Even before the pandemic, nonprofits were embracing online fundraising opportunities. These campaigns provided a convenient way for supporters to give, encouraging them to do so more often.
Think about how often you use the internet. You’re on it right now to read this article. You may use it to do your online shopping, look up dinner recipes, or even keep up with your family members’ activities on social media platforms. Like your supporters, you might also make donations to your favorite nonprofits via their websites and donation pages.
When your nonprofit uses online fundraising platforms, you can meet your supporters where they are—online—and enable them to give quickly and easily.
In this guide, we’ll cover the ins and outs of online fundraising, explaining how you can leverage various platforms and fundraising ideas to engage your supporters virtually.
- What is online fundraising?
- The benefits of online fundraising
- How to get started with online fundraising
- Online fundraising platforms
- Tips for an effective online fundraiser
- Online fundraising metrics to track
- Online fundraising ideas
Use the tips and ideas in this guide to create your own online fundraising plan. Then, determine the fundraising tools that you need to accomplish your ultimate goals. Before we dive into that, let’s be sure we’re all on the same page about the definition of online fundraising.
What is online fundraising?
Online fundraising allows nonprofits to raise funds from their supporters via the internet, usually using an online donation page. It’s a quick and easy way for individuals to support missions they care about.
Why is online fundraising effective?
According to statistics, 90% of Americans have access to the internet, and the following map shows how internet usage in the world has changed over time.
Because your donors are already online, it makes sense to meet them there and provide them with options to support your nonprofit via the internet. That’s why it’s so effective; you’ve made it easy for them to donate.
The benefits of online fundraising
Online fundraising offers a number of benefits for everyone involved. Your organization can increase its reach and encourage additional contributions while your supporters can more easily donate to your nonprofit. However, those aren’t all of the benefits that accompany an online fundraising strategy. We’ve outlined the benefits for your donors as well as those for your nonprofit below.
Benefits for donors
Donors want to be able to make a donation the second they’re inspired to give, so asking them to physically bring their donation to you or to send the donation via mail will likely mean you miss opportunities to secure much-needed revenue. After all, just taking those additional steps will turn some donors off of donating to your organization, especially if a nonprofit with a similar mission makes it easy to give online.
Offering online fundraising opportunities makes the process of donating easy for your supporters.
Online fundraising allows your supporters to:
- Give at any time. Supporters can hop on their computer or phone and give immediately at any time of the day.
- Give from anywhere. The majority of giving forms are now optimized for mobile, allowing supporters to give via their mobile devices. This means they don’t need to be in front of a computer to make a donation.
- Set up recurring donations. Your nonprofit can provide an option for donors to make a recurring donation and automatically contribute without coming back to your donation page every month or quarter.
- Share about the gifts they’ve made. On your donation pages and online fundraising platforms, you can include social media share buttons. This allows donors to immediately share that they’ve supported your mission with friends and family members. This not only allows your supporters to share their involvement, but it also spreads your organization’s mission further and could inspire those people with no previous connection to your organization to give as well.
- Give knowing their donations are secure. When you send donations in the mail, you run the risk of that check or cash falling into the wrong hands. However, organizations that invest in PCI-compliant online fundraising solutions and take proper cybersecurity measures ensure that their online donation process is secure.
Benefits for nonprofits
Your nonprofit benefits from online fundraising as well. We’ve outlined some of those benefits here:
- Your nonprofit receives immediate feedback on your marketing efforts. Online fundraising technology allows your nonprofit to better understand which marketing campaigns effectively drive donations to your organization.
- Your nonprofit captures donor information in your donor database. When donors give online, you can capture their personal information and save it to your donor database. You can then leverage this information to build relationships with these donors and encourage future donations.
- Your nonprofit now has a cost-effective fundraising strategy in place. The cost of online fundraising software can be fairly inexpensive, only requiring a small platform fee and processing fee. Plus, some solutions give your supporters the option of covering that processing fee, making it even more cost-effective.
- Your organization will benefit from increased brand awareness. People will see that others are supporting your nonprofit online. Even if they don’t make a donation right away, they’re more likely to remember your nonprofit in the future and potentially make a donation at another time.
How to get started with online fundraising
Whether you’re just getting started or you’re optimizing your existing strategy, the following steps will help you get the most out of your online fundraising efforts.
Create a rough development plan.
