Guest blog post by Henry Astley, Digital Strategy Director at Open.
Third party cookies have been used in fundraising for as long as charities have been running digital campaigns. They track individuals by leaving a tag on a web browser. This way someone can be identified in one place (an ad), remembered and then observed taking an action in another place (leaving a donation on a website).
Cookies can measure this over long periods of time, if one person uses multiple devices and even if they view things but don’t click them. Cookies have been used to build retargeting audiences and power modelling for targeting new audiences. They’ve had lots of uses. And they’re about to disappear.
This is a good thing. The move toward a privacy and transparency-centric web is behind this. It began with regulation in 2018, was followed by moves from tech companies like Apple’s iOS14.5 update and it’s looking like it will end with Google Chrome discontinuing cookies next year.
They are going – but what does this mean for charities? Well, some change and short term pain, but longer term opportunities for ethical and sustainable fundraising.
So what do you need to do to prepare?
Google has provided all users of the old GA with GA4 accounts, and now is the time to check all is working ok. Old accounts won’t receive data at the end of June, so it’s important to see if your new account can report on the same information the old one did. You might need a developer or a Google Tag Manager user if you have a complicated setup. You should also download the data from your old GA, as that won’t move across.
Social media companies offer cookieless solutions for measurement and optimisations of ad campaigns. This has previously been done by pixels – code which uses third party identifiers like cookies. The major social networks now offer conversion APIs to do something similar, which use server to server connections rather than cookies. These will need setup work.
First party data collected with appropriate consent will be a legitimate way to target individuals in the future and nurturing these databases will be a hugely important digital strategy for the cookieless future. First party data might include email address, phone number or postal address, all of which can be used online to target. As GA4 data is first party it can be used to segment digital audiences too.
We’ll need to accept that even with the best preparation things won’t be the same in the post-cookie world. The biggest change will be to the measurement of digital advertising campaigns. Fewer conversions will be counted by tracking tools, and the ad algorithms will receive fewer conversion signals, which may in turn lead to poorer optimisation.
This will affect some channels more than others. Display relies a lot on cookies to track response as those ads aren’t very clicky, and often a conversion happens a long time after ad interaction. You may find that very few conversions are counted from display in the future, but other channels like PPC which are much more click based are still counted.
It will affect some campaigns more than others, too. Getting someone to sign up to a marathon involves a long decision making process which might take the runner 2 weeks to decide on. This will be harder to track than something like a petition sign ask, which can be responded to quickly.
It’s important to understand that not tracking a result may not mean a campaign isn’t performing. To analyse performance you might look at other metrics like viewability, clicks and quality of site traffic. We may even see more offline styles of measurement being reapplied online, like sending traffic to different pages, offer codes or A/B testing of locations. The offline world hasn’t ever used cookies but it gets by.
Social ad platforms will have less targeting data if it has been collected from the pixel outside of the social apps, but any interest data collected from people using apps like Instagram is considered first party to Meta and will still be available for use. This means that the tech giants like Meta and Google will continue to be leaders in personalised targeting.
Strategies need to be future proof. It’s going to be harder to measure the responses from a big ask on a digital ad in the future. This might give the sector the opportunity to question whether this strategy was good in the first place. Should the majority of cold communications involve asking for money, a legacy or other large commitments? There is evidence to show this is damaging to charity brands in the long term.
Focusing on what can be measured effectively – for instance lower commitment actions like email subscriptions, campaigning actions and pledges will be both possible in the future and a better entry point into the supporter journey.
There will be other untapped engagement opportunities in digital and innovation here will be crucial. There will be value wherever we capture first party data for conversion at a later stage. This means that integration between charity silos will become more important than ever. It may not be people’s first interaction with us that drives the value – but gathering that first party data will be essential for growth.
There should be more emphasis on the quality of creative, consistency of message and supporter journey to ensure longer lasting and ethical relationships with donors in the post-cookie world.
Guest blog post by Rachel Erskine, Fundraising and Communications Consultant working primarily for Nairobi-based public health NGO Amref Health Africa.
She has discovered that Alice, the woman she’s been dating, has used Mabel’s life as inspiration for a piece of art. Seeing her painful personal history played out by actors, Mabel feels like she’s been catapulted back in time. In reality, she’s moved on – but the artwork has frozen her in the past. Stripped of its context, filtered through Alice’s own experience, the story paints a portrait of Mabel that she doesn’t recognise.
