Roy C. Jones, CFRE

Marketing “pros” know that getting their website and digital footprint in good working order is critical to a successful year-end effort.  The best development leaders bear down during the months of November and December to insure that the last week is the most profitable 7-days of the calendar year. 

I know some development directors who “swear by” the last week of the year.  They contend that reaching their annual goals often comes down to the last few days of the year.  Most contend it is often the difference between ending the year in the black or sinking deeper into the red. 

Quality control is critical.  Does your giving page work 100% of the time?  Can it be overloaded with volume which slows or interrupts the gift transaction process?  Is your web site optimized so that the proper key words force your website to “pop up” on multiple search engines?  Now is the time to test your site and test your site again!

Develop a special Year-End e-mail series.  Plan to send a series of three e-mail solicitations throughout the 10 days of December, each building on the momentum and urgency of the last.  Time the final e-mail to be delivered on the morning of December 31st, with a subject line of something like, “Last Chance to Give in 2011”.

Invest in Search Engine Marketing (SEM).  SEM campaigns will help you reach high-value online donors that are looking for worthy causes to support during the holiday season.  These donors tend to give significantly higher average gifts than direct mail acquired donors.  And because of that, you’ll frequently be able to acquire donors at a breakeven or better with SEM campaigns.

Most people are shocked to hear that I recommend spending a minimum of 10% of their overall marketing budget on SEM preparing for the last week of the year!  That’s right.  If you are spending $100,000 annually on (non-staffing) fundraising and development costs at least $10,000 should be ear marked in the 4th quarter for promoting your web site through search engine marketing and digital techniques.  And yes, if you are spending $1 million a year on fundraising and marketing costs, then at least $100,000 should be earmarked for 4th quarter search engine marketing.

Here is what you have to remember.  The majority of all gifts over $1,000 happen in the 4th quarter and of the 4th quarter gifts the majority of them happen the last 10 days of the year! 

As importantly, we are seeing that 17 to 25% of all NEW DONORS during in the 4th quarter give on line after receiving a direct mail acquisition piece.  That is right, more and more direct mail donors are using their search engine to check you out before they make a gift and then going right to your transaction page to make their gift.

Search engine marketing, or SEM, is a form of internet marketing that seeks to promote websites by increasing their visibility in search engine result pages (SERPs) through the use of paid placement. Google and Yahoo are the two largest search engines on the internet. It works basically as when a prospect searches a term that an organization has bought their ad and website will appear at the top or on the right hand side of the search.  

Currently websites see anywhere from 60% to 90% of their traffic online coming from Search Engines even though they might be promoting their web address to potential prospects. This is just ensuring that your message will be at the top of the list when they do search for relevant terms for your organization.

I cannot tell you why donors do it, but in spite of the fact that a donor prospect is given your website address, they will enter your organization’s name into the Google search engine to both find you and check out what you and others are saying about you on line before making a gift.

A company can have as many search words as they want but an average of 25-40 are recommended at any given time. These words can be purchased by market or region and added or deleted on a daily/weekly basis.

The cost involved works on a bidding system when a prospect takes an action and clicks to your website. The highest priced bid on a word or search term gets put at the top and so on down the page. Once a prospect clicks on your ad the search engine will then charge the amount of the bid for that search to you. So you are not charged by impressions but only by actions.

Through analytical tools we can determine which words are generating the most clicks and optimize to those words as well as recommend like words to increase your conversion. There are daily and overall budget caps in place to ensure that your budget is spread evenly over the campaign window.

Search Engine marketing should be the cornerstone of online advertising and essential to drive traffic to your website.  Do not be afraid to make the 4th quarter investment into digital fundraising development.  Digital marketing will pay off if you integrate it with your direct mail, major gift, and telefunding fundraising channels!