So how did an unfashionable campaign about getting adverts on buses, in one city, in one country, become a global fundraising phenomenon? Whatever you may think about the appeal (and as we’ve said before, we are impartial), the atheist bus campaign has been an amazing example of how appeals and campaigns can use the power of the internet to reach huge fundraising totals and massively increase awareness.
Here’s a summary of what it achieved in just one week:
- Over £105,000 raised – almost 20 times the original target
- 6,680 donors, donating an average of £14.27 (£17.38 with Gift Aid)
- 370 donors donated more than once – that’s 5%
- One person even donated 56 times!
- 430,000 page views, from almost 250,000 unique visitors
But how did the British Humanist Association get to benefit from this? They weren’t the first organisation contacted to run the appeal and they had no guarantee of success. But they took a gamble, and gained more publicity and funds than they have probably ever had – all through the internet.
The scale of the awareness raising
Almost a quarter of a million people saw the fundraising page in a week. But interestingly, only 60% of the page views were for the front page – 40% were for the 74 pages of comments that followed.
People were interested in what others were saying. They were reading through the comments on every page, spending an average of nearly 3 minutes on each page. That’s a very long amount of time for people to spend on a web page.
Plus, people were having conversations on the page, like this one:
So if you’re running an appeal, one way of increasing engagement is to allow people to have their say by commenting – clearly people donating to this appeal wanted to know what others had written. Having said that, you do need to have a clear policy on what kind of message content is acceptable.
While most messages on the atheist bus page were good natured, we did have to remove some that were inappropriate and we emailed people to explain that, as well as blogging that message.
What country did the donors come from?
People accessed the page from all over the world: 67% came from the UK, 14% from the US, 2% each from Canada and Australia, and then 1% from Holland and Germany. People from a total of 152 countries accessed the page – that’s a staggering global response for a campaign about adverts on London buses.
When you are running an appeal, does it have the potential to work in other countries? Do you think about the simplicity of the message and how you’re communicating it? The best stories work in any area of the world, and connect with people from any country. The beauty of this campaign was its simplicity.
What websites did the donors come from?
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the websites of traditional media like the BBC and the Guardian were the biggest referrers. There were also many hits from Google and Facebook (where users had sent the link to their social network).
And a single (albeit extremely popular, and not for the faint hearted) blog sent more traffic to the page than a Telegraph article featured on the front page of one of the most popular websites on the web – Digg. There was also a lot of traffic from stumbleupon, a very popular site where people recommend websites of interest to other users.
So when you are doing PR for your appeals, do you reach out to bloggers? Or influential famous people (in this case Richard Dawkins) that might carry your story? Or even a forum that talks about issues you’re campaigning about or fundraising for?
These are areas of the web that carry a lot of influence and have traditionally been ignored. But you need to reach out to these people, and make it easy for them to share content – over 12,000 different articles on the internet linked to the atheist bus fundraising page. And there are almost 100,000 results for “atheist bus” on Google. That’s an astonishing number of people writing about it, discussing it, arguing for and against it, and ultimately donating to it.
Listen to your donors. Here’s one comment on the page that shows how the charity has listened to the comments, seen the need and acted on addressing that need.
So the routes to success can be summarised as:
- prepare to lose a certain amount of control
- make it easy to share content online
- reach out to bloggers as well as traditional PR and print media
- enable people to have conversations about your appeal
- be prepared to be imaginative and take risks
Clearly, the recipe for the success of the atheist bus campaign cannot be easily copied to provide exactly the same results for every appeal. But the pointers above show the potential that exists, when all these different strands come together, to create a true viral online fundraising phenomenon.