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6 Ways Nonprofits Are Getting Online Fundraising All Wrong

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Almost every article I read about online fundraising and online giving starts out something like this:

Despite the hype and the assurances of social media experts, online fundraising still accounts for an abysmal 2% of total dollars raised by charities.

I frequently see quotes like this one, from a recent Philanthropy.com article:

“I have yet to see pure online fundraising really take off,” says (nonprofit fundraising/marketing officer). “It has to be connected to the real world. That’s why we’re still doing runs, walks, and rides.”

What in the world is “pure online fundraising”? I’m not sure that I could answer that question. (If you have ideas, leave them in the comments.)

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Here are just 6 ways that nonprofits are misunderstanding online giving and getting online fundraising all wrong.

1)     Online fundraising does not work in a silo.

You have heard me talk about this before – No fundraising or marketing effort works in a silo.

No one department can be tasked with “increasing online giving” and then locked up in a tower, with no resources, no information and no collaboration with the program staff, volunteers and the rest of the organization.

Online fundraising, as with all fundraising programs conducted by your nonprofit, does need to be “connected to the real world”, which I assume to mean the programs and services of the organization.

How can you possibly raise money if the Executive Director isn’t talking with the Board who isn’t talking with the fundraising staff?

2)     Online fundraising does not work if your website sucks.

My favorite articles about online fundraising & giving reveal this crucial fact – the reason why many nonprofits are lousy at raising money online is because their websites are terrible.

Well, duh, you might say. The problem is that not enough nonprofits are having this hard, uncomfortable conversation with themselves.

In another recent Philanthropy.com article, it was found that 84% of nonprofits (including many large charities), are not making their donation pages readable via mobile devices.

Mobile and web are not two separate topics, as more people will access the web via mobile devices than via desktop by next year. Ducks Unlimited found that in the 5 months after overhauling their website to make it mobile friendly, they saw half of their web traffic and 35% of their online donations come from mobile!

3)     Online fundraising does not work if it is not easy.

Dunham+Company found that 65% of nonprofit website require potential donors to click through THREE pages or MORE to make a donation. All I can do is shake my head.

Research has indicated that websites lose 40% of visitors with every click – so make sure that yours count!

Enough with the softly worded “Get Involved”, “Learn More”, “Sign Up” pages that have paragraphs and paragraphs of information on donating items or downloading an annual report.

Have a bold DONATE NOW button on your website, visible on all pages, that links to a one page, incredibly easy to use form where people can enter their credit card information to donate.

4)     Online fundraising does not work if no one knows about it.

OK, so we will make a great donation page, and then people will just flock to it, right?

Online fundraising will only work if people are directed there when they are feeling most charitable. Use your email blasts, your social media channels, your direct mail pieces, your events and anywhere else you communicate with donors to let them know you now encourage online donations.

Online donations = less overhead, less stamps, less processing time and more money saved. What’s not to love about that?

5)     Online fundraising is not a substitute for a major gifts program, planned giving program or annual campaign.

During the dawn of nonprofits using the world wide web, it was often touted as a silver bullet that was going to solve all of the sector’s pressing problems with communication, marketing and fundraising.

As any organization who has a simple Facebook Page knows, this is not so.

You cannot give up what is working at your organization, and you cannot substitute social media and online fundraising for in-person relationship building and face-to-face asks.

Online giving programs should augment and amplify what you are already doing, not act as a shoddy substitute for your nonprofit’s unwillingness to do the hard fundraising asks.

6)     Online fundraising does not work if you do not communicate your impact to your donors.

If all you do is talk about how wonderful you are, and your newest Board member, and your years of service to the community, you are not going to inspire people to give, online or otherwise.

Showcase your impact and tell your story front and center on your website.

Have an entire page on your website called Our Impact, with success stories and testimonials.

Use social media channels to share stories about the ways you are changing the world, and link back to your online donation page with a call to action.

Having mobile-friendly, easy-to-navigate online giving options on your website is vital and non-negotiable. However, just having this option does not guarantee that you will be successful at online fundraising. If you are struggling, see where you can improve based on the information above, or call in an expert.

Is your nonprofit struggling to raise money online? 

Comments on this Article: 1

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  1. Tanya Wagner says:

    Great post, Julia. One thing I’d like to note, is that many nonprofits’ online fundraising is not optimized because they are using donor commerce tools that are not user friendly and not flexible – often they have chosen an inferior tool because of its ability to integrate with their donor database.

    There are alternatives! gobigriver.com

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