How to deploy a digital marketing strategy on a strict budget

We look at the innovative way The Smith Family drives engagement with donors on a limited marketing spend

The Smith Family's Rosie Simpson
The Smith Family's Rosie Simpson

When your marketing budget is restricted, it is critical to make every dollar count. One organisation that successfully implemented its marketing strategy despite a restricted capacity to spend big was The Smith Family, which recently exceeded its benchmarks and transformed its website into a million-dollar fundraising channel.

The challenge: widening community reach and increasing support

With more than 638,000 Australian children living in jobless families, the need for increased support has never been greater. Providing support since 1922, The Smith Family wanted to find a more targeted way to raise support, in order to better help disadvantaged Australian children to get the most out of their education, so they can create better futures for themselves.

With such a worthy cause to fight for, Rosie Simpson, Head of Fundraising at The Smith Family, decided to set some aggressive targets for the team.

“In 2013, we decided to significantly increase the number of disadvantaged children that we reach and improve the effectiveness of the work we do, so my team needed a strategy to increase our funding to help achieve that goal,” Simpson said.

While the charity had a few channels it wanted to target, such as individuals, or what Simpson calls ‘mums and dads’, corporates and major donors, the team soon realised digital spanned across all of them.

“From that point on, it was clear that our website was a priority,” she said. “People are far more open to using digital channels for fundraising nowadays, and we really needed to tap into these digitally active donors”.

In the past, Simpson said the website was “a shingle” in the organisation and featured a miscellaneous bag of information.

“It contained stories and everything that we did, but not in a terribly effective way,” she said. “So with a strict budget, it was imperative as an organisation to think about what is the number one objective. And that is that we want people to support us.

“That set us on a journey of using the data and information gathered from how people were using our website to be very clear on how we were going to really turn on that level of support. “

Every dollar counts

In order to meet targets to drive increased support on a limited budget, The Smith Family decided to revolutionise its website engagement by implementing the Sitecore platform.

“We did get a lot of pushback on Sitecore initially, mainly because people couldn’t understand why a small organisation like ours would need such a sophisticated solution,” Simpson said. “What they didn’t understand is that, in charity, it’s even more important to engage with people than in the private sector”.

As a charitable organisation, the team needed to be able to prove that every dollar spent on the website build would provide a clear return.

“Our Digital Innovation Project was essentially a five-year business case, with the top priority being ROI,” Simpson said. “Some might think of this as a restriction, but it was a very positive consideration for us, as it meant that we always prioritised work that would bring the biggest wins first. For us, that was the improvement of our donation forms.”

Unlike a business transaction, where the customer gets something tangible in return, The Smith Family asks donors to trust the organisation to put their hard-earned cash to the best possible use, she explained.

“The ‘return’ for them is purely philanthropic, so we need to show how the dollars they’ve given us have made a direct difference to a real person, in our case a disadvantaged Australian student,” Simpson added. “Content and communication are key to relaying that message – which is why a leading-edge solution, like Sitecore, was so important.”

According to Simpson, the Sitecore platform enabled The Smith Family deliver a targeted segmentation in a digital environment and be specific about the different rationale for giving.

“From child sponsorship programs to numeracy and literacy, we needed a platform that could handle that multiplicity of channels for giving,” she said. “Sitecore offered that ability to segment effectively in a digital environment.

“We have an enormous amount of content and stories on what our children are achieving. So we’ve really been on a journey building our website, enriching out content and leveraging the Sitecore channels to work for us to engage with our supporters and potential supporters.”

Simpson stressed there’s a lot of competition when it comes to fundraising, so her team had to be very clear on its funding proposition and understanding the organisation’s supporters.

“Sitecore has been instrumental in helping us to direct us in the right direction and created a targeted campaign to ask the right people at the right time,” she added.

Exceeding the benchmarks

With such a tight rein on spending, The Smith Family has been delighted with the post-launch results so far.

“We’ve exceeded the benchmarks we set out to achieve,” Simpson said. “In fact, our last Winter Appeal, running annually in May and June, was our most successful ever and turned our website into a million-dollar fundraising channel.”

Simpson said her team realised they had hit the nail on the head, in terms of how people wanted to donate, when they saw a regular trend of online donations above the $10,000 mark.

“We’ve built trust through the channel, and now we’re seeing the results of that trust,” she said. “For example, we’ve seen an overall donation conversion increase of 33 per cent and an average donation value increase of 8 per cent. Our online forms now account for more than 25 per cent of our annual fundraising total – figures that would have been deemed impossible on our old website.”

Keeping the experience personalised

With compelling anecdotal proof of the importance of content, Simpson said The Smith Family has very clear ideas about the next phases of development.

“Personalisation will be a big focus for us,” she said. “We’ve realised that being able to present donors with information about causes they’re most likely to be interested in, based on previous behaviour, can play a key role in their decision-making process.”

The Smith Family is also interested to see how Sitecore can further improve the user experience.

“For example, we’d like to create a donor portal where sponsors can feel more connected to the students they’re supporting, by being able to see letters from them, get reminders to send a birthday card or receive updates on their sponsored student’s progress”, she said. “This would provide a self-service destination, similar to online banking, which will incentivise users to visit the site more regularly.

“The portal would also enable us to evidence exactly how their dollars have made an impact on a student’s life, which is hugely rewarding for donors and will play a key part in motivating them to donate regularly”.

From a fundraising point of view, it was critical to focus on the core market stats that are growing and that the charity has some competitive advantage in, Simpson said.

“We’re also looking at specific channels for us that we’re continuing to invest in,” she said. “We support 34,000 disadvantaged children on scholarships and we support them right through their schooling to tertiary education. So long-term, we want to continue to build our partnerships with mums and dads, with our major donors and corporate channels.

“All our fundraising is based around how to develop quite long-term relationships across our major segments. The challenge with digital for us is how to continue to leverage it to build long-term relationships.”

Even though digital continues to play a vital part in The Smith family’s future, Simpson saw direct mail as continuing to be an effective personalised touchpoint.

“There’s a lot of talk about direct mail and we’ve been hit with the Australia Post charges like everyone else, but direct mail is still a wonderful channel for us,” she said. “People don’t receive that much mail anymore so they love to open it. So even though digital is still a big part of our future and our present, we don’t see direct mail as being any less important.

“In fact, it is still a vital and vibrant part of our marketing mix and is going to continue to evolve as we continue to innovate in that space.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO Australia conversation on LinkedIn: CMO Australia, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+: google.com/+CmoAu

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