How our BRIDGE programme participants achieved a 64% increase in online donations

Johnny Murnane
Chief Commercial Officer
12 Mar 2021

At the start of 2020, we were set to deliver our second BRIDGE programme in partnership with GlobalGiving funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but as the global pandemic quickly took hold we knew we had to pivot to a COVID-response programme to help nonprofits through this challenging period.

When we onboard a BRIDGE cohort we usually ask the participating nonprofits about the key challenges they face, so that we can tailor and tweak the programme to best support their needs. But from May to July 2020, when we onboarded 200 nonprofits from 22 countries, the feedback on the impact of the pandemic was deeply concerning- 95% of participants told us that they were being negatively affected by Covid-19, and many told us they did not think their organisations would survive. It was not a surprise that our programme, which equips nonprofits with digital communications and fundraising skills, was 5 times oversubscribed.

Planning for success

The 12-month BRIDGE programme is supported by a strong Theory of Change which we developed in conjunction with NCVO’s Charities evaluation services team. To evaluate whether BRIDGE has the desired impact on the fundraising levels of the participating nonprofits, we measure their progress against a control group of similar nonprofits chosen at random. We also monitor published benchmarks relating to social audiences, digital engagement and fundraising, which helps us ensure that we are measuring the impact of our work against robust and objective data.

A programme of this nature, delivered at this critical time, can’t just be about “hard” measures of success. For the programme to deliver the uplift that the participants so badly need, we firmly believe that they must also have greater confidence in building and engaging with audiences, in telling their story, and in managing digital fundraising campaigns.

It is powerful when we see this growth take place – in our midpoint survey, an astounding 96% of respondents reported an increased level of confidence since the start of the BRIDGE programme.

Success in the programme is also dependent on peer learning, and so another factor of success is the engagement that we foster between the participants. We want to help them learn from each other in addition to the tailored curriculum, and through using Lightful Learning and our award-winning Social Media platform.

Programme methodology

Lightful’s team of relationship managers, who are experienced in voluntary sector communications and fundraising, lead on coaching participants through regular one-on-ones, monthly masterclasses, digital drop-ins – and even homework.

We frequently review our delivery methods to provide a range of options that facilitate learning based on the participants’ needs and preferences. Beth Kanter, renowned author and nonprofit expert, is our Master Trainer who leads the programme’s masterclasses and we involve a range of expert guest speakers to run additional sessions.

This is all complemented by our e-learning platform. Our participants also ‘learn by doing’ using the Lightful social platform, which integrates with key social media platforms to help them better manage their digital presence, saving time and resources. Participants engage with the programme for circa 2 hours per week across these different formats in a self-directed way, given that different people learn in different ways.

We monitor and gather data from a range of sources, and centralise it into live dashboards for analysis. This gives us real-time information on how the participants are engaging with the programme and allows us to tailor interventions as we go if we see that a particular masterclass has been well received, or a specific training has resulted in a surge in donations. In all we have collected millions of data points to analyse.

A 64% year on year increase in fundraising

While the programme is much broader than fundraising, it is the key outcome that we track. And for this COVID-response cohort of participants, the result was incredible. 9 months of participation in the programme has seen participants increase their year-on-year digital fundraising by 64%. A really outstanding result, especially given the impact that the pandemic has had on both economies, and on the ability for nonprofits to raise funds through peer-to-peer and in-person events.

“Your feedback was actually really helpful and I am grateful for Lightful’s support this year. We made 5x more than last year during GivingTuesday with 4-5x more donors. – Jamie Cotta, LAYC

When comparing against the tracked control group of similar-sized nonprofits, BRIDGE participants raised 1.8x more year-on-year. A key external benchmark, the Blackbaud Institute’s Charitable Giving Report, reported that year-on-year digital fundraising increased by 21%. That is, our participants outperformed the typical nonprofit by 3x.

Our participants also demonstrated a similar scale of outperformance in the audience growth of the participants. Across social media, we tracked the growth of their social audiences 2.2x more than of the control group.

Coming at this key time, all of this has manifested in a lot of positive feedback from the participants.

The Theory of Change in action – more input gives more output

Digging deeper into the data, we can start to answer the ‘why’ questions regarding what interventions work for which participants.

With the outstanding delivery quality of the programme, we found that the more participants engage with the programme, the better performance we see in the data. For our July cohort, those who attended three or more of our webinars raised 30% more than those who attended two or less. Similarly, the more one-to-one sessions they scheduled with our relationship managers, the more successful they were in fundraising, with an uplift of 24% for those who had 4 or more of these coaching sessions. There were similar trends with online learning, our digital drop-in sessions and our masterclasses. All of these interventions were designed to support organisations to raise more funds, and the more of them we can deliver, the better results we see in the data. It’s really great to see the Theory of Change come to life.

Completing the programme

With three months to go into this programme, there is still much work to do. We continue to deliver masterclasses and listen closely to the participants to plan what more we can do for them. By the close of the programme, we will have some very rich data on the year-on-year performance of these 200 wonderful nonprofits in the most turbulent times.

As we continue to grow our BRIDGE programme, we will soon have supported over 1,000 incredible participants over the last few years.

We look forward to sharing these insights in due course so that we can improve the programme, and share our learnings with the sector more broadly.

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