Online fundraising should be a key component of your non-profit’s development strategy. As more and more people become comfortable making purchases and donating to charity online, the percentage of revenue you raise online will only increase. In this guide, I’m going to show you how to make the most of your online fundraising program.
First though, I want to caution you that online fundraising should not (and cannot) replace your offline fundraising activities. Your major and mid-level donor programs will continue to rely on personal contact… meaning visits, calls, events, and video conferences. Your online activities can be a strong complement to your offline strategies, but they won’t replace them.
Ok, with that out of the way, let’s talk about how to raise more money online for your non-profit.
Your Most Important Online Fundraising Asset
As you build your online fundraising program, your non-profit will have a number of assets at its disposal. For most organizations, those assets include a website, an e-mail list, and your social media presence. By far the most important of these is your e-mail list.
Every non-profit, no matter how small, should be focused on building an e-mail list for their organization. This is because your e-mail list is the only active marketing medium you control online. Your website is important, but you have no way to reach out to visitors to your site unless you collect their e-mail address.
Likewise, social media is important, but the social networks have significantly decreased the reach of your posts and tweets (for example, if you post something on your Facebook page, Facebook will likely show it to fewer than 5% of your followers, unless you pay for advertising). When it comes to online fundraising, your e-mail list is the most important asset you have at your organization.
The Hub and Spoke System for Online Fundraising
Because your e-mail list is so important, you should be doing everything you can to grow your list. You can learn a successful strategy for doing that by reading our recent article How to Grow Your Non-Profit’s E-Mail List.
In my experience, the best way to set up your online fundraising strategy is to utilize a hub and spoke system, where the entire goal for your system is to grow your e-mail newsletter list. The centerpiece or hub of your strategy is your website, which is focused on getting people to sign-up for your e-mail list.
The spokes of your strategy are all of the other places you are active online. Primarily, this means all of the social networks where you are active. It also includes anywhere else you can get traction online, including online press coverage, guest posts you do for other websites, interviews your staff gives on podcasts, etc. Your goal for all of these spokes is to drive people back to your website so they can sign-up for your e-mail list.
Thus, you should be linking back to your website often on your social media accounts and mentioning your URL as often as possible when writing guest posts or doing any other online outreach.
How to Use Your E-Mail List the Right Way
As I said above, a successful online fundraising strategy revolves around building your e-mail list. But how should you actually be using the list you are building? Just as with every other type of fundraising strategy, your e-mail list should be used for both cultivation / stewardship as well as for making solicitations.
Most importantly, be sure to actually use your e-mail list. Many non-profits collect e-mail addresses and then never use them, or only e-mail their lists a couple of times per year. Your goal should be to send out e-mail newsletter to your list on a regular basis. Ideally, this means sending out newsletters weekly or every other week. The minimum would be once per month. Any less than that and you’ll lose the cultivation benefit from your e-mail newsletter.
You should also be using your e-mail list for solicitations. This means sending out real, honest-to-goodness e-mail fundraising appeals to your e-mail subscribers. E-mail solicitations are the primary way for your non-profit to raise money through online fundraising.
We’ve found that the best e-mail fundraising appeals are sent in “flights,” meaning that you send an e-mail appeal and then follow it up with 1-2 additional, complementary e-mails that reiterate the ask. This helps break through the clutter in most people’s inboxes. These follow-up appeals should each be sent a couple of days apart.
If you want to build a successful online fundraising program, my suggestion is that you send out e-mail fundraising appeal flights at least 2-3 times per year (one of which should be during the year-end giving season).
Setting Your Website Up for Fundraising Success
When it comes to online fundraising, your non-profit’s website should do a number of things. As noted above, the primary goal for your website is to collect e-mail addresses. But your site should also be an appealing place for supporters to make a donation. There are four main things you need to do if you want to set your website up for fundraising success, in addition to focusing on building your e-mail list:
#1: Make it Easy to Find Your Donate Now Button
Nothing frustrates donors like searching in vain for way to make a gift on your site. Make sure you feature your “Donate Now” button prominently on your site. Make the button big, bold, and above the fold. If your grandmother can’t find the donate button within the first 15 seconds of looking at your website, you need to make it bigger and bolder.
