Maeve Strathy Senior Strategist at Blakely Talks Communication


Mass marketing and communication channels are a great way to reach a lot of people at once, but runs the risk of seeming impersonal to your audience. When crafting your emails, websites and landing pages, it’s important to keep your donor’s journey in mind and use it to guide your decisions. 

Maeve Strathy knows this all too well and has helped organizations fundraise through digital platforms for over 12 years. Currently working as a senior fundraising strategist at Blakely, Maeve shares how you should approach different communication channels to impress your donors. 

In our podcast, Maeve covers how to 
  • Build our donors journey
  • Use analytics and data to your advantage
  • Focus your communication strategy and, 
  • Segment your donors  

Official Transcript

Today, we learn how to make our donor messages personal, engaging and, most importantly, effective! So make sure you stay tuned.

Hello, and welcome to Fundraising Superheroes. I'm your host, Sabrina Sciscente, and this podcast is brought to you by Donor Engine, an All-In-One nonprofit software built from the ground up to help you manage your nonprofit, your staff, volunteers and your donor data. So if you're looking to save hours in managing your organization, please reach out to us at You can schedule a free demo and start brainstorming on how we can help you save time.

So what do email campaigns, social media and donation pages all have in common? They are all forms of mass messaging that are great for reaching broad audiences all at once, but sometimes aren't personal and may be overlooked by your audience. Maeve Strathy knows this all too well and has spent plenty of time crafting mass messages that stand out and impress. Maeve currently works as a senior fundraising strategist at Blakely Fundraising and has worked with nonprofits in the nonprofit sector for over 12 years.

Like many of you, listening to Maeve stumbled into the nonprofits space after graduating from Wilfred Laurier university here in Canada and has been fundraising ever since. I'm super excited to have her on the show. Messaging and communication is something that I'm personally very interested in and I know she is going to give us great advice. So thank you so much for joining us. 

Thank you for having me, Sabrina, super excited to chat about this for the next little bit.

Yeah, I know for me, I love talking about communication and messaging, so I'm excited to hear your advice on the topic. 

Awesome. Yeah, definitely areas of passion for me. So we'll have fun.

As someone who obviously has plenty of experience with fundraising and communication, what is the first thing people should consider before creating their website?

So I think certainly there are some things across organizations that are common for websites. But at the end of the day, this is probably going to be a common piece of my answer to a lot of questions is it's got to start with what's your strategy and what exactly are you as an organization trying to do in your communications? What is the objective of the communications? Who are you trying to reach with those communications? So is it donors is it non-donors, perspective audiences, other audiences that you want to target?

And what exactly what do you want to say to these people and what action do you want them to take? So when you kind of think of all fundraising strategy and communications through that overall lens, then that's a great place to start, because then you can start to think about how tactics or different assets like a website can actually help you serve that objective. So I think that's really from a strategic level. What you need to think of first is what  is this trying to do and what is it here for?

Because we can certainly have more than one objective. But I think organizations stumble the most with their organization's website is trying to do too many things at once, trying to please everybody, and trying to make sure that everybody at the organization has some small real estate of this website. And what happens over time often is that it just kind of becomes diluted and now no message really is standing out. So I think whenever you're working on a website where you're starting from scratch or you're looking to make updates, go back to what are we trying to do, who are we trying to reach and what action do we want them to take and let that be your filter.

And I think that you'll make more strategic decisions with your website. 

So it's all about finding out the journey that you want your donors to take and then building based on that.

That's right. 

So how do fundraisers craft that donor journey? How can they show that through their landing page or social pages? What does that look like? 

Yeah, yeah. So at the end of the day, what a donor journey is. I think fundraisers talk about donor journeys a lot and we certainly talk about donor journeys a lot lately as well. What it really is, is it's kind of a it's a strategic approach to meeting an objective.

So you could go you could zoom out really high and go back to the starting of the strategy, which is as an organization, why do exist and what are the organizational objectives that you want to achieve?

Then you can take it down a couple of layers and say, who are the donors you're trying to reach, and what action do you want them to take? And that's really what the journey is over. Time is just kind of what's the next step? When you're looking at strategy that way, then each tactic, whether it's a page on the website or it's an email, is acting to push towards that objective. So you think about things like what do you want the donor to feel.

