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Podcast | Steer Clear: Avoiding Common Fundraising & Marketing Measurement Pitfalls

The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to review your systems for marketing and fundraising. But as you evaluate your processes, it’s equally important — if not more — to also evaluate how you measure success and improvement in your programs. Of course, it takes more than just logging into Google Analytics.

In this episode of Fundraising Today and the Go Beyond Fundraising podcast, we’re counting the Five Fundraising Measurement Mistakes to Avoid in 2024. Allegiance Group + Pursuant agency leaders Liz Murphy, EVP of Client Relationships, and Kim Richardson, AVP of Client Strategy, share what they’ve learned in their years of experience and with clients so you can better measure your digital channels.

These are the most common pitfalls fundraisers and markets can fall into:

  1. Not having a measurement mark
  2. No system set up for channel attribution
  3. No way to integrate data across platforms
  4. Not having web analytics set up properly
  5. Not being prepared for the ever-changing digital landscape

Want to hear more? Listen to the full episode:

Connect with Liz Murphy

Connect with Kim Richardson

Read the blog Five Fundraising Measurement Mistakes to Avoid in 2024

Get more Go Beyond Fundraising Podcasts



Leah Davenport Fadling: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Fundraising Today and the Go Beyond Fundraising podcast. Today, I’m joined by two of our experts here at Allegiance Group + Pursuant, and our topic is Five Fundraising Measurement Mistakes to Avoid in 2024.


The beginning of the year’s always a great time to look at your systems and your processes of how you measure success and measure improvement in your fundraising programs. And specifically, we’re going to be looking at how you can improve your measurement within your digital channels and also cross-channels. Digital is an increasingly important channel, but it is something that needs to work holistically with all your other channels.


So, joining me today are two of my favorite people. First is someone who’s a little bit newer to me, and that is Liz Murphy. Liz, welcome to the show. I think it’s your first time joining us today.


Liz Murphy: It is! Thank you for having me.


Leah Davenport Fadling: We’re so glad to have you. Just so that our viewers and listeners can know a little bit more, can you tell us a bit about your role and your background at Allegiance Group?


Liz Murphy: Sure! I started in direct response fundraising from a creative perspective. I’m actually a copywriter — once a copywriter, always a copywriter. And then I moved into digital marketing and fundraising. So, I’ve actually been doing digital marketing and fundraising for about 24 years. That’s really my passion. I learned about measuring from my direct response days but also then took that direct response measurement philosophy into the digital platforms. So, I’ll be talking about that today.


Leah Davenport Fadling: I’m so excited to hear what you have to share. Also joining us today is Kim Richardson. Kim, you’re a familiar face and voice on the podcast, so I’m so thrilled to be welcoming you back. But for those who maybe it’s their first time tuning in or listening, I’d love to know a little bit more about you and some of the clients that you’ve served over your long and very successful career.


Kim Richardson: Thanks Leah, I appreciate that. I’m Kim Richardson, a VP for Client Strategy. I’m a part of our agency team, where I work directly with our incredible clients, really taking the problems that they are bringing to us and working with our internal team to create the strategies and tactics and execution that will help to bring the best return for their fundraising investment dollars. And just, bringing more people to those great missions.


I’ve been with the organization almost 12 years now, which is crazy to think about. But my background before that was corporate marketing, but I just love being able to bring to bear the communication and marketing messages to the nonprofit space to really just elevate some of the great work that’s being done in the world. And here, with the organization, I work with all kinds of clients, but mainly my portfolio has been around faith-based clients, which I really enjoy because that’s important to me.


I’m glad to be here. I’m glad to be with Liz. She is great, so I’m looking forward to hearing from her.


Leah Davenport Fadling: Wonderful. Let’s dive right into today’s topic. So, when we sat down to think through measurement and some of the pitfalls that fundraisers and marketers can fall into when it comes to measuring success in your fundraising and marketing, the first one is not having a measurement mark. So, Kim, I’d love for you to kick us off with this first mistake and some ways that nonprofits can avoid it.


