Having spent the better part of my life in the direct marketing business, you’d think I’d have the online direct marketing puzzle pretty much figured out – particularly after spending the past 18 months immersed in it.
I have learned a lot through my experience with such diverse nonprofit fundraising initiatives as online auctions and e-mail disaster recovery appeals – not to mention marketing special events exclusively on the Web. But it’s what I don’t know that intrigues me.
If I’ve discovered anything in this embryonic discipline, it’s that sometimes we aren’t asking the right questions. When faced with disappointing results, for example, perhaps the first question we need to ask ourselves is “What did we expect?”
Fundraisers looking to capitalize on the vast reach of the Internet have met with very tepid results. Click-through rates of just 1 percent aren’t uncommon, and conversion rates have hovered in single digits. That’s created a lot of bad campaign hangovers.
But raising donation dollars via e-mail marketing is still in its infancy and poses major challenges, particularly in the creative arena. In order to acquire either acquisition or online donations, creative must be designed as a campaign, instead of a series of singular executions aimed at generating response.
Operating from this paradigm, the e-mail message becomes your envelope, Johnson box and headline. Your goal is to prompt a click on the URL. However, the creative must also take the prospect to a landing or jump page where you must visually give them a reason why they must donate or pledge.
The Web as a medium for securing pledges shows great promise.
In one of our test campaigns, no less than 50 percent of those respondents that clicked through gave pledges. This suggests that many people are still hesitant to use their credit card number in cyberspace. We must recognize that and incorporate a pledge option in our creative to encourage giving in that fashion.
Your landing page should also attempt to capture names while cultivating personalized, one-to-one relationships. In e-mail marketing, as in direct mail, people respond better when they’re recognized. By securing the name, you’re creating a prospect e-base of people who have effectively raised their hand.
Selection criteria continues to become more sophisticated for online initiatives. We can rent consumer e-mail lists that identify donors to charitable organizations, select individuals by age and even find people who participate in online auctions. Segmentation strategies are becoming increasingly more refined.
There has been a higher percentage of female respondents than male respondents in online fundraising. I expected more men and lost a bet with a client over that outcome. There are some parallels with traditional direct mail fundraising, however.
Historically, women respond with greater frequency, while men write a bigger check. Although we don’t have as much data related to online giving, so far these patterns match those in traditional direct mail fundraising.
Another encouraging sign is that there’s life in that 35- to 45-year-old demographic, especially with online auctions or holiday-gift-type efforts. There are real opportunities to cultivate relationships with this constituency, which has traditionally been a weaker segment of the charitable giving mix.
To make your messaging more robust, consider that an estimated 60 percent of consumer prospect lists can receive HTML creative. Test this format against plain text. I have seen this richer media format outperform text communication, challenging the notion that people process information differently on the Web.
This begs a final question: Just what are the rules of e-mail marketing? I don’t think there are any at this point, especially in the fundraising realm. We must continue to test.
Nobody can tell you which creative works most effectively, or what an average dollar donation is likely to be or even what the retention rates of a donor source might be through the electronic channel. We’re still learning these things. The answers will come through ongoing testing, ensuring that the proper measurement protocols are followed.