What do you want the donor to say when they are engaging with this particular communication? What message do you want to kind of stand out above all, and what action do you want them to take? So when you kind of have a larger business objective at the top level and then where you want donors to go, that's when you strategically look at each one of those assets that you can employ. Whether it's the emails or landing pages and use them to the best of your ability, because otherwise, we're just sending things out there in the universe.

And I think we owe it to the donors to be really strategic about how we go about it. And I think we see more success as fundraisers when we do.

I know I appreciate it when I go to a nonprofit's page, and you could just tell the details and everything. I remember I came across one page that was working with communities in Africa and helping them farm. They had a whole page dedicated to games where you are living the farmer’s life and going through their day-to-day struggle and learning how to identify sicknesses in crops, and it was amazing and got me exactly in the mind of a donor.

And I'm like, OK, if I give them 50 dollars, they can afford medicine to do this. And so I agree with you just putting that little detail can make a world of difference.

Well, I think that's a brilliant example because what's cool is that I think especially in the digital channels that we have available to us, I mean, we have an opportunity to bring donors closer to what we do. When you know what you want them to do and know what you want them to feel, I think we can utilize all the channels and tactics at our disposal to do that better. And you end up with stuff like you're mentioning, which just creates such a level of engagement with a donor that really does a lot of heavy lifting in their journey, to be honest.

Going back to that whole idea of crafting your website, what does a successful landing page look like? 

Yeah, it's a really good question. I think the way I've always kind of looked at a website versus a landing page website, is it your organization's kind of entire ecosystem and where online you can be found and kind of learned about and raise awareness and everything else.

A landing page. I mean, it could be within that same ecosystem. I think when landing pages are successful, they actually sometimes sit a little outside of your ecosystem. And I'll explain why. But to start, I think the landing page generally serves this more specific purpose than your website, which serves kind of many purposes, hopefully not too many, but certainly more than the landing page. Again, in terms of thinking about what makes it successful, I think you have to think about what it is here to do?

Is it here to raise awareness about your organization? Is it an example like the one you just had? Is it like some kind of hub of engagement where people can kind of get closer to what you do as an organization? Or is it focused on fundraising?

So is it really all about driving that donation so it can either be kind of more awareness-based or maybe it's more conversions based, which would be the fundraising side of things. So depending on what that is, actually would change the way that A, you go about measuring success on one of those pages and B, how you would actually design it. So because we generally focus more on fundraising, I'll use the conversions example because I think it'll maybe have more value in the comparison.

But if you're if your goal is conversions, then when somebody gets to that landing page, everything you do on that page should be driving the donation. And I don't mean in an aggressive way, but everything is there to serve the donation. So somebody clicks on a digital ad to display ad and they're driven to this page. What do you want the first thing for them to see, to be probably the donate now button or something like something around that or the call to action, something really, really strong, then every other piece of information and there shouldn't be much should go ahead and support that donation.

So it should explain why making the donation is a good idea from the perspective of what impact the donor will actually create. It should inspire and motivate. It should add, if there's any copy, it should add urgency. Everything. There should be kind of serving what that final objective is. I think if over time you can utilize tools like heat maps to actually be able to go back and see how the page was used, you can see what people click on the most.

If you have a video on there was a play by the play button get hit more than the donate button, is that a good thing. You can kind of ask yourself all those questions. How much time do people spend on the page? They scroll to the bottom. Maybe don't give that much content that they have to scroll because it really scrolls, you know? So you just kind of you learn these things over time. So I think some of it is just that you collect through insights, which I think is really important because every organization is different.

But at the end of the day, it has to do with the objective that you're actually trying to do. So if it is conversions and you're focused on fundraising, then conversion rate is your number one metric. And the measure of success is how much higher that conversion rate is compared to your last benchmark. I think, again, when you approach any tactical element of your work from that strategic perspective, I think you create really, really strong assets that drive the results you're looking for.

