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Karen Taggart 8 min read

Raising Money from Online Activists

Karen TaggartI had the pleasure of attending the most recent Internet Advocacy Roundtable hosted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.  The topic was hot and near and dear to my heart – converting online activists/subscribers into donors.  And the house was packed.

The expert presenter was the one and only Rick Christ, Managing Partner of NP Advisors.  Rick is a seasoned professional in the field of nonprofit direct marketing and fundraising, including more than 20 years of experience in direct mail prior to his success in the online world.

First, Rick recommended thinking of your online program in four stages:

1.)    Acquisition- The goal here is to find people who are likely to support your cause.  This includes using tools like search to help drive people to your site.

2.)    Involvement- Once people have found you, it’s critical provide them with what they had in their minds when they found you in the first place. A great way to engage people is through advocacy.  People want to be heard, so make it easy for people to show their support and give their opinions.

3.)    Conversion- There are two levels of conversion.  First, converting someone who has found you and perhaps taken an action into someone you have permission to contact repeatedly. The second type of conversion is converting your subscribers/activists into donors.

4.)    Retention- As with conversion, there are two types of retention; keeping people subscribed to your list and obtaining multiple gifts from first time donors. 

One of the most useful aspects of the presentation was Rick’s focus on creative and strategic tips that you can implement immediately to improve your online and integrated fundraising programs.  

1.)    Test a soft ask in thank you email after someone subscribers or signs a petition. Give them options for how to process their gift (pay pal, online form, print form and mail).  You may be surprised to find out how many "online" people will print out a form and mail it in with a check rather than enter their credit card number on your site.

2.)    Implement the ladder of engagement in real time.  Try first asking people to voice their support by signing an email petition.  Then ask them on the thank you page to provide an address to receive something of value.  Follow that with a fundraising ask.

3.)    If you have a street address, mail them!  Test a combined email- direct mail effort. And, unlike rented lists, you can mail them over and over again.

4.)    Don’t forget the phone!  Call people early.  Best way, in general, to get a second gift from a first-time web donor is on the phone.  (Also check out this post on the Agitator about how this strategy also works for converting advocates into first-time donors)

5.)    Be consistent in messaging with your direct mail and telemarketing efforts.  This doesn’t mean to say the exact same thing and use the same creative – but it is critical that your message is consistent and makes sense across channels.

6.)    You don’t need to have the same landing page for all of your supporters.  Try testing asking strings for different donor levels.  Maybe people from aol.com perform and respond differently than people from an .edu.  Test segments and treatments creatively.

7.)   Also, keep your landing pages simple. Estimates show that for every page you make people click through to complete their transaction 50% will bail.  Wow.

8.)   Go back to your activists with an ask related to the issue that brought them on in the first place – tag people’s interests from then on, so you send them stuff they like and avoid sending them things that aren’t up their alley.

9.)    Keep the messages simple, and be careful of asking people to do too many things.  Keep people excited and interested, but don’t distract them from your ultimate goal, whether it’s a petition signature or a donation.  Make sure your audience knows what is expected of them.  

10.)    It’s not always the  length of copy that determines success.  Good copy beats bad copy every time and sometimes copy has to be longer to be good.  If your copy is longer, make sure there are multiple links that are clearly identified throughout.

One of the beauties of online fundraising is how it makes it easier to gather valuable information about your supporters and customize their treatments based on this information.  Whether it’s tagging and responding to interests, or setting up special upgrade tracks for people who give gifts larger than the initial ask, test new and creative ways to advantage of all the great information you gather online, in the mail and on the phones to give the donor the experience she or he is expecting.

For those who could not be there, the presentation was recorded.  Also, if you missed it, check out my own suggestions for online fundraising.


Karen Taggart, aka DM Diva Girl, is Director of Nonprofit Services at Care2 and can be reached at karen@earth.care2.com.