Each of these approaches is laden with potential. But they’re not without threats to the very fundamental reason they succeed. In all our experiences, direct mail and e-mail remain the dominant tools driving individuals online to give. With direct-mail costs rising, the importance of e-mail outreach increases. Yet every online fundraiser should keep an eye on the mounting efforts by consumers and Internet providers to address the scourge of unsolicited commercial e-mail (spam).
More organizations and consumers are employing spam filters, programs that intercept suspicious e-mail before the user ever sees it. Even nonprofits that are rigorous about keeping clean lists of voluntary recipients are finding that at least some of their messages never get through. Spam filters are one reason that a consortium of nonprofit Internet experts recently determined that the rate at which supporters open e-mail from their charities had declined from 30 percent to 20 percent over the
past year. E-mail fatigue is another.
Internet service providers are looking at even more drastic steps. In February, America Online and Yahoo, two of the country’s largest e-mail providers, announced their intention to create tiered services — and charge as much as a penny per e-mail to “whitelist” and guarantee delivery of messages from bulk providers. Company spokespeople described the move entirely in terms of spam deterrence rather than as a revenue generator, and the jury is still out on how — and even if — this will work.
It’s too soon to tell if other companies will follow suit, or what other spam-control tactics might be on the horizon.
For now, the sun’s shining on online fundraising, and the winds are nudging you forward. If you have a great offer, strong copywriting and creative, and plan your cultivation to make a truly sustainable program, the time is now to invest in a robust, online fundraising program.