As we enter the biggest giving season of the year, we thought it would be timely to talk with someone who knows quite a bit about hosting fundraisers: Hania Whitfield, the owner of Whitfield Consulting, a marketing firm that focuses on nonprofits and small businesses.
I recently spoke with Hania about how organizations can prepare, host, and promote their fundraiser through email, social media, and overall web design.
Here’s what she said:
Tell us a little bit about what you do and how you got started helping organizations run fundraisers.
I work with small businesses and nonprofits, because I have a long history of specialty retail in both management operations and in marketing. So, I basically help franchisees and small retailers.
When I worked with franchisees and small businesses on a corporate level, I realized that the most advantageous way for franchisors to get exposure was to connect them with a nonprofit in their community, so they could help each other with exposure.
The more I worked with both sides, the more I realized that neither of them was fulfilling the opportunities there were in terms of creating awareness for both the small business and the nonprofit.
Is there a typical timeline for an email fundraiser? Do you spend a lot of time preparing? How long does a campaign last?
In an ideal world, for a major event, you should plan six months out.
Then, you can tweet and post out little bits of information, until you build up to an email newsletter. I’m a big believer in the newsletter, because you’re sending that to people who are already invested in your cause and your campaign.
Using content from the newsletter to post on Facebook and Twitter can help a lot, too. You can do something like pull a quote from the email, post it on Facebook, and link back to the newsletter.
When it comes to planning, you should start plugging your event in your usual newsletter about six weeks before.
The next email, you should get a little more concentrated on the event. Then, you narrow things down more and more, until there’s a big reminder for two weeks before, then another one a couple days before.
If it’s a major thing like a silent auction, you really need to pump it for six months, because you’re also asking for items to be in the auction and volunteers to run it.
What do you put in an email marketing fundraising campaign to inspire urgency?
Donate buttons should go everywhere in your email.
That goes for your other web properties, too—even the “About” tab on Facebook. The website should have a highly visible donate button on every page.
And all those buttons should lead to one landing page. So even if you have the capability of getting donations from Twitter and all other social media platforms, you can link to the donate page on the website.
Every nonprofit should have multiple ways to donate on their website. If you’ve got a good website, it should just take one click to donate.
And what about email marketing at the event itself? Does that come into play?
If there’s an event like a local festival, I have nonprofits make sign-up sheets that place email addresses in a separate list, so volunteers can recognize if it was a successful event for the organization. A sign-up sheet is one of the best indicators of the interest in your cause.
I help a lot of clients promote the sign-up sheet. I teach them how to sell it by talking to people about the benefits of getting the newsletter.
Do lists come into play when promoting a fundraiser?
Most of the time, I tell nonprofits to send the campaign to everyone, but I strongly suggest they create a separate list for corporate donors and volunteers, since you may have some specific emails for them.
I don’t really think it’s useful to segment for a fundraiser, unless you’re trying to get money from a specific group. You can segment based on tiered levels of donations, like platinum, gold, and silver, if you want a way to reach your biggest supporters specifically.
What are the biggest mistakes you see when nonprofits are marketing online?
There are two that come to mind.
First, nonprofits need to remember that an email newsletter is more important than ever. A frequent comment from donors is that they don’t hear where their money is going. Ideally, you want to send something out monthly or seasonally, so people know the cause is still working and dollars are being used for the cause.
That’s key to maintaining awareness, so when you do launch a fundraiser, you know you’ll have an engaged audience.
Second, nonprofits need to think carefully about design.
If you’re running a fundraiser, the website should give room to it. Don’t delegate it to an “Events” page, it should be headline material.
And then when it comes to all your web properties, you have to make sure everything has the same look. I’ve seen so many nonprofits I’ve seen where you can’t tell one piece of marketing from another in terms of who it came from.
The first thing I do with clients is help them make sure there’s cohesive branding: the website, newsletter, logo, and everything else should all have the same colors, heading, and fonts.
Branding means instant recognition, which is important. Especially with email, since the delete button is right there.
Want to learn more about nonprofits that effectively use email for fundraisers? Check out our free nonprofit guide, “The Formula for Success.”