Grow your email list yourself? (Or use paid acquisition?)

Online fundraising is a numbers game, which I discussed in another Frogloop blog post about how many fundraising emails it might take per year to achieve a significant online fundraising program.

Having worked on nearly 450 digital campaigns for both nonprofits and impact-oriented brands, such as Abe's Market and Fetzer Wines, a common challenge I see across organizations is just inadequate tools for planning.

I've often encountered organizations with boards who throw down unrealistic growth goals for staff, but without arming staff with the proper resources to do their jobs.  

And in the midst of a vast array of choices, technology, and a rapidly-shifting digital landscape full of tempting "gold rushes" and shiny new toys, there is some basic back of the envelope planning we can and should do first, to see what's possible before we rush off on a fools errand to try and recruit 1 million members on Facebook or Twitter without a proper strategy.

So in this portion of what's now become the "back of the envelope" series, I offer you the magical "organic
growth vs. paid acquisition" calculator.

As Care2 our working theory of change is to engage the largest audience of conscious consumers and caring citizens likely to donate to nonprofits and support their causes as activists and volunteers. That creates economies of scale and efficiency we can then pass along to the nonprofits. We save staff the costly effort of acquisition by accelerating growth and seeding campaigns. This frees staff up to cultivate relationships with donors and raise money.

But this tool (and the others we've developed at Care2) are a totally objective template that you can manipulate with your own assumptions. I just try to give you a starting point based on industry benchmark data and my experience.

So try this theory out. I challenge you. It's a smackdown.

You'll likely find that given the realities of traffic conversion rates will require a massive staff effort to drive significant enough traffic through earned media to grow your email list (and thus your lifeline to multi-channel grassroots fundraising or sales), with any sort of scale at a net cost that can beat well-tested, targeted, permission-based email acquisition. 


New Study Shows People Don’t Read Articles, they Retweet

Are you impressed every time a blog post by your organization gets a lot of retweets? How about all those social shares on Huffington Post and Mashable? How many times has your boss come to you and asked “why can’t we get those social share numbers?”  

 A new study by Chartbeat, which measures real-time traffic for some of the biggest websites like Upworthy, said their research shows that many people aren’t reading articles that they retweet.  

Josh Schwartz, Chartbeat’s lead data scientist said that “Facebook shares would reflect the same pattern.”  

Upworthy says they have found that web visitors who consume about 25% of an article are more likely to share it on social media than people who moved onto to something else.  They also found that people who read the entire article are even more likely to share it on social media.

"There is obviously a correlation between number of tweets and total volume of traffic that goes to an article," Schwartz says. "But just not a relationship between stories that are most heavily consumed and stories that are most heavily tweeted."

Over at Buzzfeed they found that social media shares occur by users who have spent 3.5 minutes on a page on a desktop computer, or over 2 minutes on a mobile device.

I’m not surprised by this data. There is just too much information to consume on the web these days so it’s impossible for people to read it all. Plus people tend to skim on the web, especially with the rise of mobile devices.

It’s alarming that so many people are sharing articles with friends, colleagues, and strangers when they barely read the articles. It’s even more disturbing when you factor in that Nielsen’s research shows that 92% of people trust recommendations from friends and family.  

What Should Your Organization Measure?

If social shares and pageviews shouldn’t be your main source of measurement what should you be measuring?

  1. Bounce rates and Time Spent on Website and Posts:  Are people staying on your website and looking at other pages? Or are they immediately bouncing off your website? When you share an article on social media, how long are people staying on that page to read the article, watch the video, etc.?
  2. Commenting: Are people commenting on the articles you share? And if so, which ones? What is the sentiment? Is it positive, neutral, or negative?
  3. Most Popular Articles Across Channels: What articles generated the most comments and traffic on your website and social media?

Is Your Organization Looking At Alternative Audiences

Some companies, like Zygna, had early success thanks to cheap online advertising on Facebook. But with more companies entering the space, the ads got more expensive and that hit the Zygna’s bottom line hard.
Similarly, many of us are very aware that it is increasingly expensive to acquire new users. In fact, instead of targeting obvious audiences (e.g. young moms), it is often more effective to try to identify lateral audiences that aren’t targeted as heavily. The percentage of users that click might be lower and the audience might be lower, but the lower cost per user can lead to a healthier return on investment (ROI). 
It can definitely be frustrating: not only do you have to think about your ideal audiences, you need to think about how your competitors are eyeing those same audiences or keywords. 

One good way to identify alternative audiences is to look at the traffic from your existing users. Google Analytics has added their new Demographics and Interests information and that could be explored for potential audiences. 

Sometimes it's handy to price out the cost of different audiences before going into a planning/brainstorming meeting.  That way you can highlight numbers around the obvious audiences and focus the group's creative energy on coming up with alternatives.   

