Oh, hi there!  Emily here, your friendly Connection Café turned npENGAGE blogger.  I am kind of loving our new digs over here (and my fancy pants headshot, if I don’t say so myself). Here’s my inaugural post for npENGAGE Fundraising (kind of like a housewarming party but with less wine and more fundraising tips).

Every January, I spend a good chunk of the month going over end of year fundraising numbers with my clients.  As I chatted with the team from the Ocean Conservancy in January 2012, I noticed that their end of year campaign was not only widely successful, but also visually appealing and very informative.  When I asked a few more questions about the strategy behind the numbers, I learned Sara Thomas, OC’s Senior manager for Digital Marketing, was the one who’d orchestrated much of the group’s December fundraising efforts.

Sara and her team spun together infographics, multi-channel marketing, social media integration, and some very effective messaging to create a better than ever end of year campaign (and several other highly fantastic campaigns throughout the year as well).  As you and your organization kick-off your end of year efforts, I thought you may like the chance to learn from Sara so I did a quick interview with her.

EG: How do you describe your role at Ocean Conservancy to friends at parties?
ST: Typically I gush about how lucky I am to work on something that I truly believe in … “I get to engage with people in a creative and fulfilling way; working toward strategic movement building for the sake of a sustained healthy planet that my children will one day get to enjoy as much as I do.”

EG: Share an anecdote about a project or specific campaign you worked on that was particularly exciting or interesting or productive.  (I know you’ve got ‘em!)
ST: This past summer, Ocean Conservancy promoted the 30-Day Trash-Free Challenge Campaign to encourage people to produce less trash by taking small actions everyday. People were asked to sign up for the 30-day challenge and follow a new tip each week to reduce their trash. Along the way, we encouraged them to take snapshots of themselves completing the tip and submit their photos for a chance to win a reusable starter kit each week. To accomplish this task, Ocean Conservancy produced a creative strategy that involved many components to interact with their constituents at multiple levels such as through a photo contest challenge, website, a limited-addition t-shirt, emails, social media channels, visual materials (graphics) and a motion graphic (2D) animation video.

The results surpassed our expectations and proved to be a success for us in different areas including fundraising, email list growth and overall brand awareness (offline and online success!)

EG: If you had advice to share for a new online fundraiser about to dive into end of year planning, what would it be?
ST: Put your mud boots on and get dirty! The best way to learn the system, whether you are a high-level administrator and manager on your team, or entry-level administrator at a coordinator level, the absolute easiest way to know what the tools have to offer is to use them. [If you use Luminate Online] watch the videos in the LearnCenter, get active on the Community discussion boards and reach out to the support staff when you have questions.

EG: How are you getting ready for this year’s end of year (aka EOY) campaign?
ST: Ocean Conservancy is really focused on a collaborative, multi-channel approach when it comes to EOY fundraising. We first met as a team in August to discuss campaign ideas that would work both offline and online. It’s important to remember that your year-end campaign is not just from Thanksgiving to New Years and it’s certainly not just what people are seeing online. Conversely, it’s not just what they receive in direct mail offline. It’s the conversation they are part of in October, November, December and January and it’s happening both on channels you control – like direct mail, email, and social – and ones you don’t – like the dinner table. Therefore, this year we divided our approach into four stages: Cultivation/Acquisition > Gratitude > Fundraising > Recognition.

EG: What tip for end of year success can you offer other nonprofits learn from your past?
ST: Don’t just do something because you want to. Review your numbers from years past, do what works and then learn from what didn’t perform and tweak it. If you haven’t done an EOY campaign before, it’s OK. Everyone has to start somewhere. Go online and look at tutorials, read up on what works and what doesn’t and set a manageable strategy for what you want to try. The important part is to be thoughtfully strategic about your decisions and implementation.

EG: What was the most surprising result from last year’s campaign?
ST: We were undoubtedly surprised by our success receiving donations when we didn’t ask for money. The less we asked and the more we showed the importance of our work, the more we received. This was especially true when the set-up included an action alert with a follow-up thank you that included a soft EOY ask.

And a HUGE congratulations to Sara and the Ocean Conservancy team for winning one of this year’s Blackbaud Impact Awards all about the 30-Day Trash- Free Challenge.  I am thrilled that we can spread the word about OC’s great work far and wide with this honor.

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