Ten years ago, online communications were more of a luxury than a priority for fundraisers. Not anymore. In the past decade, online fundraising has become a vital necessity as society continues to become ever more reliant on digital technologies.
While online is now a staple of every organization, there are still several common mistakes fundraisers make in their online communications, says Thomas Gensemer, managing partner at online technology provider Blue State Digital. And Gensemer would know. Prior to joining Blue State, he was the director of Internet strategy for America Coming Together, where he managed the organization’s online fundraising, grassroots recruitment and marketing. Here, he shares those common online fundraising mistakes and provides ways fundraisers can overcome them.
Mistake No. 1: Treat it like direct mail
Direct mail has been the backbone of fundraising practically since the dawn of time, and it’s still the major driver, especially for older donors. But too often, fundraisers try to ascribe the learnings from direct-mail testing to the digital space, Gensemer says. “They’re talking to people in generic ways. They’re writing e-mails that are too long. They are asking people to take actions that may not be appropriate online,” he says.
Asking donors to respond to a direct-mail package is a different type of ask than one that comes online. It’s just as much about cultivation as it is about getting a check. “So when we see an e-mail that is either really long or we see an e-mail that comes from an organization as opposed to from a person, or on the other extreme we see an e-mail that looks like a postcard,” Gensemer says, “we raise a red flag. All of those are practices derived from something that you should be receiving in your post box as opposed to your inbox.”
The key, he says, is to make online communications stand out not as a piece of marketing, but as a piece of relationship-building.