New year, new changes in dig­i­tal fundrais­ing – five tips to help you prepare

Changes in online mar­ket­ing and data pri­va­cy have made it hard­er than ever to find new donors. And as we embark on a new year in fundrais­ing, more shifts are on the hori­zon. So what can fundrais­ers like you do to make sure you’re pre­pared to com­mu­ni­cate with and nur­ture your donors in an ever-evolv­ing dig­i­tal landscape?

Written by
Eric Reif
January 17, 2024

Over the past two years, digital media has undergone a huge shift – largely related to privacy and tracking concerns. As a result, fundraisers have found that the usual process of reaching donors online has been turned upside down.

In 2021 Apple rolled out its App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework and, in doing so, upended digital ad targeting, tracking, and optimisation. One commentator called it an ‘almost extinction event within the digital economy’.

Since then, new restrictions in targeting across ad platforms (particularly Meta - Facebook and Instagram), coupled with inflation, have meant it’s never been more challenging – or expensive – for you to acquire new donors.

And it’s not over yet when it comes to these challenges.

After much delay, Google has begun to phase out third-party cookies in Google Chrome. These changes could potentially be completed by 2025, pending a review by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority.

And even beyond this, ad platforms continue to face privacy challenges and regulatory pressure across the world. Costs have gone up, precision and breadth of targeting has gone down, and it’s left fundraisers in a new and uncomfortable position – with uncertainty over their future ability to reach donors.

However, it’s not all bad news!

The good news is, there are some strategies that fundraisers like you can implement today to ensure you confront these challenges and emerge stronger.

1. Remember, none of the online tools fundraisers currently use are perfect.

The way that charities communicate online has evolved fairly slowly, with a big leap taking place between 2020 and 2023.

But the bottom line is we’re always going to need to rely on a mix of channels and targeting methods to reach all the audiences and donors we want to reach – across all the devices they use.

In 2021, many organisations relied heavily on Facebook for donor prospecting and retargeting – the platform was big, relatively cheap, and made it easy to get your message in front of the precise group of people you need to reach.

Post ATT, no Facebook replacement (with the same combination of scale, cost efficiency, and targetability) has emerged. There is no silver bullet. So, building iterative testing and learning into your strategic planning is more important than ever.

As the industry continues to evolve, some of the specific tactics fundraisers have relied on to reach certain sets of users and donors online may change or even disappear altogether. But at the end of the day, our underlying approach – finding the right strategic mix of channels, audiences, targeting methods, and creativity to drive an impact – really won’t change all that much.

2. As soon as possible, try out new technologies – both internally and with your partners.

Google’s Privacy Sandbox – their replacement for third-party tracking cookies – is coming online. Facebook is eternally changing its algorithms.

So, there’s no perfect time in the future to become familiar with privacy changes. It’s an ongoing process that needs to be reviewed as soon as you’re able. And don’t forget to keep your eye on new changes that might impact your fundraising, by undertaking periodic reviews in the future.

Look at your key channels and the changes that have happened, but also remember there are still some more to come. Then work with your external agencies and other technology suppliers to get that aforementioned regular system of reviews in place.

3. Review your first party data.

Your own data is going to be more important than ever in a post-cookie world.

Collecting first party data, segmenting it and learning who your audience are (and how to effectively urge them to action) is the best way to make use of what you have.

To this end, email can be a powerful tool. At Blue State, we find email is often underused by clients – and for some clients, overhauling it has transformed fundraising revenue. Email is highly trackable, engaging, and easily personalised using what you know about your donors.

Don’t forget that feedback loops enable you to understand more about your owned audiences and augment your first party data sets. Doing so will help ensure you’re putting the right ask in front of the right people at the right time – with an aim to increase the value of your supporters and donors.

4. Make your cause stand out with creative that’s memorable and impactful.

While many of the most impactful changes of the past few years have affected targeting, there have also been shifts in the way charities think about their creative executions – with many embracing an ‘ethical fundraising’ approach.

Blue State believes that this change is important. But as more organisations make that pivot, it’s becoming increasingly important to have fundraising creative that is not only ethical but also tells the story of your unique impact in a compelling way.

Time and time again, creativity has been found to be one of the biggest multipliers of return on investment (ROI) that marketers and fundraisers can control. Campaigns with a higher bar for creative quality have twelve times greater impact on ROI, according to research conducted this summer.

In fact, our clients delivered some impactful campaigns around Giving Tuesday late last year – ranging from compelling photography to personal appeals on TikTok. (Click the link above to view some examples)

Investing in creative is what’s going to make your ads, your campaigns, and your values stand out to donors. Charities are chasing an increasingly small pool of people able to donate. Standing out from the crowd will help get potential donors to open your emails in the first place, feel warmly towards your organisation, understand your mission, and become long-term supporters.

5. Create measurement plans so you can invest more in brand communications

Fundraising teams often focus on what brings the donation in at the final step, and don’t spend enough on what ‘warms up’ donors and increases broad awareness.

These elements, such as mainstream advertising, brand-building, video (including connected TV – CTV) and display advertising are harder to tie back to specific donor actions, but instead have a ‘halo’ effect, increasing overall awareness; the number of donations and donation value.

Attributing a donation to multiple touchpoints can require some additional legwork upfront to define measurement frameworks and attribution models. If someone sees your ad on Hulu, heads to Google to learn more and donates via one of your search ads – for example – then you’ll want to credit that donation to each of those touchpoints.

Spending this time upfront on properly understanding the value of all of these channels will be an investment, but it will pay back many-fold, allowing you to invest in broader advertising with confidence.

To conclude…

The digital marketing economy is again going through a period of change that is impacting digital fundraising. But we’ve weathered the storm before and can do so again.

In fact, changes in digital fundraising also bring opportunities. There will always be compassionate individuals who want to support various causes. This means, as fundraisers, we must continue evolving and adjusting how we find and talk to these donors. By doing so, we can keep delivering the income that will help make a difference to those who need it most.

About the author: Eric Reif

Eric Reif

Eric Reif, he/him, leads Blue State’s global paid media practice, with more than a decade of experience at the intersection of political strategy, advertising, and fundraising. He has launched first-of-their-kind marketing campaigns, built teams to run complex programmes and strategies in short windows and high-stakes environments, and raised hundreds of millions of dollars for Democratic campaigns, progressive causes, and non-profits.

Eric is originally from the Washington, DC, area and holds a degree in History and American Culture Studies from Washington University in St. Louis.

Related case studies or articles

Fundraisers, are you ready for a potential cyber attack?

Jack Steadman, chief technology strategist at agency Blue State, shares some crucial steps that he believes could help your organisation maintain cyber security and protect donor data.

Read more

Improve your supporters’ online experience to raise your fundraising results

James Herlihy of Dutch agency Mindwize shares his essential steps for avoiding a poor online experience for donors. He also gives his advice on how to power yourself to fundraising success.

Read more

How to find new e-mail subscribers for your organisation – the right way

Ephraim Gopin, founder of 1832 Communications explains why e-mail is an essential fundraising tool for your organisation. He also shares simple tips to help you encourage more of your site visitors to sign up to your communications.

Read more

Also in Categories