How Charities can Benefit from a Commercial-Web Approach

If you are a small to medium sized charity, seeking to use your website to facilitate donations; chances are you probably don't have a large budget to spare on marketing, or numerous and specialised staff for that matter. You probably have a fairly small team, including hard-working volunteers, wearing many hats! You may not have a background in online communications or e-commerce marketing; however you will almost certainly be a proficient multi-tasker, with a keen sense of competition, given the significant number of worthy causes competing for donations. Using your own charity website and other online tools and traffic sources you already know, are a great doorway to communicating your message to audiences. In addition to your existing online strategy, you may find it helpful to consider the following practises that are utilised by successful commercial-web professionals and brands;

1. Introduce an aggressive analytics procedure.

It matters not that the revenue you generate goes forward to support a cause, as opposed to generate a profit. An online donation is still a conversion, or 'sale'. Analyse your traffic on a regular basis (at least monthly) to identify benchmark performance metrics and trends, and adapt accordingly. Using products such as Omniture SiteCatalyst, or Google Analytics (free), you can set your own criteria as to what is a conversion, though I would suggest the key conversion would be the completion of a donation transaction. You should, on a weekly or monthly basis, look at the absolute number of unique users, by referring source of traffic and total number of donations for the same period. If you divide the total number of donations by the total number of unique users (by referral source) you will know your average conversion rate for the time period. You can then analyse each referring source individually to assess if that source provides quality traffic, i.e. traffic that converts at a rate equal to or higher than average conversion rate. If you have a spreadsheet whizz (or if you can afford a data analyst in your organisation) have them put together a pivot table with other comparable data, such as average donation value (site-wide), compared to average donation value by referral source. In terms of using the data, such analysis will show you how and where to focus your traffic generation efforts. If, for example you discover that a medium sized source of traffic, has a conversion rate half of the average and a low donation value - you know you could be using your time more efficiently elsewhere, by growing a smaller, but more efficient referral source.

2. Online advertising (for free).

It goes without saying that one of the best ways to attract online donations to your cause is to advertise your cause to people online! As a charity you get to do this for free! Yes. Seriously. Free. Not everywhere of course, but on Google AdWords for example. Google Grants is the scheme that allows registered charities to apply for a free grant, of $10,000 a month to spend on AdWords. Of course there is a heavily scrutinised application procedure to avoid abuse of this scheme, and it does take a very long time to be approved. However for $10,000 a month to spend on one of the most responsive and efficient forms of advertising (search engine marketing), with the world's largest search engine, who can't wait a few months? Find out more about Google Grants.

Additionally; to raise brand awareness and profile you should take advantage of free advertising opportunities that exist with some of the display ad networks. AdJug, for example is one of the fastest growing, open and transparent ad-exchanges in Europe, serving over 1 Billion ad impressions a month, and offering free inventory opportunities to a different charity each month. Contact Nikki Staveley to find out if you qualify.

3. Use Social Media to Increase Donations

As a charity, you naturally have an engaging message and purpose that will strike a chord with many people. Social media is therefore a perfect and free method of interacting with your supporters, finding and attracting new supporters, and of course generating traffic and donations to your website. What is social media? In this case we're talking about online media which allows members to link up, share information, establish a profile, contribute stories and develop two-way communications. Such examples of social media that facilitate this behaviour are Facebook, Twitter and Qype. Let's be clear however, that there are different ways of using social media; i.e. advertising on a social media outlet, or being an active and valuable member of a social media outlet. We're talking specifically about being an active and valuable member of a social media outlet.

As the first stage of the buying cycle is 'awareness', using social media to increase awareness of your brand, cause, values and work is an absolutely invaluable opportunity. Posting stories, interesting facts and time-sensitive campaign information is easily possible using social media, and all serves to engage your community of fans, friends and followers with your core message. Our recent work with GlobalGiving UK, a charity that supports real people and projects at grass roots level uncovered some incredible statistics and a case for expansion of social media strategy. Our analysis showed that Facebook and Twitter featured highly in the top referring domains for GlobalGiving UK traffic, and most importantly that this traffic resulted in conversion to donation at a far higher than average rate. In the case of Twitter this was twice the average conversion to donation rate, and with Facebook even higher still.

Follow @GlobalGivingUK to see how they are communicating their message to Twitter friends or become a fan on Facebook.

May 22 2009
Nichola Stott
Nichola Stott

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