DonorsChoose.org uses Salesforce's Marketing Cloud to raise millions for underfunded schools

A December to remember

Well funded classrooms make happy kids

The saying goes: All politics is local. DonorsChoose.org - a non-profit organization devoted to raising money for teacher-led projects at underfunded schools - discovered that the same can be said for charitable giving.

In partnership with Salesforce.com and its recent acquisition, ExactTarget, DonorsChoose was able to create a campaign devoted entirely to requesting donations that would go directly to classrooms within the geographic vicinity of the email recipient. In other words: emails were personally tailored to request funds for schools near the donors' zip codes.

Rather than sending out a spray-and-pray campaign asking donors to give money for teachers at schools halfway around the country, DonorsChoose Chief Marketing Officer Katie Bisbee wanted to personalize and localize the giving process.

"We thought this would give [donating] a one-to-one feeling," Bisbee says. "It makes giving seem doable as opposed to [when we request] for 500 teachers."

How Salesforce helped

Since 2009, DonorsChoose has worked with ExactTarget, and now Salesforce, to trigger automated email campaigns based on its database of contacts, previous donors, and institutional partnerships.

Each night DonorsChoose synchronizes data to Salesforce's CRM and Sales Force Automation tool, in addition to the Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

For the "Never Before Funded" campaign, potential donors were not only targeted based on their zip code, they were also provided with dynamic content. For example: previous donors were sent a photo of a teacher the recipient had funded in the past. In previous years, DonorsChoose would have sent a text-only generic email to initiate contact, and then a followup email that included a link that would populate a photo in the email. But with Salesforce's data and marketing tools, DonorsChoose was able to customize and personalize this interaction to give it a more intimate feeling.

The results

From December 2 to December 31, DonorsChoose emailed more than one million potential donors, asking them to give money to a teacher who'd never had a project funded on the site. The dynamic, location-based emails generated $450,000 from approximately 4500 donors. This total is roughly 1.9% of DonorsChoose's revenue for the first half of their 2015 fiscal year.

It wasn't just the sum that was a success. Of the million emails sent, 25% were opened, 5.5% generated a click-through to the DonorsChoose website, and 0.4% converted. Compared to text-based emails that did not contain dynamic content, emails with photos and zip-code data were clicked at a rate of 36.5%, more than five percentage points better than text-based messages.

Because Bisbee's hunch was that DonorsChoose would generate more interest this year than last year, the company sent out more emails for this campaign (as well as its other December initiatives). As a result, some of its performance metrics tumbled slightly compared with last year: open rates decreased 1%, and click-through rate decreased 0.3%.

However, the big ticket numbers improved: conversion rate increased to 0.19% compared with 0.17%. Revenue for the first half of the year is up to $23.3 million, a 38% increase compared with last year. December 2014 constitutes 25% of total contributions for the 2015 fiscal year, compared with December 2013, which constituted only 15% of the 2014 fiscal year.

What's next?

Bisbee and her team on working on learning more about how donors give money based on gender and A/B testing.

"Last year we learned that men constitute 25% of our giving on our website," Bisbee explains. "We looked and saw that then 10 days of the school year when men gave the most aligned with holiday email reminders [we sent]. The conclusion we drew is that men are responsive to these holiday email reminders."

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