Online Fundraising: Fact vs. Fiction

The following article, Online Fundraising: Fact vs. Fiction, was originally published in the January/February 2011 issue of Advancing Philanthropy, a publication for the members of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and executives of nonprofit organizations and institutions.


Online Fundraising: Facts vs Fiction

By Stacy Dyer

Most organizations see the huge opportunity presented by online fundraising. Unfortunately, the majority have achieved limited success. In the 2007 Philanthropic Giving Index report, published by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, only 34 percent of nonprofits surveyed reported success with online fundraising. Even worse, survey participants ranked online giving as the least successful fundraising technique.

If your organization has yet to experience strong results raising funds online, it may be because you have bought into the online fundraising myths – that it is not as effective as traditional fundraising, that your donors don’t give online, or that you need expensive technology to be successful. These common misconceptions can easily be addressed with a few simple facts.

FACT: Online fundraising is just as effective as offline fundraising

Traditional fundraising campaigns focus on presenting professionally printed mailings, which include moving stories about your mission, and multiple giving programs to which donors may contribute. Too often, when donors go online, they find a generic giving form with no associated content as to how their donation will be used. Should it be surprising that they frequently abandon the process of making a donation online?

Make it easy for a donor to give directly within the content that motivated them in the first place. By creating donation forms that can be embedded within an email, or even within content pages of your website, you will remove barriers to completing the transaction and create a simple, elegant experience for your donor.

Start by evaluating whether you are committing a comparable amount of resources—people, time, and planning—to both your online and direct mail initiatives.

FACT: More donors are more comfortable with giving online than ever before

A 2008 Nielsen Company survey showed that 94 percent of Internet users in the U.S. have shopped online. Clearly, there is little reluctance within the general population to make purchases online. So, is something holding people back from giving online to your organization?

The answer to this question has a lot to do with the options given to donors. If online giving software is complex, cumbersome, and unrewarding for a nonprofit, it is almost certainly complex, cumbersome, and unrewarding for a donor, too.

A donation is an extremely important social interaction, but once someone is committed to a gift, it is simply another transaction; and the more steps a donor is asked to take, the less likely he or she is to complete that transaction. Creating multiple giving opportunities for each of your programs and streamlining the donation process are two simple changes that can increase online giving and strengthen donor satisfaction.

FACT: Raise more money by reaching donors where they already are online

Many organizations try to reroute people from wherever they are on the Internet – such as social networking sites or sponsors’ websites – back to a central, generic giving form on their own website. However, the true opportunity of online fundraising is unleashed when you tap into the powerful networking potential of all the other websites that your supporters frequently visit.

If we look at the places individuals visit online everyday, their favorite charity is probably not among them. However, they do visit their employers’ websites, and they might take action for a nonprofit their company supports. They likely edit their personal pages or blogs everyday, and they’ll even publish about a cause that inspires them. They also visit their friends’ blogs and personal pages, and may post, email, chat, or tweet about their favorite charity.

The individuals engaged in these conversations include some of your strongest, most vocal advocates. They have established bonds of trust with their personal networks. Why, then, would you ask them to leave a site they trust and go to yours?

Instead, take your message to where the social interaction is already happening. Reach out to your network of supporting partners, and the personal sites of individual advocates, and encourage them to continue the conversation.

FACT: Set high expectations to achieve better results

In January 2008, the Barack Obama campaign raised $28 million online—88 percent of the total funds raised. In fact, in one day that same month, the campaign raised $525,000 online in one hour. Many political campaigns, like most nonprofits, consider raising five to 10 percent of all funds online to be a success.

Ed Kless, political candidate for the Texas State Senate has much higher goals. He says, “Online donations are critical to any small campaign. In fact, I expect to raise nearly 100 percent of my campaign contributions online.”

To be successful, organizations must commit to making the Internet a major point of supporter engagement. Kless agrees, “In addition to my website, which includes a regularly updated blog, I have a Facebook page. It’s crucial that I have a fundraising tool that’s both easy to use and integrate into my current website and campaign.”

FACT: You don’t have to stop what you’re doing

In the past, online giving tools were expensive, only worked on a single website, and were difficult to update once deployed. Today’s online fundraising solutions are designed to work with your existing website and program content, so you don’t have to stop what you’re doing. By directly integrating into the methods you already use to communicate with your supporters and advocates, you can create a seamless, multi-channel approach to your fundraising.

Apply the same focus to your online strategy as you have to other communication channels. New online fundraising and advocacy tools allow you to easily control the message without the need for IT intervention or complicated website updates. Be agile – experiment and test often. Use your results to design more successful campaigns in the future.


You already have a compelling story for why your donors should support your mission.  Leverage it by embedding rich media, such as images and videos, into your donation forms, and then empower your advocates to share that message on your behalf. Consider this your opportunity.  The vast social shift happening online will create winners and losers. Be one of the winners.

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