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The Loyalty Letter

E-news that helps you keep donors connected (and giving)
to your cause.

May 2009
Published by Lisa Sargent

Dear Reader,

“Twitter is my new night job,” the director of major gifts at a big US nonprofit told me recently. “Three of us in development answer ‘tweets’ for at least an hour every evening!”
Maybe, like my director friend, you hear social networking's siren song. And you fret that if you don't join in, you'll leave untold millions in donor riches on the cyber-table.
But should social networks get priority status for your online donor communications resources?
After three months of research, I have an answer: if you want any kind of fundraising future online, your nonprofit must fix two things first.  
Early, exclusive insights from my research below, with lots more coming next month.
And thanks, as always, for being a subscriber,

Lisa Sargent
Sargent Communications

P.S. Also below, the companion piece: statistics to spark your thinking on email, social networks and more.

Before You Go Social, Fix These First

Or, why your website and e-news still matter more than Twitter, Facebook and friends.

First, let me say it: I don't hate social media. Or social networks.
But after studying the websites of more than 300 (yes, 300) large US nonprofits, I'm concerned that the rush to social networking comes at the expense of email address capture.
Why is that so bad? Fewer email addresses means missed opportunities to engage and retain donors online, which equals donations lost forever, online and off.
It's not just the little guys. My research shows that the biggest nonprofit websites still don't cover the basics when it comes to converting online visitors into subscribers, and subscribers into donors. A recent article in The Nonprofit Times supports this; worth a read.
And since I subscribe to the email newsletters of over 10% of the largest US nonprofits listed on Charity Navigator (677 emails and counting), I can tell you this: you can do a whole lot better. 
Five tips below, gleaned from my research — more coming next month — then check out the companion article further on for surprising industry statistics on social networks and email.
Before You Go Social, Fix These First:
Website Mistakes That Even Big Nonprofits Still Make

1.) No e-news. True story: one out of every ten nonprofit websites I visited don't offer e-news. And remember, no e-news = no email address capture = no e-appeals = lost online donors and donations. So: produce an email newsletter, and follow a regular publishing schedule. Warning: Uploaded PDF versions of your print newsletter do not count.

2.) Cryptic sign-up boxes. Most sites had at least one sign-up box flaw: burying the box way below the fold, using microscopic entry font, and worse. So: give your sign-up box a prominent location, and test it. Use easy-to-read font to decrease email entry errors.

3.) Broken links, endless clicks. That link-to-nowhere ruins goodwill, as does a sign-up process that requires me to click through five pages before I can subscribe. (This from an organization spending more than US$12 million per year on fundraising.) So: have a volunteer or intern test your links, and walk thru a mock-subscription.

4.) Missing sign-up boxes. Not everyone enters your website from the homepage, and if you don't have a sign-up on every page, you're missing subscribers. So: sign-up box at every level, on every page.

5.) Too much (or too little) information. If the sign-up process requires that I give you my shoe size and name my 17 closest relatives, I'll drop out. But if you don't at least ask for my first name, you can't personalize. So: keep copy friendly and sign-up simple.
One more thing: if you're among the nonprofits still using “System Administrator” as a “From” address, please, use a real name.
Stay tuned for more tips from the research vaults next month. Now for those stats...
Email and Social Network Stats, Stories

Are Twitter and Facebook the fundraising tools you hope they'll be? A few facts:

1.) Churn baby, churn. According to Nielsen Wire, more than six out of ten Twitter users who sign up don't come back the next month (read as: nightmarish churn rate, hat tip to Seth Godin). Without better retention rates, Nielsen says the social media miracle won't be able to stem the tide of defectors.
2.) “Causes” just a pretty face? The Washington Post reports that less than 1% of the users who join a cause on Facebook have donated... and less than 50 of the 179,000 groups on Facebook have raised more than $10,000. 
3.) Real people pack more social muscle than you. Consider Leah Jones, who raised $2,500 on Twitter for Komen 3-Day. Or the $30,000 raised on Twitter for March of Dimes, in memory of toddler Maddie Spohr. 
4.) What's in an email address? This from FundRaising Success Advisor: “In 2007, Save Darfur raised $415,000 in 10 days via a three-part e-mail series sent to about 1 million supporters. Yet, in more than a year on Facebook Causes, Save Darfur has raised just $28,000 from its nearly 1 million friends...”
My takeaway?
Clearly your everyday evangelists leverage social networks best. So before you go social, invest first in a website that connects people to the good work you do... and keep them engaged via email.
Then maybe next time, that Twitter user will choose your organization, and the $30,000 will go to you.    

Feedback? Questions? Just ask:

Seek a donor-centric copywriter?
I’m a phone call away: +001 (860) 881-7009.

Southern hemisphere? Skype: lisa.sargent96.

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Since we're talking about websites...

Don't Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability
by Steve Krug

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