Online fundraising has been on an upward trajectory for years. But because of pandemic-related restrictions on in-person interactions, online fundraising increased by 32% in 2020. After a year of significant growth, online fundraising grew by a more modest 3% in 2021, and the number of gifts increased by 5%.
It’s clear that having a comprehensive online fundraising strategy is crucial for modern nonprofits. When your nonprofit uses online fundraising platforms and follows best practices, 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. Here’s what to expect:
- What is online fundraising?
- How to create an online fundraising strategy
- Tips for a successful online fundraiser
- 10 effective online fundraising ideas
- 8 online fundraising metrics to track
Use the tips and ideas in this guide to create your own online fundraising plan and to determine the fundraising tools you’ll need to accomplish your ultimate goals. But first, let’s review a few online fundraising basics.
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.
The benefits of online fundraising
Online fundraising offers benefits for both your organization and your supporters. Your nonprofit can expand its reach and encourage additional contributions, and your supporters can more easily donate to your cause. Here are additional benefits of an online fundraising strategy for your donors and your nonprofit:
Benefits for donors
Donors want to be able to give the second they’re inspired, 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.
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 donate.
- 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 the gifts they’ve made. You can include social media share buttons on your online donation form. 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 also spreads your organization’s mission further and inspires individuals with no previous connection to your organization to give.
- Make secure donations. Organizations that invest in PCI-compliant online fundraising solutions can take proper cybersecurity measures to ensure that their online donation process is secure.
Benefits for nonprofits
Your nonprofit benefits from online fundraising as well. Online fundraising allows you to:
- Receive immediate feedback on your marketing efforts. Online fundraising technology allows your nonprofit to better understand which marketing campaigns effectively drive donations and where there’s room for improvement.
- Capture 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.
- Leverage a cost-effective fundraising strategy. 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.
- Increase brand awareness. People will see that others are supporting your nonprofit online. Even if they don’t give right away, they’re more likely to remember your nonprofit in the future and potentially donate at another time.
How to create an online fundraising strategy
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 determining 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 how you’ll reach your goals, such as by hosting a peer-to-peer campaign before your annual event or by 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.
Determine your online fundraising budget
Decide how much you’re willing to spend on your online fundraising strategy. To do this, start by reviewing your revenue goals for your online fundraising platforms. Then, determine the amount you’re willing to spend to hit those goals and lead to a healthy return on investment (ROI). 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.
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 asking 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 personalized messages and deliver them 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 donate.
- Social media. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok are great for engaging with younger donors. 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 help!
- 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.
For any communication platform you choose, remember that messages sent to your entire donor base are less likely to gain traction than messages tailored to different supporter segments. Use the data you’ve collected about your donors to draft the messages that will best resonate with them and inspire them to get involved.
Track key metrics
To determine how successful your strategy is and 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.
Tips for a successful online fundraiser
Use these tips to create engaging campaigns and streamline supporter contributions.
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 and evoke empathy—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: Highlight the issues your protagonist faces and how it impedes their daily life.
- Resolution: People need motivation to give. Tell them how donating to your campaign will help the protagonist solve their problem.
Simplify fundraising forms
A common problem 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 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 fundraising materials to your nonprofit
While other campaigns will take place outside of your website, your donation page is the backbone of your online fundraising strategy. Therefore, ensure this resource is designed to showcase your organization’s brand effectively.
Brand your donation form to make it 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.
Enable recurring gifts
Invite donors to become recurring supporters 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 increase your organization’s retention rate as a whole.
Remember that recurring gifts shouldn’t encourage a “set it and forget it” attitude. Encourage monthly donors to get involved with your mission by 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.
Offer suggested donations
Many supporters land on donation pages and think, “How much is ‘normal’ to give to this organization?” Offering suggested giving amounts gives supporters a reference to choose how much to give to your organization.
You can encourage donors to select one of your suggested giving amounts by explaining what giving at different levels accomplishes. For instance, you might say that a $20 donation helps purchase a new leash for a shelter dog, a $50 donation funds a month of dog food, and a $100 donation helps buy a new small dog crate.
