Reportback: Newsfunders booster for the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting

In December 2015, Newsfunders wrapped the last of three experimental “fundraising boosters” for nonprofit, public-interest news organizations.

(Previously, Newsfunders ran boosters for the San Francisco Public Press, an ad-free newspaper and website serving its eponymous city; and Oakland, California’s Making Contact, a nationally syndicated public-radio program.)

Rationale

News nonprofits serving neglected communities and issues tend to be cash-starved and lack capacity for fundraising and promotions. Newsfunders can serve as a third-party booster for such organizations by helping to increase the visibility of their work through grassroots and community-organizing strategies.

Goals

  • Identify any potential impacts an unaffiliated advocate can have on a public-interest news organization’s fundraising.
  • Test out email and Facebook as distinct vehicles for inspiring the act of giving.
  • Seek donor feedback on their motivations and expectations for giving to a nonprofit-news organization.

Outcomes in brief

  • Consistent with the other two campaigns, individual advocacy (usually via email) enables a donor to multiply her or his gift ~2x-3x by inspiring “companion giving” by peers.
  • Facebook promotions tend to have a wide reach, providing lots of exposure, but shallow impacts when it comes to inspiring microphilanthropy for journalism. A critical, unanswered question is the conversion rate for Facebook referrals to a news-nonprofit’s donation page.

Activity detail

Part I: Interpersonal outreach got the Maine Center at least one new membership and at least two renewals. The new member agreed to pass along a promotional email peers encouraging further giving.

Part II: The Facebook campaign got 6,000 impressions, and a healthy number of likes, shares and comments perked along — 122 “post engagements,” of which 28 were link clicks.

However, the Newsfunders booster campaign for the Maine Center got about 1/3rd of the Facebook traffic and engagements received by our Facebook campaigns for the Public Press and Making Contact. We can attribute this to having the Facebook ad’s geo-targeting limited to the state of Maine itself. The Public Press and Making Contact Facebook campaigns were targeted more broadly to national and interest-based audiences.

One interesting question is whether geo-targeted Facebook promotion of the Maine Center’s fund drive produced higher-quality donor referrals (with a higher conversion rate). That question remains unanswered for now. Although the outbound links to the Maine Center’s donor page, for both the Facebook and email boosters, had embedded UTM tags, we currently lack conversion analytics from the beneficiary’s email service.

Referrals vs. destination — a user-experience conundrum

One thing we have learned definitively is that a booster campaign can create thousands of impressions for the news organization, and can send dozens or even hundreds of traffic referrals to a news organization’s donation page for a comparatively small amount of money — easily under $100 per campaign.

However, even with all those referrals, conversions of first-time visitors to a nonprofit-news website would seem to be extremely unlikely; the act of donation is usually at the end of a “ladder of engagement” process.

For the news-interested Mainer, would an ad on Facebook or a promotional email boosting the Maine Center’s funding campaign serve as a rung in that ladder?

Another critical question is about the final rung in the ladder. Once the referral has been made by Newsfunders, it’s up to the news organization to close the deal … and most small news nonprofits don’t have big budgets for good user-experience design based on fundraising best practices.

Newsfunders beneficiaries might see greater outcomes from a booster campaign if we were able to offer some sort of improvement to their donor experience — perhaps via a UX audit and/or makeover, or perhaps by providing a centralized, third-party donor page in the style of a crowdfunding service.

Next steps

With the three booster campaigns completed, Newsfunders is now exploring surveying options to follow-up with donors about their experience, motivations and expectations.