Kim Richardson: Sure. So, this is going to sound elementary, so thanks Captain Obvious. But when we are in our planning stages for our fundraising campaigns — just as we were planning the strategies and determining the tactics and execution — it’s critical that we really also determine what we’re trying to actually achieve regarding dollars, donors, number of gifts, average gifts, campaign reach, new names, new donors acquired, number of donors reactivated, or a whole myriad of other measurements that we might put in place.


And the reason that’s important is because not every campaign may be able to have real specific projections down to the minutiae details. But, for sure, we should be measuring something that’s more than just higher revenue, than making more dollars or raising more dollars than the previous year. For instance, sometimes our key goal might be to reactivate lapsed donors in preparation for a larger or more impactful campaign that will be launched in the future.


So, just thinking through what those measurements are that we want to have in mind. Then, we can put in place a lot of the checks and balances that ensure at the end of the campaign that we actually have a way to go back and measure the effectiveness of all the strategies and tactics deployed. We spend a lot of money for these actions, and so we want to be able to measure their efficacy. So, some of those things might be as simple as source codes that link to campaign URLs, use of appeal codes — which, as we know, most organizations already do that very well for their offline direct mail packages. But it’s often missed putting those types of guardrails in place in setting up what’s necessary for proper post-campaign attribution in the digital space.


So again, one of the reasons I’m so excited to be here with Liz is she’s going to walk us through some of the real specific things as it relates to digital — web analytics tracking and measurement and that sort of thing. But just thinking through up front is really important to understand what you’re trying to achieve. And we don’t want to be like Alice in Wonderland: if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you. Putting all that in place up front is critically important.


And Leah, I’ll just jump into the second one too, being inadequate system setup for channel attribution. So, it’s closely following that first mistake. Just not having at all or not thinking through really comprehensively what those measurement frameworks are going to be. And then once it’s determined, either not having a way because of the systems that we have in place or failing to set up some of the adequate methods for attributing activity. So, setting up attribution for the different channels deployed in the campaign, whether that purpose for the campaign is fundraising or whether it’s engagement.


Most organizations — we’ve been preaching this as an industry for a lot of years now — they utilize multiple channels or touchpoints to reach out to their constituents in the midst of a single campaign. So, it can be really difficult, for instance, to know if someone received a direct mail package, and that’s what prompted the online gift. Or they received a text message, and that reminded them of a mail piece that they got a couple days ago, and it prompted them to go and get their checkbook to respond.


For sure, some broad awareness marketing messaging can be harder to pinpoint and tie back to those specific actions. For instance, I mentioned text messaging, and that can be a broad one. Even some of the online advertising can be broad. As we think through what measurement means look like and putting those things in place, it could be testing a segment with or without the broad awareness messaging while holding all the other campaign elements consistent so that we can determine, “What is the effectiveness of adding that extra layer of promotion?”


And then, I think, as we think about putting in place and making sure that we’re adequately set up for channel attribution, it’s going to take some effort. It just will. It’s going to take some additional effort up front, but there are tools out there to help define those measurement frameworks and attribution models. I think Liz is going to get into some of that.


And I love what was said in a recent SOFII article that talked about digital fundraising, and they talked about if someone sees your ad on Hulu, heads to Google to learn more, and then donates via one of your search ads, for example, you want to know how to give credit to those donations across all those different touchpoints. And again, we’re spending a lot of money in those areas, so we really want to have in place a way to make sure that we understand the effectiveness.


Liz, what are your thoughts on integrating data between your digital platforms?


Liz Murphy: Absolutely. Mistake number three: digital fundraising and marketing includes sub-technology, and that has been the big challenge, I think, to a lot of folks. I don’t think it needs to be, but typically nonprofits and for-profits use a variety of different platforms to interact with their donors and supporters. So, that can include a website, you could have a separate donations-run platform, an email platform. You’ve got all the ad platforms, SMS, peer-to-peer, could be an event platform as well, many other things. So, if you think about it, your donor could travel across many of these before making a conversion. And you really want to know what was that journey and what were the touchpoints, as you mentioned Kim, and was it a confluence of touchpoints that made the difference or was it just a direct conversion?


