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Top Five Priorities of Working in the Digital Channel

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Covid accelerated the use of the digital fundraising channel whether charities were ready for it or not. Some had to learn on the fly, some had parts of a digital strategy knitted together and others had robust systems in place ready to handle any eventuality. Now, after 21 months of pandemic digital practice, we’ve got the fundamentals of using the digital channel for raising money, and we’re pleased to present the best guidance from three experts.

Harvey McKinnon is noted for his expertise in monthly giving. His recent book, How to Create Lifelong Donors Through Monthly Giving, was published in 2020. Taslim Somani, advisor, digital transformation leads online initiatives for clients at Stephen Thomas Ltd and has written on fundraising and marketing for various publications. Brock Warner, CFRE, is a partner at Broccoli, a specialised consultancy for fundraisers and nonprofits. He's also the author of the bestselling From the Ground Up: Digital Fundraising for Nonprofits and a professor in the Fundraising Management postgraduate program at Humber College's Business School in Toronto. Here are your pro tips. 

One: Secure Your Fundamentals
“Getting your fundamentals down is the most basic thing,” says Warner. “You need to be able to answer the question of why a donor should donate to you. Your answer will help you develop your voice, and you need this before you start anything.” 

And when you figure out what you want to say, you need to say it well. “Invest in fundraising copyrighters who understand the digital space,” says McKinnon. “In direct mail, we know the difference copy can make—the same is true of digital. You need to have a good subject line. Don’t be afraid to test. In one campaign we tested the colour of the donation button and there was a difference of 50% in response.”

Warner also considers part of the fundamentals to include having a content calendar that gets executed well and making sure that all the elements that can be automated are automated.

Two: Take a Strategic Approach
“Taking a strategic approach is important when it comes to digital fundraising. Not only from a channel standpoint, but from an organizational standpoint,” says Somani. “Lots of organizations separate marketing and fundraising functions. These barriers need to come down so opportunities are not lost.” 

She also notes that Covid has been the catalyst for a digital transformation. “Many organizations don’t know what to do with it all. It’s all happening more quickly than we thought. There are gaps in conversion programs and donor communication. It’s not just about the channel, it’s also the tools we need to use in that channel to meet donor expectations.”
Three: Consider the Donor Experience
Most of a prospective donor’s online experience has been in relation to consumer experience, and their expectation is that dealing with a charity will be similarly seamless. Somani suggests we try to ‘surprise and delight’ donors and reduce any friction in the process of giving an online donation. “The online donation process for many charities can be cumbersome,” she says. “Charities need to invest in state-of-the-art tools and, finally, to build that relationship and loyalty, so that a donor’s engagement with you reflects their own personal values.” 

Four: Email, Email, Email
The charities that did best throughout the Covid pandemic are the ones who kept in contact with their donors, and you don’t have to be always asking for money. “You can get in touch with donors about how a campaign is going or give them information about the issue you know they care about, which also gives them the opportunity to give,” says McKinnon. 

Somani adds that you need to own your data moving forward. “With changes in social media and more upcoming in the online ad space, how are you going to reach your donors if you don’t have their email and, hopefully, their cell phone number. There is a huge corollary between direct mail and email. They’re both one to one communication.”

Five: Understand the Integration of Your Programs 
Track your campaigns by campaign, including all channels, while keeping track of how your donor initially engaged with you. “An email campaign often drives up response in a direct mail campaign,” says McKinnon, “especially among young people, who are happy to receive a letter from you and will read it. But they are not going to fill in a response coupon and send it in with a cheque. They are going to go online to make their donation.” He notes that direct marketing campaigns can also be the source of major donors or legacy donors. 

In the coming year, digital fundraising will continue to play a vital role for organizations big and small. There’s a lot that’s been learned over the past couple of years and more yet to come. 

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