Yeah, I love that you mention that whole idea of fundraising isn't always the only success metric, because I know when I started in the space, I was thinking how do I help people get the most funds raised? But then after talking to a few people, they're like, no, do you want to raise awareness? Do you want to support a program? So, yeah, going back to exactly what you said in the first question, having that plan is so vital.

And it also seems that testing and trial and error is something that also plays a big part in figuring out what your success means.


I mean, I think part of the reason it's so attractive to use digital channels is because you can get such quick feedback on whether it's working or not. You can in pretty much in real time see what ads or emails or videos people are engaging with and swap out the more successful ones based on whatever metrics you set for yourself. And so it does make the work that we do as marketers and direct marketers, whether that's in fundraising or for-profit, really, I think dynamic and so I think it's so important to pay attention to all the data points that we can collect and just optimize and get better as we go.

Speaking of email, I'd love to get your advice on how fundraisers can use email campaigns as a way to reach their audience directly and also improve on their email strategy. 

Yeah, I think it's a great question. I think in the past five years that I've been working at Blakely at least, that I've seen such an increase in email marketing from charities and an increase in the effectiveness of emails. And just the levels of engagement just seem to be getting better and better. I think, So I think it's something that we really need to think about. I think what I would advise against is not necessarily thinking about it as the email strategy.

I think you want to level the strategy above the channels themselves. Again, rooting yourself and what that overarching strategy is, then thinking about how email is a tool in you achieving those larger strategies. Because, I mean, email is a tactic, but it doesn't stand on its own. It's kind of best and most effective when you've got all different channels and communications, working together, reinforcing the same message.

But I think email on its own is incredibly effective. I think it's it's an opportunity to really capture somebody's attention and and kind of get a few moments of somebody's full attention. I think that can really happen with emails. So I think when you're thinking about those bigger goals you have during a campaign time period, think about how email can play a role in it. How can it drive awareness? How can it drive engagement? How can it drive conversions as well?

I mean, you mentioned that  you can have objectives beyond funds raised. You absolutely can. I think one of the important things to recognize is that none of these things stands alone. Generating awareness is not separate from raising money. Those two objectives actually work best when they're linked together. So I actually don't think you can raise money until you raise awareness. So you have to kind of be working all of those things at once. So, when you're balancing all of those strategic priorities, you can find that all channels can play a role in some ways, and an email can certainly be part of it.

But then once you've kind of got your email's role figured out within your larger strategy, I think, again, test, test, test to figure out how your emails can work best for you. There's certainly best practices, but I've also seen very different types of emails be successful for very different types of organisations. Some organizations cannot get away with writing a long email. They have to keep it short and snappy. Some organizations raise so much money off of an email that just takes ages to scroll down.

And it has a lot to do with a lot of different things. But the truth is that there's no perfect way about it, so test everything you can, everything you think is contributing to engagement or giving. So test the colour of the buttons, test how many buttons are on it, test images, test plane text versus HTML, test everything and figure out what works for you. But what I will say at the end of the day is that emails are increasingly effective.

So definitely sort yours out as part of the mix. But start with the strategy. Don't start with e-mail.

That's a great point. How do people make their emails more personal? Is it something that they should do in the subject line, in their signature, in their text copy? Or is it like an all of the above situation?

It's a really good question. It depends on the audience. And it does depend on what you're trying to achieve at the end of the day. But, for example, I know an organization that sends when they're emailing mid-level donors or donors who are giving like five hundred or a thousand plus kind of thereabouts, they email them out of outlook. So it doesn't kind of come as a professional email. They do a mail merge out of out.

It's like a couple hundred donors, maybe a couple of thousand. I'm not even sure there's that many. They aren't really extra personalized, but they're just plain email sent out of Outlook, which, when you think about it, coming from an organization is unexpected. It does feel more personal because actually nothing is done to it. It feels like just somebody sending you an email. So that's really more personal for a mid-level donor group.

What I mean, I think we can't not collect name data for your email addresses, because I think it's actually a baseline expectation of people at this point that they're going to get their name in the email. I don't even know if I want to speak to that is personalization, because it just that is people's expectation at this point. And we know that using somebody's name and like just seeing your name is a very powerful psychological effect.

