<img src="//bat.bing.com/action/0?ti=5065582&amp;Ver=2" height="0" width="0" style="display:none; visibility: hidden;">
Karen Taggart 4 min read

Cultivate, Educate or Activate? Converting Subscribers to Donors

[originally published DMAW AdVents, June 2007]

It is no secret in direct mail (DM) that recency is key to successful fundraising.  We all send appeals to donors who have just given and would never even consider prospecting to rented lists full of old names.

So how to do we take this long-standing DM lesson and apply it to our growing email lists?  What is the best strategy for converting new email subscribers into donating members?

Not surprisingly, a 2005 study conducted by Informz showed that click-through rates dropped noticeably 30 days after the name was acquired and even more drastically after 60 days.  Clearly this indicates the importance of contacting new online subscribers as soon as possible.  But how soon, exactly?  And what should that contact look like?  Is it better to cultivate the new email subscriber before asking for the first gift?  Or, is it more effective to cut to the chase and make the initial contact a direct fundraising ask?

One effective strategy in the commercial world has been the welcome series; different messages containing information about the product or program sent at various intervals after an opt-in occurs, but prior to a direct purchase request. For example, Fossil (the watch company) reports tripling their email market revenue and increasing conversion rates by 84% after implementing their four-part welcome series.  Based on these returns, it is no wonder so many nonprofits implement similar programs.  And an added bonus of the welcome series is that it can put to rest concerns about upsetting, and potentially losing, new leads by asking them to give money right away.

But should we really wait that long before asking a warm lead to make a contribution? M+R Strategic Services recently tested an online welcome series (welcome, survey, fundraising appeal) against sending a straight fundraising appeal as the first email solicitation.  The study found that not only did the initial hard fundraising ask increase giving, but churn rates were actually lower on this group as well.

So, perhaps our biggest fear about upsetting new subscribers by asking for money right away is not true after all.

What is the answer? Unfortunately, we don’t yet know with 100% certainty.  What we do know is that while predictive analysis of your online fundraising may not be as consistent as with your DM, testing the treatment of new email subscribers is critical to successful fundraising and advocacy work – especially as more of our acquisition programs shift online. 

And don’t forget to examine ways to integrate these names into your existing programs.  Perhaps the optimum combination is an online welcome, followed by a mail solicitation coupled with a phone call.  So test, test and retest!  

So, what do you think is the best treatment for new online subscribers?

Karen Taggart is Director of Non-Profit Services at Care2 and is on the eternal quest for the perfectly integrated online/offline fundraising database.  She can be reached at 202-465-3777 x9107 or karen@earth.care2.com.