online giving

You're Doing It Right—Spontaneous Online Gifts

One of our clients has had a lot of large unsolicited gifts come in online lately. Our interest is piqued because we're not in the middle of a campaign. There's nothing radically share-able that's been released. If I had to say it, this part of the quarter is a relatively quiet and calm period for this group.

Then it hit me.

This is when you can see your annual plan pay off. The consistency and authenticity of your workhorse communications make all the difference, e.g., newsletters, e-newsletters, alerts, tweets, etc. Being in front of your donors with useful information and copy that shows them exactly why they're so important keeps your group top of mind ... in a good way.

So when they feel moved to give, you're at the top of their list.

You've built a relationship with them that isn't reliant upon a hard ask or gimmicky campaign for support (written with full appreciation for the well-timed usefulness of the hard ask and gimmicky campaign). They feel involved—they feel necessary—to the success of your organization's work. They give freely and with a full heart.

That's when you know you're doing it right.

Holiday Fatigue & Email Giving

A recent report from Experian Marketing Services noted a couple of trends that bear watching.

Email volume continues to grow, up 12.7% in Q3 2013 over Q3 2012. The Q2 report showed a 17.9% increase and, if my In Box is any indicator, Q4 will be up as well.

While open rates were up, click rates also fell by 15% from the prior year (Q2 also saw an 8% decline).

Revenue per email fell 18%.

Those findings aren't shocking. They're very similar to Blackbaud's findings as reported in its annual Benchmark Study for Nonprofits midyear which noted that open rates were consistent but click through and response rates continue to decline.

So, what does that have to do with holiday fatigue?

One of the reasons cited in the Blackbaud report was "a saturated channel with undifferentiated messaging and campaigns."

Over the past few weeks, retailers and nonprofits alike have bombarded our In Boxes with holiday offers and year end appeals. Very few of these stand out from the clutter. I expect they will only exacerbate those trends.

Anecdotal evidence we're seeing appears to support this. In some of the year end campaigns we're watching, open rates are up and unsubscribe rates are down - both positive trends. However click through and response rates have also fallen. One client is seeing a drop of almost 35% in revenue per email sent.

I'm not an alarmist. December giving is strong and I expect the year to end on a positive note. For that same client, other online giving is up ... and that's where the lion's share of the revenue comes from anyway.

But the point is, direct response to emails is falling. For most organizations the response seems to be to send more emails. And I think that's accelerating the trend.

I think we're seeing a shakeout in giving patterns as online usage habits mature. I believe email will continue to be an essential tool for donor development. But it will show its greatest value when it is used more to cultivate relationships year around rather than simply to collect the reward at year end.

Case Study: A Successful Matching Gift Campaign

Earlier this year we worked on a matching gift campaign for the PKD Foundation. Merritt and I gave a presentation at NPConnect last month where we broke down the elements that combined to make it so successful. As nonprofits head into year end, I thought it would be good to quickly share the challenges, the solutions and the outcome of this winning matching gift campaign.

  • Framing the ask around an unsure outcome
  • Fluctuating match amount
  • The luxury of raising a lot of money
The PKD Foundation had a promising drug in the final stages of FDA approval. The campaign had to launch before we knew what the outcome would be. Donors' commitments to the matching gift were in flux and once it launched ... whoa, Nellie.


M&C recommended several specific strategies to manage the wildcard elements in the campaign and create a sense of urgency, enthusiasm and comfort in investing in the campaign for direct mail and online donors.
  • Simplicity. Rather than bog down the copy with the details of how the match came to be, who was doing it and the organizational underpinnings, we kept it super simple. The match is the rockstar and it came through in everything we sent out. Easy to understand. Easy to get excited about.
  • Focus on the feeling. The outcome of the drug testing wouldn't be known for a while, but what mattered was the sense of optimism and hope it gave major funders of the foundation. Our copy focused on the momentum in research. The fact that it sparked big donors to issue a matching gift challenge led to the entire community feeling it was a good time to make an investment.
  • Just keep going — add in the details later. Up until the announcement email launched, we were unsure of the actual match amount. We wrote around it and kept things moving. This way, we still launched on time and with some simple plug and play graphics, the branding was easy to maintain regardless of match amount.
  • Agility at all times. What do you do when you meet the match after the announcement email drops? Before the direct mail letter is even in the mail? You use your success as a rallying cry and reinforce the bold point you made that now is the best time to make a gift. The campaign continued and blew all expectations out of the water:
  • Goal: $125,000
  • Result: $224,542
  • Exceeded goal by 79.63%
  • Plus ... average gift of $229