Typically, it’s not as clean as that because users don’t always go in a straight line to where we want them to. So, really, we want to evaluate campaign success and know where to spend dollars for the next campaign. So, we want all these metrics from all these platforms to sync to one place. That could be your database, your source of truth, or it could be a reporting interface that is aligned with your database, for instance, like a Google Looker Studio where you’re doing all your recording. But what you really want is you want all these platforms to hand off the data to each other, and then you want it to come back into your reporting or database so that you can see it all in one place.


So, in order to do that, you will need the help of a developer or a good front-end developer, a good digital analyst. But you can do this. You can set up all your multiple platforms. And I think this is part of the measurement plan that you need to do up front. And Kim and I were talking about this — January is just a perfect time to do a measurement plan and to revisit a measurement plan, especially if you plan to use a new platform or change a platform. And then you’re going to have to say, “Oh dear, I have to change that because I’ve got something new.” So, you’re going to have to change it out.


One thing that you don’t want to see in your database is a bunch of revenue that just says “online” or “digital” revenue. We are well past that. Every database has the capability to create things by channel. I tell everybody this all the time: digital is multichannel. You want to see how your online search does versus your email versus your advertising versus your lightbox. You want to get as granular as you can, and by pulling all this data together — using a developer to help you pull the data through all the channels and back into one reporting source — you want to make sure you have that granular reporting.


And I’m going to jump into mistake number four, which is, I’m going to talk about web analytics. I think most people are using those. There’s been some changes, but I also want to just underline the importance of having web analytics and also setting it up properly. We know how important source tracking is, for instance, on a direct mail piece or even on an email so that it gets back into the email platform as well as into your source of truth. But web analytics serve a huge purpose as well.


You really need it for your website and your campaigns. Why, you ask? Even if you’re not in charge of the website and you don’t care about the website metrics, and maybe that’s another division, your channels are easily tracked in web analytics. And it’s a great, first of all, backup source. If somebody forgets to put a source code on an email or in an ad, you’d at least be able to see the revenue and the channel if you put some sort of tracking parameters on there in addition to your database tracking parameters. So, we always use it as a backup.


In addition, you do need some things from a campaign perspective from web analytics that you can’t get from some of the other platforms. And that might be, what is the conversion rate on your donation form or your advocacy forms? How many people are signing up for email per week or month? How did that landing page do? How many views of the video on the landing page that you created did you get? My basic philosophy is, if you aren’t measuring it, how can you improve it? As we have gone very multichannel and omnichannel, we want to look at the full journey, and it’s really important. We’re seeing more and more people also come from mail, as Kim mentioned, online through QR codes and from URLs. You want to give the credit where credit is due instead of having to create unique donation forms, for instance, for every single campaign. And you may want to, and it may be justified.


You could also use Google Analytics tracking on a form that would identify it with the campaign, with the date, with all of it, the parameters that you need in order to credit that revenue back to direct mail.


The most common web analytics tracking platform is Google Analytics. Last July, Google required all users to upgrade to what they’re calling GA4, which is a new system. What this means is that universal analytics, which is the prior version of Google Analytics, is no longer tracking. So, if you are still on universal analytics, you are not seeing any data past July. So, you do need to upgrade to GA4 in order to see any kind of analytics for any kind of online interactions, whether it’s your website or other things.


So, I highly recommend you create a new GA4 account. You also want to implement — this is really important — eCommerce tracking from your web pages to any of your forms. This is another common pitfall. People are like, “I have it on my website.” But you have to do special tracking so that it can track the user journey from somebody who lands on, for instance, a landing page on your WordPress website to a completely different donation form platform. If you don’t do that, the journey will end at the landing page, and you will not be able to see the conversion to your form.


Another best practice in this journey is using Google Tag Manager, which is a wonderful little container that you put on your webpages and any kind of forms. And you can put all your pixel tracking, for instance, for ad platforms so that you can also see the interactions from them as well and capture that.


And Kim, I’m going to hand it over to you for mistake number five.


