As background, DonorsChoose uses a crowd funding model, acting as the middle-man between schools, which are looking for cash to fund teaching projects and donors that have spare dollars. When a donor selects a project and gives money, DonorsChoose also acts as the supplier and delivers the goods/services that the school was looking for – ensuring that there is transparency throughout the whole process. Last year, the business raised $65 million for schools across the United States.
I spoke with Katie Bisbee, DonorsChoose CMO, who explained that the business is about making charitable donations a more personal experience. She said:
Fourteen years ago, our founder and CEO Charles Best, was a public school teacher in New York in a very high poverty school. He would spend all his time in the lunch room with teachers complaining about all these great ideas to do with their students, but they didn't have the funds to do it.
He was just out of college and he was going to all these charity galas and making $100 donations, but would have no idea about where that money went or how it helped. So when he created the site he had teachers in mind because he wanted to help them get what they needed, as well as donors in mind – he wanted to give them an experience where they could choose where their money went and see the impact of their donation.
It was very customer centric from the start, which is very unusual for a non-profit.
Bisbee explained that the company has always used email marketing in an attempt to draw in donors, but it wasn't until 2009 when the company began using ExactTarget for personalised marketing that it started to see some real benefits from this approach.
She said this was largely because DonorsChoose was able to pull in information from its Salesforce.com system and deliver emails that meant something specific to the donor in question.
Now that ExactTarget has been acquired by Salesforce, Bisbee anticipates that deeper integrations between the two products will improve their marketing campaigns. For example, she said:
We've always sent emails to donors to thank them for their donation. We started using Salesforce in 2007 and ExactTarget in 2009 - we track donors and what they care about in Salesforce, then we suck information into emails in ExactTarget. Prior to the integration between the two, I would send you a generic email about the holiday season and ask you to make a donation.
With the integration, if I know you've made a donation on our site before, I would not only ask you to make a donation because it's the holiday season, but also to perhaps highlight a schooling project that's down the street from where you live and is focused on journalism, because you care about student newspapers.
Our conversion rate is actually three times higher when we send a really targeted, personalised email. The reason why we went to such a personalised and targeted approach is because the more companies are doing email and social media, the more news and clutter there is. So in order for us to really hook a donor and make them care, we had to make it more personalised.
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ExactTarget used this week's customer conference to announce the latest version of its Journey Builder, which aims to help companies map customer journeys to digital marketing interactions across email, mobile, social, web and connected devices.
It lets marketers map the 'exact' path customers will experience a brand across all touch points and channels using a drag and drop interface, whilst also providing a host of predictive tools and analytics to optimize marketing efforts. I asked Bisbee if she was impressed by the Journey Builder tools and whether they aresomething that DonorsChoose are going to want to implement:
The whole Journey Builder concept is critical to our business, it's exactly what we need. We think about it in terms of the journey, so I'm excited for my email marketers to do all that stuff on their own without having to use the tech team to do it. Sometimes if something is complicated we can have to get them involved.
When Scott [ExactTarget CEO] gave us a demo of Journey Builder, I actually pulled out this chart I have of our insane process flows of all of our emails. It's the most insane and stressful thing you'll ever see. It has all of these different branches and it looks so crazy. The way that journey builder can take that and easily map them, I felt like stress coming off when I saw that.
I want our flow chart to be in journey builder. It will look more simplified, but I think we can make it a lot more sophisticated – we know that we want to send milestone emails, but we haven't done it yet. We want to congratulate someone if they've made their third donation, or if they've made a teacher happy, or even letting them know that they've helped 50 students.
Disclosure: ExactTarget met my T&E for attendance at its customer event.