Online Fundraising: A Startup Guide

Online fundraising is here to stay. It is the fastest growing area of fundraising and is joining direct mail fundraising in a multichannel world.​

Is your program up to the demands of the market? Or is it just limping along or in need of a serious update? This is a fast-moving target and keeping up and modifying your approach is fundamental.

Here are 11 tips to get you into the game.

Get Legal

Entrepreneurs working on cloud based market strategies on a computer and smart phones.
eternal creative / Getty Images

Just as with other types of fundraising, online solicitations must be registered with the appropriate officials. Check with your state attorney’s office or secretary of state office to find out the requirements in your state. Also, if you do online fundraising in states other than your own, you may need to register there as well

Market Without Stop

It is not enough to just put a “donate now” button on your website and wait for the money to roll in. Promote your online capacity in your newsletters and include your website address on all of your collateral materials.

Include information about the option in all of your direct mail campaign literature. Put together a special promotion for online giving using your email list and your mailing list.

Explore All Your Options

Expand your thinking about online fundraising to include social networking sites, now popular with all age groups, from millennials to Baby Boomers.​

How will you process credit card donations? Do you want to set up your own system? Or do you want to engage a company that provides that service for you? Would you like to be able to offer recurring donations to your supporters?

Make Your Website Donation Worthy

You don't need a flashy website, but you do need an attractive one that is easy-to-understand and navigate. Consider too the various generations that will be using your site. Design it in a way that will please all ages.

Be Considerate

Don't spam, and don't look like a spammer. Don't overwhelm your donors with too much email, and don't use email to the exclusion of other methods of fundraising. Online fundraising should be only one part of a well-balanced portfolio of strategies

Give Donors Choices

Not everyone gives the same way. So give your donors choices in how to support you. The Nature Conservancy does this very well with its ​More Ways to Give page. There, donors can find how to give with a bequest, through an employer's matching gift program, and with peer-to-peer fundraising.

Make Your Donate Button Big and Easy to Find

Your visitors should be able to figure out how to donate immediately. And your button does not have to say "Donate Now." For instance, Nothing but Nets often uses the phrase, "Gift a Net." Try putting a donate button on every page of your website and see how donations grow.

Once that donate button is clicked, make sure there is a donation page that is heart-warming (include a photo), efficient (make it one page long), but complete. Check out this one from Doctors Without Borders.

Invite People to Volunteer

Getting people to volunteer is one of the best methods of donor cultivation. Indeed, one study found that volunteers donate 10 times more money to charity and that 67% of people who voluntarily donate to that organization.

Showcase Donors and What Their Gifts Really Accomplish

Include testimonials and photos of donors. Provide photos of people receiving help. Be liberal with success stories, stories about real people, and use plenty of inspirational photographs. St. Louis University, for instance, devotes a page to student testimonials and another to donors expressing why they give.

Don't forget to show how a specific level of donation will work. Soles4Souls has a good donor page that tells exactly what each donation level will buy.

Segment Your Donors

As your expertise and experience with online fundraising advances, think about segmenting your audience. This will require a good donor management system, and grow a large enough list that there is something to the segment. Segment based on age, gender, income, interests, previous giving history, geography, or roles​ such as donor or volunteer.

Develop versions of your email campaigns to fit targeted groups and then test. Testing involves breaking down a particular group into smaller groups and testing different versions of your copy. Track the results and you will soon get a feel for what kinds of appeals work for whom.

Close the Loop by Thanking Online Donors Well

Most nonprofits do not thank online donors nearly as well as they do donors that give through the mail. It's a shame since retention of online donors is notoriously weak.

Start with an outstanding post-donation page on your website. Here is one from charity: water. Then beef up your email thank yous so they are more than just a receipt. Also seriously consider mailing thank you letters to online donors when they give above a certain level