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Converting Online Supporters to Donors

Last week at AFP Congress, we presented a workshop on the topic of Converting Online Supporters to Donors.  One of the most important new trends in fundraising and donor base growth.

We were encouraged to see that at least half of the 60 participants had online supporters.  However, only a handful was actively trying to convert them to donors.

Online communities represent a huge untapped pool of potential donors.  And, with the increasing cost of acquiring new donors through traditional channels, more and more non profits are looking at their online supporters as a means of acquiring new donors.  But, there are some pitfalls to avoid and key actions to be taken which will increase the probability of success.

The first step would be to identify the target audience you want to reach online and create the necessary social networking opportunities.  The key in this step is to make it simple and easy – one issue linked to one action.  There are number of ways to acquire online supporters including petitions, pledges, surveys and registration for information, newsletters or events.  You can create these opportunities internally or use 3rd party vendors, such as care2.

From the start you should segment your online supporters as much as possible – this will ensure that you are able to determine which online communities represent best opportunities for conversion.  Also, it’s always a good idea to make sure that you have box to check if over 18 – a lot of online petitioners are younger and likely not your target for fundraising.  Based on our experience, if done right your odds are good this approach will work for you, but you won’t know what works until you try it!  And above all, Test, Test, Test.

Capturing the right Information

The single most common error we see is that organizations do not capture enough information to be able to communicate with their online supporters offline.  You should collect more than email address postal code.  We highly recommend you get street address (mainly so you can use a match service to find their phone number) and include a comprehensive opt-in clause.  Ideally you would also capture phone number.

As the Next Generation of Canadian Giving Report demonstrated, just because someone came to your organization online does not mean that is the only way you should communicate with them. Supporters want to be communicated in a multi-channel approach so you should reach out to them online and offline (phone and direct mail).  And the reality is your best online giving tool is the phone.

So while many organizations think the way to raise money from online donors and contacts is to email them (which you should do of course), the much more significant fundraising opportunity, including obtaining monthly donors, is going to come from phoning them.

If you are worried that asking for too much information will decrease participation in your campaign (which is a risk), then develop a 2 screen landing page model that captures basic information on the first page and more detailed but optional information on a second screen.

Steward/Engage Supporters

To move from participant to donor you need to build a relationship before doing any fundraising.  The relationship should start with a Thank you.  We generally recommend an e-welcome series of 4-8 communications that include more information about your organization, newsletters, any direct mail communications you send to your donors, subsequent calls to action and ultimately a soft donor ask.

How to convert

As mentioned above, there is a synergy between online and the phone and that’s where most of your revenue will come.  So after engaging the supporter for 4 to 8 weeks, you should phone them to become donors and even monthly donors!

How to maximize the Response Rate

There are a number of factors which will influence the response rate including:

  • How recently online supporter took action
  • How active was supporter’s action (i.e. petition vs. registration)
  • Did you steward/engage the supporter
  • Urgency of appeal
  • Strength of call to action
  • How involved is supporter with organization (how many actions have they taken)
  • Using the appropriate strategy and method for the solicitation.

What results can be expected

We have conducted many telefundraising campaigns to convert online supporters to donors and the results have varied considerably depending on campaign, although usually very successful.  Ensuring that the factors that influence response rates (as outlined above) have been incorporated into your strategy is key.

The following is a sampling of 20 different campaigns conducted over the last 3 years and their response rates.

Other metrics that should be analyzed (as with all fundraising campaigns) include:

  • Months to break even
  • ROI
  • Net Cost to acquire a new donor
  • Long term Value
  • Retention

Keys to Successful Conversion

  1. Find passionate online supporters
  2. Capture information so can communicate offline
  3. Engage and steward – use multichannel approach
  4. Segment
  5. Phone to Convert
  6. Test and take risks

Watch for upcoming blogs on How to Find New Supporters through Online Action Campaigns and Case Studies about recent successful Online Conversion Campaigns.

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