September 29, 2011

How charity: water leads the way in social fundraising

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The 2011 September Campaign. Our 5-year-anniversary video from charity: water on Vimeo.


An interview with the nonprofit’s director of digital

Guest post by Beth Kanter

Ifirst came across Paull Young in September 2008 when he launched a birthday campaign as part of charity: water’s September campaign. Fast forward a couple of years, and Paull is following his passion for clean water around the world as the director of digital for charity:water.

charity: water continues to be an innovator in the area of online fundraising. Earlier this month, I stumbled upon their brilliant personalized thank you videos. It got me curious about the overall campaign strategy, how they measure success and learning more about what works. Paull agreed to share his insights in this interview.

Share the organization’s elevator speech.

charity: water provides clean and safe drinking water in the developing world. We direct 100% of money we raise to projects. Every September we launch the September Campaign, an online grassroots fundraising campaign targeting a specific issue. This year is our fifth anniversary, and we’re funding a drilling rig for our partner in Ethiopia that can provide access to clean and safe drinking water to 40,000 people a year.

Can you give me a thumbnail sketch of your strategy and how has it changed over the years?

On September 7, 2006, Scott Harrison launched charity: water by throwing a birthday party, charging people $20 to attend, sending 100% of the money to build wells in a refugee camp in Uganda and then proving the work by sending photos and GPS coordinates to every guest. In 2007, 92 people gave up their September birthdays to bring water to a hospital in Kenya. In 2008, even more people joined and raised over $1 million for clean water projects in Ethiopia.

In September 2009, we launched,  a website where anyone could give up a birthday, or run any type of fundraising campaign, for clean water any time of the year. Since then, over 10,000 individual fundraisers have raised more than $11 million – including over $1 million for the Central African Republic as part of the 2010 September Campaign to bring clean water to all of the Bayaka people.

Tell me about this year’s campaign. What are your SMART objectives? What are your key performance indicators? Obviously $. But how are you measuring along the ladder of engagement – from awareness to conversion to donor?

The overall goal is to raise $1.2 million online before the end of the year. This will trigger the purchase of a matching rig by a longtime donor, Virginia Clay, and effectively double the contributions of all our campaigners.

Paull YoungTo pass our $1.2 million target I know we’ll need to trigger over 1,200 individual fundraising campaigns. The campaigns will form a long tail, ranging from a few campaigns that can raise tens of thousands to 2 year olds raising over $2,000.

The most important metric is dollars raised and it is public on our September Campaign site. You can see how much money has been raised against our target and exactly how many fundraising campaigns have been launched. Right now we’re just over halfway to our goal of 1,200 fundraising campaigns by Oct. 31.

We’re also keeping a close eye on our Google Analytics to ensure that enough people are visiting the campaign page and the conversion rate. We also keep a close eye on the video views for the campaign trailer as well as referrals – we think it’s a great piece of content so we hope a lot of people will watch it!

Tell me a little about your strategy and tactics. Is this a multi-channel campaign? How do you use social media for social fundraising?

First, we aim to inspire with content. We have two videos on the campaign page along with infographics and images, banners  and other content available for campaigners.

Our September Campaign approach mirrors our overall strategy which revolves around building a grassroots movement for clean water based on the power of word of mouth. First, we aim to inspire with content. We have two videos on the campaign page that had a great reaction, along with infographics explaining the campaign and images, banners  and other content available for campaigners.

We’re then using a variety of predominantly online tools to spread the message to our audience: emails to our supporters usingSilverpop, personal outreach to supporters through Facebook and Twitter, and placement of ads in donated media spots such as AOL’s Cause Module, Hulu and Meebo.  

Once we drive people to the September Campaign page,  our hope is that they’ll be inspired to fundraise. In doing so, they’ll set up their own page and begin their own grassroots marketing campaign for the drilling rig. So 1200 September Campaigns become 1200 word-of-mouth efforts. For example, for my personal birthday fundraiser, I’ve been communicating regularly with my closest friends and family to connect them with the story of the rig.

Tell me about charity: water’s approach and philosophy to measurement. How do you report, reflect and revise what you’re doing?

charity: water is a nimble and fast-moving organization and our approach to measurement reflects this. We don’t spend a lot of time developing formal metrics reports that wind up sitting on a shelf. Instead, we keep a close eye on key metrics on a daily and monthly basis and use them to guide decision making.

My three-person digital team provides data to the rest of the organization to align our team with the progress of the campaign. Right now we send a daily email to our executive team pointing out the campaigns started and funds raised the day before, as well as our progress toward the goal trended against last years campaign.

One good example we had with this campaign was using Optimizely to run a test of three different video thumbnails on the page to see which one would drive more engagement from users.  We tested an image of our Founder, one of the rig and a shot of a clean water well and then chose a winner after two weeks that remains on the page.

What is your advice to other nonprofits that want to integrate social media into their fundraising campaigns and use measurement to make it more successful?

Do it wrong quickly! If you are set up to measure something the right way, every test is valuable, even if you don’t get the result you hoped for. Define clear objectives that tie directly your mission and monitor them rigorously.

Understand what levers you have to influence results – in the case of the September Campaign for us, this includes:

• Increase traffic to the page

• Increase number of campaigns started

• Raise the average amount raised by campaigns

• Identify major donors and other revenue opportunities that can contribute to our goal

There are a plethora of free tools you can use for online measurement but it is easy to get lost in the details. Identify the key metrics that matter for you and remember: The greatest analytics engine of all is the human brain!

Beth Kanter runs the blog and is co-founder of Zoetica. Follow Paull Young on Twitter at @paullyoung. This article is republished from Beth’s Blog.
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