“What’s hot in year-end fundraising” Webinar Transcript
Daniel Buckley, one of Big Duck’s Senior Strategists, recently gave a webinar on some of the trends and tactics he noticed in the 2015 year-end giving season. Here’s a recording of the webinar, followed by a transcription of it. We hope it will help you spark a few new ideas as you begin to think about your organization’s 2016 campaign.
Need more than inspiration? Consider taking Farra’s day-long immersive workshop on year-end appeals, specifically for smaller organizations, on Friday, September 16. Details, including how to register, are here. We can also help you map out your campaign or help with the whole campaign—just give us a call or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What we’re going to cover today are both trends that are out there, both digitally and offline, in the nonprofit arena that are effecting year-end fundraising campaigns, as well as some tactics that we saw becoming more and more common over the past couple years. First of all, why are we here? Why are you taking time in the middle of summer to talk about year-end fundraising? The answer to that is fairly obvious. You’re here because you know how important year-end fundraising is. As this data from Network for Good shows, a very significant amount of individual charitable donations come in at the end of the year, and while this data here is specifically for online giving, we do know that offline giving through the mail follows similar patterns as well.
Moving to a few broader trends to keep in mind when developing year-end strategy. First of all, mobile giving and mobile web traffic have made significant jumps in 2015. It’s something that you’ve been hearing about for a long time, surely, and now is officially, well really probably every year for the past five years were officially the time adopt good mobile practices. Online giving has now caught up to e-commerce, which is always a good place to look for when you really have to make the shift to a new technology because the nonprofit world tends to lag behind the offline for-profit world for quite a bit of time when new technologies and digital practics are introduced. Just for a point of comparison, currently 15% of website sales happen on mobile devices and we’ve now reached 14% of donations in 2015. While 45% of online giving was mobile in 2015, 52% of e-commerce site traffic is on mobile. Non-profits still have a bit of catch-up to do there.
Also, more and more nonprofits have come onboard with running sophisticated multi-channel campaigns, making sure to utilize every channel at their disposal to support the overall goal. For example, your direct mail program should no longer use separate branding and messaging than your online campaign. You want to have branded campaigns, at least with consistent messaging across all channels. You also want to make sure that you’re using channels strategically to support each other so when you have an email go out, you should be sending and posting Facebook and Twitter messages on the same dates for that message, and making sure that you’re getting all the campaign messaging you need present on your website so that when someone sees an email, a direct mail piece, and goes to Google you later, they immediately recognize the message in the ask.
Further, this one is a little more of a granular trend, but something that I think is very interesting: emails are getting sent later in the day. This trend has been increasing for a while now, but again, it’s something that saw a jump in 2015. The majority of emails are still being sent between 9:00 and 11:00 a.m., but more and more emails are getting sent later in the afternoon, which is when the majority of online donations are made. That’s just an interesting trend to note. I myself haven’t necessarily observed significant differences in results between emails sent in the morning and in the afternoon, but knowing that fewer emails are sent in the afternoon may mean that you’re getting more market share at that time.
Also, the time has come to make sure you are maximizing your Giving Tuesday contributions. For Big Duck’s clients, it has come to be typical that a day-by-day breakdown of online gifts in December shows two clear jumps in giving—on the 31st and on Giving Tuesday. In 2015, overall, it was reported that nearly $117 million was raised on Giving Tuesday through more than 1 million gifts.
Now for some specific tactics that you might use. We’re highlighting some of these tactics as interesting, fairly new things that we haven’t seen a lot of, but have been increasing. Some of them are tactics that are becoming very, very widespread. The first is the use of emojis. This is something that is an observation that came from Steve MacLaughlin, the director of analytics at Blackbaud. Every year he does analysis of hundreds of emails subject lines. I believe that he analyzed 450 subject lines this last year, and while it wasn’t an overwhelming trend, there was definitely an uptick in the use of emojis. One thing that he noted is that he hasn’t done testing specifically on whether emojis increase open rates or not. It is certainly something you want to test, but there is a concern that it could become so widespread that it would lose its effectiveness, though I certainly haven’t observed that happening since the year-end season. This is a tactic definitely to consider testing over the year if you’re able to, and giving a shot during year-end as well.
Also, another thing here is a very significant increase in the use of personalized email subject lines that pull in a first name. You can see that in the top subject line here, “Take in the views, Steve.” This is something that, anecdotally a lot of people have noticed an increased open rates with. That’s another good thing to test, as well.
Also, lightboxes. Lightboxes, in case anyone is not familiar with what a lightbox is, sometimes they’re called mobile windows, they used to be called homepage hijacks, it is basically when you go to a website and the page that you land on grays out and another window pops up and hovers over that screen. If that still doesn’t ring a bell, if you ever go to Facebook and click on a photo that someone’s posted of you, you’re familiar with how that photo rises up and the rest of the screen grays out.That’s a lightbox. For fundraising campaigns, it’s increasingly become best practice, and it has become a lot more widespread to include an on-load lightbox, maining a lightbox that will automatically load when someone lands on your homepage or throughout your site or on the most popular pages. Lightboxes have been shown pretty consistently to be among the top fundraising components of fundraising campaigns. Generally online, the top component is is going to remain being email, but lightboxes are generally the next below that. For that reason, you’re seeing a lot of investment in lightboxes.