The first step to create your online fundraising strategy is to determine how it fits into your development plan. Start by identifying the fundraising goals in your development plan, such as raising 10% more revenue through online contributions.
Then, determine your goals around online fundraising for the year, such as hosting a peer-to-peer campaign before your annual event or adding donation pages to your website. Keep in mind that you can (and should) revise your plan in accordance with the other steps listed below.
Craft a budget for your online fundraisers.
Decide how much you’re willing to spend on your online fundraising strategy. To do this, start by reviewing your revenue goals for these fundraising platforms. Then determine the amount you’re willing to spend to hit those goals and lead to a healthy return on investment. And remember: Every nonprofit budget is different, so be sure to stay within your means when you craft your online fundraising strategy.
For example, let’s say you want to raise $100,000 in annual revenue through your online fundraising strategy. You might decide to allocate $10,000 for the necessary software and infrastructure to raise that funding. If that’s the case, your goal should be to raise $110,000 to hit that revenue goal while making up for your expenditures.
Pick the fundraising software platforms you want to use.
Now it’s time to choose the software solutions that will facilitate your online fundraising efforts. Follow these steps to help you choose the right solution for your organization.
Step 1: Determine the types of fundraising software you’ll need. After you’ve done that, create a list of the features you’ll need in those software solutions to host the campaigns you envision. Split this list into must-have and nice-to-have features.
Step 2: Create a list of the options available to you using Google, referrals, and recommendations to build out this list.
Step 3: From here, narrow down your list by comparing the features in the software solutions against your must-have features. Then compare the solutions based on your budget. Once you find the solutions that are in your budget, see which ones also have those nice-to-have features you’d like to use.
Step 4: Now that you’ve narrowed your list of solutions down to your top picks, go to their websites and ask for demos. Before the demos, come up with questions you have about using the software solution. You may need several demos before you’re ready to buy fundraising software. Be sure to ask about any implementation fees, hidden costs associated with the solutions you’re interested in, and what type of support is available for you as a customer.
Step 5: Purchase the solutions that meet your nonprofit’s needs. Then create and execute an implementation plan so you’re ready to go when it’s time to host your next fundraising campaigns and initiatives.
Launch and promote fundraisers.
Before you launch your fundraisers, test the donation buttons by donating a dollar to the campaign yourself. This way you’ll catch any error or glitch and can fix it before you ask your supporters to give.
This is also the time to create marketing materials for each segment of your nonprofit audience. You can make adjustments to these materials during the campaign, but having them prepared ahead of time will save you time.
Promote your fundraisers on multiple platforms and in multiple ways, including:
- Email. Sending emails allows you to create a personalized message and deliver it directly to your supporters’ inboxes.
- Website. Include a button on the homepage or in the main navigation of your site so donors immediately know where to go to make their donation.
- Social media. Draft posts to feature on your social media platforms. Keep in mind that you can also leverage social media tools for your fundraising campaigns. For instance, you might ask supporters to conduct Facebook fundraisers on your behalf. Don’t forget to thank these supporters for their assistance in raising funds!
- Direct mail. Send letters directly to your supporters to inform them about upcoming online campaign opportunities and provide the URL for them to visit in order to contribute.
Messages sent to your entire donor base are less likely to gain traction than messages tailored to each segment of your supporters. Use the data you’ve collected about your donors to draft the messages that will best resonate with them and drive them to get involved.
Track key metrics.
In order to determine how successful your strategy is and to see if you’re reaching your goals, you need to know which metrics to track. For example, if your primary goal of a crowdfunding campaign is to raise $10,000, then you’ll know that total revenue is one of the important metrics to keep track of throughout the campaign.
In addition to ensuring you meet your goals, tracking metrics can also help your organization find opportunities to improve your current strategy and confirm that your current fundraising platforms are effective.
Some solutions allow you to track key metrics via an online dashboard for various campaigns. However, you might not be able to track every metric important to your organization on a dashboard, so be sure to customize reports from your online fundraising platforms to dive deeper into the data from your campaigns. We’ll cover more about the metrics you should analyze later.
Online fundraising platforms
To implement the awesome ideas listed above and build out your nonprofit’s online fundraising strategy, you’ll need access to various types of fundraising software to help you capture donations and process them online. Some of our favorite solutions include the following:
Kindful, a Bloomerang product, is an online fundraising platform that provides many different solutions to meet your organization’s needs. You can customize your online giving pages and encourage additional donations through pop-up donation buttons on your website.
