April 23, 2021
Online Fundraising Best Practices for the New Year (and Beyond)
According to the 2021 Benchmarks Report, the average nonprofit donor contributed an average of $167 in 2020—this per-donor metric was slightly lower than 2019. The increase that did occur was largely driven by more people giving rather than people giving more. While the global pandemic forced nonprofits to take their in-person events such as, conferences and fundraisers online overnight and propelled most into digital transformation at a pace we thought would take years, not all was lost—there were many positive outcomes.
A year later, it’s safe to say that virtual events and online giving are here to stay. Nonprofit professionals have embraced online fundraising since 1999 when the first “Donate Now” button was released by a project of the Tides Foundation—shaping best practices with 20+ year of innovation and experimentation. It’s more important than ever to understand your donors; what they care about, why they give, their communication preferences, and which social media channels they prefer. Equally important is that you use sustainable fundraising practices that drive predictable fundraising growth.
Below are some key strategies and best practice tips to help your nonprofit build its digital fundraising with low effort and high return.
- Don’t be afraid to invest. This might sound counterintuitive to your long-term fundraising strategy but spending a little more on the tools available to you will result in big payoffs later. Consider updating your website to ensure mobile optimization is SEO friendly or invest in integrating your CRM with your donation page—one that has custom branding, donation tiers, and recurring gift options to help increase your ROI.
- Utilize Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Organic searches are often one of the largest traffic sources to your site. Add quality SEO content to your website with relevant topics to the sector and incorporate these SEO strategies into your blogs, annual reports and videos.
- Don’t miss out on the opportunity social media provides. Encouraging people to share your content increases your ranking with Google’s own SEO algorithms and can yield huge returns. Moving your organization to a top search placement means more organic traffic—and donations. Better yet, it costs you nothing and only requires your time and commitment to keeping your website updated.
- Nurture, Nurture, Nurture. Once someone has engaged with your content, retargeting is a form of engaging with potential donors and bridging the gap between capturing their attention and getting them to click that “donate” button time and time again.
- Communication is vital to the success of your fundraising strategy. Utilize automated email campaigns that keep your audience engaged and coming back for more. You can create different campaigns for when someone signs up for your newsletter or makes their first donation—the possibilities are endless.
- Make giving a great experience for your donors. You want the process to be easy and convenient. Donation pages should be simple, optimized for mobile giving, and ask for the minimal amount of information necessary. No greater experience exists than a monthly giving option that provides the ease of filling out a form once and forgetting about it.
- Create a tribute giving program. Organizations and individuals alike often look for ways to make donations in honor or on behalf of someone else—a popular way of giving during the holidays. According to the Global Trends in Giving Report, 33% of donors worldwide give tribute gifts.
- Don’t forget the power of email fundraising. Despite the popular myth that email is dying, the truth is that email use is growing. When the pandemic hit and businesses started working from home, mail came to a quick halt as no one was in the office to receive it and email became the way to communicate. Donors need reminding—reminders to give and WHY! Even more impactful than the reminder to give is sharing the impact of their donation which is often what inspires them to give again.
- Prioritize crowdfunding and peer-to-peer fundraising. Crowdfunding promotes a specific project while peer-to-peer fundraising is when individuals help raise money through their own fundraising pages and invite their friends and family to donate funds to support a specific cause. This type of fundraising is most popular with endurance events (marathons, etc.) and political or emotional campaigns (Black Lives Matter, etc.).
- Create an engaging thank you page. The best time to capture the attention of donors is while they’re waiting for a confirmation that their payment has been received. Create a “Thank You for Your Donation” landing page where you share how their donation helps your mission—perhaps with an impact video, invite them to follow you on social media, and offer ways for them to get more involved with your organization.
The most important thing you can learn about online fundraising is that it should be sustainable and predictable. Outside of COVID-19, online fundraising has been driven by the release of new technology and social networking websites over the years, so ask yourself if you have the right tools in place to create a fundraising strategy that is both successful and sustainable.
1. Get discounts by joining a nonprofit association. You can find one here. Most associations offer their members special benefits and discounts on everything from office supplies to insurance. In fact, UST is partnered with 80 national and state nonprofit associations whose members receive a waived enrollment fee when they join UST.
2. Get group discounts and share resources. If you can combine orders with other nonprofits or companies you work with or who share your building, you’ll receive better bulk pricing on all kinds of products. You can also share the costs of maintenance with others in the same building. You may even consider piggybacking on local businesses by asking if you can include your fundraising materials in their mailings. They may welcome the good will it generates for their company.
3. Is your organization a 501(c)(3)? Are there 10 or more full-time employees? If you answered yes to both, be sure to check out UST’s alternative to paying into the state unemployment tax system. It can save thousands annually because you no longer share in the state’s pooled tax system that is often driven by for-profit companies’ unemployment claims. Watch the one-minute informational video.
4. Save on printing. Today most people are used to receiving electronic communications in lieu of bulky printed pieces in the mail. Direct mail may still be an important part of your fundraising, but perhaps you can move to an e-newsletter to cut down on printing or provide electronic versions of your board book for board meetings. You can also use lower-weight paper to reduce printing and postage costs.
5. Try teleconferencing more often. Sometimes a video or phone conference is all you need to nail down specifics of a discussion, and it will save you big time on travel costs. (It works for job candidates and board members too!)
6. Save on employee training. Use videos, online training and/or another employee to provide training to new and existing employees. Self-paced training is typically best received by employees. And if you’re already a member of UST, you receive hundreds of online training courses for free through ThinkHR, which saves you about $6,000 annually.
7. Use public relations and social media to get free publicity. Talk to local media about covering an upcoming event, or provide guest columns or blogs to be published. And yes, you must be in the Twitter-verse nowadays for free PR. Don’t have an expert on staff? Recent college grads are a good place to look for social media expertise. Just make sure for interns or new hires that you create a social media policy so they don’t accidentally tarnish your reputation.
8. Use your board. Your board members should be part of your fundraising strategy. They should be able to help find sponsors for your events, and they shouldn’t be afraid to make the “ask” during fundraising season. In addition, they should be helping you find service providers and individuals who can provide the goods and services you need.
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