February 20, 2018
For many nonprofits, creating a steady flow of donations can be a challenge. Donations are typically plentiful during “giving season,” which lines up alongside the winter shopping holidays. But once the New Year arrives, many charities are back to square one.
“As a nonprofit, you start every year at zero,” Tyler Riewer, brand content lead at charity:water, said.
charity: water works to provide funding for water projects in 24 countries around the globe. The nonprofit sends 100% of their public donations to their partners, and has helped bring clean water to more than 7.3 million people since 2006.
“Fundraising is our biggest job, and we do that by telling powerful stories,” Riewer said.
The team at charity: water needed to find a way to tap into revenue streams that didn’t dry up at the end of the year. To do that, they knew they needed to offer something valuable, while also creating a community of donors. They also knew they needed an innovative email strategy to succeed.
“The primary things for us were that the emails needed to be easy to build, and we needed help specifically with segmenting and engaging with our audience by behavior and attributes,” Riewer said. “The other priority for us was finding something [an email template] that was reliably responsive – that had been something that was tricky for us in the past.”
In August 2016, charity: water teamed up with Emma, their email marketing partner, to launch “The Spring,” an email-driven monthly giving program that offers a suite of content exclusively for subscribers.
“People have this suite of products that they subscribe to throughout their life,” Riewer said, giving a nod to platforms like Netflix and Spotify. “We wanted to create a product that’s like a type of subscription service for someone to help.”
Each month, members receive a personalized message with updates on how their contributions are making a difference in areas of need. The trigger-based emails are automatically sent when their credit card is charged for their donation. The content varies each month to tell a complete story, with narratives from local partners and benefactors.
“When you think about it from a nonprofit perspective, engagement is so important, and being able to make them [donors] a part of the story is important,” Colby Cavanaugh, SVP of marketing at Emma, said. “Automation is a really powerful way to be relevant, to be personal, and to provide that customer experience.”
Exploring new ways to engage
When it came to creative, charity: water wanted to make their audience feel as close to their contributions as they could. They decided to turn to video to capture their work with communities around the world and deliver it straight to their donors’ inboxes.
Shortly after launching “The Spring,” charity : water started “The Journey,” an exclusive video series that gives their monthly donors an in-depth look at how their contributions are making a difference in areas of need.
The videos, hosted by Riewer himself, are emailed directly to subscribers, who can watch the clips without having to leave their email browser. The videos are hosted on a password-protected microsite to ensure only subscribers have access to the content.
“The idea is that we take you to a new country and introduce you to the need, our local partner, and what the solution looks like,” Riewer said. “We want to give you an experience that brings you closer to that impact.”
The mix of automation, creative content, and a sense of exclusivity has certainly paid off for the nonprofit. The program currently has more than 11,700 subscribers, and Donorschoose.org was able to grow the program more than 95% in their first year.
“That moment of inspiration can happen right in the email because it looks as beautiful as we intended,” Riewer said.