What prompts an online gift?

Do you have a website where I can donate?

I, myself, have asked charities this very question upon receiving a phone call asking for my support.  I tell them, “Yes, I would like to make a gift this year, however I would prefer you save the stamp and I’ll go online to make my gift. Can I give through your website?”  These days, the answer is almost always yes.

When it comes to supporting your favorite charity, gone are days of horse and buggy.  Non-profits are reaching supporters in a variety of channels, just as Donna discussed in her recent post on integrated fundraising.  As the number of touch points grows, it will become more and more important for organizations to determine which channels are prompting the gifts they receive.  While donors may be inspired to give because of a direct mail piece or phone conversation, more and more want to be able to take the final step in making a gift via the web.

An integrated fundraising approach presents a new challenge to organizations.  Historically, it was fairly easy to track donations via a single channel like direct mail.  A new question posed to orgs now is: What portion of online donations are driven by an online source and what are driven by more traditional channels such as direct mail or telemarketing? In short, what prompts an online gift?   Such a challenge of campaign integration is just the type of question that comes up often with the clients my team and I work with in the Go! Program.

It is a challenge that National Relief Charities (NRC) has worked hard to answer.  With a little elbow grease and adding some structure to how they set up campaign URLs used in print pieces or follow up with supporters after an ask over the phone, together we have been able to determine what prompted their online gifts.  The pie chart to the right shows an analysis of all 2010 donations made via their website.  NRC  has put into place some very smart and simple to follow business practices to “source” gifts made via phone, direct mail and email.  For example, when creating a direct mail piece, they set up unique URLs to the donation form associated with the direct mail campaign.  The URL is not linked anywhere on their site, nor can it be traced via search.  Therefore, the only way a donor would know to go to the URL is per the mail piece for that campaign.  This type of practice enables NRC to get a much more refined look at what initially prompted a gift.  And, it shows us that while a gift may be technically processed through an online form, the touch point which inspired a donor to give was another source.

You may be wondering how this information can help your organization. If you are looking to make sense of the results of your integrated fundraising programs, there are some simple first steps you can take.  First, hold some discussions with your team on where you think your gifts come from. It’s important to do this exercise and to have a good sense of this when coming up with a plan of action on how to source your gifts.  Do you do a lot of mailings? Have people taking credit card information via phone and entering that into your online system? Does email marketing make up a large part of your strategy?  Are you highly focused on search engine optimization and marketing? All of the above?

Do a little research on the online tools you use (or don’t use but should) for donations.  Find out if your system allows for things like unique vanity URLs, automated “follow-up” email messaging or source codes.  Those types of capabilities will allow you to better track direct mail, email and telemarketing.  And when researching your results based on search results, be sure to sift through the data with a fine-toothed comb. You may be surprised to find that many of your gifts given via search can be attributed to search results prompted by the three aforementioned channels.

By taking some simple steps to “code” the offline gifts you process in your online system, you can gather data that will help you better understand which sources of inspiration or calls to action are working for your organization.  Understanding how your audience responds to your touch points will help you better tailor your campaigns to their behaviors, wants and needs.