No doubt you all read and saw the slightly hectic media response to Google turning off cookies for 1% of its users (about 30m people). Our Head of Media Eric Reif agrees that change is afoot perhaps but it’s not time to completely panic yet. More on his key views and insights around some of the privacy changes taking place:

Changes in online marketing and data privacy have made it harder than ever to find new donors. So what can fundraisers do about it? 

In the past two years, digital media has undergone a seismic shift largely related to privacy and tracking concerns. As a result, reaching donors online has been turned upside down. 

In 2021, Apple rolled out its App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework and, in doing so, upended digital ad targeting, tracking, and optimization. (One commentator called it an “almost extinction event within the digital economy.”)

 Since then, new restrictions in targeting across ad platforms, particularly Meta, coupled with inflation, have meant it’s never been more challenging – or expensive – to acquire new donors. 

And we’re not over yet. After much delay, Google is almost back on track to phase out third-party cookies in Google Chrome potentially starting in 2024, and completed by 2025, pending a review by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority. And ad platforms continue to face privacy challenges and regulatory pressure across the world.

In short: Costs have gone up, precision and breadth of targeting has gone down, and it’s left fundraisers in a new and uncomfortable position, with uncertainty over their future ability to reach donors.

The good news is there are some strategies that fundraisers can do today to confront this challenge, and emerge stronger.

Remember that none of the methods we currently use are perfect. 

The way that charities communicate online has evolved fairly slowly, with a big leap between 2020-2023. 

But the bottom line is we’re always going to need to rely on a mix of channels and targeting methods to reach all the audiences we need to get to, across all the devices they use.

In 2021, many organizations relied heavily on Facebook for donor prospecting and retargeting – the platform was big, relatively cheap, and made it easy to get your message in front of the precise group of people you need to reach. 

Post ATT, no Facebook replacement – with the same combination of scale, cost efficiency, and targetability – has emerged. There is no silver bullet. So building iterative  testing and learning into your strategic planning is more important than ever. 

As the industry continues to evolve, some of the specific tactics marketers have relied on to reach certain sets of users may change or even disappear altogether. But at the end of the day, our underlying approach — finding the right strategic mix of channels, audiences, targeting methods, and creativity to drive an impact — really won’t.

As soon as possible, get into the weeds with new technologies, both internally and with partners.

Google’s Privacy Sandbox – their replacement for third-party tracking cookies – is coming online. Facebook is eternally changing its algorithms. There’s no perfect time in the future to become familiar with privacy changes. It’s an ongoing process, and needs to be reviewed as soon as you’re able. And then, it just needs to continue, with periodic reviews. 

Look at your key channels and the changes that have happened, and are still to come — and work with agencies and publisher and vendor partners on getting a regular system of reviews in place.

Review your first party data.

Your owned data is going to be more important than ever in a post-cookie world. Collecting and segmenting your first party data to learn who your audience is and how to most effectively motivate them to action is the best way to make use of what you have. 

To this end, email can be a powerful tool. We find email is often underused by clients – and for some clients, overhauling it has transformed revenues. Email is highly trackable, engaging, and easily personalized with what you know about donors.

Set up feedback loops that enable you to understand more about your owned audiences – and augment your first party data sets – to ensure you’re putting the right ask in front of the right people at the right time to increase the value of your supporters and donors.

Stand out with creative that’s memorable and impactful.

While many of the most impactful changes of the past few years have affected targeting, there have also been shifts in the way nonprofits think about marketing creative – with many embracing an “ethical fundraising” approach.  

We believe that change is important – but as more organizations make that pivot, it’s becoming increasingly important to have fundraising creative that is not only ethical but also tells the story of your unique impact in a compelling way.

Creativity has been found time and again to be one of the biggest multipliers of ROI that marketers can control. Campaigns with a higher bar for creative quality have a 12x greater impact on ROI, according to research conducted this summer. 

Investing in creative is what’s going to make your ads, your campaigns, and your values stand out to donors. Nonprofits are chasing an increasingly small pool of those able to donate, and standing out is what is going to get them to open our emails in the first place, feel warmly towards us, understand our mission, and become long-term partners.

Create measurement plans so you can invest higher in the funnel.

Nonprofit fundraising campaigners often underinvest in upper- and mid-funnel tactics like video (including CTV) and display, in favor of larger budgets on channels where a donation can be tied directly back to the specific ad a donor clicked on. But the value of advertising at the top of the funnel isn’t just in building awareness of your brand (although that’s great too!) – these investments pay off by priming audiences to sign up and donate. 

Attributing a donation to multiple touchpoints can require some additional legwork upfront to define measurement frameworks and attribution models. If someone sees your ad on Hulu, Googles you to learn more, and then donates off of one of your search ads, for example, you’ll want to credit that donation to each of those touchpoints. 

But this time investment can unlock the ability to expand where and how you’re reaching prospective donors in a competitive environment — in a way that still makes clear the impact of your investment. 

To conclude…

The digital marketing economy is again going through a period of change – with many of these having an impact on digital fundraising. But we’ve weathered changes before, and can do so again.

Change in digital is nothing new, and always brings opportunities. There will always be compassionate individuals who want to support various causes – and as fundraisers, we will continually evolve how we find and talk to them, delivering results for those who most need it.