Kim Richardson: Those were really great insights, Liz, so thanks for all of that. As we wrap up our time, the last mistake that we really want to highlight, since much of our conversation again related to efforts in the digital space, that last mistake is really just not preparing our organizations and our teams for the continual dynamic changes that seem to be occurring in the digital lands. Again, I’m going to quote something I read in SOFII. Eric Reif’s article was just spot on about some of those changes that we need to prepare for.


Most of us are familiar with all the changes that have been going on from a tracking standpoint, with the big digital ad platforms that they’ve made through the years, whether it’s Apple or Google or Facebook. But there are two others that I really want to highlight that I think every organization has more direct control over. Because we don’t have any control over what these platforms do, but we do have control over these two things.


The first one is how you make your case stand out with memorable and impactful creative. So that can mean several things, from moving to a more ethical way of representing the people, the animals, or the issues and other things that really drive your mission. The other thing is also just ensuring that your organization’s story is told in a unique and compelling way. For instance, does that key public leader of your organization have a unique connection to the mission that gives him or her the passion that they have for the work a more genuine or emotional way to envision what that mission is all about and what the impact of the mission is? Or maybe there’s others who can help deliver your mission’s uniqueness versus other organizations that are doing similar work in that space.


So, it’s really incumbent upon us to dig deep to uncover the stories, the images, the connections that really help set your messaging apart. And obviously, especially when we’re talking about the digital space, the visual thing — the first thing that people see, those compelling images that are the ones and the things that are going to grab folks first. I think that’s one that we really have control over, just shoring up our creative and making sure we’re putting our most memorable and impactful creative forward.


And then finally, the second one is really something that can feel a bit daunting because we’re losing our ability to track online cookies, for instance, or open and click-through rates. But our first line of defense is really just leveraging the first-party data that we have available in our CRM and other internal systems. When we think back on the pandemic, one of the things that was so interesting for us as an agency was to see how many organizations utilized that time to embark on a new and updated CRM migration. And most of these migrations and CRMs that they were moving to had such better and improved functionality that allowed them to capture, store, and even retrieve really specific points of information that helped to personalize the messaging and all those things with their different constituents.


So, we would just recommend you lean into that. Make sure you’re utilizing that new, rich information and tools to add more personalized information about your constituents that you require, maybe via surveys or how they responded to different topics within your mission and messaging. Utilizing those things to continue to help learn more about the folks who are giving to you and supporting you so that you can continue that relationship in a more personal and authentic kind of way. Because we know that creates the stickiness and the retention that we need for our mission.


And then finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the great insights you can gain from our tool, the GivingDNA platform, that takes that first-party data and overlays it with third-party data to give you an even richer look at who your different constituents are, what different segments and opportunities exist for upgrading, for instance. What kind of other organizations maybe your constituents are giving to that maybe help you craft the message to different segments. It starts, again, with that first-party data. We have access to more information than we think. Let’s not work from a place of lack but really look at what we do have access to and leverage that in a real meaningful way to create the messaging and the kinds of campaigns that are going to move our mission forward and are going to draw more people to our cause.


Liz Murphy: Kim, I love everything that you said. First-party data is just becoming so critically important to every organization, and any way you can think of that is not invasive to your supporters where you can gather that data. I do love the idea, at least, of a survey once a year. You can collect any kind of data with even a one-line question. We’ve done them with SMS, we’ve done them with online ads. It’s really important that we have as much information about the intent, about our prospective and our current donors, so that we can speak to them in the right way.


And as you said, a lot of CRMs these days have some really powerful ways to do that behind the scenes. What pages do they interact with so that we can make some assumptions? What content are they reading? There’s a lot of really interesting things that are going on. Some of the advertising platforms have that built in and are utilizing that power of the data to target the right message to the right people.


There was one other thing I wanted to add, which is changing the landscape from a digital perspective. I’m sure you’ve heard it, but soon, Google and Yahoo are requiring new email authentication protocols, so you will have to change some things on your technical email platforms in order to comply with these so that your emails get sent out via these platforms. So, make a little note of that. That’s going to be a big one, and that’s coming up soon.


Thanks for having us and reach out to us if you have any questions.