Optimize your donation page for mobile
According to the M+R Benchmarks study, mobile devices accounted for 54% of nonprofit website traffic in 2021. Maximize your fundraising revenue by ensuring that your donation page automatically adjusts to match each screen size. Look for this feature when comparing potential fundraising 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 text a dedicated mobile number and receive a link to your donation form.
10 effective online fundraising ideas
Peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns empower supporters to 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 an effective 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. Encourage and reach out to them throughout the campaign and congratulate them when they reach their goals.
As mentioned above, a text-to-give or text-to-donate campaign can be helpful for engaging supporters via their mobile devices. Here’s how a text-to-give campaign works:
- Your organization makes an account with a text-to-give provider.
- You choose a keyword related to your campaign and receive a dedicated phone number.
- You promote your keyword and your platform’s dedicated phone number to supporters.
- Supporters text the number and receive a link to fill out your online donation form.
A text-to-give campaign works well when paired with fundraising opportunities such as giving days because it enables donors to get involved immediately just by pulling out their cell phones.
Crowdfunding involves creating a campaign page and collecting 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 also easily be shared, which inspires support and encourages donations from a number of different sources. Include social sharing buttons on the campaign page to enable supporters to share the campaign.
As mentioned, 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 cover the payment processing fees, ensuring your nonprofit receives all of the revenue you collect.
You’re likely already familiar with Facebook birthday fundraisers, which allow supporters to raise funds for a specific nonprofit from their friends and family instead of gifts for their birthdays.
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 gift drive
Corporate matching gift programs are a type of corporate social responsibility initiative where companies match gifts made by employees to eligible nonprofits. These gifts can be matched at a 1:1, 2:1, and even 3:1 ratio.
These contributions can make a huge difference for nonprofits, but 78% of match-eligible donors don’t realize that their company offers a matching gift program.
With a matching gift drive, you can use a matching gift software solution to identify supporters whose donations are eligible to be matched. You can then reach out and ask them to submit a matching gift request with their employer.
Throughout the drive, you can share information about matching gifts using communication platforms like social media, email, and your website to spread awareness of these programs.
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 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 usually have lower overhead costs than in-person events. If you do decide to host a number of auctions throughout the year, incorporate themes into your events to provide unique experiences for your supporters.
Influencer marketing is becoming increasingly popular in the nonprofit sector as people spend more and more time on social media platforms. Statistics show that the average daily social media usage of internet users worldwide is 147 minutes per day, representing a significant portion of the time that people spend on the internet.
An influencer campaign involves reaching out to a social media influencer or nonprofit ambassador who will promote your organization’s campaign or donation page to their online audience. It’s helpful to find someone who already has a proven affinity for your organization’s mission and a large social media presence.
For a successful partnership, equip your influencer with images, written content, and hashtags they can include in their posts. Encourage them to personalize their posts with details about their personal connection to your cause.
Another way that your organization can raise funds online is through online merchandise sales. Create merchandise with your brand’s logo, colors, and fonts, 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. Ensure 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.
Along with auctions, other virtual events such as livestreamed concerts, trivia nights, 5Ks/ fun runs, and comedy shows can make for engaging fundraising ideas. To add a fundraising component to your virtual events, you can sell tickets to supporters ahead of time or encourage them to set up peer-to-peer fundraising pages and raise money before the event begins.
Virtual events are appealing to supporters because they can tune in from the comfort of their homes. Plus, you can record your virtual event and make it available indefinitely for any supporters who can’t attend the live event.
Google Ad campaign
Google processes billions of searches per day, making it a crucial platform for connecting with individuals who are researching vocabulary related to your nonprofit. With a Google Ad campaign, your organization can bid on relevant keywords to earn ad spots at the top of search results pages.
Pursuing a paid Google ad strategy can be a great way to supplement your organic search engine optimization (SEO) efforts on your website. Plus, you can gain access to $10,000 per month in free Google ad spending by applying for the Google Ad Grant program.
There are plenty of digital marketing agencies that can help you get your Google Ad campaign up and running, such as Feathr or Getting Attention. Working with one of these agencies can be immensely beneficial if your organization doesn’t have a ton of Google Ad experience or extra time on your plate to devote to this strategy.
8 online fundraising metrics to track
There are a number of different ways to define success for your campaign. As 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
Your nonprofit’s donor retention rate measures how many donors who gave to your organization last year also gave again this year. 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 boosts 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 keep giving in the future.
