A Dedicated Web URL

December 15, 2004       Craig Causer      

A stamp is significantly more expensive than an email. And, depending on a donor’s Web access, an email response can put revenue in the coffers a lot faster and establish the Web as an additional way to talk to donors.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) tackled these issues by finding ways to make giving simpler. Fundraisers at the New York City-based nonprofit realized that an average online gift was more than an average offline gift. They also recognized that if the organization had a person’s email address, that person tended to be more engaged with the nonprofit. With that knowledge, the organization tied its mail program closer to Web renewal efforts.

The ASPCA mailed a series of seven renewal letters, beginning in January and going through this past July. For each of those separate renewals, a dedicated Web URL was constructed that tracked a gift directly to the mailing that the donor received. For example, a person who received renewal mailing number one also received messaging directing them to the Web address www.aspca.org/renew1.

The system synchronized both the organization’s online database and offline database on a weekly basis so that it could efficiently pull people off the mail list when a gift was made online.

“What we found is by doing that, we did not on any level compromise the results that we had anticipated seeing in the mail,” explained Jo Sullivan, senior vice president of development at the ASPCA. “We were able to convert multiple donors from mail donors to online donors with a pretty significant increase in average gift. We had about 2,470,000 contacts between mailings, emails, and outbound telemarketing,” she said.

Some 758 people logged on to a dedicated URL sometime in that series of seven mailings, and gave gifts totaling $32,000, she said.

Sullivan reported that the people who gave offline had an average gift of about $31. When a person logged on to a dedicated URL, the average gift increased to $42.80.

The ASPCA’s overall online giving represented 3.5 percent net of direct marketing funds in 2003 versus 1.8 percent in 2002. The organization has the email address of 230,000 people who are either donors or who logged on to the organization’s Web site and asked for more information. ASPCA does not rent or exchange those addresses.

“It sort of correlated with the mail,” Sullivan added. “Renewal one, two and three in a series are usually much more successful than later renewals. So the first few URLs are more successful. Number one was a direct creative replica of our member card. So if you logged on to that URL, the landing page you went to had a little icon of the member card that you had just received in the mail. We tried to tie creative to messaging.”

In an inexplicable twist, the ASPCA’s seventh renewal in the series, where an organization is usually just trying to break even, received a slight bump in response. The nonprofit did not change its strategy or tactics, the results just “played out that way,” Sullivan said. But 99 percent of the campaign flowed exactly how the mail flowed with early renewals and early URLs having higher response rates, she added.

The dedicated URLs allowed the organization to avoid one of the frustrations mentioned to Sullivan by various colleagues — the inability to track a gift. Every single mailing that went out the door had a dedicated URL on it so that the ASPCA was able to track people based on what mailing they received and place them in the appropriate fundraising track based on how they give.

Since the URLs are accessed through a dedicated keyword, the chance of a random person finding it is slim. That allowed the organization to work on the Web pages in advance and have them live on its site so it was ready to go when the mail dropped.

“It’s effective and cost-effective for us,” Sullivan said. “Our month of service fee to (Internet software and services company) Convio for the tool we use is very inexpensive — it’s around $2,500. It’s really comes down to the cost for the person’s time that is doing it and we have just two people working on the in-house URL design. It’s not a bad return on investment to gain an incremental 758 email addresses and $42 average gift.”