Just read that GM, America’s fourth largest advertiser, has moved nearly 25% of its measured advertising spend to digital media over the last three years. That includes online ads ($197 million on these alone last year), home-page takeovers, search, sites for dealers and customer-relationship management.

The reason? Targeting.

In a typical month, roughly 11 million people are shopping for a car. About two-in-three auto shoppers use the internet to research during the purchasing process. GM thinks it knows exactly where to "intercept" them online while these consumers are in the mood … in "purchase mode."

Now, individuals aren’t typically "shopping" for causes and charities as they cruise the internet. In our recent DonorTrends survey, only 11% of donors say they "shop around" as their interests change. So, while they might stumble across a nonprofit ad, they are not especially likely to be in charity "purchase mode." And only 25% admit to donating "on impulse."

Now one could make the same observation about the prospect who finds a "surprise" direct mail letter in their mailbox. They probably weren’t thinking, "I hope I get a fundraising solicitation today from someone … anyone."

But arguably someone browsing the internet is a bit more purposeful … there is some itch they are looking to scratch. They’ve taken the initiative. They’re not just passively flipping through the random letters the postman has happened to drop off.

So, nonprofit marketers should be able to form and test intelligent hypotheses about where their typical donor might spent disproportionate time online … and, importantly, which sites and searches (which itches) are most pertinent in some way to the message and appeal of the nonprofit. This is the only way to "intercept" prospects who have not already narrowed down their "consideration set" of potential recipients.

On the other hand, our data indicates that when an individual is a prospect (i.e. something has already put them in charity "purchase mode" and they are actively looking), chances are better than even that he/she will research online — 44% of donors say they do so "occasionally" and 14% do so "frequently."

Of course, the essential starting point is recognizing that six-of-ten prospects who are in the mood and are considering your group are going to check you out via your website. That’s like a prospect calling you up and asking to be sent your latest direct mail piece! So there’s little excuse for your site not converting their interest.

We still hear very little reported on the online prospecting success of nonprofits … compared to tons of data and case studies on e-fundraising directed at house files and occasional stories of groups successfully converting online-acquired leads (e.g., online petition signers) into donors.

And, more recently, relatively small-scale examples of existing donors using social networking tools to do personal fundraising and enlist new donors for their favorite cause.

But, overall, online prospecting is still in its infancy (unless you’re Barack Obama). If you’ve had success truly ‘intercepting" fresh prospects online, help us tell our readers about it!



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