Case study – digital fundraising with 350.org

Case study – digital fundraising with 350.org

The plan was to use modern digital fundraising tactics to raise approximately $1 million dollars between the end of November (Giving Tuesday) and December 31 for 350.org.

This was a substantial increase over past December drives, so we needed a mixture of smart planning, crisp writing, and updated ActionKit. Then, just as we were about to really get this party started in November, Donald Trump was elected President. In the first week of December, Trump announced former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tilerson as his nominee for Secretary of State.

In the end, we raised just over $2.2 million in the December Drive. Even more important, we dramatically increased recurring donors, which are a key source of ongoing funding for 350. Here’s how we did it and a a few key elements to our success:

  • Talking about Trump and the election: Simply put the election of Donald Trump was the key to success we never wanted, and couldn’t stop taking advantage of. Emails that mentioned Trump explicitly out performed non-Trump emails by a wide margin. It’s clear that 350 members and supporters understand the threat of the Trump presidency and are motivated to support your work as a result
  • Sending more emails. We added emails to the calendar, extended the fundraising plan by 2 weeks (from 4 to 6) and sent close to 5 million outbound messages in total, more than twice as many as in 2015. And more mail did not lower the average gift or yes rate; In fact we raised 14% more/email sent than in 2015.
  • Suggested asks and algorithms that bumped up the average gift. Our plan called for a 30% increase in the average gift. Thanks to ActionKit’s suggested Ask tools and more targeted segmenting of the donor list we beet that goal by $1 in small gifts and more than $40 in mid-level donations.
  • Recurring donors. We hoped to increase monthly giving by about 10%/month. Instead we nearly doubled it – and have beaten industry standard metrics for donor retention every month – so technically, we’re adding new monthly donors in 2017, instead of gradually losing the ones we signed up in late 2016.

Not everything worked perfectly, of course, and we had a few misfires of things where we got mixed results. Where we could identify consistent types of failure, we of course tried to pivot away from those behaviors. And on the whole, the drive was a huge success. But into every life a little rain must fall, so here’s some examples of things that need more time in the oven or were outright failures, may you learn from (and not repeat) our errors:

  • Video content: Historically, Bill McKibben records a year end video that’s sent to the entire 350 global community, and it’s usually the top performing fundraiser by far. This year, Bill recorded a video with his adorable dog, and it did fine, but not great. .
  • Match asks and pledge-raisers. We added several match asks to the YE series this year, and for giving Tuesday we ‘raised our own match’ by asking mid level donors to chip in first, and then asking non-donors to match their pledges. The #givingtuesday version was a big success – the content overall was one of the most successful part of our drive. But the individual match emails did not perform better than our best Trump content (see table above). That doesn’t mean matches are a bad idea, especially where there is not a specific anti-Trump message that makes sense to raise money on.
  • More photos and animated gifs. This one is a decidedly mixed result – with some clear indications that photos and animatics in donation emails are probably a good idea but more testing needed. To wit – we did one head to head test on Giving Tuesday where we tried versions with and without photos, and tried two different photos – 1 an image of Trump’s face and a more “uplifting” one of a big anti-Trump march. While the click and donate rates were similar for all three versions, the one with Trump’s face had a markedly higher average donation and raised more than $10,000 more. It’s also true that in the image tests, more of the clicks went to the image/button than to the text links. But because the click rate was not higher overall, we can’t say that the image itself caused more people to click – just that when presented with an image, they’re more likely to click on that than other content.
  • More links and different kinds of links. Interestingly, when we re-sent that same #givingTuesday email later in the day encouraging people to help us hit the match goal before the end of #givingTuesday, people were equally likely to click on the text link in the short lift note as they were to click on the image lower in the email. Again the overall click rate did not go up, so we can’t say for sure that adding the image or the lift note made the click rate go up, but we do know that people are more likely to click on short summary links at the top, and big images in the body of an email.

And here’s one to avoid.

  • Apologizing asks and “sorry but” phrasing. When comparing emails with photos/graphics, similar word counts and similar messengers/signers. One thing stood out as different between some messages: tone. Where we were defiant and the call to action clearly connected donations to the campaign with sentences like “If you believe in our collective work to stand up to fossil fuel interests, I hope you’ll make a $15 donation to 350.org this year” we saw big success. In otherwise similar messages where the tone was more apologetic and reluctant, like “Neither of us are super keen about asking you for money, but we are committed to this fight, and we hope you are too,” we had a struggle.

So that’s our experience raising money for 350 in the Post-Trump December 2016. Got ideas, questions, or maybe a suggestion for how to do things better? Hit us up on facebook, twitter, or just drop me a line and let me know how PowerThru can help you.

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