org/
Jean O’Brien, who runs Digital Charity Lab, and Adrian O’Flynn from Get Your Stories Straight (https://www.getyourstoriesstraight.com/) talk in detail about how to make the most of your Facebook ads strategy on this podcast. https://www.digitalcharitylab.org/resources/podcast-facebook-ads-strategy/
This is a really useful guide to designing great supporter journeys from the agency More Onion who design highly effective journeys for charities and non-profits https://act.more-onion.com/sites/actmo/files/Supporter%20journeys%20and%20automation.pdf
This is a really useful exercise to help plan and run a supporter journey mapping session https://www.atlassian.com/team-playbook/plays/customer-journey-mapping
Dancing Fox, an agency specialising in helping changemakers tell their story, make this useful story mapping tool available for free on their site. Based on the classic story archetype, the Hero’s Journey, it helps you map the key elements of your organisation’s story to build your compelling case https://dancing-fox.com/storymap/
Lisa Sargent, fundraising copywriter and donor communications specialist, has a range of free resources on her website http://www.lisasargent.com/free_resources.htmThis is a great blog from The American Press Institute about what makes a good story. It’s focused on journalism but the elements all apply to copywriting for fundraising and wider digital content for charities and non-profits. https://www.americanpressinstitute.org/journalism-essentials/makes-good-story/