Making a Fundraising Video Email Successful

Have you been trying to get a fundraising video email to work? Do you want to steward your donors while at the same time getting additional support? Have you ever wondered if any of my advice ever really works? Then keep reading!

For several years now, I’ve been asked for advice by colleagues and peers on how to improve their marketing efforts including email marketing. One of the most often asked question is “How do we make our video email successful?” It is often in the context of raising money or memberships. Yet, for so many years I’ve had to say “I’ve never actually tested this… ” however, those days are now over.

One of the first projects that I got to work on here at Michigan State University, back in December 2011, was creating a year-end fundraising video email that was designed to thank our donors for their support while encouraging them to give a little more if they could. The timing could not have been better for this project.

Let the tips begin!

#1 – It’s not all About the Shiny New Thing

Many people start out with these efforts wanting to focus on the video (they shiny new thing). However, when you take a step back and really think about it the video is only a small portion of the overall project. Yes, an important part but when done correctly a small part.

  • Keep the video short n’ sweet – no more than 180 seconds.
  • Create an emotional connection with your viewers.
  • Do NOT include a call to action – I know this sounds backwards but it will make a difference.

#2 – Make Your Story Standout

Most likely you started this project with a story that you wanted to tell. Many people start out thinking that the video must tell this story – WRONG! Let the email tell your story and make sure that the video reinforces it emotionally.

  • Get your message across without making them invest a large amount of effort or time. The more you make someone do, the less likely they are to finish it.
  • Tailor your story to your audience.
  • Make your “Call to Action” obvious within the story. It’s okay to have more than one.

#3 – To Embed or to Link

One day we’ll be able to embed videos into HTML emails without any issues (I look forward to it) but not today. Therefore, today, you’ll need to link the video to a landing page to play.

  • Keep it simple. Avoid any extra navigation elements or multiple calls to action. Auto play the video as the user already clicked to watch it; don’t make them click again.
  • They saw your story don’t repeat it, the video will reinforce it. Make sure your real “call to action” stands out!
  • Mobile is important; if it doesn’t work on mobile devices then don’t bother!

#4 – Make Your Message into a Micro Campaign

Many companies would recommend resending the same message to “unresponsive” recipients one week and two weeks after the first message. Although I agree with the concept of having multiple pieces that reinforce the overall objective throughout a mini campaign, I do NOT  recommend resending the same message over and over. That does more brand damage and provides very little short term gains. Instead try using some different takes on the same concept.

  • Diversify your messages and try new ideas.
  • Don’t be afraid to get away from the video – remember it really isn’t that important.
  • No more than THREE times for a campaign! Or you’ll risk drastically increasing your unsubscribe rate.

Does any of this actually make a difference?

So by now you are probably thinking, “Will this make any difference as it sounds like a lot of work?” Although it is more work it does make a big difference and now I have the numbers to prove it.

YouTube Video Views by Day:

252 people watch the video with 50.4% on our website, 26.7% on a mobile device and 22.9% watching it directly on YouTube – which means people shared the direct link with friends.

However, the best numbers were our donation results:

Using techniques 1 – 3 we were able to generate a 22.25% increase in donations ($16,000) and a 19.74% increase in donors (91 total) compared to last year for just the video based thank-you email messages. After adding in the “micro campaign” concept from tip #4 above, we were able to raise $24,972 from 163 donors for a 100% increase in donations and a 114% increase in donors. Last but not least, the “mini campaign” effort made an even greater impact by getting 12 recipients to make their very first gift to Michigan State University.

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