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Digital Fundraising: Frameworks and Strategies to Optimize Online Revenue

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Online giving continues to grow at a faster rate than other forms of giving, and as more donors are choosing to give online, it is now more important than ever for nonprofits to prioritize digital fundraising strategies.

To help nonprofits develop effective online strategies, Brady Josephson, CEO of shift, joined us for our event, “Digital Fundraising: Frameworks and Strategies to Optimize Online Revenue.” If you weren’t able to attend the event or wanted to brush up on your digital fundraising skill, this blog post summarizes the key takeaways from Brady’s interactive workshop. You can also watch a the event recording at the bottom of this page or on our YouTube channel, and view Brady’s presentation below or on Slideshare

The Framework

Brady’s basic framework for successful digital fundraising consists of three primary pillars: 

Step 1: Earn Attention. How do you get people to engage with you and your work?

Step 2: Increase Motivation. How do you compel, motivate, and inspire people into action?

Step 3: Reduce Friction. How do you make it simple, easy, and meaningful or people to take action?

shift agency's digital fundraising framework

Each of these goals corresponds to a different component of your overarching digital fundraising strategy:

  1. To earn attention, you need to make your ideal donor an enticing offer. You make this offer using targeted digital ads (Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, promoted tweets, etc.) that motivate your ideal donor to visit your website, and when you increase the attention of your donor, you’ll increase traffic to your website. 
  2. To increase motivation, you need to qualify the offer you made in your ads. You do by providing a compelling, inspiring invitation to donate on your nonprofit’s website (or on a specific landing page devoted to the ad campaign that your ideal donor initially clicked on). Boosting motivation can help increase the average gift that donors contribute.
  3. To reduce friction, you need to make both the decision to donate and the actual donation process as smooth, simple, and meaningful as possible. You do this by optimizing your donation page in ways that we’ll discuss below. Reducing friction will result in higher conversion rates (the metric for tracking how many visitors become donors). 

All of this comes together in a simple equation:

Traffic x Average Gift x Conversion = Revenue

In other words, to generate more revenue, you need to boost traffic to your website, increase the average gift that donors contribute, and improve conversion rates. When all three of these things happen simultaneously, the potential impact on your revenue is tremendous. 

Brady notes that, while improvement in any of these areas will likely yield short-term gains, this is a long-term strategy. Digital fundraising is sequential; success depends on getting “micro-yes’s” from your target donors that ultimately lead to repeat giving. And so, Brady encourages all of us to remain focused on building a sustainable fundraising practice with an eye toward overall growth instead of chasing quick wins. 

Earning Attention

The first step in increasing revenue is to earn the attention of your ideal donor. In terms of digital fundraising, the main avenue for doing so is search marketing -- getting your website to appear in your target donor’s search results. There are two main branches of search marketing. The first is Search Engine Optimization (SEO), an approach that involves optimizing your website’s content and code to increase its relevance to certain keywords, thus boosting the chances that your website will appear at the top of relevant search results. The second is pay-per-click (PPC). 

With PPC, you bid on target keywords that are relevant to both your organizational mission and the interests of your ideal donor. When your ideal donor searches for one of these keywords, your ad will appear at the top of the search results. 

The Google PPC platform is called Ad Words, and this is where Brady focused most of the workshop on, since most nonprofits (as long as they are eligible TechSoup members) have access to up to $10,000 per month in AdWords credits through the Google for Nonprofits program.

Here are some of the best practices for running effective PPC campaigns:

  • Follow your website navigation: Structure individual campaigns around specific pages of your website. For example, a campaign intended to teach your target donor about your organization’s mission should go to your About Us page; a campaign aimed at raising donations should go your Donate page. 
  • Structure campaigns around action(s). Don’t just send people to your website, send them to your website with a specific intention. These intentions could include making a donation, signing up for your email list, reading your content -- whatever it is, the goal of the campaign should be to trigger this action.
  • Tracking is essential. The only reliable way to judge the effectiveness of your PPC campaigns is to track them. You can (and should) link your AdWords account to Google Analytics to see how your various campaigns are performing. Experiment, test, and adjust to make sure your campaigns are earning the attention you need.

Increasing Motivation

The biggest mistake that nonprofits make in digital fundraising is to not provide clear value to their potential donors. You can’t convert a website visitor into a donor without having convinced that person that there is value in a) what you’re doing and b) the potential impact of their donation. 

So one of the most critical aspects of optimizing your fundraising strategy is to increase visitor motivation. In other words, you must provide a compelling answer to the following question:

If I am your ideal donor, why should I give to you rather than some other organization or not at all?

Brady stressed that your entire fundraising strategy should be structured around this question.

To increase motivation, you need to first understand that, in seeking contributions from current and potential donors, you are actually making them an offer. For many nonprofits, this will seem counterintuitive -- after all, we have been conditioned to think about fundraising as the art of making strategic asks. However, if you don’t provide the strongest value proposition possible to your ideal donors, you aren’t centering motivation and your revenue will suffer. 

According to research from NextAfter, there are four components of a value proposition:

  1. Appeal: Why would I want to donate?
  2. Exclusivity: How is this different than any other organization?
  3. Credibility: Why should I trust you?
  4. Clarity: What exactly does your nonprofit do, and what will my donation achieve?

