Will You Marry Me? What Not-For-Profits get Wrong on the Web

The "Will you marry me?" (WYMM) syndrome turns every online messaging opportunity into a nail begging to be hit with the donation hammer.
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Will you marry me? Seriously, will you, the person who is reading this right now, marry me? A little info about myself: I'm a college grad, I have all my hair, I like long walks on the beach and I'm employed.

Yeah. It's a little bold to ask you upon our first meeting, online. You don't know much about me. I know almost nothing about you. Seems a bit desperate, right?

Well, will you donate $500 to support youth grants at DoSomething.org? 100 percent of your money will go to a teen leading a community change project.

Yeah. Still desperate, right? Exactly. Not that different from my first question.

The "Will you marry me?" (WYMM) syndrome turns every online messaging opportunity into a nail begging to be hit with the donation hammer. I can point to dozens of orgs that create sites that are essentially fundraising brochures with donation buttons and paragraphs about the history of the organization. There are also not-for-profits that take the WYMM mistake beyond web sites and into their social media strategies, advertising opportunities, newsletters and partnerships.

An interesting case of WYMM can be seen when analyzing how Google Adwords grantees use their advertising dollars. The program gives not-for-profits the opportunity to choose from millions of keywords (search terms) and show their text ads in the sponsored link section. Only about 10 percent of grantees actually use all of their funds and the most frequent thing I see grantees focusing ads around is the keyword "donate". Don't believe me? Do a quick Google search for "donate" and check out the ads on the right-hand side.

Question: When was the last time you had money burning a hole in your pocket so badly you had to Google what to do with it? The following Google Insights chart shows that more than twice as many people search for word combinations with the word "volunteer" than "donate".

There are thousands of keywords that out-perform "donate" in search volume that every grantee would utilize if they thought outside of the WYMM box. [More on Google Adwords strategy.]

How do we get out of the WYMM box? Here are three ideas to get you started:

Idea #1: Recruit volunteers or supporters, not donors
On December 3, VolunteerMatch.org and Fidelity released a study showing that "Volunteers give 10 times more than other Americans" (in a study of 1000 people). The Google keyword comparison above suddenly takes on new meaning when we change our strategy to recruiting volunteers even though the goal is to increase donations.

If your organization doesn't have volunteer opportunities available, think about ways to build a relationship with your supporters other than through their dollars.

Idea #2: Ask for emails, use a form
Most non-Vegas marriages don't happen on the first date, it starts with a reasonable ask and comes after a relationship has been developed. Having a donate button is fine but donating as your primary or only call-to-action is not a reasonable ask to the vast majority of your traffic.

The following heatmap images show the behavior of 10,000 users on DoSomething.org's home page. Of this traffic, 305 people gave their information (e-mail or mobile) and 0 people clicked on our donate button.

To maximize e-mail collection, have a form on your homepage that users can fill out. A link to a separate signup page isn't enough. Last fall, TeamFox.org (part of the Michael J. Fox Foundation) switched from having an e-mail signup link to a field users could fill out on the front page. For the seven months prior to the change, the "e-mail signup" link in their header had collected 76 signups. Over the next month, they doubled their list and in the next seven months their list grew to 625 signups (over eight times the previous seven months).

Idea #3: Tell a story
Thirty-seven percent of donors check an organization's Web site after being solicited by mail to decide whether they will donate. Put your impact first, save the boring history and details about your org for the "About Us" section. Use pictures (flickr.com), video (youtube.com) and stories from the people you have had an impact on.

Once you have people's information, tell them a version of your organization's story that will resonate given what you know about them. Employ a permission-based marketing strategy and convert web browsers into volunteers, supporters and donors.

So, now that you've spent some time with me, I've got a question for you: will you give me your e-mail address so I can tell you about some of DoSomething.org's amazing grant winners?

See? It's all about the foreplay.

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