When charities share the stories of those they support, this is sometimes what we do, too. Through words, film or pictures, we capture people in a particular set of circumstances: circumstances that, given the nature of our work, we hope will quickly change for the better. We reduce them to the challenge they are facing. We trap them in time.
As a sector, I think we are starting to acknowledge the damage we do when we treat people’s stories as our property. In recent years, there’s been a real shift in the way charities are approaching fundraising storytelling, particularly when it comes to the way we represent the people we serve. Organisations working internationally – the sub-sector I’m most familiar with – are coming to terms with the harm they’ve caused through decades of reductive storytelling that centres the charity rather than the contributor.
There is broad consensus as to the direction we all need to move in: one that puts people – their rights, preferences, agency, and wellbeing – first. But from what I’ve seen, there’s less certainty when it comes to how to change course. So how do we begin to shift the balance? Here are some ideas.
There’s a strong argument to be made that to be truly meaningful – and sustainable – changes to our storytelling need to happen in parallel to, and as part of, broader and more fundamental shifts in the role charities occupy. I think that’s true. But I am also convinced that, when it comes to moving away from deeply embedded, decades-old ways of doing things, even small changes are worth pursuing – and we all have a part to play.
This blog was first shared in #FundraisingEveryWeek, our weekly email newsletter which provides fundraising tips, support, info and feel-good vibes.
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Guest bloggers, Anne Race & Henry Rowling of Flying Cars Innovation, share their gems of knowledge to help you innovate, and most importantly, succeed.
So - your new plan for the year says your fundraising ‘needs to be more innovative’. The pressure is on to develop new campaigns with big income potential. You need to raise more money to support more people and build a better world.
But how do you get started? Developing a culture that is supportive of innovation takes a lot of work. Many organisations are set up to maximise return on investment from existing campaigns. Not to create and test innovative new fundraisers.
Here are our top tips on how you can start to build a more innovative culture.
You need to make sure your audience is heard within your organisation. Too often, we develop products that do not answer the unmet needs of your audience. When developing a new product or campaign, you should start by identifying a target audience and gathering insight. Find out how to start gathering insight that matters at the free Innovation Masterclass we are running on May 12th.
To become more innovative in the future, you need a process to take you through the key stages:
This process cannot be based on how you develop business-as-usual campaigns. You should refine your innovation process as you work with it.
Often organisations ask that innovation happens in addition to an already packed portfolio of fundraising campaigns and products, as well as other projects that need to be delivered. This adds stress and puts pressure on already stretched resources. Make space for innovation by stopping some campaigns that aren’t adding enough value. We all have campaigns that deliver marginal gains. Assess your portfolio and stop something to make room for the new.
Build a culture that is supportive of failure. By definition, innovation has a degree of risk attached. But it’s purposeful, managed risk, and ideas are planned for failure. If everything new we tried worked the first time, fundraising would be super easy. But learning from our failures and embedding that learning into your organisational knowledge is vital for innovation. You should encourage your senior leaders to talk about their failures if you want to become more innovative. That will permit everyone to be open and honest about what is and isn’t working. Check out the Charity Leadership Festival May 24th which has a session on this very topic.
You should review your sign-off and slim it down as much as possible. In innovation, speed matters. Because not all ideas work, but because you need to burn through the ideas that don’t work for the audience as quickly and cheaply as possible to find the gems. Slow sign-off takes you further away from a win. Ideas designed by committee usually become less attractive to the supporter. Try to devise an agile sign-off process for innovative new campaigns.
As you develop a new campaign, you must ensure you have diverse voices in the room and process. Qualitative insight should be created from a diverse panel within your priority audience. Your ideation sessions should also be as diverse as possible, again within the boundaries of your priority audience. Try to involve people from around your whole organisation to get varied ideas on how to tackle the problem you are solving. Diverse teams develop broader ideas and have more life experience to draw on.
When we work with clients, we ensure we are working on the right brief. This means we set a big exciting goal upfront - to set ambition and get the organisation excited. We then identify a precise audience. The insight we are looking for goes beyond your supporter segmentation - Segment 3; ‘Colin the Contented commuter’ or ‘0-24 £10-50 cash giver’. What do they think and feel, what do they want and need? Why are they the right audience? Doing this work upfront ensures you know the goal for the audience and what success looks like. Sometimes briefs can be confused or unclear and people can find themselves working on the wrong problem.
If you address the 7 areas above you will be well on your way to greater fundraising innovation. For more tips have a read of 5 ways to build a successful innovation team and attend the Flying Cars Innovation Masterclass on May 12th.