Fundraising Research

Can’t We Just Do Digital Fundraising?

By Joshua Crowther, Executive Director Australia

Recently, a young fundraising manager we work with asked a variation of what has become a common question of late: “Isn’t everyone online now – so can’t we just send a couple of emails instead of mailing people?”

My answer? “Yes – and no.”

Yes, because indeed “everyone” is digital now. Pick your favourite mind-blowing stat – over 90 percent of donors use a smartphone; Facebook has 1.7 billion active users; there are 4.3 billion email users worldwide – and it’s a verifiable and exciting fact: The people are online.

But no, you can’t go digital-only and succeed. Even in the current digital age, you would be well advised not to eschew traditional channels in your fundraising efforts.

Although it might appear to defy logic in a fast-moving, technology-driven world, our recent research in Australia shows that direct mail drives close to one in five people who choose to give online – in addition to all those donors who continue to give through the mail.

If you think about it, this is logical: Not even five years ago, our mailboxes were filled with paper bills. Now those bills are in our inboxes. The mailbox has become a place for things more personal – letters, your latest purchases, and… messages from your charity. The diminishing mail in the mailbox (highlighted by Australia Post’s huge deficits in their letter division) has actually provided a unique opportunity for your direct mail to stand out.

Don’t assume that online is going to become the only income channel for your organisation any time soon. Direct mail still drives people to give. They’ll just transact online rather than physically posting you their credit card details in the mail.

If you consider your donor base, there will be some young advocates keen to be a part of pushing their favourite cause online who would never respond to a letter in the mail. But these 20-somethings aren’t your most committed donors.

The core of your donor file is most likely filled with baby boomers who love to receive a relevant letter from your CEO through the mail, as much as an email. Removing a channel that motivates your core donors to respond from your communications strategy will produce a significant drop in engagement and ultimately your income.

When you’re faced with hard budget decisions, it’s very easy to look at the printing and postage line items and hope that an online campaign will generate the same income. Our research shows that only 22 per cent of donors say they’ve been motivated to give online because of an email. So it’s a mistake to merely focus on that one channel.

In the coming year, direct mail should be a key part of your integrated fundraising strategy. At the same time, don’t exclusively focus on direct mail and forget about your digital presence. It is the effective combination of key channels — including social, email, direct mail — working together that will provide the greatest return on your investment.


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