Website, email bring bigger payback than social media

publication date: Oct 16, 2012
author/source: Janet Gadeski
Janet Gadeski photoDave Simms shares a roster with a raft of social media mavens at ArtezInteraction this October. But when it comes to fundraising and communications in the online world, he's a back-to-basics believer. His organization has more than doubled the fundraising of its keystone event (from $8 million to $18 million since 2005) without extensive use of social media.

"I was amazed at the power of the homepage," he told Hilborn Charity eNEWS. "You can put stuff on another page and a few people find it. On the homepage, front and centre, it has instant impact." 

Irresistible homepage 

"Instant impact"? For an organization without a Twitter account? That's because Simms, national events manager for the Leukaemia Foundation of Australia, drives supporters to his homepage again and again and again through careful e-newsletters, simple text emails and frequent content updating. And he has the data to prove it: increased sales in LFA's online store within an hour, downloads of a new poster within minutes of the email announcement. 

"People who are Web-savvy are looking for things to play with," he explains. "We give them lots to download - posters, thank-you certificates for participant sponsors and so on." Every two weeks, LFA sends an e-newsletter to its supporters with links to new homepage material. Those newsletters take customization to new levels: corporate supporters and school supporters, for example, see not only different copy, but different graphics and photographs. A follow-up email that looks like a direct, personal message ensures a high open rate. 

Email now a "personal" medium 

Just as some proclaimed that email would soon make direct mail obsolete, some social media fans now declare that email itself is passé. Simms doesn't buy it. 

"Yes, e-newsletters are very easy to ignore but so are Facebook posts," he argues. "The problem with Facebook is that posts are read but not retained. There's no real sense of commitment ... The transience of Facebook worries me." 

Email, he believes, has potential for personal, lasting impact when used to its potential. That includes not only segmentation and customized content but also a hard and fast rule of brevity. 

"If they're great long things, people delete," he states. "Brevity is the key. Three-sentence emails, each one a paragraph linked to your website, and that's it, with a call to action at the bottom." 

Leveraging Facebook through supporters 

That doesn't mean Simms ignores the potential of social media. But rather than taking the organization's campaigns directly to social media, he's created ways for supporters to use Facebook, as well as email, for their own fundraising. 

Though LFA doesn't raise money directly through Facebook, it maintains a page for The World's Greatest Shave, its main fundraising event. Simms credits it with increasing engagement and a sense of community among participants quite apart from any contact with LFA staff. 

"When we first started, people would call us with questions," he recalls. "Now they ask on Facebook and see who else has already figured it out." The event raises $18 million annually: not bad for an organizational team of five working in a country of 22 million people. 

Proceed with caution into the online world, Simms emphasizes, and make sure you've covered the fundamentals of a good website and strategic email tactics first. 

"Even now," he reflects, "there are people telling you about all the things you should do with online. We've embraced one thing at a time. We don't tweet. I'm not sure we have enough to say on a regular basis. We do a little with YouTube, and we could do more, but we just don't have the resources or funds." 

Don't be greedy 

Recalling the one thing he'd do differently, he warns against reaching right away for all the information you have the capacity to collect.  

"We got so excited about having a website that could collect data that we tried to collect too much. Feedback came right away: ‘you're asking me too much, registration takes too long.' We've stripped out lots of questions. We collect the bare minimum, what we know we're going to use. Anything else we do with surveys or focus groups. If you don't need the information to run the campaign now, don't collect it now."

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