Right on the Money: Tips for Online Fundraising

image of a donate now button

Crowd funding. Social media. “Donate now” buttons. Online shopping for a cause. The ways for nonprofits to raise money online have proliferated, and following the trends has paid off for some charities.

Two recent studies by The Chronicle of Philanthropy found that online donations rose 14 percent between 2011 and 2012, faster than any other type of giving.

“It’s a very efficient way to get money, especially in a world where we’re all into social networking and crossing borders to connect with all different kinds of people,” says Kim Patton, training coordinator at The Foundation Center, a Washington, DC, nonprofit that promotes philanthropy.

Still, online giving only accounts for 5 to 10 percent of total donations organizations receive, says Michael Nilsen, vice president of public affairs at the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

“Even as we talk about the growth and popularity of online giving,” he says, “people now still tend to give via mail and other means.”

Especially when it comes to gifts of $1,000 and above, more traditional fundraising vehicles, like direct mail and face-to-face giving, remain important because they allow organizations to build relationships with donors.

“Online, sometimes it’s one and done,” Patton says. “To be really effective you have to build relationships so people become a part of your annual giving campaign.”

Organizations are finding the most success when they combine an online component with more traditional routes of fundraising, Nilsen says. For instance, an organization may start with a direct mail letter and then follow up with an email before using social media to announce updates and key messages.

Thinking about turning to online fundraising?

Promote the online giving option. Use your website, email, social media and direct mail to direct people to your online giving site.

“The last thing you want to do is go online and think that magically people are going to show up because you're there,” Nilsen says.

Remember to register. If you’ve only solicited gifts locally, online giving might open you up to new donors in other states. Wherever you’re going to solicit donations, it’s important to register with whatever department regulates charitable organizations and solicitations. Usually you can simply register in the state where your organization is located and any states you expect donors to come from, says Patton. Not sure where to register? Patton suggests visiting the National Association of State Charitable Officials for a detailed listing of contacts in each state.

Tell a compelling story. Many potential online givers will only get to know you from your online presence. It’s important to use your website and social media channels to clearly and effectively present the organization’s work in a way that makes people want to give.

That shouldn’t be hard for organizations that serve youth and their families, Patton says. “Most of time, people want to give from the heart. And people care about youth.”

Consider mobile. In an article for Forbes earlier this year, Sean Milliken, director of nonprofit strategy for eBay, predicted a continuing rise in mobile fundraising. Organizations are not only creating mobile versions of their fundraising campaigns, they’re also using mobile devices to swipe credit cards on site to accept donations. Both can lower costs of traditional campaigns, he said. For more information, see what we wrote about mobile websites earlier this year.

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