Surpassing Goals for Year-End Fundraising

Waterkeeper Alliance ensures that the world’s Waterkeeper groups are as connected to each other as they are to their local waters, organizing the fight for clean water into a coordinated global movement.

Waterkeeper Alliance unites more than 300 Waterkeeper groups working on the front lines of the planetary environmental crisis, patrolling and protecting more than 2.5 million square miles of rivers, lakes, and coastal waterways on six continents.

In the run-up to the Clean Water Act’s 50th Anniversary in 2022, Waterkeeper Alliance prioritized its campaign to restore this statute’s original scope and effectiveness, after decades of regulatory changes and failure in leadership  defanged this visionary legislation. To run this campaign effectively, funds needed to be sourced. Media Cause came in to help Water Alliance develop a plan to achieve success and surpass funds raised in previous years.


The Outcome

Between November 1, 2021 and December 31, 2021, Waterkeeper Alliance increased fundraising revenue by 36%, increased the number of gifts by 33%, and increased the average gift by 2%.




Revenue per 1,000 appeal emails delivered
(25% above industry benchmark)

Average Email Appeal Conversion Rate (33% above industry benchmark)

Average Email Appeal Open Rate
(33% above industry benchmark)

The Challenge

Waterkeeper Alliance’s first foray into year-end fundraising online took place during year-end 2020. While they had asked for funds online in previous years, efforts were not organized into a traditional year-end effort. As a result, 2020 was a banner year for Waterkeeper Alliance, increasing funds raised from $55,339.50 (701 gifts) to $150,390.95 (1,118 gifts) year over year. 

Heading into the 2021 year-end season, our challenge was to top Waterkeeper Alliance’s best end-of-year campaign to date, even amid different economic conditions, skyrocketing inflation, and the surging Omicron variant.

The Strategy

We were confident it was possible to build on the success of last year — but to what degree? 

Many aspects of year-end fundraising are beyond anyone’s control. Changes to the tax code, volatile headlines, market performance, and inflation all play a role in the funds we can raise. As we do for any client, our focus for Waterkeeper Alliance was on the factors we could control: messaging, volume, tactics, and channels.

Gift Matching

The success of year-end fundraising often relies on the offer, and we worked with Waterkeeper Alliance to parcel out their $100,000 matching gift total across three occasions, with an emphasis placed on Giving Tuesday and the final five days of the year. With an anticipated surplus of funds, we were also able to launch a 48-hour flash match in the middle of the month, which we did not have on the calendar the previous year. 


Programmatic Urgency

Unlike 2020, our focus this year-end was Waterkeeper Alliance’s work to restore the Clean Water Act, shining a spotlight on the statute’s deficiencies as it is currently interpreted and outlining an action plan to restore it by its 50th anniversary in 2022. This hook allowed us to differentiate year-end messaging from previous campaigns and get specific with examples of how donor dollars would be used.


Strategic Volume

The more you ask, the more you raise—within reason, of course. The Waterkeeper Alliance team was highly receptive to this feedback, increasing sends on Giving Tuesday and the final day of the year from two to three messages and including a mid-month “flash match” to keep the momentum going during key moments. 


Paid Media

Web gifts spiked year over year, up to 989 gifts from 738 in 2020 — and that does not happen in a vacuum. This year, a modest $1,515 paid media budget ($245 in search and $1,300 in Facebook) yielded 86,000 impressions, helping to keep Waterkeeper Alliance top of mind at a critical moment in the calendar. 

The Implementation

Timing is everything. We used email to demonstrate philanthropic impact, express gratitude, and position direct appeal emails at strategic moments on the calendar. Cultivation emails leveraged video messages and hand-written notes from actor/activist and President of Waterkeeper Alliance, Gloria Reuben, to express deep and personal gratitude. Other emails showed impact, including a visual year-in-review message that pointed to clean water victories in which Waterkeeper Alliance played a crucial role. Then, we asked for tax-deductible gifts, leveraging a gift matching series for Giving Tuesday, a 48-hour period in the middle of the month, and December 27-31.

With an eye to last year’s returns, we assessed which days might benefit from additional volume. Based on last year’s success on Giving Tuesday and December 31, we nudged the volume up each day by one, resulting in three messages total on each critical occasion.

Web gifts shot up by 34% year over year. While they may appear “organic” by sourcing, other channels, including email and paid media, heavily influence giving on the website.

Because the website is a critical point of conversion sparked on other channels, it’s vital to put giving front-and-center of the homepage. Waterkeeper Alliance did this by launching donation lightboxes for the duration of the year-end season. This consisted of one lightbox for each matching gift email communications arc and one lightbox with evergreen year-end language to run between these efforts.

Modest investments in paid media ($1,300 in Facebook and $245 in Search) yielded a total of 86,000+ impressions on both channels, keeping Waterkeeper Alliance top of mind in a season when donors are contemplating their year-end gifts.