One way to increase your donor retention rate is to build meaningful relationships with your supporters through donor stewardship. Donor stewardship involves activities like expressing appreciation for donors, showing them the impact of their gifts, and engaging with them using multiple platforms.
Fundraising ROI measures how much your fundraising campaign raised for every dollar spent on the fundraiser. You can calculate the ROI of a campaign by dividing the net profit of the event by the expense of the fundraiser and multiplying by 100.
For example, if you raise $50,000 during your fundraising campaign and spend $15,000 to make it happen, you’ve made $25,000 in revenue and your ROI would be 233%. To be sure your online fundraising campaigns are worth the effort, work to maximize revenue and minimize expenditures.
Average online gift size
Knowing your average online gift size can help you determine which donor segment you’re engaging with your online marketing efforts. It can also help you come up with suggested donation amounts for your online giving page.
You can calculate this metric by dividing your total online revenue by the number of online gifts you received.
Donation page conversion rate
How do you know that your donation page is effective? You can track this by measuring the page’s conversion rate.
Determine your donation page conversion rate by dividing the number of online donations that were actually completed by total page visits and multiplying by 100.
Conduct A/B testing to test out different donation page design elements and determine which encourages the most donations. Only test one change at a time so that you know which change 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
Measure the success of your email marketing campaigns with metrics like your email open and click-through rates. You can determine your email open rate by dividing the total number of email opens by the number of people you sent the email to. Last year, the average email open rate for nonprofits was 22%, a 16% increase from the previous year.
You can use segmentation and personalization strategies to increase your organization’s email open rate. For example, you can personalize email subject lines with supporters’ names and group supporters into different lists based on shared characteristics.
Another important email metric is your email click-through rate, which measures how many people clicked on the links within your email messages. If your click-through rate is low, you can adjust your calls-to-action (CTAs), which are the buttons or link text you use to encourage recipients to click through to your website.
Social media engagement
Social media engagement involves a variety of social media metrics from different platforms. Depending on which platforms you use, you might track your follower growth over time, share of voice (which measures how well your brand awareness efforts are going compared to similar organizations), or the number of likes, comments, or shares your posts get.
You can also track social media conversion rates. For instance, you might create a post asking supporters to click a link and donate to your giving day campaign. You can calculate conversion rates by dividing the number of people who donated after clicking the link by how many people saw the post.
Tracking social media engagement metrics lets you know how well your social media campaigns are performing across platforms and whether you should adjust your approach on any channel.
Website bounce rate
Your website’s bounce rate is the percentage of website visitors who only view a single page on your website before leaving it. If your bounce rate is high, you’ll know that your website isn’t engaging visitors effectively.
Luckily, you can improve your bounce rate with a few simple strategies. Try improving your page’s load speed by simplifying your code and optimizing images. You can also streamline your site’s navigation to make it as simple as possible for visitors to move from one page to another.
Fundraising participation rate
Fundraising participation rate is a metric that specifically tracks the effectiveness of your peer-to-peer fundraisers, such as walk-a-thons or 5Ks. This metric highlights how many people who donated to or attended your fundraising event acted as fundraisers themselves.
You can calculate your fundraising participation rate by dividing the number of campaign donors or attendees who fundraised by the total number of donors or attendees.
If you have a low fundraising participation rate, you can adjust your recruitment tactics ahead of your next peer-to-peer campaign. For example, you can offer more perks, like free merchandise, to participants, or provide volunteers with a fundraising guide to help them feel more comfortable.
Don’t forget to thank your donors when they give online. Showing 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.
To learn more about online fundraising, check out these additional resources:
- How To Develop A Successful Nonprofit Fundraising Strategy. To fundraise online successfully, your nonprofit needs a comprehensive strategy. Use this guide to help build a strategy from the ground up.
- 7 Best Practices for Effective Donor Management. Building strong relationships with donors will help your online fundraisers thrive. Use these seven best practices to start cultivating strong relationships.
- Donor Management Software: Buyer’s Guide + 16 Top Solutions. Donor management software can be used with your online fundraising platform to help manage supporter relationships. If you’re looking to invest in a new system, start with this buyer’s guide.