5 Internet Strategy-building Musts
The Internet offers a wealth of opportunity for nonprofit fundraisers. But online fundraising is anything but a no-brainer. Successful e-philanthropy requires a strategic approach that involves research, testing and coordination.
In a session two weeks ago at the Fund Raising Day in New York 2007 conference, Harry Lynch, CEO of Sanky Communications, an integrated fundraising and communications firm, and Paul Habig, director of Internet services for SankyNet, discussed the process of building an Internet strategy.
What follows are their five building blocks to an effective online strategy:
1. Leveraging demographics. The key takeaway here is “remember your audience.” Know who your best donors are, and offer them multiple ways to give to your organization. When creating your Web site and e-appeals, keep in mind type size and monitor resolution (different resolutions can determine what shows up on screen and what doesn’t).
Some of your constituents might be comfortable online but still prefer giving by mail. Give constituents the option in e-appeals and on your online donation page of using a printable giving form that they can use to donate by mail, and include a trackable code on the form.
Make sure that online credit card processing of donations is secure, and state it on your site. Lynch advised even including the word “secure” in your giving page URL for emphasis.
2. Retaining donors. A key to retention of online donors is an up-to-date Web site, Habig said. Most nonprofits redesign their site every three to five years. In terms of Web site usability, stick with logically delineated navigation and limit the amount of clicks it takes to donate (visitors should always be just one click away from donating). Optimize the site for fundraising, keeping donation asks prominent and above the fold, and create pathways to interactive features on your site that engage, educate and entertain visitors. An example of this noted by the presenters was a virtual tour on Freedom From Hunger’s Web site that allows visitors to tour every country the organization is working in.
Engage with visitors/donors by offering giving options like e-cards, online monthly giving, tribute gifts and matching gifts. And educate them by providing updated content that keeps them informed and gives them a reason to return to your site. The bottom line is to make it easy for visitors to find the services they’re interested in, Habig said. And when they give, send online acknowledgements or welcome packages telling them what your organization is using their gift for before you ask for more money.
Lastly, entertain donors by holding virtual events that they can participate in, create a gift catalog, and feature video and audio as well as flash animation on your site.
3. Harnessing e-mail. Cutting-edge technology is essential to sending e-mails and tracking their results. “Don’t use Outlook!” the presenters warned. E-newsletters are great for donor stewardship and cultivation. And e-appeals are great for fundraising, but don’t over solicit because it’s too easy for recipients to opt-out if they feel bombarded.
Multi-wave campaigns are another technique. An example of this is a campaign by PetSmart Charities, which mentioned a fundraising campaign in its newsletter and then sent out e-appeals for the campaign shortly afterward.
Testing e-campaigns is as important as testing direct mail. Test things like timing (what’s the best day of the week to send out an e-mail?), the subject line and the “from” line (should it be the organization’s president’s name or the organization’s name?).
4. Synchronizing media. Offline and online efforts need to work together, and fundraisers should work to move people from strictly offline or online constituents to multi-channel constituents. Develop an over-arching schedule for offline and online efforts and coordinate, schedule and time your media, testing things like whether an e-mail appeal should go before or after a direct-mail piece in a campaign. Promote online monthly giving programs, as they’re more cost and time efficient.
According to Lynch, younger people are accustomed to making small transactions ($3 and up) using their debit cards, which is something nonprofits can leverage.
5. Acquiring new donors. All of the aforementioned steps are meaningless unless you have a solid method for driving traffic to your Web site and acquiring new online donors and prospects. Optimize your site for e-mail collection and search engines. Search-engine optimization is the most important marketing technique for nonprofits to do, Lynch said, as 80 percent of most organizations’ traffic comes from search engines.
Come up with a search-engine optimization strategy. What are your search phrases going to be? Lynch recommended choosing two- to three-word search phrases, not just keywords. Do “link” campaigns to encourage constituents with Web sites to link to your site, as the more Web sites that link to you, the more the search engines will assume your organization is an expert on a topic, which will, in turn, boost its rank. Use header and header tags that include the search phrase and are easy to scan. And update your content regularly, as search engines increase the rank of sites with the most updated content.
Harry Lynch and Paul Habig can be reached via www.sankyperlowin.com