Maximising our digital channels has enabled us to respond quickly to change, connect with people on their own turf and actively engage them in creating impact, says Ciaron Mackle
The last two years have been a difficult time for fundraisers, with changes to the regulatory environment and negative press attention. Despite this, I’m really excited about what the future holds. With new opportunities to improve what we do and speak to supporters in a way that works for them, I believe we can develop better and deeper relationships with the people who make our work possible.
In a time of increased political awareness, and with more political engagement from younger people, I’m enthusiastic about the opportunities that fundraisers have to involve people with causes that are agents for social change. It is up to us to respond to this new political energy and inspire our supporters.
That is why I’m excited about the work we are doing at Friends of the Earth with digital channels: running campaigns using social media to connect with new audiences. The opportunity to look outside of our traditional methods of communication is something that will continue to grow and help us reach even more people.
Being smart with audience capture
We’ve been working hard to engage new supporters through Facebook, particularly in connecting people to our campaign to help save Britain’s bees. In conjunction with our agency partners, we’ve taken the time to get to know who our audience is and make sure we’re being smart in the types of people we are trying to reach. As communities move online, we are ensuring that we’re speaking to both our existing and new audiences where they are already being engaged.
This has primarily been achieved using paid social media, which allows us to constantly refine who our audience, speaking to people whose interests align closely with that of Friends of the Earth. This is an efficient way of reaching the most engaged people.
Success with actively involving our supporters
At present we’re advertising two products: our Bee Saver Kit, which is promoted online and which supporters pay a donation to receive; and our free seed packs, which is part of a value exchange. We’ve experienced significant successes from these in the last few years, and they continue to engage people. We’re also now rolling out our new Urban Nature Kit, encouraging people to help wildlife and nature in their areas, which we believe will help us to reach an even wider range of potential supporters.
Our products enable supporters to become actively involved in our campaigns – such as planting seeds to create habitats for wildlife, or signing one of our petitions to stop fracking. We’ve found this is a particularly useful way of structuring our fundraising activity: it offers supporters the chance to engage with our work, doing something practical that makes a difference, either before they donate or at the point of their first donation.
Building on the impact of supporters’ actions
We’ve learned that engaging people early on allows us to maximise our subsequent communications, building on the actions they’ve already taken and the information we’ve already shared. It means our supporters are more likely to give further, as they are able to visualise the impact of their generosity.
So, we work closely with our campaigning teams to ensure we maximise opportunities to engage people with petitions and online actions at key moments. This ensures that when we fundraise from these supporters, through traditional channels such as telemarketing, they’re already aware and engaged with Friends of the Earth.
Engaging new and existing supporters
While we still rely on traditional channels in our fundraising, digital allows us to react faster to current affairs and capitalise on opportunities which couldn’t be planned in advance. Print appeals take a long time to pull together, whereas email appeals can be sent to hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of hours.
Of course, while digital channels play a large part in bringing us new supporters, they can also be used effectively as a way of retaining existing supporters and increasing their engagement. We’ve worked hard to identify attrition trends in our programme by commissioning regular reports from our data team on each campaign and looking at where donors are cancelling.
We can then use this information to, for example, create custom email journeys for campaigns such as DRTV, which aim to further engage supporters in the difference they are making. This is an efficient and cost-effective way of improving donor retention.
Change is an opportunity
Our programme isn’t perfect and there are many improvements that we could make, but that is the exciting thing about the new opportunities for fundraising. We will always be optimising what we do, testing new techniques and reaching wider and different audiences. Things are changing in fundraising, but I believe change is a good thing, and that it will guarantee the continued survival of our important work.
Ciaran Mackle is supporter recruitment manager at Friends of the Earth