#2: Explain the Need & Make an Ask
One way that online fundraising is just like offline fundraising is this: if you want people to give, you need to explain the need and make an ask. This means that the donation pages on your site should include a condensed 2-3 paragraph version of your case for support or donor message… you need to tell people why your non-profit matters and why they should care. Then, you need to make an ask. Don’t just tell people “Get involved today!” Ask them, “Would you be willing to make a donation today to help end hunger and homelessness?”
#3: Include Contact Information for Donors
People feel much more comfortable donating online if they have an offline way to reach your non-profit should the need arise. Smart non-profits include contact information for a member of their development staff right on their online fundraising pages. While most people won’t use it, doing so helps your donors feel safe and secure donating online.
#4: Provide Proof and Transparency
Another way to make donors feel comfortable giving via your website is to provide as much “social proof” and transparency as possible. Make sure your organization’s mailing address appears on your online fundraising pages. Post a link to your annual report so donors can see how you are using their money. Consider posting testimonials from current donors, board members, community leaders, and those you have helped so that people know your organization is trustworthy and is having a real impact.
Driving Traffic to Your Website
Of course, no matter how great your website is, you won’t raise any money on your site if no one is visiting it. Most non-profits have no plan in place to drive traffic to their sites, even though this should be a key part of your online fundraising strategy.
The most important and most basic thing you can do to drive traffic to your site is make sure that your current supporters (donors, volunteers, and friends of the organization) are visiting the site often. You can do this by making sure that you are linking back to information on your site in your e-mail newsletters and via social media.
You should also be thinking about making sure that Google and other search engines are sending visitors your way. Your online fundraising will grow as the traffic you receive from search engines grows. The process of proactively seeking more search traffic is called “search engine optimization” or SEO.
While there are hundreds of different methods, there are two primary places to start if you want to boost your search traffic:
First, try to get other websites in your mission field to link to your website. Not only will this help visitors to those other sites find your site, but it will also signal to the search engines that your website is a valued resource. This will boost your web traffic which will in turn boost your online fundraising.
In order to get other websites in your field to link to your site, you need to post articles on your site that are compelling, and then ask those other websites to link to you. For example, if you are a homeless shelter, why not write an article on “5 Ways to Be Kind to the Homeless in Your City” and then e-mail other homeless shelters and homelessness advocates to ask them to link to that article?
The second easy way to boost your search traffic is to write articles for your website focused on search terms that make sense for your organization. Basically, this means you need to think through what people are searching for on Google, Bing, and other search engines… and which of those searches should show your organization on the results page.
If you’re a homeless shelter in Philadelphia, you’d want to make sure that your non-profit showed up on the results page when people search for things like:
- Homelessness in Philadelphia
- Ending homelessness in Philly
- Homeless shelter Philadelphia
- Homeless donations
In order to show up when people search for these terms, you need to write an article focused on each of these terms and post it on your website. This may seem complicated, but it’s not. For more information on how to use SEO for your non-profit, check out this article from Nonprofit Source.
You can also consider using paid social media advertising to drive traffic to your website, and particularly to your e-mail newsletter sign-up pages. For more ideas on driving traffic to your website, check out this article from CauseVox.
Where Online Fundraising Fits in to Your Overall Strategy
The final piece of the puzzle is figuring out where online fundraising fits in to your overall strategy. All of the data for non-profits points to the fact that you’ll raise more money if you go “multi-channel” with your fundraising. This means that your most successful appeals will be those appeals where you mix both online and offline fundraising strategies.
For example, when you run your annual appeal, you’ll raise more if you send out snail mail letters, make calls, do meetings, send out e-mails, post a page on your website, and talk about your annual appeal on social media. Combining online fundraising and offline fundraising strategies has a powerful multiplier effect for your efforts.
Of course, you can also run online-only fundraising appeals for your organization. When using this strategy, you can combine a flight of e-mail appeals with a heavy social media presence to raise money for your non-profit. Remember that e-mail appeal letters are the “killer app” for online fundraising. You can also include crowdfunding campaigns as part of your online fundraising strategy.
Online fundraising should be a key component of your non-profit’s development strategy. Start by focusing on building your e-mail list. Then set up your website for maximum fundraising success. After that, focus on driving more traffic to your website and using your e-mail list to send out e-mail solicitation letters and run multi-channel fundraising campaigns for your organization.