WANTED: ONE Direct Response Nonprofit Fundraiser to help me finally crack the code of online fundraising success (and raise a bunch of revenue for your mission)… See below for details.
Today I’m going to write specifically to a very small segment of my audience — nonprofit fundraisers. Don’t write today’s issue off, though, if you don’t work in nonprofits, or doing fundraising. There are ALWAYS lessons that can be applied across industries. In fact, this entire issue is about applying lessons across industries.
About a year ago, I was recruited for a gig working with a company that specialized in building websites for nonprofits.
This is a very successful, multi-million dollar company based here in Lincoln, NE. I was in discussions to get their top marketing gig — becoming a member of their executive team.
The final decision came down to one of fit. I’d warned them I was highly entrepreneurial. I’d warned them that I like to do things my own way. I’d warned them I’d probably shake things up a bit.
And their decision — completely understandable — was that they wanted someone to shake things up, but not as much as I would.
They’d done a test on me to see how much I liked my current gig (consulting and copywriting, working for myself), and the test was off the charts positive. They feared they’d never be able to match that putting me in a 9-to-5 at someone else’s business — even in a leadership role. They were probably right.
And yet… Even in NOT giving me the gig, they unlocked something in me…
This brush with the nonprofit world set me off on an investigation into the state of direct response for nonprofits, and I uncovered some shocking news…
In short, nonprofits STILL haven’t figured out the internet. Short of almost accidental viral successes and leakage from their direct mail efforts, donations are not raised online.
Proactive, effective direct response fundraising still relies very heavily on paper and ink direct mail.
I asked around. I connected with top copywriters in the space. All of them still felt like they really hadn’t cracked the internet nut, when it came to fundraising.
At The Titans of Direct Response a few months back, I met Paul Bigham from the Bigham Agency — a direct response agency for nonprofits. I asked him a bit more about it, on our bus ride back from the VIP dinner.
Paul explained to me that for lack of a solution, nonprofit direct response fundraisers just keep doing what they know how to make work — direct mail. And because that’s what his clients want, that’s what he also specializes in.
Sure, they’ll float an online campaign from time to time, but they just don’t put much effort into it. Certainly not applying the proven principles of direct mail fundraising to the internet.
I dug deeper. I discovered most fundraisers blame it on demographics. They say, in short, that old people aren’t online (or don’t trust entering payment info online), old people are their donors, and so they don’t try hard to make online work.
The problem is, these demographics excuses may have applied a decade ago, or more. But they just don’t apply today. And the increase in online fundraising over the last few years has done nothing to keep up with the demographics of older people using the internet. Including buying all sorts of things online.
Sure, there’s been a rise in success through crowdfunding platforms, and similar alternative approaches.
But nothing rivaling the success, revenue, and scalability of direct mail.
The excuses are fading, and it’s becoming more and more clear that it’s time to shake things up in online fundraising…
And one thing I’d love to do in 2015 is work with one, maybe two select direct response focused nonprofits to test a formula I have every reason to believe will create massive online fundraising success.
I’m going to lay out the entire formula right here, right now. So anyone interested can decide for themselves whether or not it’s worth testing. And if you’d like to work with me to test it, feel free to contact me at [email protected].
This formula is not a gamble. It’s not a risk. And it’s not new.
It comes directly from the commercial world. It’s simply a matter of taking what works over here, and applying it over there.
If it works half as well as it’s worked for commercial direct marketers (whose bread and butter was ALSO previously direct mail), it will be an absolute revolution in online fundraising.
But it will require you to do things very differently than you have been up to this point. However, I think I’ve figured out a way to test this that’s almost completely non-intrusive to your current online operations — so there’s very little risk in giving it a try.
The reason I ask for direct response fundraisers is simple. The direct response folks know what works in other media. And they’re more open to doing tests — recognizing that what works can sometimes seem counterintuitive.
For this test to have the highest chances of success, the fundraising arm of any nonprofit I work with has to be thoroughly devoted to the principles of direct response, and open to testing this as recommended, before making any changes to the formula.
Okay, let’s get down to it…
Here’s the NEW online fundraising success formula…
First off, this formula is built around the concept of a fundraising portal.
This operates independently from your main website. This is very important.
The main website for most nonprofits is often little more than a stale brochure for what the organization does. The best nonprofit websites operate as something more akin to a news site on the organization’s mission and related stories.
Either way, they do very little to stimulate the level of focused attention that a good direct mail appeal letter does. Through direct mail, you are able to capture and hold exclusive focus from your reader, without the opportunity for them to click away. There’s only one way to replicate this online — and that’s to remove the fundraising message from the main website, its menus, sidebars, and everything else that will distract the attention of the potential donor.
If you get this wrong and follow every other suggestion, you’re going to decrease the revenue potential from your online fundraising.
But keeping this separate also has another benefit. It doesn’t supersede or interrupt what you’re doing on your main website. It exists independently.
The portal can be hosted at your main domain name, in a subdirectory. (e.g. FoodNonprofit.org/FeedTheChildren2015 <— and I just made that up, so don’t go there.)
Or it can be on a separate website entirely. (e.g. FeedTheChildren2015.org <— same disclaimer.)
Either way, it should start as a blank page — without all the normal website header and footer information that goes on most pages on your nonprofit’s website.
Second, a proven direct response appeal should be converted to a video sales letter format…
This has two parts. First off, this concept needs to be tested with a proven direct response appeal.
If you have a message that’s working in the mail, why reinvent the wheel? Your donor’s motivation for giving doesn’t suddenly change when they go from reading their mail to looking at their computer screen.
