by Courtney Eckerle
With a subscriber base of over 20,000 names, Israel 365 is a website and email newsletter that connects people to the Land of Israel daily by combining visually appealing graphics of Israel with inspirational Scripture verses.
It frequently partners with various Israeli nonprofit organizations, and works closely with advertisers to weave its message into the existing content as native advertising, in order to promote more effectively.
Approached to help a small nonprofit with an upcoming Passover campaign, Tuly Weisz, Founder and Director, Israel 365, felt "the fascinating organization … had tremendous potential and their mission would resonate strongly with both our Jewish and Christian readers."
The organization represented the issue of a fulfillment of biblical prophecy, according to Weisz, referencing the rescuing of lost Jews from India and helping resettle them in Israel.
"The cost to resettle one Indian Jew was $3,000 and our goal was to help [the organization] bring over as many as possible," he said.
The audience was ripe to donate to a cause that was aligned with their values, especially during the holiday. Weisz felt confident the response would be positive, and passed that belief on to his nonprofit partners.
However, Weisz and his team began to notice they weren't seeing the results they had expected and promised, despite using tactics that had been successful for them in the past.
The team had to quickly evaluate the campaign, and correct any issues before the end of the holiday — their best window for achieving their desired goals.
To begin the campaign, Israel 365 began connecting the nonprofit's content with theirs, incorporating the message within the daily newsletter. This integration included using many practices that had proven successful in the past.
One such previously successful practice was offering an incentive. To encourage donations, Israel 365 put together a complimentary "Passover eHaggadah" e-book for those who donated.
After advertising the fundraising campaign "intensely" in the days leading up to Passover, instead of the expected success, the nonprofit saw disappointing results.
Israel 365 reevaluated several elements of the campaign, as well as where it was focusing its definition of success for the campaign. It finally achieved the positive results it was looking for by making the offer instantly accessible, and learned not to lean on past results through this campaign.
Step #1. Integrate partner into content
After researching the nonprofit organization, Israel 365 began to integrate the content into its own. Using its daily email newsletters, Israel 365 featured the content twice a week for two weeks, beginning at the end of February through the beginning of March.
Connecting the content would “introduce the organization to our readers and establish name recognition and trust,” according to Weisz.
To integrate the content, Weisz said the team would often cite the Bible, a common practice for their own content as well.
"There's a lot of scripture about Jews coming from the four corners of the Earth and back to the land of Israel, that's a major theme throughout the Bible. So, we will quote that piece of scripture and feature … a photo of the Jewish community in the mountains of India," he said.
In the devotional paragraph of the email
, where the team expounded upon the biblical scripture, they will weave in the nonprofit's mission and insert a link to their website.
"After having warmed up our audience, we advertised the fundraising campaign intensely in the days leading up to Passover, with very poor results," Weisz said.
Israel 365 had run several similar fundraising campaigns in the past with positive results using these same tactics.
"Our team of graphic designers and content writers and account representatives lost sleep and wracked our minds to try to figure out what went wrong … at this particularly generous time of year, we couldn't understand our reader's lack of engagement," he said.
Create an incentive to donate
Weisz and his team then prepared a unique and beautiful Passover e-book and began offering the "Passover eHaggadah" as a free download for those who made a donation.
Originally, they were saying "donate now and get this e-book as a Passover gift, and that was not working," said Weisz, explaining that although they did receive some donations, it wasn't "the expectation that we had set for ourselves … was not being met.
Step #2. Identify the problem
With previous successful tactics, like integrating content, and setting up the e-book launch, Weisz wasn't sure why donations weren't coming in.
Looking back, he believes a part of what was confusing for people was the push for recurring monthly donations, with a smaller emphasis on one-time donations. He believed the wording, which referred to people who donated monthly as "subscribers," made it unclear what the call-to-action was.
Weisz saw "we were sending a large amount of traffic to [Israel 365's] donate page. When no donations were made despite our heavy advertising in late February, I assumed that the donate form was too complicated."
He estimated only about 0.2% of the visitors made donations — 2,500 page visitors and only five donations — before changing their strategy.