So it's very effective in marketing and fundraising. In terms of making them more personal, I think you and I talked before this a little bit about segmentation. And certainly, that helps because donors say show me you know me as a donor. Reach out to me like I'm not just some random person, but you actually kind of know where I'm at in all this, not that you necessarily know me personally, but to use a commercial example, I  was on Instagram recently.

I clicked on an ad for face masks to order, went through the process, forgot about it. And then when I went back, it was like I couldn't find the link or whatever it was. And then I got an email from them two days later being like finish your order. And I didn't even remember entering my email address, but I must of. That's really effective, and I ended up making the purchase and completing it. But I never would have if I hadn't gotten that email. That I think is actually kind of we think personalized means that we're recognized within it.

But it's really actually just that it's relevant to where we're at, I think is really the point. So we historically in fundraising have always kind of segmented people based on RFM, recency, frequency, monetary. So like how often somebody gets, how recently they gave, how much they gave those kinds of things. Now we should think about like when did a person visit our website recently and then drop off at let's reach out to them with a different email than the people who gave a month ago and a different email than those who just signed up as a monthly donor.

So thinking more about personalization, as in where are you at in your journey with this organization and how can we kind of meet you best where you are right now?

Yeah, that is such a cool donor segment. I would never even think to segment people based on the process, like the literal process of making that donation and where they are and even leaving the page for a few seconds and never coming back. So that's something that I think a lot of nonprofits should take advantage of, because I know for a couple of my purchasing experience, same  as you shared in your story, I forget about it, but I get an email and I'm like, oh yeah, I think I still kind of want that.

And then I go back and then end up buying more sometimes because you go through and you remember. So, yeah, it's a great tip to have. Is there any other segments that you recommend that nonprofits have in their database.

Hmm. I mean, I remember when I first started at that one of my colleagues said we only segment so that we're either doing one of two things. We're either tracking people differently or we're speaking to them differently. Otherwise, what are they segmented for? So I think segmentation is only as good as what you're actually doing with it. So I think people having an unruly number of segments is not manageable. And then sometimes you get to the point where what your experience is can't be that personalized when it's that many groups, because we don't have the capacity to actually create that many personalized journeys.

But all that being said, I think definitely the traditional segments still have value, I think grouping people by their donor group. So monthly mid-level people who haven't given in a long time, it's certainly it's helpful to speak to people who haven't made a gift in a long time in a similar way. So I think there's still value to the recency frequency, monetary side of things. But I think we do need to prompt ourselves to think a little more creatively about where people are in the cycle and what communication would make sense to them right now.

How vital is that donor data and analytics when it comes to this type of marketing? 

It's like as vital as like oxygen, it's incredibly  vital. I mean, I know we talk about everything starts with insights for us at Blakely But honestly, I can't even think of where you'd start if you didn't have somewhere to look. We build our goals off of kind of where programs are at. We have a sense of what the program's health is to start where the program wants to be and how it already exists.

So who are the existing donors and can we get where we want to get by engaging only them? Do we need to open up the program and reach out to new donors and acquire new donors and generate new leads and all that good stuff? We only know that by looking at numbers. And I think we also have opportunities to kind of better meet donor expectations by looking at kind of what they've shown us to date through their behaviour. And I think it's quantitative, but it can also be qualitative, like, I think doing surveys every once in a while or calling donors.

It doesn't have to be anything expensive. But getting some of that those insights more on people's experiences with your program, I mean, that that's the only way you'll figure out where you're at and how you need to get where you want to go is through data and the insights that come from data. So, yeah, absolutely essential. And definitely could not do what I do without insights.

Fantastic well Maeve thank you so much for joining us today. And for everyone listening, you can learn more about communications and fundraising strategy by visiting Maeve's company's website at Blakely does an amazing job of combining digital marketing and communication with fundraising. So if you're interested in learning more about that, definitely check them out. 

As always, the website link is in both our podcast inbox and our YouTube discussion box. So you just head over there and click the link and you'll be right at the site.

Thank you so much for listening. And we'll see you next time on Fundraising Superheroes.

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