How Defenders of Wildlife leveraged CTV to increase fundraising




increase in direct mail response


increase in banner CTR


Defenders of Wildlife is a nonprofit dedicated to conserving wildlife, their habitats and keeping our planet’s fragile biodiversity intact. Founded in 1947, and headquartered in Washington, DC, they employ a mix of tactics such as policy analyses and advocacy, litigation, innovative science and technology programs, and field conservation to accomplish their mission.

The Challenge

Defenders of Wildlife approached Data Axle with a request to test Connected TV – a promising, emerging marketing channel. The nonprofit was interested in adding CTV to their channel mix, specifically to boost their retargeting campaigns, increase site traffic, lift brand awareness and reach a younger audience. They needed a partner that could perform comprehensive data analysis to identify the right audience, as well execute a compelling ad campaign.

What is Connected TV?

Connected TV (CTV) is television content streamed over apps and smart TVs, mobile devices, or over-the-top (OTT) devices such as gaming consoles, Amazon Firestick, Apple TV, Roku and other streaming devices. Some examples of CTV services include Hulu, YouTube & YouTube TV, Sling TV, Vimeo, Peacock and many more. Millions of US TV viewers are switching over to connected TV as adoption of streaming services, such as Hulu and Netflix, continues to grow and displace traditional cable TV. In fact, eMarketer predicts that 60% of the population will be using connected TV by 2022.1

The Solution

Data Axle worked with Defenders of Wildlife to execute a unique multichannel campaign, with a focus on CTV, to raise brand awareness, engage prospective donors, and boost fundraising during Q4 of 2020. The fourth quarter is a particularly important time of the year for nonprofits, as 30% of annual giving comes in the month of December alone. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was also a year of uncertainty, which added extra pressure around program performance.

Together, Data Axle and Defenders of Wildlife used predictive modeling and Data Axle’s donor database, Apogee, to create a custom audience of prospective donors. To target them, the teams created a CTV ad to drive brand awareness and a display retargeting ad with similar creative and messaging which was served to the same audience. Both campaigns drove the audience to Defenders’ website and encouraged them to donate.



Data & Custom Modeling

The Defenders had two asks from the custom audience modeling:

  • Increasing brand awareness through coordinated touches through the CTV and co-targeting ads for the onboarded audience
  • Increasing the likelihood for conversion by modeling the audience after existing digital donors

Data Axle created the “perfect donor” audience for Defenders by combining unique propriety data sets and advanced modeling techniques to find high-value prospective donors.

Data Axle was able to create this audience by tapping into Apogee, their donor cooperative database and custom modeling tools. Apogee is built on Data Axle’s consumer database and powered by data contributed by over 900 nonprofit organizations. This donor database offers data on millions of donors who have contributed over a billion of individual donations, making it easy for nonprofits to identify and reach known donors using data that can’t be found anywhere else.

Audience Profile

The result was a rich audience profile, comprised of new and existing donors that were younger than Defenders’ direct mail audience.

“Working with Data Axle allowed us to expand our reach and target a very specific audience. We are excited to continue our journey into the world of CTV advertising, with Data Axle as our partner.”
– Brandy Swimeley, VP Integrated Marketing, Defenders of Wildlife

Creative guidance

Data Axle’s award-winning agency team provided invaluable creative best practices and guidance to optimize the performance of the nonprofit’s innovative, cross-channel campaign. CTV is an emerging channel and as companies enter the market they need to acquaint themselves with the new do’s and don’ts. From creating a catchy start of the ad to music scores, imagery, tone, overlapping CTAs and regional versioning, Data Axle provided best practices for every step.

“We loved the look and feel of this campaign! Data Axle helped us encapsulate our mission and its importance into a short, 30-second segment which is no small feat. We’re looking forward to using their insight to inform our future video advertisements, on CTV and off.”
– Keira Costic, Director of Acquisition, Defenders of Wildlife

Campaign Execution

When the multichannel campaign launched, custom audiences were served both the display ads and the CTV ads. Data Axle refreshed the ad creative throughout the run time to allow banners to maintain ‘newness’ and relevance and to align with overall brand messaging. Engagement with the CTV ad peaked both during key holiday timing and when the creative was refreshed.

Data Axle kept tabs on performance – allowing Defenders to see which banners gathered the most impressions, clicks, conversions, etc. – to be used to inform future messaging. They also received insights into device and inventory type – most of the audience was served the ad on desktop over the web.


With the help of Data Axle’s services teams and proprietary donor datasets, Defenders of Wildlife successfully incorporated CTV into their existing channel mix to engage donors, reach a larger audience and drive fundraising in the crucial Q4 period. Some of the results from the campaign include:

  • Defenders raised over $225,000 via the web site from prospects and donors within the Data Axle custom campaign audience
  • 57% of responders were new to file or reactivated lapsed donors
  • 12% increase in direct mail acquisition response rate YOY from an audience that overlapped with the Data Axle custom audience
  • The campaign touched an audience that contributed 15% of overall revenue in this period
  • A video-completion rate of 94%
  • Click-through rate on banners were .20%

Overall, this multichannel acquisition and reactivation strategy contributed to a great Q4 performance for Defenders of Wildlife and helped them achieve fundraising goals while also generating 3X the ROI of the original investment. Defenders were so pleased with the results that they decided to run another multichannel campaign with a CTV component this spring. Stay tuned for updates!

For information on ways to incorporate CTV into your marketing program, contact us.