The shifting landscape of online recruitment

publication date: Jul 24, 2014
author/source: Jonathon Grapsas

Jonathon Grapsas photoWhat hasn’t changed in the last 12 months is that recruiting monthly givers in an online environment is really tough.

Similarly, online monthly giving is still a small piece of the pie. While it is growing and undoubtedly important for portfolio balance, it’s still small.

There has, however, been a lot of movement in several areas. The cost per recruit has been coming down to as low as $200 per monthly giver, but averages around the $350-$400 mark. (Note that this is in Australian dollars but it is on par with the Canadian dollar, and costs to recruit are also similarly aligned).

I can attribute the drive behind this movement to four distinct areas.

Three stage becomes two stage (becomes one stage)

Previously, the majority of monthly giving acquired online was the result of a long and laborious recruitment funnel. You develop a sticky campaign proposition and generate leads. You find a way to get those prospects to provide a telephone number and presto, you call and ask them to commit to a small, monthly gift. This was a science that worked but it was time consuming, heavily reliant on volume, and at times cost prohibitive.

Increasingly, we are now seeing one crucial step removed. What if you were able to generate advocates online that immediately provided a telephone number to you, expecting that they’re going to be telephoned?

Organizations such as and Care2 offer such a service, speeding up the recruitment process and removing a lot of the guesswork (while simultaneously improving results).

Not content with two-stage, we’re now seeing the advent of straight to monthly giving asks. Some organizations use traditional digital advertising sources—including Facebook—and others use new programs. has developed a program where highly engaged online campaigners are asked (via email) for a low-value monthly gift upfront. Early results look very promising.

Petitions become pledges

Campaigning organizations no longer have a mortgage on digital recruitment. Using ‘pledges of support,’ or a general ‘call to arms’ can generate significant numbers of online hand raisers. The two most successful ways to do this are where:

  • Emotion trumps everything else. You have a case study that is so damn powerful that anyone with a heartbeat would affirm your pledge.

“Yes, I absolutely believe that all animal abusers should be held to account.”

  • You have a strong reference point. It’s difficult to rebut solid logic, using reference points to accentuate your argument.

$10m a year is spent on fireworks in Australia, yet just $1m is spent annually on cerebral palsy research. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with fireworks, but surely more needs to be spent looking into a cure for CP?

Don’t get me wrong, petitions rock and are the panacea of online prospecting, but don’t lose faith if you aren’t likely to be standing on the steps of parliament house anytime soon.

The crème rises to the top

The streets ahead when it comes to media sources are (in no particular order):

  • ‘Tepid’ email prospects. Individuals that have no financial relationship with you but have some online connection. They may be campaigners, e-news subscribers or general enquirers. Their past online behaviour suggests they are likely to stick their (virtual) hand up.
  • Facebook prospects. Posts to fans of your page as well as paid advertising. Look into custom audience profiling, where you can identify people within Facebook who ‘look like’ your current supporters.
  • Web pop-ups. Stick a pop-up on your homepage that alerts visitors to the most important ask within your organization right now. Make it clear what your campaign is about; make it difficult for them to leave without taking action. Yes it will tick some people off, but it will generate tonnes of leads.
  • Petition sites/online advocates. As mentioned earlier, online groups of activists are the bee’s knees. They care. They have form. They are online responsive. And remember your ask doesn’t have to lobby the government to change some piece of legislation.

Granularity is essential to driving better returns (and more monthly givers)

There is simply no excuse to not knowing which of the 15 Facebook ads you ran delivered the most monthly givers at the lowest cost per recruit and highest expected lifetime return. None at all. The technology exists, so ensure you’re taking this level of detail into account when making decisions about any rollout.

We’ve seen some media sources (and even deeper than that, advertisers) deliver loads of leads but convert to monthly giving poorly. Conversely, some deliver low volumes but exceptionally high conversion rates. Your decisions are then based on scalability and net return.

Stuff we’re working on now

Here’s a taste of what’s exciting about the next few months of digital recruitment.

  • Cutting through the hoops to discover more direct ways to find monthly givers upfront (one stage).
  • Recruiting a critical mass of supporters to allow us to determine an acceptable cost per monthly giving recruit.
  • Identifying social influencers. Working on Google’s adage that what other people say about you is more powerful than what you say about yourself. Let’s get powerful people online to share our sentiment, and loudly.
  • Better targeting within already successful sources (specifically Facebook and LinkedIn).
  • Finding other ‘hand raising’ mechanisms for those who typically struggle to create pledges, let alone petitions.

Oh, and how could I talk digital without mentioning mobile recruitment—stay tuned for more information here, coming soon.

Jonathon Grapsas is the founder and director at flat earth direct, an agency dedicated to fundraising and campaigning for good causes. Jonathon spends his time working with charities around the world focused on digital, direct response and campaigning stuff. 

If you'd like to chat to Jonathon you can email him, follow him on twitter @jonathongrapsas or check out

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