Online fundraising matters to your nonprofit. No matter how small you are, or what an amazing direct mail operation you run, or how big you are, or how you’re “grant-oriented,” raising money online matters for you – and it will matter for you tomorrow even more than it does today.
Within the next decade, nearly every person in the first world will be online. Just as you have the ability to reach anyone you want via postal mail, you will (and pretty much now do) have the ability to reach anyone by e-mail or social network. Each year, people are spending more and more time online, taking market share not just from the postal service, but also from television, radio, and even real-life interaction. More people are spending more time online, year after year. If your nonprofit wants to reach them, you’ll have to do the same.
There’s an old adage in advertising that says, “Go where the people are.” That’s as true in fundraising communications as it is in the ad world. You need to be prepared to use the internet passively (making it easy for people who are looking for you to find you online, get the information they want, and connect with you) as well as actively (going out and finding new prospects, cultivating them, and getting them to give). Other nonprofits are out there doing both, very effectively. Are you?
As you expand your nonprofit’s online fundraising presence, keep in mind the following five key principles that underlie everything you do to raise money on the internet:
1. It’s Fundraising… Relationships Matter
Online fundraising is still fundraising – and like every single type of fundraising, relationships matter. Far too many nonprofits think that they can hop online and hit “publish” on their website, and – voila! – the money will start rolling in. That’s the exception, not the rule.
The rule is that in fundraising, relationships matter. And in online fundraising… relationships still matter.
2. You Need an Online Fundraising Plan
Just as every type of fundraising requires relationship building, every type of fundraising – include online – requires a plan. Not a 40 page plan, but at least a thumbnail sketch of your activities, deadlines, goals, and who is responsible for what. Don’t fly by the seat of your pants just because you’re online. Figure out what you want to do beforehand… then implement.
3. Coordinate Your Online and Offline Fundraising Activities
It’s not a good practice to build artificial boxes around your online and offline fundraising efforts. Instead, you should be coordinating your offline and online efforts to make sure they are complimenting each other – not competing with each other.
Draw up a master communications plan for your organization that details when people will get snail mail, when they’ll get event invitations, when they’ll get e-mails, when you’ll launch that new fundraising campaign on your website. Coordinate your online and offline fundraising, don’t compete.
4. Online Fundraising Isn’t Magic
Don’t think that you can simply “get online” and the money will roll in (it takes work, and relationship building). But, equally important to acknowledge is that raising lots of money online isn’t magic. It’s not something that only online whizzes can accomplish – it is knowable, understandable, and doable for every nonprofit.
I can’t guarantee that you’ll raise a million dollars online, but I can guarantee that you can learn online fundraising best practices and apply what you have learned to your own web activities.
5. Not Every Communication Should be an Ask
Not every communication you have with a donor should be an ask… this is true in offline fundraising, and even more true in online fundraising, where people are already wary of spam and can easily delete what you send them, take your website off of their bookmarked-pages list, and unfriend you on Facebook.
Build relationships with your online prospects and donors by sending them e-newsletters, posting relevant links to your social networks, keeping interesting pictures of your work on your website, soliciting their input through e-mail polls, etc. Vary your communications to deepen your donor relationships.