Targeting Donors with Digital Ads

Posted on 08/01/2018

One of the biggest challenges in annual giving is getting a donor’s attention. In an era of social media influencers, YouTube celebrities, and ever-present tweets, relying exclusively on traditional engagement channels may not actually get your message through to the intended audience. And while most institutions know who their prospective donors are, they may not have access to all of the contact data necessary to deliver a traditional appeal – so regardless of how strong the message is, it’s simply not received.

So how do you get through? One way to capture attention and attract donors is through digital advertising. Social media offers a wealth of advertising opportunities that will put your message directly in front of your constituents based on their specific contact information or select audience characteristics like age, location, or gender. Digital ad retargeting takes this concept a step further by marketing to people who have actually interacted with your content or advertising. If a prospective donor clicks on a Facebook ad or visits one of your web pages, you can capture their data and use it to serve them specific online ads to push them back to your website for further engagement.  

One institution that is seeing success with digital ad retargeting is Indiana University. The IU Foundation, which fundraises on behalf of the university, wanted to increase engagement with their parent community. The Foundation team built a Facebook ad campaign to attract potential parents. The ads targeted users who lived in Indiana, had shown interest in IU, and who had children between the ages of 18 and 26. By having remarketing code on the parent engagement webpage, anyone who clicked on those ads was added to a marketing list. This enabled the Foundation to then show them digital ads for IU’s parent program while surfing Facebook and other sites.

The campaign has been part of their emphasis on a multi-channel marketing strategy. The ads show how parents can get involved with IU and don’t automatically assume that the user seeing the ad is a parent. Once a user clicks on the ad, they have essentially affirmed their status as an IU parent and  “opted in” to communication about parent engagement. The goal first and foremost is to drive traffic to IU’s parent program page, where visitors can see the many ways they can get involved. The IU team then uses the data collected through the web traffic to show ads that engage those parents for gifts.

The biggest indicator of success for this approach so far has been the increase in traffic to IU’s parent program page. Prior to the ad campaign, it was not uncommon for the page to have around 50 visits per month. During ad campaign months, the parent page has over 600 unique visitors. The ads are significantly less expensive to run than direct mail or telemarketing efforts – averaging less than $500 per campaign – and are serving as a critical component of the Foundation’s focus on increasing parent giving. As the team points out, getting their message in front of these constituents is the first step.

With new technology comes new opportunities. For the less tech-savvy, it may feel daunting to tackle something that appears as complicated as ad retargeting, but – with a little work – the results can pay dividends for your program. After all, your message can only be successful if your audience actually receives it.


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