giving wallet

Here’s something that not enough nonprofits are saying to their boards and CEOs: “We need a more sophisticated marketing automation strategy.”

There may not be a CMO at your NGO, but people who work in development, donor relations, and communications are looking for better, more cost-effective ways to fund their good work – whether your goal is running after-school programs, supporting innovative research, or providing humanitarian relief. Unfortunately, the retention rate of first year donors is only 23.7%.

And while marketing automation can help non-profits in many ways – by raising awareness, for example, or by influencing public policy – one of marketing automation’s biggest use cases is in supporting a robust pipeline for donations.

With that in mind, here are three reasons nonprofits should develop and refine their marketing automation strategy:

1. When it comes to fundraising, email is still king.

Even in the age of multi-channel marketing, email is still one of the best ways to encourage donors to open their wallets. According to the most recent Charitable Giving Report, there was a 13.5% increase in online fundraising between 2013 and 2012, and email marketing was the primary channel used to raise money. Direct mail, once the go-to for nonprofit fundraising, has a relatively high cost compared to email, and has declined sharply in the last five years.

Online crowd funding and donation platforms like Kickstarter work for many nonprofits, but sophisticated marketing automation allows you to own your relationships with key donors, both on your website and through email. As you connect with your donor pool – whether you’re asking for funds, sharing updates and success stories to nurture past and future donors, or thanking those donors – marketing automation allows you to continue the conversation over time.

2. Donors, like customers, expect a personalized experience.

As more and more companies adopt personalized email marketing strategies, nonprofits need to keep up with the times. Your donors are much more likely to open – and respond to – a personalized email, website page, or offer. Marketing automation will help you nurture potential donors in a personal way from their first visit to your website; once they’ve become donors, it will help you retain them.

For example, when a new donor makes her first contribution, your marketing automation will send a thank you email. You might want to send introductory communications to donors who are new to your cause, while someone who has made three consecutive monthly donations might automatically be asked to become a monthly donor. The more that you can tailor your communications, the more relevant (and better received) they will be.

3. Knowledge is power.

Finally, marketing automation is a tool, but it’s not a strategy. As you develop a strategy for delivering content and seeking donations from your supporter pool, you’ll want to “listen” to your supporter pool’s response to communications. If you don’t know how they’re reacting, how can you make informed decisions?

Testing is key to creating high-performing messages – think like viral publisher Upworthy, who recommends writing 25 headlines before choosing one. You might not have time to write 25 versions of every message, but you can keep detailed records of your supporter base, segment that base by type, and test which messages work best for each segment.

A detailed record of your database can also help you determine who to target with a new campaign — you might decide to target those who haven’t donated in a while, or the segment which includes your most frequent contributors. Robust marketing automation systems can truly double as a donor platform, storing that kind of relational information over many years.

If you’re an NGO professional, how has your communications strategy developed over time? What challenges have you faced? Tweet to us @Marketo, or drop us a line in the comments below.