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.

The Environmental Action Way

The Environmental Action Way

As you may have seen elsewhere I recently resigned as Director at Environmental Action after 5 years building a big, powerful, digitally focussed environmental group. It’s a decision I made with some reservations and emotion, but this isn’t the post where I intend to have all the feels. This is a post where I intend to talk about HOW we did all the amazing stuff we did over the last 5 years. Specifically, growing the email list from 40,000 mostly worthless (bouncing) emails, to nearly a million gross records. And also how we used that big, digital audience to raise the majority of our budget in the form of nearly $1 million a year in online and recurring donations.

What list growth looks like
Env Axn list growth Jan 2015 – May 2016, weekly.

It turns out that growing a digital audience is actually an incredibly fast and efficient way to build power around issues like climate change, fracking, endangered species and clean water – and it can be done in a revenue-neutral way/cash positive manner. Explaining the whole process in one post will be hard, so I’ll break this into a few (to keep my Hemingway-app editors happy) and this one will kick things off and link to all the good, data-driven bits.

So first of all, let’s talk about what we’re talking about: The Environmental Action way can be boiled down to a simple thesis: you (yes you!) can double the size of your email list ~every 12 months, while raising ~$1 from each of those list members every 18 months.

Why do you care? Well if you’re an Executive Director, that means you can create an army (literally hundreds of thousands of people) in less time than you can re-apply from that last foundation that rejected you. For Alinsky-ite organizers, it means you can use the digital toolbox to develop sustainable campaigns with a full ladder of engagement, leaders at every level and stable funding from the people who benefit/are invested in your program. For Piven-inspired movement bomb-throwers think of this as an instruction manual for how to build a list of followers bigger than the average nightly viewership of a CNN program.

For everyone else just consider this: As activists our power comes from organized people, as opposed to organized money (though getting those people to organize their money – either by donating to a campaign, divesting or boycotting  an industry or pooling resources to create our own economic power – is a really important and time-honored set of  tactics). The digital toolbox offers us a new and proven-effective way to organize more people than ever before, faster than used to be possible, with bigger results. After the jump, we’ll lay out the how-to and link to specific trainings and tutorials in each step.

So, you want to make a revolution online?

Read this book
Read this book

Cool. If you want to do it like we did at Environmental Action there are 4 metrics that matter:

  1. The size of the email list and social media audience;
  2. The Engagement of that list and audience;
  3. How much money you raise online; And
  4. Delivering real, visible progress in coalition with allies – Staging a rally or protest, winning a vote or lawsuit, or major media attention are all examples.

Click the links above to see my write up about each of those metrics and how to build success day by day. In doing that, you should be able to pick up our basic drill and how we operate. If you live the practice (like kung fu!) then you’ll absorb the knowledge and magic that has grown Environmental Action into one of the biggest environmental groups online in the last few years.

How to get petition signatures using Facebook

How to get petition signatures using Facebook

If you want to win at the internet, your non-profit or campaign is going to need to capture some email addresses. And that means you’re going to need to get signatures on something like a petition or an action. Coincidentally, online petitions and actions can also be SUPER effective at creating political and social change.

But just starting a petition isn’t enough – you need people to see and act on that petition. And that means you’re going to need to post it on Facebook, where millions of eager people are just waiting to take action. HOW to get those petition signatures is less obvious. It’s a subtle art and precise science that we’ve spend years cooking up at PowerThru. Here’s the cliff notes version – for the real recipe, you’ll have to call us for a consultation.
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Turning Salsa Into a Member Management System

Turning Salsa Into a Member Management System

While Salsa does an excellent job as a system for processing online donations for non-profits and political campaigns, it lacks built-in features needed to use it as an effective member-management system. To help, PowerThru Consulting recently completed projects for two nonprofit clients – the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). We helped them set up a system to enable visitors to their site to sign up for a paid membership, and then to report on membership statistics and send reminder emails to members when it is time to renew. While these systems are similar in many aspects, they had several unique features that help illustrate the different ways PowerThru can develop a custom member-management system within Salsa to serve the needs of different non-profits.
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Email Acquisition Performance 2: Who pays the bills?

Email Acquisition Performance 2: Who pays the bills?