Kindful also provides peer-to-peer features that makes it easy for your supporters to get involved in your next campaign, event management capabilities for your in-person or virtual events, and a donor portal that supporters can use to see their donation history and update their credit card information.
The best part is that Kindful is fully integrated with Bloomerang’s donor database. This means that the information you capture in Kindful automatically syncs in Bloomerang, which helps you build relationships with donors and supporters so you can retain them for years to come.
Qgiv is an online platform that also offers the features you need to host several different types of online fundraising opportunities. In addition to online donation forms, this platform offers the software necessary to build out various types of events. You can collect online registrations through event pages, encourage donations during the event through text-to-give campaigns, and sell auction items.
Qgiv also has a number of integration partners, including Bloomerang, Salesforce, and DonorPerfect.
Fundraise Up is an online donation platform that provides donation page software that your organization can use to increase conversions from your website. This platform focuses on creating the fastest and most streamlined experience for donors as possible when they arrive on your donation page, reducing donation form abandonment and increasing revenue.
These donation forms give your supporters control over their own engagement by providing access to a donor portal where they can update their information and keep track of their giving histories.
Givebutter is another multi-use online fundraising tool that your nonprofit can use to amplify its campaigns and opportunities. For instance, you can use this platform to host peer-to-peer campaigns, sell tickets to events, and create online donation forms.
One of the ways that nonprofits have found Givebutter to be incredibly successful in their strategies is during giving days. These 24-hour events often take place online, cultivating as many gifts as possible in this finite period of time. You can use their software to convey this urgency and spread awareness of your campaign.
Facebook covers all processing fees for the fundraisers started via their online fundraising platform. That means your nonprofit receives all of the donations contributed to your organization.
While this shouldn’t be your main fundraising platform, it can help your nonprofit supplement your other fundraising platforms through birthday fundraisers, Facebook challenges, and more. Much of this is in the hands of your nonprofit supporters, so encourage them to start these campaigns on your behalf.
GoFundMe is a popular choice for crowdfunding campaigns. Anyone can start a crowdfunding campaign for any cause that’s important to them. It’s an incredibly simple way to raise money and a trusted platform for fundraising.
You can customize information on the crowdfunding page to feature your organization’s image and a description of the campaign. Once it’s published, you can share your campaign with the rest of the world!
Tips for an effective online fundraiser
The following tips provide ideas to keep your nonprofit’s online fundraising campaigns engaging and make it easy for your supporters to contribute.
Tell stories as a part of your promotion strategy.
One of the best ways to engage supporters is to use effective storytelling strategies.
When people read stories, chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin are released in their brains; these chemicals make the reader feel good—they’ll often keep reading because they want to know what happens next.
As you craft the message for your donation pages, emails, and other marketing materials, tell a story about how this campaign will help your mission.
Include the key elements of a good story:
- Protagonist: This is usually the individual the campaign is helping. Although your campaign may help multiple people, it’s better to tell one person’s story as it’s easier for people to identify with an individual than with a group.
- Conflict: This is the reason you need the funding or the problem you’re trying to solve. You’ll find this conflict in your mission. Ask yourself: What problem is my nonprofit working to solve?
- Resolution: People need motivation to give. Tell them how donating to your campaign will solve the problem for the protagonist or provide the materials for them to solve the problem themselves.
Keep online fundraising forms simple.
One of the problems that nonprofits face when they start raising money online is donation form abandonment. Supporters will navigate to a donation page, but if it’s too lengthy or asks one too many questions, they may end up leaving the page without donating.
One way that your nonprofit can combat this is by making the donation process as simple as possible.
Keep your donation form on a single page so supporters don’t have to skip from page to page; the fewer clicks they have to make, the better.
Also, while it can be tempting to collect as much information as possible from your supporters during the contribution process, limit the questions on your donation page to only those that are necessary for the gift. You can always send out a survey to supporters after they give or include a couple of optional questions for them to answer on the gift confirmation page to collect additional information.
Brand your forms to your nonprofit.
Brand your donation form to your nonprofit so donors know that the donation page is legitimate. Choose forms that you can brand to look cohesive with the other design elements on your website, like fonts and colors. Even better, look for donation forms that can be embedded directly into your website.
