Online Giving: It's Still About Relationships
What matters most in fundraising is the relationship you establish with your supporters. The stronger the relationship and the better the giving experience, the more people donate. The weaker the ties you build, the worse the results.
This is especially true of the online experience. People go online because they're seeking to connect with other people, with things they like and with causes they love. Technology enables them to forge stronger connections, and people therefore come to nonprofits with high expectations for the way we treat them online. When we do little to build a relationship, it disappoints. And it hurts our fundraising results. I'm not making this up, and I've got the data to prove it.
My nonprofit, Network for Good, spent much of the past year analyzing lots of giving through its platform. The study covered $381 million in donations, including 3.6 million gifts to 66,470 different nonprofits from 2003-2009. Here's what we found: Just as the strength of the donor-charity relationship heavily influences offline giving, the online giving experience has a significant impact on donor loyalty, retention and gift levels. The more intimate and emotionally coherent the giving experience online, the stronger the relationship between donor and nonprofit appears to be. In other words, online fundraising is all about relationships.
Giving on social networks is growing, but donor loyalty is highest on charity websites that build strong connections with donors. Donors who gave through charity-branded websites via Network for Good started at the highest amounts — $180 in 2007. By the end of 2009, the average cumulative giving per donor had risen to $257, a 42.8 percent climb in value in two years compared to a 40 percent rise for portals and 8.8 percent for social-networking sites.
The loyalty factor for donors acquired through generic giving pages is 67 percent lower than for donors who give via charity-branded giving pages. Small improvements to the online experience can make a big difference in donations.
It's one of my great frustrations that technology gives us the chance to make the act of donating dynamic, compelling and intimate — yet we rarely take advantage of that fact. Too often, we treat the online medium like a direct-mail appeal or an annual report. Our websites are information-delivery systems rather than relationship builders. And our appeals are sterile when they could be engaging.
Here's what people want when they donate online:
- To give quickly and conveniently.
- To make a difference.
- To feel personally connected to something greater than themselves.
- To feel useful.
- To get the warm glow of giving.
And yet here is what people get:
- A lot of pages to navigate in order to donate.
- A tax receipt.
- Statistics, facts and figures.
- A newsletter.
- An appeal to give (more) money.
Our study shows how important it is to close this gap — and with technology we really have no excuse not to. It costs so little to have a branded, intimate giving experience online. Photos and videos are easy to share. It's very little effort to segment our e-mail lists so we can connect with groups of donors according to what they most value. And it's simple to include one great story with a thank-you.
But while we're improving our supporters' online experience, remember that it's not something to do in isolation. We need to build our relationships online AND offline, together, with the same donors. Online relationships are often deeply affected by offline connections and cultivation. It's increasingly common for donors to switch among channels. They might get converted via telemarketing, then renew their gifts online, then perhaps respond to an offline appeal. Donors who give both online and off are the most loyal and valuable, and multichannel cultivation that blends online and offline elements is the best cultivation.
This year, we should not only be thinking about relationships on Valentine's Day. We should be building them all year. Start with the online experience; then ensure it's integrated with everything else you do. That's the best route to true love of our cause. FS