As the lightbox from Conservation International on the top left highlights, it’s a good idea to make sure you have a lightbox for every single major fundraising campaign that you run. Conservation International had a lightbox both for their Giving Tuesday match and for the rest of their year-end fundraising campaign. Also, a number of tactics have been employed in the past few years to really make lightboxes more eye-catching and more user friendly. What you see here on the bottom left and top right are Nature Conservacy and ACLU lightboxes that use animation. For the ACLU, what would have happened in this light box when it loaded is that the gold bar would have started at zero and then the bar would have increased to the right. You will often see that, also, with dollar amounts increasing to what’s been raised up to the minute or the last time the light box was able to refresh its data. On the bottom left what you have is we have a clock counting down to the last second of the last day of the year. Also increasingly common is placing a gift string on the lightbox itself. The way that that works is the amount that the person selects gets transferred over to the donation form that they go to after clicking Give Now or Donate Now.
This is something I want to hammer on just a little bit more because while it has become a lot more widespread, I was very surprised to see how few nonprofits were using lightboxes past year-end. That’s simply because of what I said earlier: it is a real driver of giving. If canonly make one improvement to your year-end strategy this coming year, I would invest in a lightbox. Something else, another twist on the lightbox that I’ve seen a bit more these last couple years, though it’s stil pretty rare, is a pull-out lightbox, for lack of a better word. A pull-out screen with a donation form. It works the same way that a lightbox does except when you land on Planned Parenthood’s page during a fundraising campaign, this donation form will slide out from the right and then, as you can see with that Make Your Gift tab, which is written vertically, you can click the tab to move it back to the side of the screen, and it remains there so you can click to open it again throughout your visit to the site.
We also saw that on BAM’s website this past year, and two years ago, I saw it on Heifer International’s site during year-end. Heifer did a pull-down menu that scrolled down from the top of the page and covered nearly two-thirds of the page. Now, they didn’t repeat that tactic this year, which I found interesting because I don’t have any data on how these pull-outs do, but I cannot imagine that they did not raise a significant amount of money.
This is another tactic that was very widespread this year that I saw on a significant percentage of the sites that I checked out, and that is that very thin top-of-site banner that you see here on a screenshot from Amnesty International. The way that it’s done here is very well done, it’s very eye-catching while still being very much in line with Amnesty’s brand, using that red, the yellow, and the white. Most of the top-of-site banners that I observed remained on the site no matter where you went. Throughout the entire site, every page you would see this banner. Many of them also were sticky, meaning that they stayed on the top of the screen when you scrolled down, so it was always present no matter what you did throughout the sites.
Something that we’ve started to see a little bit more, this is another one that’s kind of more slowly increasing, but I certainly noticed it in a number of more sites this past year, was a complete homepage takeover. What you see on the right is an example from International Rescue Committee in which they basically reskinned the homepage of the site with something that kind of looks like a lightbox. That’s an interesting take on something people are maybe a bit more familiar seeing because lightboxes are more common, but they really just made it their homepage. What you have on the left is WWF’s homepage.Their primary navigation is still available, but they reskinned the entire page to be a fundraising ask. Charity:water used this tactic as well in 2015. I find this tactic very interesting because it provides the opportunity to get at people from different angles. Those people who aren’t going to necessarily click to give right away, those people are going to click out of the light box, if they scroll or look down, they’re going to see another message reinforcing that fundraising ask, and again, below that, yet another message making the argument for donating in a different way by emphasizing the percentage of your gift that would go to programs.
One other thing to note: while the example on the left, WWF, keeps, I believe, most of the primary navigation in place, on the right, the primary navigation is virtually gone. But you do see that they included a bring me to the IRC homepage link on the top left. While I tend to recommend very aggressive fundraising tactics at the end of the year, you do want to make sure that you’re keeping an eye towards not being overly aggravating to people who are not going to give in that moment, or even that year. You want to make sure that you have a way for someone to get at the content that they want to get at and maybe consider, at least hopefully, donating later.
That is the end of the presentation. I went through it fairly quickly, and we have plenty of time left over for questions. If anyone has questions I am all ears.
Okay. I have one question sent to me from the moderator: What should I be doing right now to get ready? At Big Duck, we start with conceptualizing what the theme or the concept of a campaign is going to be before we start digging into any tactics. That’s always a very good place to start, by making sure that you take the time to think about what we know right now about our community and about our issue. What can we see from the data about how people responded to different messages in the past? Or what do we know about any upcoming events that may influence our campaign or issues that are the community is paying close attention to right now? By asking yourself those questions you will be able to find a main subject or theme for your campaign that will resonate with your community.