This also just increases the odds of success. Which is important, because when you’re testing something that’s new (even just to you), you want to give it the best possible chances to succeed.
So, again, start with a proven direct response appeal.
Then, you need to convert this to video sales letter format. What’s this? In short, it’s the entire sales letter, converted into PowerPoint slides that contain one or two sentences each. These are then read aloud by the spokesperson featured in the letter, and presented in video format.
In essence, you’re reading the appeal letter to prospective donors.
This doesn’t always increase conversion versus having the text on screen. But it does so often enough that it’s become the primary format for most online direct response marketers who’ve tested it. It has the benefit of walking the interested prospect through the entire persuasive message, in the order you want them to consume it — that’s probably why it works so well, when done right.
In addition to the video, you want to have a headline on the page that piques curiosity and buys at least the first few seconds of viewership. And, in most cases, very little else should be on this page, aside from the call to action button.
There are a few other factors that make this work even better.
Such as an interrupt when someone clicks away, offering them the opportunity to read the script, rather than watch the video. And waiting to show the call to action button until you’re at the appropriate spot in the presentation.
But those are too much to go into here — all of these factors will be accounted for should you choose to work with me to test the formula.
Okay, what’s next? Let’s see…
Third, make a dang offer!
I’ve looked at dozens upon dozens of donate pages for nonprofits online. And nearly every single one ignores this simple-yet-incredibly-effective principle from offline direct response fundraising.
Every appeal should have an offer.
Take Smile Train as an example — the folks who fix cleft lip and cleft palate. You don’t just donate $250 to Smile Train. You donate a smile to a child in need. You buy their surgery. Same $250 — TOTALLY different appeal.
And the truth is, the $250 will go into the general fund, no matter what. Part of it will pay for surgeries, and part of it will pay for more fundraising, and operational expenses.
But the best way for Smile Train to get as many $250 donations as possible is to specifically ask for that amount, as a way to pay for a specific part of their mission. If they just asked for $250 for the general fund, you’d never have heard of them in the first place.
Whatever appeal you put into your video sales letter format, in your fundraising portal, it should have a clear and easy-to-understand offer related to the most compelling aspect of your mission (by donors’ standards, not yours — see “proven appeal” comments above).
When someone decides to donate after watching the video, they should be donating specifically to help what you’ve just appealed to them about. And the amounts should be specific, to achieve a specific goal.
Again, study Smile Train. They are certainly the exception in that you can visit their website and donation page, and see the specific offers they make, for you to put your donation to work. You should model what they do in offer structure.
Fourth, the portal should also have its own exclusive “donate” page…
The idea is that you want to keep them in the same process, all the way through. You kept them off your main website for a reason. No reason to funnel them back to your main website now.
Instead, make a donate page that matches the look, feel, and message of the video sales letter. Reinforce their decision to donate, restate the offer, and ask for their information.
This should roughly match what you’d expect to see on a direct mail reply form — only adapted to the web.
Fifth, continue to apply all the direct response fundraising best practices…
You need to send a thank you. You need to give them an opportunity to be contacted again — or if that’s automatic, to opt-out from further communications beyond the thank you.
Ideally, you can also offer them an opportunity to set up an automatic recurring donation, AFTER they’ve made the first donation.
There are many books and resources on effective direct response fundraising. (I particularly like the work of Tom Ahern and Jeff Brooks — although I assure you there are others of similar caliber. The main idea is you want to find folks who follow direct response advertising principles, because they make their recommendations based on tested and proven approaches.) Study them and apply the best practices they recommend as a baseline.
Sixth, send traffic to the page…
While you can do split tests easily online, your first and easiest test is to simply measure effectiveness.
Do you have an email newsletter list? Include a relevant tease and call to action in the next newsletter. Better yet, send a dedicated message about the new presentation you’ve just released.
Have a print newsletter? Write up a blurb, and send them to an easy-to-type URL that links to the portal.
Do you have website traffic currently? Add a banner ad, blog post, article, or other link to the fundraising portal. Tease the content of the appeal — not the fact that it’s soliciting donations.
Use Google Grants? Great! Try sending some traffic directly to the fundraising portal. See how it converts.
Seventh, track the results…
What is your conversion rate? How does it compare to other online fundraising efforts?
You don’t know how you’re doing if you don’t have tracking installed!
Eighth, start testing…
No doubt you’ve thought of ways to make your first effort work even better.
Maybe it’s a new headline. Maybe it’s a different intro story. Maybe it’s a different offer. Maybe it’s a brand new appeal entirely. Maybe you want to use this formula to run a limited-time campaign to past donors.
The first part of direct response marketing or fundraising is to apply what’s worked elsewhere. The second is to test potential improvements, and see where they take you.
Okay, that’s it — now, are you interested in me helping you do this?
This approach is old hat to me in the commercial space. But in the nonprofit world, this is a brand new opportunity to make a huge difference in your mission, and in the entire online fundraising world.
I’m not interested in filling my schedule with these projects, but I would like to work with one or two experienced direct response fundraisers to test this with their nonprofit in 2015.
If this works as expected, it will surely start a revolution in online fundraising — and you will be at the forefront.
Again, contact me at [email protected].
I can answer questions, and we can discuss details.
And if you’ve simply read this but aren’t ready to work with me today, I hope you’ll look at this direct response online fundraising formula and think about how you can apply it to your work — nonprofit or not. Certainly there’s a breakthrough or two in here for ya…
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets