With people aged 18-24 twice as likely as any other age group to research a charity online before making a donation, it's essential that non-profits pay close attention to their digital presence.

From your site itself through to email marketing, social media strategy and paid search it’s vital to seize every opportunity to make the case for your charity to an audience that's increasingly looking for reassurance before parting with their cash.

Prior to the internet and mobile being such prevalent and omnipotent forces in everyday life, the donor journey looked a lot like the diagram below.

Charities' marketing efforts were focused heavily on influencing the “first moment of truth”, the key donation interaction. 

The 'classic' three-step mental model

Classic 3 step mental model

However the donor journey has now changed significantly, largely due to the fact that over three quarters of UK adults now own a smartphone.

This connectivity coupled with the shift in donors' expectations in terms of receiving a return from their donation (whether altruistic or otherwise) has given rise to a new mental model and donor journey.

The new mental model: Zero moment of truth 

 Zero moment of truth for charities

The ‘Zero moment of truth’ mental model takes into account today's landscape of highly connected and diligent donors whose donation journeys span multiple marketing channels, devices and timespans.

Utilising the Proctor & Gamble and Google 'Zero Moment of Truth' or ‘ZMOT’ model shown above, alongside our own qualitative research into 25 of the UK's top charities, this article aims to highlight pitfalls and opportunities for charities in digital with a specific focus on the defining ZMOT.

Zero Moment of Truth: ‘ZMOT’

The zero moment of truth is:

  • A commuter reading the news on his iPhone while travelling to work, seeing the need for aid due to a natural disaster and doing a Google search on his phone for how he can help/donate. 
  • The managing director of a local business monitoring regional social media on her mobile for an opportunity to give back to the community through a charitable donation.
  • A young office worker on her lunch break with a family member affected by an illness researching which charity will make the most of her donation from her desktop computer.

The ZMOT is a moment that has never been more prevalent and is ultimately where donations are won or lost.

Communicating effectively in this moment can also be the difference between a one-off donation of £5 or a standing monthly donation of £10.

84% of people said that ZMOT shapes their decisions. It’s now just as important as stimulus and the first moment of truth in moving consumers from ‘undecided’ to ‘decided’ in terms of who they choose to donate to, how much and with what regularity.

During the zero moment of truth or ‘research/choosing’ phase it is essential to put your best foot forward and ensure your charity is front and centre in users' searches and conversations where possible.

As an example, a young man has been incited to donate to a cancer charity due to a recent personal scare.

He performs a Google search on his phone for “cancer charities” which returns three prominent AdWords results for Macmillan, Cancer Research UK and Alder Hey.

Google mobile search for "cancer charities"

Google search for cancer charities

However, a quick review of the sites' homepages raised more questions than were answered, so later a second Google search is undertaken at home on a laptop computer for “where does the money I donate to cancer research go”.

Google desktop search 

where does the money I donate to cancer research go

Despite the fully populated PPC ads in the returned search results, not one of them answers the query, with the majority just dumping the user on a ‘donate’ page with no further information.

Worse still, the top result from Cancer Research UK directs the user to a broken page – not good!

Cancer research UK paid search landing page for Google query “where does the money I donate to cancer research go”

Broken landing page cancer research

This presents a significant opportunity to improve visibility and relevance in paid search, particularly for Cancer Research UK in this instance.  

Thankfully the organic listings, which are dominated by Cancer Research UK, are more useful.

They provide a clear answer – “80p of every £1 given is used to beat cancer” and that “thanks to donations Cancer Research UK have doubled cancer survival rates.”

Provided a user heads straight into organic results then Cancer Research UK could consider the ‘Zero Moment of Truth’ won. However it's likely, particularly on mobile, that a paid result will be clicked.

What about the competition?

This particular search engine results page also raises the question “where are the other cancer research charities in the organic results?”

In addition to the search example shown above, it is imperative to consider what questions your potential donors may be asking in the zero moment of truth and where they are asking them.  

From here it’s important to be where your donors are and to address their queries across organic and paid search, social media, their emails and on news sites and blogs.

Additionally, there is significant value in personalising messaging based on who’s reading your ‘ZMOT’ content.  

This is obviously far easier on channels such as Facebook or Twitter, however there are opportunities to tailor messaging in search using geotargeting or Remarketing Lists for Search Ads or strategically targeting content to local news sites and blogs.

First Moment of Truth: ‘FMOT’

The first moment of truth is:

  • A donor visiting your website and making a standing monthly donation of £15.
  • The friend of someone doing a charity 10k run that has posted a link to their JustGiving page on their Facebook feed and been inspired to give to the cause through the JustGiving platform.
  • Someone that follows your charity on Twitter and appreciates the work being undertaken, then passes by a charity box on their lunch break and gives a cash donation.

Given the prevalence of mobile devices and trust in online financial transactions over the past decade it may be a surprise to find that the vast majority of donations are still made offline.

According to a 2015 study from Barclays, 79% of donations are still being made offline with ‘direct cheque’ and ‘direct cash’ donations leading the charge.

Online vs. offline donations

Online vs offline charitable donations

This currently makes the first moment of truth more often than not a donation box, phonecall or personal interaction rather than a website or app.

A situation that is potentially made worse by the fact that one in five charities don’t currently facilitate online donations on their own sites.

However, this is set to change as younger donors tend to have a strong preference for donating online.  

The Barclays study indicates that 72% of charities expect an increase in donations stemming from social media activity and 87% of charities agree that they’ll receive significantly more donations directly via their website in the near future.

While the majority of the 25 charities we surveyed have made a strong effort to facilitate online donations, there are still significant opportunities for improvement across the board to improve conversions and total donations.

None of the charities we surveyed were employing customisation measures to improve site user experience and donations. 

Provided data can be collected from existing and new donors such as their location, demographic or past donations, site content can be customised to improve conversions and maximise the value of a donor.

As an example, first moment of truth donor experience customisation could take the form of:

  • Tailoring site content based on user data, for example personalising content based on location to indicate where your charity has helped in the donor's region.
  • Tailoring suggested donations based on user data such as location, or past donations.

This engagement, customisation and initial contact is particularly important for young, first-time donors, because gaining affinity among them will be critical to future donations as they grow older and more affluent.

Additionally, making an effort to attract online donations can significantly improve the addition of Gift Aid as the process is far easier compared to offline.

Second Moment of Truth: ‘SMOT’

The second moment of truth is:

  • A donor receiving a welcome email giving thanks and indicating where their donations may be getting spent.
  • A donor completing a donation online and being shown a ‘thank you’ page that allows them to quickly share where they donated and how it's going to help.

One item often not considered with charitable donations is the second moment of truth – the user's ‘experience’ of the donation and how this moment can be used to influence other potential donors in their zero moment of truth.

While 100% of the 25 major charities we surveyed sent a follow-up ‘thank you’ email, 44% of those emails were not personalised to any significant degree (only names were ‘personalised’).

Additionally, there were only limited opportunities to share your donation and information about the charity's work, which again has the potential to become another donor's ZMOT, creating a positive feedback loop from user-generated content and conversation.

Key Takeaways

1. Online donations set to increase

While online isn’t a major player at the moment in terms of volume it is almost guaranteed to become the primary means of donation in the coming years as younger, digital native donors begin to gain affluence.  

This is backed up by the fact 71% of charities are seeing ongoing increases in online donations.

The benefits of online donations reach much further than convenience and capturing the ‘next generation’ of donors, as online donations significantly increase the likelihood of Gift Aid additions and also present opportunities to engage donors in an on-going relationship through targeted online communications.

Furthermore, the charities that invest in and get digital correct early on are likely to be the key players in the coming years.

2. Provide relevant information to user queries

Pay close attention to how your donors are behaving in the zero moment of truth.  

In the example given earlier, a search for “where does the money I donate to cancer research go” yielded a paid result that led nowhere.  

Capitalising on opportunities and queries such as this with targeted information can significantly increase the chances of donation.  

A valuable exercise here may be to ask the questions “what would incite me to donate to a particular charity over another” and “what questions would I be asking to validate my choice of charity and where would I be asking them”.

3. Use social to influence the ZMOT

Take every opportunity to facilitate the positive feedback loop between a donor’s second moment of truth and their creation of a new donor's zero moment of truth.  

For example, creating opportunities to share details of your donation and its impact on the donation complete page.  

Potentially pre-populate a share that is customised to the donation amount, for example “I just paid for a month's worth of clean water for a child in Tanzania – You can make a difference too...”

This circumvents any friction around “what to share” or “what to say” with social shares.

Furthermore, taking the opportunity to give sincere thanks and show how each donation is being used can pay significant dividends in terms of creating brand affinity and promoting sharing and discussion around your charity.

Again, this creates a positive feedback loop into the zero moment of truth.

4. Personalise experiences wherever possible

Personalisation across all points inclusive of stimulus, zero moment, first moment and second moment of truth is a cost effective way to improve conversion rates and can also influence donation amount and frequency.

Alasdair Graham

Published 5 July, 2016 by Alasdair Graham

Alasdair Graham is head of online marketing at Shout Digital. You can connect with him via LinkedIn.

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Comments (1)

Anne Bienia

Anne Bienia, Senior Strategy & Performance Manager at Cancer Research UK

Hi Alasdair, great article. Good spot on the broken link, how embarrassing! We've fixed that now. And we'll be looking into how we can make our landing pages more relevant to what users are looking for. Safe to say this has caused quite a few discussions here at CRUK. :)

over 1 year ago

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