ASPCA's Online Fundraising Turns From a Meow to a Howl

After a few years of tentative steps on the Internet, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals increased its online donations 300 percent for the first quarter of 2002 through a revamped site and increased online marketing.

“I think that we were like a lot of nonprofits in that we were kind of floundering online,” said Jo Sullivan, director of direct marketing at the ASPCA, New York. “We knew that there was a potential there that the for-profit world had embraced and that we needed to do something.”

The society worked with application service provider Convio to relaunch its Web site in October and improve its use of e-mail and other online customer relationship management programs. This work let the ASPCA better manage the site's content, e-mail campaigns, online giving and online advocacy without a significant inhouse technical investment.

Through its new Web site, the group was able to start actively building a database of online donors and registrants.

The site covers many areas of interest — such as animal advocacy, a newsletter and online giving — making it important for the organization to track user preferences to more effectively communicate with its donors and registered users.

“Our central belief is that you gain a lot of mileage by knowing that a certain constituent is a donor or just an advocate and what that person is interested in,” said Fred Waugh, vice president of marketing at Austin-based Convio.

Once the ASPCA and Convio started collecting data, targeted e-mails followed. The society now can send e-mails aimed solely at dog owners or cat owners based on information collected upon registration at the site. It also can reach registrants who are shelter professionals or animal-health specialists.

The ASPCA has expanded its e-mail list of registered online users from about 30,000 names to 100,000 since it began working with Convio, though Sullivan can't attribute the increase to any specific changes. About half of the 100,000 names are donors, which presents a significant acquisition opportunity, she said. Overall, the society has about 785,000 donors and has used direct mail to try to drive more of its direct mail donors online.

The ASPCA also has seen a big rise in online donations since working with Convio. Though part of that boost resulted from its work with dogs involved in disaster recovery after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and in helping pet owners who lived near the World Trade Center, much of the increase happened after the recovery efforts ended.

“Since the end of 2001 was such an anomaly because of our participation in September 11, I really look at my tracking from the time I started actively marketing with Convio in January,” Sullivan said.

January, February and March all saw online donations rise by 300 percent from the previous year in net giving online.

In addition, the average gift online is about $62 as opposed to about $19.20 by mail. The average online donation at least doubled from $25-30 a year ago.

“The number of donors is obviously much smaller online but the difference in average gift is just tremendous,” Sullivan said.

The ASPCA is building benchmarks online, she said.

So far, e-mail hasn't cut into direct mail response, and the organization increasingly is using the two mediums together. A campaign called Stop the Cruelty for April as Prevention of Animal Cruelty Month were sent to mailboxes and inboxes of ASPCA donors and registrants this week.

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