online appeals

This online appeals post is part two in a six-part series. You can read part one here.

In part 1 of this series, I outlined my top six fundraising strategies for 2021:  

  1. Investing in digital-first fundraising and marketing communications
  2. Mastering online appeals, user experience and messaging
  3. Mastering relevant content marketing
  4. Mastering personalized, customer-centered philanthropy facilitation, especially mid-level and major donors, to increase donor lifetime value
  5. Mastering an analytic approach to strategy and planning
  6. Internalizing and externalizing an organization-wide culture of philanthropy

In this post, I’ll explore the second strategy. 

Master online appeals, user experience and messaging.

Your website serves as the central hub for your digital strategy, followed closely by the ways you drive folks to your website, including email, blog posts, newsletters, social media, text messaging, QR codes in print media, and advertising.

Because of its pivotal role in communicating your vision, mission, and values, your website should be well designed, informative, useful, and fully integrated with your online fundraising and CRM platforms whenever possible. 

The experience for the user should be seamless, of course, but this is the bare minimum. The user experience must be compelling enough to inspire action.

Commit to refreshing your website homepage, ensuring it’s both dynamic and user friendly.

Your website’s homepage presents an opportunity to make a first impression. 

Take a look at your current homepage and ask yourself: 

  • Is it clear right away who you are and what your mission is? 
  • Is your site well organized and easy to navigate? 
  • Are you using video and/or compelling images to tell relevant stories? 
  • Are there easily-identifiable links and buttons to your donate page or plugin?  

Tip: Conduct a formal or informal website audit, beginning with your homepage. 

I recommend hiring someone qualified to do this, but if you don’t have the budget for that, you can do it yourself. If you haven’t navigated through your site for a while, you may be amazed at how unfriendly the experience is.

Here’s how you can go about doing the audit yourself. 

First, pretend you know nothing about your organization. Then ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your mission clear and compelling (i.e., if your organization ceased to exist, would people care?)?  
  • Is it clear that you’re a nonprofit organization and therefore need donations to fulfill your mission? 
  • Does the organization look trustworthy? If so, how? If not, how can you appear more trustworthy?
  • Do you have clear, bold calls to action? Is it easy to join your mailing list? Is it easy to get to your donation page or plugin from your home page? 
  • Is it easy to share your website and other links via social media or email? 
  • Is it optimized for mobile devices? 

If you’re doing this on your own, it’s a good idea to ask a few friends or volunteers who know nothing about your organization to serve as user guinea pigs. 

Commit to refreshing your website donation landing page(s). 

As a fundraiser, don’t abdicate responsibility by leaving your donation page or plugin updates to your marketing or IT staff.

You’re responsible for bringing in the money, and your donation landing page can make or break your campaign. You should pay careful attention to where the points of friction are that may cause a would-be donor to abandon their donation. Here are some things you can do to improve.

Tip: Conduct a formal or informal donation landing page audit. 

Again, it’s always a good idea to ask someone unfamiliar with your organization to offer a fresh user perspective. Here are some questions to ask: 

  • Does your donation button stand out?
  • Is the page branded to match your website so users aren’t confused by where they land (which can undermine trust)?
  • Is the page clearly secure?
  • Is the page customized to particular campaigns? 
  • Are there multiple giving options, including recurring and suggested amounts?
  • Is the page uncluttered so it’s easy to understand key elements?
  • Is there a compelling visual that reinforces the case for support?
  • Is it easy to see how to give offline?
  • Is there contact information displayed should the donor want to contact you? 
  • Is it optimized for mobile?

Commit to a manageable social media strategy.

You already know the benefit of social media to reach wider audiences. However, you won’t see as much of a benefit as you could if you bite off more than you can chew.

Tip: Post interactive content that encourages engagement. 

Start small by focusing on just a few of the most relevant platforms to your cause and constituency. Develop a written plan to promote your online appeals, blog posts, videos, and other digital content. Post content that encourages people to share and engage, directing your audience back to your website whenever possible to generate more traffic. You can always add or subtract platforms as you grow or your audience behavior changes

Social media should be social. Interactivity significantly increases shares and conversions. If your content isn’t shared or engaged with, it’s not doing much good. 