I also have a question now from Caralie. The question is: When is a good time to plan for Giving Tuesday? My answer to that is as early as possible is pretty much always the answer that I would give for when is a good time to plan for any fundraising campaign. One of the reasons why we did decide to put on this webinar over the summer is because it is a slower season for many nonprofits. Now, I know it’s becoming more and more common that there is no slow season. Still, summer is probably the slowest you have. If you’re able to carve out any time before September, I would recommend that you block out some time to at least review data from past campaigns and think about what issues out there might be effecting your community so you can start putting together the roadmap for your Giving Tuesday and year-end campaign.
I also have a question from Bridget, that is: Are there any paid platforms or tools to add a lightbox to our site? That’s a good question. I am not aware of any specific platforms and tools that would be universally useful for a large number of people. It really depends on the specific platform that your site is on and the capabilities of that platform. Though I haven’t come across this myself, there may even be platforms that make lightboxes a bit more automated. I’m sure that kind of thing does exist. The first thing I would recommend doing is reaching out to your contact at the company that manages your website platform and seeign what options might be available. If you don’t have web development skills or resources in your organization, most likely you’re going to find that you need to reach out to a third-party developer to produce a lightbox and implement it for you. However, in many, if not most cases, the platform you use for online donation processing or for your website will be able to do that for you.
I have a question from Jeff. The question is: Is it still a best practice to show a lot of copy on direct mail envelopes? I remember when matching gifts and deadlines were pretty much always announced on the envelope, but I feel like maybe I’m seeing that less. That’s something that I certainly still see a lot. In my experience, and I think most fundraisers would agree with me, a matching gift specifically, is hands down going to be the best driver for fundraising that there is. Knowing that your gift could be doubled or even tripled really does a lot to drive donating. If you do have a matching gift, putting that on an envelope is certainly not a bad idea. However, it’s commonly the case that more simple packages often do better. Sometimes the reverse is also true. As much as you can test, I would certainly test, but if you need to cut costs, you going with a plain envelope is not a bad idea.
I have a question from Sarah, who says: I have a really small team and we’ve got seriously limited resources, is there one thing we absolutely have to do this year-end? The answer to that is kind of dependent on what your campaign was like the year before. If you can only add one thing, then you want to add the next thing building on what ws done last year. We do still see non-profits who are only doing offline fundraising at year-end, so if you’re only doing direct mail, the one thing you should do would be to send three to five emails and just keep in mind, I would actually recommend you send closer to nine this year, given trends in the number of year-end emails that get sent, and just simply how the dates fall this year, with both New Years and Christmas falling on weekends. If you have likean offline and some kind of online campaign, I would say that the best new thing to do would be adding a lightbox.
A question from Heather: What do you think about giving a gift with the ask, address labels, note pads, et cetera? That’s something I’m going to say personally I haven’t tested that kind of package myself. I know that it is something that does often work very well for nonprofits, but it’s also the kind of thing that I’ve also heard, anecdotally, of a lot of nonprofits have moved away from. It’s definitely something that you want to try and test, though, because as is obvious, it does add costs. Now, those costs for many nonprofits are worth the return on investments, so it’s something you want to think about in terms of the cost. I would look at other nonprofits in your vertical. If you’re an environmental organization, see if you can get your hands on direct mail packages from other environmental organizations to see what the trends in your vertical are. If you’re not able to test, that is a fine way to make your decision.
Okay. That seems to be our last questions. Of course, if anyone has a question before I do hang up, just pop it over. Moving on, we have a small favor to ask of you guys. Big Duck, in partnership with Kivi Leroux Miller’s Nonprofit Marketing Guide is conducting a survey to learn what makes nonprofits communications teams successful. This is something that both ourselves and Kivi Leroux Miller are very interested in trying to figure out what can be done in terms of staff structure or the way that communications teams work to improve efficiency and success. A link to this survey will be emailed to you. I believe that it is just about a 10-minute survey, but details on that will be included when you click the link from the email, so if anyone is able to fill that out, we are, of course, very grateful.
We have also gone ahead and compiled some additional resources relevant to year-end fundraising campaigns. This deck will be sent to you as well, so you don’t have to furiously write down all of these resources. Of course, the first is that Big Duck is a resource that is here for you. We, on September 16, have a day-long, immersive workshop on planning your year-end fundraising campaign. For, like one of you mentioned having a very small team, this is a way that you can really get a lot done in planning and strategizing, and even developing a theme for your campaign in a single day at a relatively low investment point. That’s something, definitely, to check out.
We also have some availability still for actually producing the strategy and implementing a year-end campaign, so if you’re interested in having Big Duck produce and run and even analyze your campaign, please reach out to our VP, Farra Trompeter, who I’m sure at least half of you know personally. Her email, email@example.com is at the bottom of the slide here.
We do also want to refer to you the Big Duck blog. We have a lot of great posts on year-end fundraising, and of course, there are tons of great additional blogs and resources out there if you Google year-end fundraising best practices I’m sure you will find. Thank you for taking time out of your busy days and I hope that all of you have found something that you want to consider implementing in your 2016 year-end campaign. Thank you.