Fundraising Big Online: How Little Charities Are Punching Above Their Weight
I have found that when talking about great online fundraising campaigns, we often cite the work of very large, very well-known organizations. But most of you — by definition — are small and have less than a handful of staff. When you hear about the digital success of huge fundraisers it can be hard to connect all the dots in order to apply their lessons to your particular situation.
I have good news for those of you who are feeling under-sized in this global competition: Some of the best online fundraising campaigns I’ve seen have been executed by small, nimble groups! Athletes for Africa is a perfect example because it has been around for only a few years, and only has a few full-time staff, and yet it's raised literally millions of dollars online.
Why has it been so successful, and what lessons can other small charities learn from its example? For starters, Athletes for Africa was born online. It did not exist before the Internet, so all of its attitudes and processes are digital. It makes the assumption that people will find out about it through its Web site, not through direct mail. In fact, Athletes for Africa doesn’t have a direct-mail program, or a telemarketing program, and not a major gifts officer in sight. Its advantage in the online fundraising space is this lack of historical “baggage.” Athletes for Africa doesn’t have departments to argue about what should go on its Web site’s homepage. Out of necessity, it is extremely agile and willing to make big changes online very quickly.
One of the unique features of Internet campaigning is that it provides an opportunity for real-time feedback, but many larger organizations don’t use this feedback to change course quickly. Athletes for Africa does, and its online fundraising results are evidence of this winning formula.
Another reason the Internet is a great leveler of big and small fundraisers has to do with the changing cost structure of online fundraising tools. Being a part of this online fundraising and donor management software industry, I can speak with some authority when I say that prices for even the most powerful tool sets have now reached the point where they are affordable to teams with very limited budgets. Perfect example of such tools are Google Analytics and Website Optimizer. Years ago, digital teams would spend tens of thousands of dollars to purchase and manage sophisticated Web analytics software. Today, it’s free! Of course, it takes the investment of time to make tools like these work, but what doesn’t, after all? Now the smallest one-person shop can have the same access to the most robust tools, in this case Web analytics, as a large brand-name charity.
One final point is that, in general, a small organization like Athletes for Africa feels less protective about its brand and is more willing to share it with the public. This makes perfect sense: It hasn’t spent the last decade investing in expensive programs such as television advertising. This willingness to share the brand makes groups like Athletes for Africa perfectly suited to digital campaigning. Rather than feeling a need to control its brand, Athletes for Africa encourage supporters to take and adapt the brand. The fact that its supporters are starting Facebook groups about it without its approval isn’t a reason for the organization to fret, but rather celebrate!
Keep your eye out for my next column: "The Tools Any Charity Should Have in Its Online Fundraising Toolbox." If you're enjoying this content, I invite you to search for my “Digital Fundraising Podcast” on iTunes and listen to interviews with top thinkers in the world of digital fundraising.
Philip King is president and CEO of Artez Interactive.