I sometimes take a “long tail” approach and find smaller audiences/keywords that don’t necessarily have a high traffic numbers but that are relatively inexpensive. You’re not necessarily going to get a big bump in daily numbers, but you’ll have an efficient spend and that additional traffic never hurts. 

In any case, the "good old days" of cheap online advertising are over and we're now competing in a crowded space for a finite number of users.



Charitable Giving Report Shows Online Donations Increased by 13.5%

This just in! The latest 2013 Charitable Giving Report by Blackbaud analyzed data from more than 4,000 nonprofits to provide the largest analysis in online giving data. According to the report, overall giving grew 4.9% in 2013 compared to 2012.

Even more impressive than overall giving is the 13.5% increase in online giving. Online giving accounted for 6.4% of all charitable giving in 2013. Large organizations fared better from overall giving while small orgs benefitted the most from online giving.

Speaking of online giving, #GivingTuesday made huge strides last year. Online giving on #GivingTuesday in 2013 was up 90%, compared to 2012. The average online gift on Tuesday, December 3, was $142.05, a $40.45 increase from 2012.

Which Sectors are Raising the Most?

"This is the second consecutive year that online giving has experienced double-digit growth rates. Six of the nine sectors in the analysis had year-over-year growth over 10%, with faith-based organizations having the largest increase." International affairs organizations had the greatest increase in overall charitable giving in 2013 (13.2%).

Which Months See the Most Overall Giving?

You may not be surprised to find out that the most overall giving occurs during the last three months of the year. Those are the months that organizations push their year-end giving, host challenges, and release their annual reports. More than one-third of all giving done in 2013 was done between October, November, and December. Both overall giving and online giving reached its absolute highest in December.

The slowest month for overall giving was February, bringing in just 5.8% of 2013's overall gifts. Perhaps the Hallmark Holiday is sucking people in, and they're spending too much on chocolates and candies.

The slowest month for online giving was January, the first month of 2013, the good news is that there was an incline throughout the rest of the year.

What trends did your nonprofit notice in 2013? Did you receive more online donations than you have in previous years?


Best Studies On How To Get More ReTweets

It’s hard to believe that seven years after Twitter launched, organizations are still vying for any information they can find on how to get the most ReTweets out of a platform that was meant for social conversations. One of the best places to go for Twitter data is Dan Zarrella at Hubspot. Dan has spent the last few years studying millions of Tweets and what resonates with people on Twitter. So if you are looking to amplify your advocacy efforts on Twitter, check out some of Dan’s most important data. However, it’s important to note that integrating some of these strategies will only take you so far. If you don’t have compelling content but your tweets are the recommended 100 characters, you still won’t get very far with this channel.

Recommended Tweet Length to Generate ReTweets

Tweets between 100 and 115 characters were 34% more likely to be ReTweeted than Tweets outside of this range.

Hashtag Effects on ReTweets

Tweets that contain one or more hashtags were 55% more likely to be RT’d than Tweets that did not use hashtags. Note: Please don’t fill your tweet up with 7 hashtags. That will not get RT’d.

Images Impact on ReTweets

Tweets contained images using Twitter’s native tool were almost 2x as likely to be retweeted while the use of Twitpic increased the odds by over 60%. However, tweets that used Facebook or Instagram links were less likely to be RT’d so don’t use these tools for Twitter.

Social Calls to Action Work

When you ask people do the following on Twitter, many will do it.

  • Please Help
  • Please ReTweet
  • Please RT

“Visit” did not resonate with people so remove that from your Twitter vocabulary.

In addition, I recommend using these social calls to action sparingly. If your audiences constantly see tweets that ask for help or to please RT your message, they will tune you out. Focus on engagement such as answering people’s questions about your issue and ask them questions. Put yourself in their shoes. Do you like when people or organizations always ask you to do stuff on social media? Or do you prefer that people have a real conversation with you?

Exclamation Points Get More RT’s

While exclamation points in tweets may get more RT’s they don’t get more clicks.  


The Ultimate Checklist to Choose a Web Vendor

Many nonprofits who are going through a website redesign on a tight budget want to know the best ways to find and hire a web vendor, especially ones that will understand their goals and challenges. As the founder of a web agency and former nonprofit campaigner I have sat on both sides of the table. I recently found this great checklist (via Darren Barefoot) that I think will be very helpful in talking with web vendors and helping your organization find the perfect match.


  • For the key people working on your web project, how much experience do they have?
  • Confirm which staff will actually be working on the project.

Subject matter expertise

  • Have they developed other sites for non-profit organizations?
  • Have they developed other sites related to your particular cause?
  • What is their background or experience in search engine optimization?


  • Do all of the web projects they’ve recently worked on have a similar aesthetic? That’s okay, as long as you like that look and feel.
  • In your initial conversations about the aesthetic you’re after, does the agency staff communicate in language that you can understand? Are they able to articulate back to you what you’re after?