Once you understand how your nonprofit creates value, you can begin to craft fundraising offers that are driven by compelling value propositions. Brady draws on materials from the Better Fundraising Company to explain what makes a great fundraising offer:

A human-sized problem

What is the key problem you’re working to address? Rather than depicting this as an abstract social issue, put it in human terms that are easy to understand. Whom does it affect and how? By putting people in the spotlight, you can foster a sense of personal investment amongst your ideal donors. 

To illustrate this point, Brady used an example from an organization that provides basic, safe homes to families living in precarious situations. 

A human-sized problem

In this image, a massive problem is presented through a photograph of a family living in a slum above two short sentences: Imagine living here. Without a safe home, families are exposed to life-threatening dangers. By framing the problem as “human-sized,” the organization conveys a sense of direct and personal urgency.

It’s important to note the ethical considerations around depicting the impact that complex social problems have on specific people, especially people from marginalized groups. In striving for directness, we must not reduce people into mere victims and complex social issues into standalone problems. The sector needs to balance effectiveness with responsibility and respect for the people we serve.

A solution that’s easily understood 

Human-sized problems demand human-sized solutions. In Brady’s previous example, the “solution” to the life-threatening dangers that underhoused families experience is this: A safe home for $6,000 provides the foundation for health, education, and opportunity. The link between the problem and solution is simple, direct, and compelling.

A price point that seems like a good deal

To invite donors to take part in the solution, you need to demonstrate that their gift, whatever the size, can make a real difference. Brady highlights a different organization to illustrate this concept. For example, the Union Gospel Mission’s donation page states that “$100 provides 30 meals to people in need.” The numbers speak for themselves. For many donors, the notion that they can feed 30 people for just $100 is as compelling as it is appealing. 

A sense of urgency to act today

Incorporating a time-based component to your fundraising offer will instill it with a sense of increased urgency, so that donors are less inclined to procrastinate in making a contribution. 

Many nonprofits utilize matching campaigns, which are effective because they are time-bound and they amplify the impact of a donor’s contribution, as demonstrated in the screenshot below.

So, now that you know how to craft a great offer, the key is to communicate value throughout every aspect of your digital fundraising efforts. Whenever and wherever an interaction may take place between your nonprofit and a potential donor -- whether through email, digital ads, social media, or on your website -- you need to deliver a motivating value proposition. 

Reduce Friction

Brady uses the term “friction” to describe any obstacle that impedes a visitor to your website from making an online contribution. 

Based on research from NextAfter, Brady identifies seven types of donation page friction:

  1. Field number: More form fields mean more friction. Reducing the number of fields shortens the distance between visitor and donation.
  2. Field layout: A form appears to require more work when the fields are stacked vertically on top of one another. Moving related fields side-by-side and reducing their size helps reduce perception of how much information is being asked of the donor.
  3. Error: When someone misses a field or doesn’t follow proper formatting, the error message they encounter should provide specific feedback on what the error is and how to remedy it. Vague error messages are frustrating and lead to aborted donations.
  4. Registration: Many organizations require donors to create an account and login before they are able to complete the donation. Typing multiple passwords, running a “forgot password” reset, etc. creates frustration and leads the donor away from your page. Remove it!
  5. Decision: Unanticipated questions on a donation form create decision friction. For example, if you are requiring donors to categorize and/or classify their gifts, you are making the process needlessly difficult.
  6. Confusion friction slows down your donors, or even worse, stops them in their tracks. Using jargon, including multiple calls to actions, etc. distracts the donor from the primary goal of completing their gift. The donor may begin to ask "where do I click to make my gift?" or "What am I supposed to do now?"
  7. Device: If your donation page is not optimized for mobile use, you are ensuring that donors who try to access your page via mobile will have an awful experience and will likely drop off. Make your donation page responsive! 

Tips on Optimizing Your Donation Pages

At this point in his presentation, Brady analyzed the donation pages of several brave volunteers from the audience. You can view his brutal honesty in the recording, but here are the key points that emerged:

  • Create a natural eye-path: Design your donation page so that the eye-path flows from top to bottom. This is the easiest way for visitors to process the information they're reading.
  • Get your donation page out of your template: If your site building template uses language such as "proceed to payment," be sure to change it so that it aligns with fundraising messaging. Also, remove branding for any of the tools you use (payment portals, site builders, etc.) -- it's distracting.
  • Talk to humans as a human: Don't be jargon-y and don't be overly formal. Remember that potential  donors are people and so are you. Use language that is accessible and inviting.
  • Remove phone as required or completely: Brady cites a case study where testing proved that requiring donors to enter their cell phone numbers resulted in a 42% decrease in donations. Remove this field (or at least mark it as not required).
  • Always communicate your value and offer: Just because someone has landed on your donations page doesn't mean they will complete the donation process. To get them to contribute, you need to convey a clear value proposition throughout the entire process, from beginning to end. How, who, where, and why will their donation help? Providing this insight is critical for nudging people toward the finish line and nurturing repeat donations.
  • Clearly display your charitable registration number, phone number, and security mark on your donations page. This helps boost your credibility and trustworthiness. 
  • Have suggested donation amounts, each tied to tangible, measurable impact. (For example, $100 will provide meals for 30 people). 
  • After donation, direct donors to a confirmation/ thank you page. Follow this up with a confirmation email (from a real, live human!) that restates your value proposition. 
  • If the friction on your donation page is making you cringe, run some tests. Change the layout, remove unnecessary fields, humanize the language -- see what happens! Use NextAfter’s “Validate Your Own Experiment” tool to help you run effective optimization tests. 

More Resources

Event Recording

Brady’s Presentation Slides