While there are other campaigns that will take place outside of your website, your donation page is the backbone of your online fundraising strategy. Therefore, be sure this resource is set up to showcase your organization’s brand effectively.
Offer the opportunity to make a recurring gift.
When you ask donors to enter their donation information time and time again, it can be exhausting for even your most dedicated supporters. Instead, invite them to become recurring donors for your mission by offering a monthly donation option on your donation page.
Recurring donations are important for your nonprofit’s donor retention strategy. Monthly donors are shown to have a retention rate of 90% compared to the average of 46%, so encouraging these contributions can dramatically increase your organization’s retention rate as a whole.
Remember that recurring gifts shouldn’t encourage a “set it and forget it” attitude; you should find other ways to encourage them to get involved with your mission like engaging in volunteer opportunities or hosting peer-to-peer fundraising pages. This keeps them engaged in your mission and grows their relationship with your organization.
Provide suggested giving levels.
Many supporters land on donation pages and wonder to themselves, “How much is ‘normal’ to give at this organization?” This unknown element can make the donation process more challenging for supporters as they don’t know the amounts that will actually make a difference. To solve this problem, offer suggested giving amounts that supporters can reference to choose how much to give to your organization.
Another advantage of offering suggested giving levels is that they can increase the average donation amount that your organization receives. Let’s say your average donation is $20. On your giving page, you can offer suggested donation amounts of $10, $25, $50, and $100. Ideally, those in the $20 range will click the $25 button (the closest to their comfort level) because it’s only $5 more.
Ensure your pages and platforms are optimized for mobile giving.
360MatchPro’s statistics show that mobile-optimized donation pages yield 34% more donations than those that aren’t optimized for mobile giving. Maximize your fundraising revenue by ensuring that your donation page automatically adjusts to match each screen size; this is something to look for in the features offered by your online fundraising software solutions.
You can also launch mobile-focused campaigns to encourage supporters to use their phones to give to your cause. Text-to-give campaigns are a perfect example of this, providing the opportunity for supporters to give via SMS messages by sending a text to your dedicated mobile number.
Online fundraising metrics to track
There are a number of different ways to define success for your campaign, but it can’t be off the feeling of how the campaign itself went. As we mentioned above, you need hard numbers to determine success and to identify potential opportunities to improve your fundraising strategies in the future.
Here are just a few of the metrics you might want to track.
Donor retention rate
The average donor retention rate in the nonprofit sector has rested around 45% for the last five years, as shown in the image below. Increasing your retention rate increases your fundraising revenue over time. Keeping an eye on this important metric will help you optimize your future online fundraising strategies and outreach to encourage supporters to give once and to keep giving in the future.
One way to increase your donor retention rate is to build meaningful relationships with your supporters.
Your campaign’s return on investment (ROI)
If you raise $50,000 during your fundraising campaign but spend $48,000 to make it happen, you’ve really only made $2,000 in fundraising revenue. To be sure your online fundraising campaigns are worth the effort, determine the ROI of your campaigns and work to maximize revenue and minimize expenditures.
You need to strike a balance to get the best ROI in a fundraising campaign. If you don’t spend enough on resources like marketing materials, you may not raise as much revenue. However, if you overspend on fancy features and items that you don’t actually need, you’ll likely end up with a smaller ROI anyway.
Look for opportunities to cut unnecessary expenses so that you can maximize your ROI.
Landing page conversion rate
How do you know that your landing page is effective? You can track this by measuring the landing page conversion rate for your campaign pages.
Conduct A/B testing to test out different landing page design elements and determine which encourages the most donations. Only test one change at a time so that you know what adjustment grabbed supporters’ attention. For example, you might test two different images as the feature image on your landing page to see which resonates more with your supporters.
Email open and click-through rates
Your marketing strategy is essential to your nonprofit’s online fundraising success. Measure the success of your email marketing campaigns with metrics like your email open and click-through rates. While the average email open rate for nonprofits rests around 20%, you can use segmentation and personalization strategies to increase yours. You can also measure the click-through rate of your marketing campaigns to see who is clicking the links or buttons in your messages and taking your desired action.
Online fundraising ideas
Donation pages are the backbone of any online fundraising strategy. They’re not only a convenient way for supporters to give, but donors now expect them to be a part of most nonprofit websites. If a supporter learns about your organization from another platform or through word of mouth and wants an easy way to contribute, the first thing they’ll look for is your online donation page.