  • What technologies (platforms like WordPress or Drupal and development environments like Ruby or PHP) do they have experience with?
  • Do they have expertise in a particular technology? If so, ask them when it’s not appropriate to use that technology? You want to avoid an agency where every problem looks like the perfect nail for their hammer.
  • What changes will you be able to make to the site without their aid, or that of another designer? Ask for a demonstration on another site they’ve worked on of how to make those changes.
  • What CRM systems (such as Convio, Democracy in Action and so forth) do their technologies integrate with?
  • What CRM systems have they completed recent integration projects with?
  • What are the staff training implications of the technology choices the agency makes?
  • Can you to talk to a customer for whom they completed an integration project?
  • Have they talked to you about the mobile audience, and how their design will accommodate users on smaller screens?
  • Do they talk about where and how to host your web project? Do they have a relationship with hosting companies?
  • What considerations does the agency give to web accessibility?

Support and Maintenance

  • Do they offer ongoing support?
  • How much does ongoing support cost?
  • What response time do they offer with their support package?
  • Can you talk to one of their customers who have been a longtime user of their support services? You want to talk to somebody for whom the honeymoon period is over.


  • How will billing work?
  • What systems and practices do they have in place to ensure that they don’t exceed the agreed-upon budget?
  • What happens if they find they need to exceed the budget?
  • In their proposal, have they accounted for additional costs unrelated to staffing, such as stock photography or software subscriptions?


  • What are the milestones associated with their development process?
  • What are the deliverables associated with each of these milestones?
  • Are they comfortable with hitting the deadline you’ve identified?
  • Who will be the project manager on the project. Ask if you can have a quick call with this person, to gauge their likability and communication style.
  • How many design revisions are included in the process? That is, how many steps are there between the first draft and the final one.
  • If you need to register a new domain, who will do this?
  • Will the agency have a role in developing the website content? If so, what?
  • Do you have multi-language needs? If so, has the agency worked on other multi-language sites?


  • Do you actually like the people at the agency? You’re going to be working with them for months.
  • Who will own the source files (Photoshop files and such) associated with the project after their work is complete?
  • Who will own the copyrights associated with their work on your web project?
  • Have they genuinely attempted to understand your organization’s goals for the web project?
  • Do they speak in web marketing lingo, using terms like ‘conversions’ and ‘calls to action’? While it’s not hard to fake this, a few probing questions about previous projects should separate the fakers from the experts.
  • Where is the agency located? A few in-person meetings can go a long way.
  • Do they outsource their work? If so, what parts and to whom?
  • Has the agency asked about the demographics of your audience? If many of them are elderly, for example, or in the developing world, then they’ll want to factor these issues into their designs.
  • What is their reputation? Ask your colleagues if they’ve heard of the agency, and what they think of them.

Upworthy Type Headlines: To Like or Dislike?

Upworthy, a site that focuses on curating social cause related videos and content has been receiving a lot of media attention for changing how bloggers write headlines. In November of 2013 Upworthy traffic grew to about 87M unique visits, which was quite a drastic leap from less than 5 million a year ago, according to Quantcast. In December traffic dipped about 21% to 68M unique visits. These numbers are still quite respectable. But is this a signal that people are growing weary of the “and you won’t believe what happened next” headlines? And what does this trend mean for nonprofits?

Please do not run out and start using Upworthy like subject lines on your online advocacy and fundraising appeals. Just because this tactic works for Upworthy (who is driven by a ton of testing on their own website) does not mean it will work for your organization. Remember, you are not a viral news sharing startup. Just like you were never the Obama campaign when their fundraising tactics were all of the rage. Raise your hand if you adapted those tactics a few years ago and suddenly raised an extra few million dollars. Any takers?

However, trying to amp up your creativity with headlines and testing them to see if they resonate with your audiences is something you should always be investing resources into. And that is one of the key take-ways from Upworthy’s success. The startup is constantly experimenting and testing to see what headlines and messaging works best with their target audiences. And if you look at their website right now, you will find that some of their headlines are simpler and not the hyped up "and you won't believe what happened next."

What about Facebook?

Upworthy is a great example of how compelling content can generate a lot of shares and comments on Facebook too. Should your organization adopt a similar model and share popular memes and videos with your audience on Facebook to generate more engagement? You bet so as long as there is some connection to the issues you are working on. However, memes and videos should not be your only source of content. Drew Bernard over at ActionSprout likes to compare this content strategy to broccoli and cheese. You need to balance just the right amount of cheese (fun stuff) and broccoli (your engaging messaging and content) to get the perfect dish that everyone loves.

Has your organization tested Upworthy like subject lines or headlines? What have the results been?

PS: Be sure and check out this fun Chrome plugin called Downworthy. It changes viral headlines like ""Will Blow Your Mind" to "Might Perhaps Mildly Entertain You For a Moment". #SoAwesome

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