How charities can create effective marketing campaigns

Charities face a tough challenge when it comes to developing and implementing creative campaigns that resonate with potential supporters as well as existing donors. Simply put, as a charity, you are not marketing a product or a service but ideas and concepts to stimulate action – a much more complex proposition.

Charities which succeed are those which manage to speak to their target audiences in a way that resonates with them, raises their profile, increases brand awareness and ultimately encourages action – whether this is driving direct donations, increasing attendees at fundraising events, encouraging raffle ticket sales, etc.

As campaigners, charities are passionate about the need to convey their message and make things happen. But while enthusiasm for your cause and a “gut feel” for what makes your potential supporters tick, your marketing campaign is destined to fail if you lack a clearly defined objective, a comprehensive strategy and ways of evaluating progress, and checking you are on track. Without these vital elements, you could end up wasting a lot of time and money.

Starting with a clear strategy
An effective marketing strategy will help your charity reach more people and generate more income. A useful place to start is determining what your charity is trying to achieve. For example, what are your goals for the coming year? Do you want to raise general awareness? Is your main objective to increase donations from existing supporters? Are you looking to re-engage with lapsed donors?

Segmenting your target audience can help you achieve this. For example, you may want to segment your audience into: first-time donors, potential donors, corporate sponsors, historic high level supporters and key influencers (e.g. celebrities, local “VIPs”, etc.).

These donor segments should receive different messaging as you’re encouraging them to do different things. This helps you to focus your strategy by considering key messages for each specific target audience. The ultimate aim is to effectively summarise what makes your charity different from any other charity and the reasons why people should support you.
When it comes to messaging, clarity is important. Sweeping, top line statements – such as “we want to be the leading charity” – are not specific enough and are impossible to measure.

Achieving a clear, concise strategy gives you a solid foundation and a line in the sand to work from, providing a stronger focus and more effective messaging across all your marketing communications.

When it comes to the nuts and bolts of the campaign – the tactics – it’s important to use the right tactic, at the right time, with the right audience.

With many charities using social media to compete for their audience’s attention, it can be difficult to achieve “cut-through” and stand out from the crowd. That’s why it’s important to consider alternative tactics – such as print – to create a real point of difference. While our finger tends to hover over the delete button as we look through hundreds of emails in our inbox, we tend to give traditional mail a bit more of our focus – especially if it is creative, innovative or unique.

Evaluation should also be a key part of your marketing strategy. A marketing plan that just sits on the shelf is not particularly useful. You should regularly review your results to check that your goals have been met or to determine if new strategies are in order. Unfortunately, evaluation is something that is often forgotten but it is vital to measure if you have achieved your overall income targets or how your campaign is performing.

But a word to the wise: once a particularly innovative campaign theme or action has succeeded, its impact may not be as effective next time round. You need to constantly create new ways to dramatise an issue as you build pressure for change.

Data quality is everything
In award-winning charity campaigns, it’s the sexy stuff like viral online videos and hard-hitting TV ads that get all the attention but ensuring the quality of your data is one of the most essential tools of the trade in marketing. It is one of the most important, best practice backroom activities that will generate the biggest impact on your return on investment (ROI).

Despite the growth in digital, direct mail (DM) is still a vital tactic in charity marketers’ armoury. But there is little point spending a significant proportion of your budget on DM if donors’ addresses are incomplete, inaccurate, duplicated or out of date. For a business, this kind of wastage is not ideal to say the least; but for a charity, with limited funds and donations as its only means of income, it is completely unacceptable. Not only that, but sending out mail packs to deceased individuals or duplicating communications can be extremely damaging from a PR perspective.

The quality of your data also helps you to personalise your direct communications ensuring your mail shots can be tailored to individuals. The more you can personalise your DM, the more effective it will be.

Of course, it goes without saying that you do need to be fully aware of the new GDPR regulations, effective in the UK in May. Recipients of promotional materials through the post have the right to opt-out if they wish to be removed from marketing lists. It is therefore the obligation of all organisations to ensure recipients’ preferences are managed effectively (as per the existing data protection legislation).

Expertise at the outset
We’ve all heard the old adage “planning and preparation prevents poor performance” and no article about best practice in charity marketing would be complete about a mention of the importance of getting expert insight right at the outset of any campaign.

If you are planning on embarking on including any aspect of print marketing in your campaign, it can pay huge dividends to get your specialist print provider on board right at the outset at the planning stage. Rather than thinking about print as the last link in the chain immediately before implementation, you should instead think of your printer as an expert consultant who can provide invaluable early input before you part with any of your marketing budget.

An experienced print provider can advise on the print processes best suited to your charity’s individual requirements, including paper quality, finish and the quantity of printed materials required.

If you have a particular creative concept in mind, any printer worth their salt should be able to tell you if the campaign can be completed within budget or whether there is a more cost effective way to achieve the desired result. Furthermore, if you are working to a particular time frame, it is vital to get your print partner on board at an early stage to ensure they finish your project on time.

Of course, there are no guarantees of success but by developing an effective marketing campaign strategy, paying close attention to the quality of your data and getting the right experts in at the outset before you commit to marketing spend this all can pay huge dividends and ensure you get optimum ROI.

Getting creative, putting some real thought and effort into producing a campaign that makes use of all the tools and tactics available to you can put your charity in the spotlight and motivate your target audiences into taking action.

Marketing best practice example
Founded in 1583, the University of Edinburgh is one of the world’s top universities. At over 400 years old, it attracts students from across the globe. However, like all charitable bodies, it relies on donations and in particular, alumni donations for capital, research and bursary funding.

The university devised an appeal focusing on people as its inspiration, providing a “human face” for the institution. The campaign was well thought out and carefully planned using a variety of marketing tactics to appeal to its wide range of domestic and international alumni from digital solutions such as: social media, email and online via a specific micro site, to more traditional solutions including DM, events and video.

The success of the campaign lay in the way it used segmentation to appeal to different donor target audiences. With 12 unique segments, the campaign consisted of tailored pictures and quotes relating to recipients’ experiences. This level of personalisation meant that for the audience the campaign felt like an old friend speaking to them about how financial support made a huge difference in their education and their lives.

Once the video was produced, all existing donors were invited to a premiere in Edinburgh. Several days later the fundraising appeal arrived through their door, depicting a graduate from the time they studied at the university. It was preceded and followed by an email linking the recipient to a short video of their fellow graduate. There was a further London premiere and a final email with a video of the “future” student they could be supporting.

The multi-channel campaign – using the power of social media, email, web, DM, events and video all working together to create a cohesive and strong message to alumni – was a huge success. In fact, the campaign exceeded all monetary targets achieving a 39% increase in income. It signed up 654 new donors – making it the second largest successful donor mailing in the university’s history – and it achieved a remarkable 363% ROI.

In addition, there were several unexpected wins. The strength of the message and content meant that those who took the time to watch donated much more than ever before. Furthermore, the campaign significantly appealed to the “silver surfer generation” – a target group the university had not managed to appeal successfully to before – and as a result, there was a marked increase in legacy pledges around this period. The documentary-style campaign was much talked about remains to this day, a timeless resource for fundraising at the university.

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You can contact David Lonie on 0117 311 8200 to find out more about our work within the charities sector.