In 2006, online fundraising is like a precocious adolescent: It’s maturing, its
promise is becoming clear, and it’s asserting its own unique personality within the family. Most importantly, it’s entering a growth spurt. According to the Pew Center for Internet and American Life, the number of Americans who reported that they had donated online to charity grew from 17 million to 26 million between January 2005 and September 2005.
You read that right: more than 1 million new donors a month, for eight months straight.
A slew of recent reports reveal that there’s much more depth and nuance to the online fundraising story than how many donors punched in their credit card numbers at a Web site. A group of online fundraising experts
reported in February that donations to nonprofit sector leaders rose by 40 percent over about the same period. The most successful online fundraisers are getting 20 percent or more of their total donations over the Internet.
Even more importantly, Luth Research recently found that 65 percent of all donors toured charities’ Web sites before writing a check, licking a stamp or attending an event.
Admittedly, online donations still amount to a relatively small slice of the overall pie, but all the trends point toward a not-too-distant future when the Internet will play a decisive role in nearly every charitable transaction.
Your main goals
There are five core tenets of online fundraising: Draw potential donors to your program, get them to identify with your work, convert them to donors, follow up appropriately to build the relationship, and then ask them to recruit their friends and family. These steps haven’t really changed since the late 1990s, although they’ve evolved.
Consider the example of Heifer International, one of the first charities to fully embrace the Internet. Heifer launched its ground-breaking, online “alternative-giving” catalog of livestock and agricultural products in 1997, promoted it to a small list of e-mail addresses and raised about $90,000. Fast-forward 10 years, and Heifer now promotes its Web site heavily via postal mail, e-mail, and an elaborate suite of online advertising and viral recruitment efforts — and raised more than $19 million in 2005. It tracks gift givers’ and receivers’ every click to build a detailed profile and tailor thank-you and other follow-up communications to enhance loyalty.