Using Pardot for an end of year news that also include donation appeal

We’re new to Pardot and I’m not even sure this is a good idea but we put together several elements of Pardot to deliver our last days of 2022 fundraising appeal that uses our Top Ten Highlights of 2022 as content. We’ve Always published these on Facebook and in a single email. This year we went further and combined these elements into a single effort: a form, landing pages, email templates and an automation campaign. I can’t say if this is even a good idea, but it did allow us to pull it off with manageable effort and pain. And we do have assets at this point to reuse. I take full blame for all the potentially bad ideas in this and give full credit to our communications coordination, Lindsey Conway, for making it work.

Necessity was the mother of invention here. The fundraising environment was tough in 2022 with inflation and stock market being down. We very much rely on grass-roots donations and they were smaller and less numerous. We started from behind in October and it looked dismal. We use every effort to talk about it. And then we used the final campaign to talk about it in the last days of the year. We also used social media. The results were that we squeaked to break-even for the year by 4000. That’s the smallest margin ever in our history. We did NOT hit our published goal which included creating reserve income to cover restricted income already committed for 2023 but still… we hit breakeven and that didn’t look possible in October. It’s clear that the approach was at least somewhat effective. So here are some details of what we did. 

You can actually see many of them since they are live Pardot assets. 

  1. We have a form that allows one to express interest in giving, signing up for our newsletters or just saying hi. It has several progressive features. If you have filled it out once, it starts to offer other preferences for getting involved as a donor. This same form is also on our web page for newsletter signups. It’s located here:
  1. Ten landing pages that each highlight our Top Ten in sequence and each with a call to action back to our web. The form shows On the bottom of each and we designed a link to move forward and backward through the list. These are the same as we list in our annual report and now we plan to try to use the landing pages for each as targets for Google ads as well as sharing on Facebook from time to time. Here is #1:
  1. We put together several email templates that exposed these top ten in different ways. We had in mind giving our recent donors all of them at once. We wanted to dribble out to other recipients to drive some sort of awareness building campaign. We also wanted to customize the ask depending on if they had donated or subscribed to our newsletter.In this particular case we used Pardot email templates rather than Lightning templates. We use both Lightning and Pardot templates. We ended up with 9 templates shown here: 
  1. We created an engagement program. This is the strangest thing we did perhaps. We started our entire list at the top. If the recipient had donated recently and was a subscriber, they got one form of the letter that just celebrated them and invited them to enjoy and share our top ten content. If a recent donor but not yet a subscriber, they got a similar letter but the call to action focused on subscribing and why that is important. Non-donors (both subscriber and non-subscribers) got a drip that exposed the highlights in a couple of steps and gave calls to action to give or subscribe. Obviously we could have created just two different campaigns but this allows the list to be fully dynamic up to the point of initial send and allows us to focus on just one campaign. We weren’t 100% sure how it would turn out . If people didn’t open, they got an additional email, and if they gave, it stopped. And there was one final appeal if they didn’t give. Note that giving was fully dynamic and a typical use of engagement programs. Here is an image… it looks messy and I suppose it is, but it was built one step at a time.

The top two branches are the recent donor (right) vs non-recent donor (left) split followed by a subscriber (right) vs non-subscriber (left) split. These four splits are fully static up to the point of sending so we could have just done four lists and four campaigns but this allowed Lindsey full control. I was responsible for list generation at the top. Lindsey for content and flow. So it allowed us each to do our tasks separately.

Donors who are subscribers had the simplest flow. They simply got a drip to enjoy with encouragement to share, since they have already done what we needed them to do.

Donors not yet subscribers got something similar, although we paid attention to whether they had responded to the call to action and send a final email if they had not:

Non-donor and non-subscribers got a bit more intensive drip and repeat in an effort to cultivate them. Non-donors but subscribers got a little less since they have already taken an important step.