Drew Hudson and Laura Packard contributed writing and research to this post. Go Team! The question I have been asked the most after my first post on email acquisition performance for a non-profit by channel used to acquire them*, “Interesting, but how does it affect fundraising?” After all, all good organizing needs to pay for itself and online fundraising is some of the most efficient around for both political campaigns and non-profits. So inquiring readers want to know how the differing performance I found in new members acquired from Facebook ads, list buys, and list swaps (joint actions) translate into fundraising efforts.

The answer is that the same trend applies in non-profit fundraising emails: joint actions performed far better than either paid list buys or Facebook ads for email acquisition in terms of donations.
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What’s a Welcome email worth?

What’s a Welcome email worth?

There’s been a really healthy, if vociferous, argument going around over whether or not to send a ‘welcome series’ of emails to new supporters on your non-profit or campaign email list. The concept is probably familiar: you send a pre-written package of emails over a few days or weeks to ease new people to your non-profit or political campaign onto your list. The pro and con go something like this:

PRO: By easing people onto the list and introducing them to our ladder of engagement, they are more likely to open, click, and donate later on. Good cultivation makes for better members.

CON: Other than checking for dead or spam-bot emails on your list, all a welcome series does is feed outdated content to members who otherwise have the highest-probability of being really active, engaged and excited. Why waste people’s initial enthusiasm with emails that aren’t about your hottest campaigns?

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Email acquisition performance: nature vs. nurture

Email acquisition performance: nature vs. nurture

If you’re a non-profit or political campaign and have an email list, chances are you want to grow it. (Read our tips on how to grow your email list through advocacy for non-profits and campaigns for more on that.) Even if you just wanted to stay the same size, you will need list growth simply to stay in place as people naturally “age out” of your list. One question on our minds is how do people on your list perform, based on how they were acquired.

You have a few basic options of how to grow your list (besides getting lucky and having your campaign or issue get a lot of media coverage so it spreads virally). The three main ways we see are a) paid acquisitions (paying someone, usually a service like Care2/Change.org/LeftAction/Democrats.com, to acquire new names), b) online advertising (in the case of Environmental Action, mostly Facebook — Google and other methods haven’t performed as well) or c) joint actions with other like-minded groups where no money changes hands, and you exchange names instead.

Obviously, these methods are not exclusive, but I wanted to test how people acquired performed later. Would paying for people drive down their performance? Would list swaps give you people who don’t truly become members of your organization?
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Launching the Pam Byrnes for Congress campaign

Launching the Pam Byrnes for Congress campaign

Pam Byrnes is a well-known and inspirational political figure in Southeastern Michigan. She’s been a part of Washtenaw County politics for many years, was elected three times as State Representative before being term limited out, and finished up her career in the state legislature as House Speaker Pro Tempore. The 7th Congressional District is an equally well-known battleground in Michigan politics, control having gone back and forth between the Democratic Party and Republicans over the past decade. Although not seriously contested in 2012, this seat is perennially a national hot seat.

Pam was temporarily overseas working for the University of Michigan after her time in the legislature, but she came home to win back this seat. Although she had a well-known name and political background, it had been a few years since Pam had run for office — and she had never run for a federal race before. That’s where we came in.
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How Liam Neeson Invigorated NYC’s Animal Rights Activists

How Liam Neeson Invigorated NYC’s Animal Rights Activists

When an actor takes a swipe at the Mayor of New York City for supporting the end of the carriage horse industry, what’s the leading non-profit advocacy animal rights organization in NYC to do? How about demonstrate the incredible size of their movement while combating outdated gender norms? Thanks to the power of social media and online advocacy together, we did just that.
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Four ways NYCLASS used NationBuilder to win the 2013 city elections in New York

Four ways NYCLASS used NationBuilder to win the 2013 city elections in New York

How we built a beautiful and effective new NationBuilder website for non-profit advocacy organization NYCLASSNo one believed it was possible when a small, but dedicated group of “crazy cat ladies” tried to change the landscape of New York City politics. But that’s exactly what our client NYCLASS, New York’s leading animal rights advocacy organization, did this past year with our help.

New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets is a progressive organization fighting to end the terrible abuse of carriage horses in NYC. We joined NYCLASS late in 2012 to help update their new media presence and begin their first online fundraising drives, and have been working with them ever since.
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