Try a quiz to drive people to your website and get new email sign-ups to win prizes or get answers. Consider Twitter polls or Q&A sessions or surveys. Even sharing simple videos drives interactions and can increase the odds someone will engage with your content from 20% to 80%. 

Automate what you can, but don’t be a robot.

Automation helps you do more with less, so it’s a pretty essential strategy given that most nonprofits operate with limited budgets and staff. 

Learn all the ways fundraising automation can help you here: The Case for Marketing Automation: Why Nonprofit Fundraising Operations Should Automate Tasks to Optimize Staff Performance

Keep in mind that a digital-first strategy doesn’t mean you give up on personal touches. If you do, you can actually hurt your fundraising potential. 

Tip: Automation is useful only to the extent you come across as a human being. Use automation tools to support people, not to replace them. 

For example, one pitfall to avoid is sending emails from “do not reply” addresses. There’s nothing more frustrating than realizing you can’t respond to an email because it didn’t come from a real person. And there’s nothing more inconvenient than having to look up a contact if you need a question answered. 

Also take care to set your emails up so they don’t come across like a programmer wrote them. Your emails should look like they come from one person who is reaching out just like a friend or family member would.  

Commit to responding to questions personally. People’s desire for instant gratification today is real, and folks are used to businesses responding to them more or less immediately. Make sure someone checks your notifications daily and gets back to anyone needing a response. This is another way to make a good first impression—and limit the potential for a bad one.

“If you want to leverage automation for your organization, consider the elements of your strategy that you have already built out over the years. Then, see how you can automate the tasks that are already being accomplished by team members to make them faster and more efficient.

— Steven Shattuck, Chief Engagement Officer, Bloomerang

Strive for renewable online donations. 

Online giving is the fastest growing giving channel per research by M+R. It’s still a much smaller percentage of giving than offline giving, but you don’t want to ignore it.

Strategize how you’ll sustain your organization through online donations. Donors of all ages are giving more online, and users are finding you not just via your own email and website messaging but also via social media and Google searches. You’ll likely need to allocate more time and budget to this area, but it’ll be worth the investment. 

Tip: Plan to email more frequently—sending both online appeals and stewardship messages

Most nonprofits don’t email enough. This is a missed opportunity given the fact 99% of people check their email daily

Keep in mind that you’ve got about 7 seconds to get them to open your message; if they’re busy at the time and don’t click on it, they probably won’t come back. This is why emailing more than once makes sense. 

Sometimes leadership fears being intrusive, but this comes from not knowing enough about your donors’ behaviors, needs, and interests. You are not your donors! They don’t live and breathe your mission on a daily basis, and they want to know what’s happening.  

Strive for multiple email touches to keep them connected; then follow through with regular opportunities for them to act. After all, you’ve made them feel it with your non-ask emails. Now give them the chance to show you how they feel. A good ratio is three or four non-ask (cultivation) emails for each one with an ask (solicitation).

As with the rest of your website and communications, you should optimize for mobile. 46% of all email opens today happen on mobile devices; we’re close to a tipping point where a majority of email is accessed this way. Keep in mind when optimizing for screen size that more opens happen on iPhones than other devices.

When sending emails, personalize them as much as possible to secure higher open and conversion rates. Personalized emails have an average open rate of 18.8%, which is 5.7% higher than non-personalized emails. When personalization is in the subject line, these emails see a 50% higher open rate. If the call to action is personalized, this will convert 202% better than default calls to action. 

You should also audit this process by pretending that you’re a new donor. Make a donation to your nonprofit and see how you’re treated thereafter. 

Keep these questions in mind: 

  • What happens immediately? Are donors taken to a thank you landing page? 
  • Do donors receive an automated email with a receipt and a thank you? 
  • Do donors receive a mailed thank you card? A phone call?
  • What is the first communication they receive after being thanked? 
  • Through what different channels do donors hear from you? 
  • When is the first time donors are asked to make another gift? 
  • How many cultivation emails do donors receive before you make another ask?

Also note that different people process information differently. For this reason, commit to integrating tangible experiences with digital ones to create a well-rounded donor journey that should have a positive effect on your supporter’s lifetime value.

If you want more help mastering your online appeals, user experience and messaging, check out this free guide: Online Approaches to Build and Sustain Donor Loyalty.  

donor loyalty

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.