Fundraising best practice: Unique URLs to track multichannel online responses

Tracking URLs across channels is a fundraising best practice that provides valuable tracking data.

Tracking URLs across channels is a fundraising best practice that provides valuable data for tracking the effectiveness of your outbound communications.

The fundraising world is abuzz with “online giving” being up. Blackbaud’s 2015 charitable giving report indicated that online gifts increased 9.2 percent from the previous year.

More gifts arriving via electronic methods should not be a stunner. We all use online payment methods for more financial transactions each day. Think about it – how many checks do you write now vs. 5-10 years ago? Some stats have indicated at least 1 in every 5 millennials has never written a paper check in their lifetime.

The Federal Reserve’s 2013 triennial report indicated:

  • The number of checks paid in the U.S. dropped 9.2 percent from 2009 to 2012.
  • The total number of checks written in the U.S. was more than cut in half from 2003 (37.3 billion checks) to 2012 (18.3 billion checks).

While your organization needs to be able to accept gifts via all sorts of electronic means, that is only the second half of the tracking equation. The first half of the equation is a fundraising best practice for 2016: know which solicitation source inspired the online transaction.

Create a unique URL for every online fundraising solicitation

By generating unique, trackable URLs for every online and offline solicitation, you will be better positioned to know what outbound communications channels influence your donors and prospects.  Here are a few tips for this fundraising best practice:

  1. URLs: Never give the donor a generic URL such as www.giveto.organization.edu. That link is not trackable for solicitation analysis.
  2. Emails: Embed a trackable link where donors click to go to your payment page. Depending on your in-house capabilities, you may even want to create and embed a different link for various segments. Remember, renewals are going to act differently than lapsed and non-donors.
  3. Direct mail: Create a URL alias unique to that mailing. Again, you may need to create different aliases for different segments. Make the alias something simple and memorable that the donor would be willing to type into their browser. For example, a winter-themed solicitation mailer in March could give donors a giving URL like www.organization.edu/snowgifts or www.organization.edu/Marchgift. The key is not to make the URL alias obvious that it is solely for statistical tracking, even though donors know you’re doing it.
  4. Crowdfunding: The rise of crowdfunding’s importance and influence is well documented, and of course almost all crowdfunding gifts come in “online.” But what influenced the gift? Was it a P2P email? The video? The Facebook page? Something else? At the minimum, you’ll obviously want to know a gift came in through a crowdfunding campaign, but additional tracking will give you much more insight to your donors.

If your organization doesn’t have the capability to create a lot of unique URLs for every solicitation for every channel, there’s still a way you can track online responses to all channels.

Ask donors to put a keyword in your giving form’s comment box, which in turn will alert your gift processing team to the solicitation source. That keyword could be anything you want as long as it is easy for the donor to remember and use. Consider creating a small stewardship incentive for someone to add that keyword.  Organizations use these incentives all the time for smaller gifts solicited via social media. You can certainly apply that practice to any solicitation.

Online giving is only going to increase with each passing year as society moves further away from paper payments. Knowing the online payment method used is unquestionably important, but so is having a way to analyze which outbound channels and communications generated those gifts.

If you have any questions about this fundraising best practice, or any other fundraising strategies, please email me and I would be happy to connect.

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Chris Hughes

Director of Fundraising Strategy at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Chris Hughes is a former Director of Annual Giving who has more than two decades of experience in fundraising, marketing, public relations and organizational success in higher education and nonprofit fundraising.
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