Generally, the donations collected through your online donation platform aren’t restricted and go toward your organization’s annual fund.
Peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns are online opportunities in which your supporters raise funds on behalf of your organization. Supporters set up their own online donation pages and solicit gifts from their friends and family.
These campaigns require specialized software and can be a good way to drive interest and raise funds leading up to an event. If you host a peer-to-peer fundraiser, provide guidance for your volunteer fundraisers by sharing content and images to include on their online pages with them. Continue to encourage and reach out to them throughout the campaign and congratulate them when they reach their goals.
Crowdfunding is an online fundraising idea in which your nonprofit creates a campaign and collects small contributions from a wide range of supporters. These funds can be used for specific campaign purposes.
Unlike peer-to-peer fundraising, crowdfunding uses a single donation page to raise funds. However, these campaign pages can be easily shared, which will inspire support and encourage donations from a number of different sources. Include social sharing buttons on the campaign page to encourage your supporters to share the campaign.
Facebook offers fundraising tools that nonprofits can use to raise funds directly through the social media platform. It’s also one of the only platforms that covers the payment processing fees, ensuring your nonprofit receives all of the revenue you collect.
You’ve probably seen these fundraisers before. For instance, you’re likely familiar with Facebook birthday fundraisers, which allow supporters to raise funds for a specific nonprofit from their friends and family in lieu of gifts for their birthdays.
Don’t forget that in addition to the fundraisers you can host directly on Facebook, it’s also a great place to promote your other fundraisers like peer-to-peer and crowdfunding campaigns.
Matching gifts are an element of corporate social responsibility programs in which companies match the gifts that their employees make to eligible nonprofits. These gifts are often made at a 1:1, 2.1, and even 3:1 ratio.
These contributions can make a huge difference for nonprofits, but the problem is that 78% of match-eligible donors don’t realize that their company offers a matching gift program.
By using a matching gift software solution, you can identify the supporters whose donations are eligible to be matched. You can then reach out and ask them to submit a request for the gift to be matched.
Online auctions provide an option for supporters to bid on auction items via their computer or their smartphones. This opens up the traditional auction setting from a strictly in-person event to a virtual or even hybrid opportunity.
Invest in online auction software that allows you to add descriptions for auction items and accept bids from your loyal supporters. You might even decide to host auctions more often as online platforms often have a lower overhead than in-person events. If you do decide to host a number of auctions throughout the year, try incorporating themes into your auctions to be sure each event provides a unique experience and opportunity for your supporters.
Another way that your organization can raise funds online is through online merchandise sales. Create merchandise with your brand’s logo, colors, and campaign information, then sell your items through an online store.
T-shirts, mugs, hats, water bottles, tote bags, and face masks all make great options for your nonprofit’s next online merchandise fundraiser. Be sure the products you sell are high quality by ordering several for yourself before marketing the opportunity to your supporters. The goal is that they’ll use their merchandise in public, spreading brand awareness for your cause.
Online event registrations
No matter if you’re hosting events online or in person, you can collect registration fees and sell tickets online for event attendees. This allows you to access the revenue early. Plus, it provides additional insights to help you plan the event itself.
For instance, if you’re providing food to your attendees at an in-person event, you can ask about dietary restrictions when they sign up for the event online ahead of time. You’ll also have a better estimate of the number of attendees, helping you estimate the amount of food and drinks you’ll need to provide.
Don’t forget to thank your donors when they give online. Showing additional appreciation is the best way to encourage more gifts from your supporters in the future because it lays the foundation for a strong relationship with your cause. As you build out your online fundraising strategy, don’t forget to build in appreciation techniques that you can use to steward supporters.
If you want to learn more about online fundraising, check out these additional resources:
- Top 20+ Fundraising Software Solutions for Nonprofits. Check out these 20+ solutions for fundraising!
- [Free Download] Nonprofit Development Plan | 3 Helpful Tips. Account for your online fundraising strategy as you build your development plan for your nonprofit. Learn more about how to incorporate it with this guide.
- Fundraising Success Stories | Examples & Tips to Learn From. Sometimes the best way to learn new fundraising strategies is through example. Check out these fundraising success stories and learn how other organizations used online fundraising strategies to hit their revenue goals.