The original fundraising email sent traffic to the nonprofit donate page, which was integrated with PayPal. The site was a "pretty primitive integration," so Weisz became convinced that the issue was people were turned off or getting frustrated by the site. So he set up another donation page with a fundraising and donation site called Razoo.
"Only after that produced equally disappointing results, did I come to grips with the fact that we had a more fundamental problem on our hands," Weisz said.
Despite getting very frustrated with the results, "we really didn't give up on them … I said, 'let's try one other thing,'" Weisz said.
At that point, he said, it became clear that Israel 365 had to re-evaluate its goal in this campaign and shift towards "a database campaign instead of a fundraising campaign."
Step #3. Adjust campaign to cultivate valuable subscribers
After trying everything else that had been successful in previous campaigns, from offering the free e-book to donors to simplifying the donation page, the fundamental problem Weisz discovered was that people simply didn't know enough about the charity to feel compelled to donate.
"I think the whole issue is a little too ambiguous. People really don’t understand what they’re all about," Weisz said, adding, "we felt that their message was so compelling, but was not being communicated adequately."
What wasn't working, was that "we were asking straight up for a Passover donation, and I just think that people weren’t really prepared to become donors yet, we were kind of skipping a step," he said.
He believed the audience would donate to the cause, but "we needed to build more transition time, and just get them on the email list in the first place, and then after they understood what the mission is all about, they'll become donors."
As the Passover holiday rapidly approached, Israel 365 dramatically changed course and decided to offer the e-book as a free, immediate download
to encourage readers to sign up for the nonprofit’s email newsletter in order to learn more about their work.
"We've already designed … this beautiful Passover book, and it's full of great content. People did seem like they were interested, because we were getting a lot of traffic to the donate page. They just weren't interested in donating. So. we just changed and offered it for free," he said.
The same people who were not interested in donating, "were very interested in giving their email address
, and signing up for the weekly newsletter," he said.
"On the other hand, it didn't translate immediately into donations," Weisz cautioned. "We had to shift strategies."
The campaign then became about cultivating an understanding on "why an email newsletter is so valuable in the long run. Not something that you're necessarily going to see immediate results from."
The value from subscribers is more long-term he said, and switching gears in the campaign allowed them to make a decision based off of their subscriber's point of view and motivation.
"People are interested in your content, that's obvious, but it's also obvious that they're not interested in donating right away. It's a very compelling and special organization, and they will be successful, but it's more of the marathon approach than a sprint," he said.
"The numbers … we had never seen those kind of numbers before," said Weisz about the success the team saw as soon as they switched to a front-end offer.
"The amount of people who were so interested in getting the book — their list grew by 25% in a day. It has just transformed their organization. It took them years to build up their email list to 4,000 and then we got them to 5,000 in a day," he added.
Weisz said Israel 365 learned the hard way that what worked so successfully for one client couldn't necessarily be easily replicated for another, and good results are never an expectation.
"Even similar clients have nuanced, but significant differences that can make one client's home run into another's epic failure. I realize now that it is better to establish modest expectations and surpass them than to over promise and lose sleep at night when things don't go according to plan," he said.
The results Israel 365 was able to achieve with its email:
- An open rate of 29%
- Landing page received 1,813 visitors and 974 conversions
- A 25% increase in subscribers in one day for the nonprofit
"Our goals have shifted and instead of helping organizations raise quick funds, we are creating a niche for ourselves to work closely with our clients on content development for successful, longer-term campaigns," Weisz said.
- First email asking for donation
- Successful email sent leading to email capture
- Landing page to capture email addresses
Related Resources Value Proposition: 4 questions every marketer should ask about value prop Email Testing: How the Obama campaign generated approximately $500 million in donations from email marketing Online Marketing: Nonprofit enrolls 3,350 new subscribers with integrated digital efforts Email Marketing: Four short emails boost year-end revenue 50% for nonprofit organizationThe Boston Globe: Managing a transition from free to paid product
[Full video from Optimization Summit 2012]