Retargeting Donors through Digital Ads

Posted on 09/15/2017

There’s a new buzzword getting a lot of attention from annual giving programs these days: retargeting. In a nutshell, it’s a form of digital advertising that provides a way to build a customized audience by keeping track of supporters who have visited your web page and then displaying ads they’ve already been exposed to in their own social channels such as Facebook and Instagram.

At UCLA, the Blue & Gold Challenge is a popular fundraising drive designed to capitalize on the spirit and energy generated in the days leading up to the school’s annual football game against crosstown rival USC. A one-week appeal, the campaign “challenges” alumni to reach a predetermined number of gifts in order to unlock a six-figure dollar amount pledged by a leader donor. This past year, the campaign asked the UCLA community to meet the target of 3,600 pledged gifts to claim the additional prize of $350,000 for the annual fund.

To help achieve its goals for the latest Blue & Gold Challenge, the annual giving team added a new element to this digitally-driven event that’s centered around a website landing page and includes email blasts, social media posts, and a series of inspiring videos released in stages throughout the campaign. This use of retargeting may seem too technologically advanced to some, but it’s actually rather simple to understand and implement.

Setting up UCLA’s retargeting campaign was a team effort involving everyone from the department director, production manager, and media team to the folks in data and IT. To execute this tactic, an institution must be on Facebook and signed up for a Business Manager account. It’s also critical to have a web developer or someone who can successfully implement code on your website. From there, the process boils down to three easy steps:

  1. Go to your Facebook advertising account and follow prompts for setting up the pixel.
  2. Copy the pixel code and provide it to your IT person for implementation on your website.
  3. Once implemented, go back to your Facebook account, navigate to “Audiences” and select “Web Traffic” to create a custom audience using the pixel data.

UCLA’s pixel was able to automatically detect anyone visiting the Blue & Gold Challenge site while logged into Facebook, making it possible to retarget those individuals with ads promoting the videos unlocked during the week. It’s a great way to make sure people who have viewed the campaign and potentially already contributed come back to check out the progress that’s been made and take further action by pledging an additional gift or sharing with friends.

It’s best to activate the pixel at least 24 hours in advance of when you intend to begin retargeting to get a head start on populating your custom web traffic audience. The more time you give the pixel to begin pulling visitor data, the more robust your audience. For this relatively short campaign, UCLA put up a teaser site with a clock counting down to the official kickoff that included the pixel code, allowing them to capture visitor data prior to launch and hit the ground running. The Blue & Gold Challenge goals were exceeded with a total of 3,875 donations (107% of target), by far the highest total in the campaign’s six-year history.

Interestingly, data showed visitor time on the website was down for the fundraiser, while conversion percentages were up. The combination of the video engagement fueled by the repeated exposure of retargeting had donors already warmed up by the time they made it to the website. All the annual giving team needed to do was make the process of giving as seamless as possible. This significant takeaway is prompting the university to use retargeted digital ads increasingly alongside traditional channels.

The marketing toolkit of successful annual giving programs isn’t limited to direct appeals and phonathons anymore. Employing new digital tactics – including retargeting prospects based on their online behaviors – are increasingly important ways to reach donors and communicate with them about the impact of giving. Understanding these opportunities, and incorporating them into your overall marketing strategy, will help to elevate awareness and boost results for all of your fundraising efforts.


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