FYI Blog

The Bottom Line: Ramp up Online Fundraising

These case studies feature three 2013 MAXI Award-winning online campaigns. The first describes how we modify messaging by effort and by donor to maximize results. The next case study explores an e-Renewal start-up program, and how its multi-channel focus benefited all channels. The third case study reviews how a tried-and-true campaign was bumped to launch an online emergency appeal, with terrific results.


National Museum of the American Indian E-Renewal Series


Objective: NMAI had a basic monthly e-Renewal series in place, but members received the same renewal email every month. To improve performance and renewal integration, Avalon sought to more closely tailor the messages by effort and to individual donors.


Strategy and Audience: A new series was designed and implemented to personalize each effort, renew more members, and raise more money. First, an R0 effort was added that was sent five months prior to expire and one month prior to the R1 mail and email, to encourage more members to renew early. The copy, including subject lines, was completely revamped to complement the mail, use more compelling institutional renewal language, and increase the urgency as the series progressed.


For example, the R3 (sent in the month of expire) highlighted a specific deadline (e.g., Your membership expires on Sunday) to increase urgency. The asks in the email and on the landing page were personalized to each member’s previous giving level, while also promoting a membership upgrade. Finally, expire groups were grouped together to streamline implementation.


Results: Tailored messaging and ask strings paid off big time, improving the overall e-Renewal series across several metrics: gross revenue up by 57%, response rate up by 25%, a 44% increase in the number of members renewed, and a 9% increase in average gift from the same time period as the previous fiscal year (April-November). NMAI’s new e-Renewal Series was the perfect solution to increase renewal rates, and complemented the direct mail perfectly – and the series has not affected performance in other channels.


The Trustees of Reservations e-Renewal Series:


Objective: The Trustees of Reservations had no online efforts to supplement its direct mail renewal program, and with a largely membership-based constituency, Avalon knew the best way to expand renewals would be to use a multi-channel approach — integrating an online element to maximize renewal revenue and increase member retention rates. An effective rolling e-Renewal program was just the ticket.

Strategy and Audience: Like the direct mail series, e-Renewals were sent monthly, on a rolling basis. The series began with R1, sent to donors three months before their membership expiration, and ended with R3, which donors received in their month of expire. We also incorporated a quarterly lapsed effort, emailing donors who were lapsed as far back as 48 months from the R1 expire month.


The emails reflected the over-arching message of preserving special places, and included evocative photographs from The Trustees’ properties. A personalized asking string was also implemented — based on previous giving history — to ensure a strong renewal average gift appropriate to each member. Each member’s donation page was customized to pre-select the level above his or her current giving to encourage member upgrading.


Results: The e-Renewals surpassed all budgeted and non-budgeted expectations with a very high 3.52% response rate (compared to the industry standard of 0.08% for fundraising emails — based on M+R’s 2012 eNonprofit Benchmark Study). The average gift was a remarkable $92.19, in part due to the individualized ask strategy that encouraged members to upgrade, which helped many donors to renew at levels over $100. In fact, the average monthly upgrade rate was extremely high at 16%.

The combined direct mail and email renewal results indicate that the overall multi-channel strategy is working to generate significantly more revenue. FY13 combined has already exceeded FY12, and is 21% ahead of last year’s renewals.

Farm Sanctuary Emergency Rescue E-Appeal:


Objective: Farm Sanctuary was faced with an immediate and urgent need for funds to provide medical care, shelter, and various other kinds of support for more than 60 neglected animals after an emergency rescue. With no lead time, Avalon was tasked with finding a way to quickly raise funds.

Audience and Strategy: To get the message out as soon as possible, an email campaign was created, casting a wide net and appealing to all Farm Sanctuary donors and non-donors with email addresses.


But first, ongoing strategy needed to be shifted. Before the rescue, Farm Sanctuary’s very successful Membership Month E-Appeal series was underway, with institutional messaging and a matching gift. A difficult decision was made to cancel the remaining two Membership Month campaign efforts (Membership Month was one of most successful e-Appeals of the previous fiscal year, only surpassed by year-end), as the rescue represented a more urgent and direct need.


Vivid photos and videos taken during the rescue were included in the email to convey the truly desperate situation that Farm Sanctuary rescued these animals from. A video was quickly produced and linked to the email, including footage and first-hand accounts from the emergency rescue team. The video was also put on YouTube with a link to make a donation to the campaign.


Due to the response to the first email, as well as greater need for support for this kind of large-scale rescue, a second email was sent out almost a week after the first one. Additionally, a $1,000 match was promoted on social networks to benefit the rescue.


Results: This appeal was not only a success in terms of budget, it was also the highest-grossing stand-alone email rescue campaign in Farm Sanctuary’s history. This rescue appeal – including the two email efforts, the web link, and the link on the YouTube page with the rescue video — grossed 54% more revenue than we had budgeted. This was due to a very strong 0.98% response rate and $67.62 average gift — $20.54 more than the average for all other rescue emails since 2010. The rescue emails combined from that time period generated just 52% of this appeal’s revenue.