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April 12, 2021

A Future Without Cookies: How Bad Will It Be for Your Charity?

You might have heard that cookies are going extinct. If, like me, you have been comfort-eating during the pandemic, this may sound like alarming news.

And it is, but not for that reason.

The truth is that cookies — specifically third-party cookies — have been disappearing for some time in response to consumer privacy concerns.

Third-party cookies are small data files created by Internet properties that track your browsing behavior to personalize your web experience — including the relevance of your digital advertising — wherever you go on the Internet.


Legislators have stepped in to address consumer concerns around how Internet companies have been collecting, storing, and exchanging this third-party data through recent rules like GDPR in the EU and CCPA in California. Internet companies have responded with changes of their own — primarily by limiting or ending support for third-party cookies.

This process began several years ago when web browsers Safari and Firefox implemented third-party cookie controls as the default setting. It is culminating this year with Apple’s removal of its IDFA identifier for advertisers from iOS14 onward and Google Chrome ending support for third-party cookies from January 1, 2022.

That means that roughly 90% of web browsing activities will not be tracked next year.


OK, so what, and why should I care about this now? (... you may be asking!)

Well, for many nonprofits, 2020 was the year in which their digital fundraising program grew like never before. For some, their active donor files are now, for the first time ever, equally split between those giving in the mail and those giving online. If we are to follow the age-old dictum of retaining donors as they are acquired, we must up our digital game or put a lot of revenue at risk.

Even if we exceed the 25% online retention benchmark for 2020, we must find ways to replace the online donors that do not renew — with new online donors. The absence of cookies may make it harder to accurately target potential donors with digital advertising. It will also reduce our ability to retarget website visitors on third-party platforms.


Hmm, that sounds bad! (... you may be thinking!)

Yes and no. Without doubt, it means we have to change our strategies, but because nonprofits rely heavily on public trust, we should welcome more stringent controls on how potential donor data is made available.


OK, so what and how do we need to do things differently?

Email file growth has been a priority for many nonprofits for years, via email newsletter subscription widgets on their websites and through paid lead generation campaigns. Today, this practice is not just a good habit but a strategic necessity because an email address makes a user “addressable” (available for targeting) through digital advertising.

That’s why TrueSense recommends significant increases of investment in lead generation across our clients for the upcoming fiscal year.

For the same reason, improving the ubiquity of your digital data set across your donor file is important. By appending email addresses against your donor records, you expand your ability to target these constituents with renewal or lapsed reactivation messages via digital advertising.


Great, but can we still advertise to completely cold prospects who look like your current donors?

Absolutely, you can, though targeting options will be more limited and potentially, less precise, than before cookie extinction.

You can still rent lists or modeled audiences from data companies for onboarding to advertising platforms. Equally, you can still upload your CRM audiences to these platforms either for direct targeting or as the basis of lookalike audiences. The fear though, is that lookalike audiences’ accuracy may wane over time because of the absence of refreshed third-party data.

Contextual targeting is returning in a big way to fill the cookie void, enabling advertisers to target visitors to particular websites or web pages based on the content of that site. You can also buy direct from certain publishers to target their site users based on various audience traits using their first party data. Naturally, these audiences are limited to the users of a particular website or group of websites, giving large websites an advantage. With help from machine learning, campaigns of both types can be optimized based on conversion behaviors over time.


What do I do if I have questions about preparing for the cookie extinction or just want to learn more about digital advertising?

Talk to TrueSense. We’re here to help.

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