6 min Read
January 15, 2016

So, THAT happened…In-the-trenches reflections on December online fundraising campaigns

Kerri Karvetski

This piece was originally published by Kerri Karvetski on Nonprofit Marketing Guide on January 14, 2016.

OK, online fundraisers, nap time is OVER!

The December fundraising season has come and gone. Some of you may still be crunching the numbers. Others may be on to the next campaign.

Either way, it’s time to talk results. What worked? What didn’t? What did we learn, and how will we apply it to future campaigns?

I asked a few in-the-trenches practitioners — from nonprofits large and small — to share reflections on their December online fundraising campaigns. I work with both large and small nonprofits, and what I’m finding is that smaller nonprofits are still finding value in now-mainstay tactics like matches, resends, lightboxes and multiple sends on Dec. 31, while larger nonprofits that already applied these tactics are looking to boost results with mobile (from text messaging to mobile-optimized emails and landing pages), online advertising, sophisticated segmentation and advertising…and of course urgent, stellar, donor-centric storytelling.

Let’s learn together. Share your reflections — the good, the bad and the ugly — in the comments section. 

Farra Trompeter, Vice President, Big Duck

Fountain House lightbox

One of our clients, Fountain House (a nonprofit dedicated to the recovery of men and women with mental illness), had tremendous success with its #GivingTuesday appeal and, later in the month, using a lightbox on its site.

For #GivingTuesday, we offered a 24-hour triple match and the email appeal sent out that day generated almost as many gifts as the one that was sent at the end of the year. And compared to 2014, Fountain House raised six times more money on #GivingTuesday in 2015 and almost doubled the average gift from $146.73 to $284.21!

The lightbox used an interactive form that greeted visitors to the organization’s website for the last two weeks of December. The design and copy on the form matched the rest of the campaign — direct mail letter, email series, social media posts, etc. — and we made sure that whatever amount the user selected, appeared on the donation page. In total, the lightbox attracted over 100 donations.

Rebecca DeLuca, Assistant Director of Communications for Development and Alumni Relations, Lasell College

Lasell College Giving Tuesday Graphic

The money we raised during #GivingTuesday was an integral part of our year-end fundraising. Dollar and participation goals aside, we wanted to increase the gift size of some of our engaged, though not yet leadership-level donors. To do this – and to promote #GivingTuesday – we set up a match.

However, we decided not to seek one donor to offer a large gift amount. Instead, we reached out to five donors, each increasing their gift by $50 to $100. As each donor only had to increase their gift by a smaller amount, they felt much more comfortable doing so.

This strategy was a success in 4 ways:

  1. We had five recognizable names and a promise of a match to use in all our #GivingTuesday promotions.
  2. These five donors gave in December as opposed to May and June.
  3. We increased the gift amounts of five donors. In the future, we can solicit these donors at a higher level
  4. We raised over $38,000 in one day, surpassing our original goal by 600%

Thomas Negron, Director of Communications, Catskill Animal Sanctuary


We participated in Giving Tuesday for the first time this year. I’m a one-man band so I kept it simple and followed what we’ve done for other multi-channel campaigns – an email, several social posts and a good campaign donation landing page.

I did experiment with GoodWorld, which lets people donate by using a hashtag. Once you register with GoodWorld, it monitors your Facebook page and Twitter feeds for mentions of the hashtag #donate20, which would then trigger a donation from the person for $20 (donors can donate any amount, so #donate50 would be a donation of $50).

We got a number of small gifts from GoodWorld through Facebook, which is where our audience is more active. I replied to each and every #donate comment to say thanks and express our gratitude. In keeping with our unique #GivingMoosDay theme, I used Facebook stickers of animated cows saying thanks.

The bulk of the online donations still were triggered by the email that we sent in the morning with a match offer.

Our Giving Tuesday goal was to raise $5k, but I saw that we’d surpass it early and raised it later in the day to $10k. We ended up raising $11k, plus the match.

One thing I’d try next year is a resend of the morning email with a lift note, and perhaps tying Giving Tuesday into a big, day-of volunteer project at the Sanctuary. I might also use Goodworld for an emergency rescue, where there is a real sense of urgency.

Liz Murphy, Executive Vice President and Partner, Beaconfire RedEngine

homepage redirect

Working with Olga Woltman, Senior Director of Digital Fundraising at the American Diabetes Association, Beaconfire RedEngine begun testing new donation forms in the months leading up to year-end, with the goal of increasing the conversion and revenue per visitor. The test was very successful, validating the theory that streamlining the user experience by keeping them on a single page, particularly if a visitor is on a mobile device, would likely increase conversion rate and revenue per visit. Among the one-time donors, the test version increased the number of gifts by 69% and the conversion rate by 79% (from 11.56% to 20.74%) with a 96% confidence interval.

They used this winning form to add a twist to the usual EOY lightbox strategy. For the final two days of the year, a full-page donation form homepage takeover (featuring a newly announced ’48 hour flash match’), was implemented. Behavioral lightboxes — appearing at the top of pages, as full modal lightboxes, and on exit — also continued on other pages of the site.

Altogether, these strategies increased revenue by 33% from the previous year. It was a nice win bringing in vital revenue to get closer to curing diabetes and improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes.

Mark Rover, Founder and CEO, Sea Change Strategies

Mark Rovner Headshot

(Reposted with permission. Here’s the original.)

Politics has broken the Internet.

To be more specific, political fundraising has inflicted serious damage on email fundraising.

We on the progressive side have withstood the monthly and quarterly torrents of unabashedly beseeching emails from the DCCC, the DSCC, OFA, etc. With over-wrought subject lines like “I’m begging!” and “We’re desperate!” these emails have broken all rules of politeness, donor-centrism or anything else one might find in the boy or girl scout manual.

And they also raise buckets of cash.

The effect on the rest of us has been clear. To raise money in this environment, you need to step up your email cadence and up the ante to just stay even in terms of “share of inbox.” That’s fancy talk meaning we need to send a lot more emails with better offers to raise the same amount of money.

We’re seeing a dramatic rise in frequency across the board among most nonprofits. It wasn’t that long ago that no one would think to send three or four emails to their list on December 31st, but now it’s SOP. This year, the EOY scrum spawned an even newer phenomenon: 2-to-1 and even 3-to-1 matches. A year or two ago we told clients an end of year dollar-for-dollar match was “the price of entry” for end of year. Now it’ll barely get you into the bleachers.

With the Presidential insanity officially under way, this is going to be a bad year for online fundraising, especially for bringing on new donors. You will be competing with massive political fundraising machines who have huge email teams, test hourly and have absolutely zero interest in relationship-building. Good luck sending an appeal at the end of an FEC fundraising quarter.

What to do? Gather up your best donors. Focus in on repeat givers, sustainers, the mid-level donors, and other true-believers. Think of three new ways to absolutely delight them. Do it. Shield them as much as possible from the email arms race you will inevitably find yourself caught up in.

If you’re not in AA, drink heavily.

The line between email fundraising and panhandling has never been finer. Time to decide which side you wanna be on.

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