Plan International social media

Planning a digital donor journey


In 2017 Plan UK’s fundraising activity, aimed at recruiting sponsors for children in developing countries, was concentrated heavily on DRTV. But good DRTV results could not disguise problems in the digital programme, where there were key areas that needed improvement: -

  • Social was hampered by excessive frequency levels and a small audience pool
  • PPC was too focused on the most obvious keywords
  • Digital prospecting activity was minimal

Sponsorship involves a longer supporter journey than standard regular giving so Plan UK’s approach of managing digital in silos, with separate CPA targets for each channel, had to change. Plan UK needed our help to break down internal barriers between their fundraising, brand and communications teams. Digital had to be planned as one entity. Instead of rigid channel planning, we needed an integrated approach which reflected the diversity of donor journeys. Understanding those journeys was the key to unlocking more effectiveness from our digital investment.

Plan International See for Yourself TV

DRTV supplemented by digital journey


We started with a basic question. How were current and potential sponsors making their decisions on which charities to support? Our analysis led us to three conclusions:-

  1. The supporter journey was not linear – every journey was unique.
  2. Most people gave to more than one charity so Plan UK had to be visible during the research and consideration phase.
  3. Giving is emotive so we had to deliver emotional messages at relevant points in the journey.

We used these insights to construct a digital strategy based upon an holistic view of the supporter/sponsor journey.

Year One

Our initial goal was to prove we could deliver an increase in conversions. Introducing programmatic display was a vital step. Programmatic was crucial to “feed the funnel” and make new audiences consider supporting Plan UK. Rigorous testing to gauge effectiveness was carried out through programmatic partners like Quantcast and Captify. Results were excellent and immediate, with quarterly conversions increasing by almost double after our first wave of display activity.

Introducing programmatic display was a vital step

Multi-Product Approach

Year Two 

Programmatic remained a priority because it fulfilled two key functions:-

  1. Reaching ‘cold’ audiences for prospecting
  2. Retargeting users based on their position in the funnel

Specific roles were assigned to our programmatic partners. Some focused-on prospecting and while we had dedicated partners who handled retargeting. This approach gave us richer insight into the supporter journey – journey duration, optimum frequency to prompt web visits and exposures required for conversion.

PPC was refined using our deeper journey understanding. We separated upper-funnel keywords which drove traffic (eg “charity”) from more Plan-specific keywords (eg “Sponsor a Girl”). For brand keywords, we introduced search prompts which were included in our DRTV ads.

DRTV was brought closer to digital by investing in attribution modelling to better connect offline with online measurement. New digital creative was introduced - an overdue change, as imagery hadn’t been updated in a few years. Specific consideration ads, highlighting the benefits of sponsoring a child, introduced Plan UK to ‘cold’ audiences with conversion-led treatments then deployed to prompt response.

The net result was a marked improvement in propensity to convert, a key metric. With similar annual media investment, Year Two produced a 16% increase in year-on-year conversions. An internal Plan UK study showed that digital produced a higher three-year ROI% and retention rate than any other channel, including TV.

Year Three

Our Year Three strategy was about future-proofing. Plan UK had to diversify their income base and develop fundraising products other than sponsorship. This led us to the Multi-Product Approach (MPA). The rationale was simple - if people finished their journey without converting they would then be exposed to other Plan products. For the test phase, these were the Children’s Emergency Fund (CEF) and their Standard Regular Giving product (RG).

Annual conversion target generated in first 5 months (Year 3)
5 x
sponsor volumes in May 2020 compared to May 2019


Whilst the MPA generated steady increases in new donors, our core sponsorship activity continued to prosper through tight integration of DRTV with programmatic display, PPC and social. Year Three (July 2019-June 2020) began strongly, with 80% of target annual conversions generated in the first five months. December recorded our lowest CPA since 2017.

The Covid-19 outbreak and national lockdown then saw performance surge to new heights. May and June 2020 were Plan UK’s best-ever months, with May sponsor volumes five times higher than 2019 and June producing more sponsors than the whole July-November period.

As we move into Year Four in F2020-21, our priority is to better understand the audience behaviours underlying these remarkable results during the pandemic. It is by learning even more about the complex and unique decision journeys our supporters take that we can keep improving Plan’s fundraising performance into next year and beyond.


Plan UK: Journey-based digital fundraising

JAA developed a journey-based approach to support Plan UK’s fundraising activity, aimed at recruiting sponsors for children in developing countries. By exploring and understanding the diversity of donor journeys we were able to create a digital pathway to securing sponsorship.

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John Ayling & Associates