  1. We also shared some of the landing pages on Facebook as part of a countdown, although we have experience sharing the image with the caption, and did that also.  They looked good on Facebook.


Like most ongoing organizations, it’s impossible to exactly pin what donations came from. This versus just came from peoples normal pattern of giving at the end of the year. As I said, we did break even and we did not hit our goal by quite a bit, so a mixed bag of results. However, we can quantify a number of things, and here they are:

Emails themselves can be tracked with a Pardot Report. Here are the sends, html opens, and click through rates:

  • Form submits: 4 in the last few days of 2022, obviously VERY low. 
  • Form total views 5064 but they come from our web, too.
  • Top 10 #1 landing page views: 162
  • Top 10 #10 (most viewed) landing page: 260
  • Total Top 10 landing page views: ~1300 but that includes those that may have clicked from social media also.
  • Number of people we put at the top of the engagement program: 7424
  • Number of people by engagement category who were included: not engaged at all 4284, subscriber only 2972, non-subscribing donor 36, subscribing donor 132.
  • Number of people who exited the engagement program as a donor: 168
  • Number of people who unsubscribed during campaigns: 121 (as purported by unsubscribed prospects with last activity in December. Might not be the best way to find this.) I don’t know if this is high or low. This included a ton of People who are unengaged.

There may be little normal about what we did but it was interesting. It leaves open the observations:

  • Our database quality is OK. We had relatively few bounces. We don’t bug our least connected group all that often but we may do so more now. End of year may be a particularly bad time to start. But if we leverage throughout the year we will be cleaner and may have better long term results.
  • Our email reputation seems decent based on the opens we got. HTML opens seems to be a less reliable method as privacy is protected more by email clients (either by users not choosing to view any photos or the browsers blocking known patterns for pixel trackers even if other images are shown).
  • Calls to action  in the emails seem relatively effective in terms of  click through rates. Our donors and subscribers were obviously the most loyal group as would be expected. But the click through for our least engaged group (our largest made up of non-donor and non-subscribers) was also outstanding the first go. It dropped to less than half on the second email so we can think about that.
  • Landing page awareness raising impact as seen by the number of views seems very good.
  • Landing page call to action to subscribe was noticeably NOT effective in that we got only four forms submitted. There may be too much going on, or we may be suffering the demise of people wanting more emails. We may need to make sure we aren’t using negative trigger concepts like more email, subscribe, commit and instead focus on getting more awesome stories like this next year, stop anytime, and offer SMS.
  • For donation conversion, we apparently did poorly as measured by the number of people going down the split of new donations. The split appears useless, in fact, but we aren’t sure if that’s true or if we did something wrong. On the other hand, donations did come pouring in the last days of the year whether by their own inertia or help from our awareness raising. I’m pretty sure we had donation links in each email so that’s relatively friction free. Our donation page is mobile and minimal but not dynamic. From the landing page itself, we probably need to look at the journey we ask people to make from there. There are a lot of options on the landing page, and the donation action may get lost. Embedding our donation form on the Pardot Landing page is a capability we have not yet explored. It might reduce friction.
  • Additional questions to ponder not related exactly to an end of year campaign:
    • Should we work with our unengaged list more frequently throughout the year at natural occasions to cultivate them better? (almost certainly but we need to understand the potential ROI compared to other options, e.g., attracting new people)
    • Should we send almost all our newsletters or appeals or both this way? It might allow an easy way to send donors, volunteers, in-kind donors, subscribers who don’t open, and unengaged names we have collected in legit ways to get a different format.
    • Should we use the engagement program to resend multiple times to people who don’t open? We didn’t complicate it with that this time but could.
    • Will Google actually help people find their landing pages through search? We filled out the information carefully. We will watch to see if views continue to rise at all. We also could consider advertising the landing page for conversion targets with Google Ads.
    • Should we be sharing the landing pages through social media? Are they too dated for value? Could we rewrite them to be authentic but less dated? 

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