It’s the holiday season, whether we’re ready or not. Along with jam-packed shopping centers, the return of my favorite seasonal coffee flavors and the inevitable panicky drivers during the first D.C. snow, it’s also the peak giving season. I’m not talking gifts for family and friends, but charitable giving – doing some good in the world for those in need.
A study released last week by Convio tells us that online giving will exceed $4 billion this year. The study also showed that more and more people are giving to charities online – 63 percent of U.S. consumers surveyed plan to do so this year, compared to last year’s 51 percent. As I read these findings (online, of course) I thought about the best ways to offer strategy to nonprofit clients who are going through this critical time of year.
To gain further insight into the year-end fundraising frenzy faced by nonprofits, I joined a webinar hosted by Network for Good entitled “The 2009 Procrastinator’s Guide to Year-End Fundraising.” Yes, I suppose that by December this is something that most organizations have probably already planned in detail, but I was surprised to learn that there are a number of things organizations can do in this critical period to impact their year-end fundraising. (Check out the webinar’s speakers and download the presentation here).
We’ve discussed online fundraising here before, but I want to share the following insights that will make a difference in the next few critical weeks. Things that may seem obvious, but can filter to the bottom of priority lists as the busy season ramps up.
• Inspire your donors. In addition to multiple fundraising asks this month , share inspirational stories, build passion and connect your donors to the great work you do. (Check out our former client AmeriCares take on inspiring donors for the holiday season – “Send Your Mother-In-Law To Darfur!”)
• Optimize your donation forms. Make the online donation process as easy as possible – keep forms short, only gather necessary information from donors, and have a good error handling system.
• “Why Donate?” On your Web site, make a case to your donors about why they should give. Give credentials here (Charity Navigator ratings come to mind), share success stories, and clearly link to the donation form.
• Thank your donors. Seems simple, right? But thanking your donors – more than once – can go a long way. Tell them how much money they’re helping you raise, ask them for feedback, and send new donors a welcome email. Creating a two-way relationship with your donor base will make them feel invested in the work you do.
These are all things that can be put into place easily within the next few weeks. I know I’ll be paying closer attention to the email solicitation I get from organizations I’ve given to, but also feel armed and ready to answer questions and offer insight to a number of nonprofits that we work with as they power through the next few critical weeks of fundraising.
When Barack Obama turned millions of supporters into small-dollar online donors during his presidential campaign, he left me shaking my fist like an old man. That’s because Obama’s success has meant that everyone thinks raising money online is as easy as my eggs at Sunday brunch.
Sadly, it isn’t.
Online fundraising is a crowded space. This week alone, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been flooded with information about:
- Chase’s new campaign with Facebook;
- the WildlifeDirect using social media to increase their online donations fourfold; and
- Minnesota’s Give to the Max Day, which my colleague Julie discussed here earlier this week.
Nonprofits face a challenge in replicating the Obama campaign’s success because, well, they aren’t Barack Obama. Few if any nonprofit will ever have the same fundraising appeal as a potential U.S. president. And this comes from a woman who made her first charitable donation at age six.
As we help our clients develop and implement online fundraising campaigns (as we did for the Grameen Foundation), we are guided by the following principles:
- Fail fast. You have to be willing to try new tactics and move on quickly if a strategy doesn’t work. There is no shame in failing in online fundraising the first time … unless you refuse to try new things.
- Know your donor base. Begin by motivating your current donor base online. Once the base is motivated, you can work to broaden the campaign to clearly identified target audiences.
- Do more than ask for money. In this economic climate, people need to feel invested in an organization and its approach to part with their hard-earned dollars. The ask could be as simple as “follow us on Twitter” or “Join our Facebook fan page” so that potential donors begin to receive a steady stream of information about the impact of your work. The more engaged, the more likely they are to donate.
- Set realistic expectations. The Internet moves fast, but few outside of a presidential campaign are capable of going from zero to $10 million in a matter of months. Set expectations based on how broad your current social media presence is, not where you want it to be.
- Don’t forget why you are asking. You’ve got a great story to tell. Tell it. At the end of the day, online fundraising isn’t substantively different than offline fundraising. It is simply a different medium.
- There is no silver bullet. No one can guarantee success in online fundraising, which is still a relatively new venture for NGOs. If you believe someone who guarantees you overnight success, I’ve got a beautiful wool sweater I am happy to pull over your eyes.
With those principles in mind, take the time to think about the organizations that have done the best job with online fundraising and whether they provide a formula for future success.