Raising Money Online: Dizzy Pace but Big Benefits for Savvy Nonprofits
Yesterday I opened a fat envelope from Donors Choose, an innovative, education-funding nonprofit I’d given to earlier this year. The contents -- a dozen photos of giddy fourth-graders painting on canvases I’d paid for and delightful, hand-scrawled “thank you” notes from the class. That’s Ms. Bolling’s class.
When developing a plan to raise money online, you’re not likely to find a better lesson plan than this offline example, courtesy of Ms. Bolling and Donors Choose. They nailed it.
Nothing has changed
No doubt the Web is a powerful tool for raising money. That’s why I’m an Internet strategist and not, say, a telephone strategist. But the same skills -- creativity and authenticity -- that we used to raise money before the Web are equally essential today. Forget about technology for a minute and look at the folks at Donors Choose.
They prioritize, connecting emotionally with me, the donor. They recognize that deep donor satisfaction comes from getting the full story:
* beginning -- “We want to do art but don’t have canvases.”
* middle -- “Wow, thank you for the canvases!”; and
* end -- “Look what we did with your canvases…”
They know that if they tell that story well I’ll become a true believer and evangelist. I have. And though Donors Choose is basically a virtual organization -- its Web site connects education donors with local education projects -- it understands the power of touching me offline.
Everything has changed
Yet the Web has changed everything about how we connect and how we communicate. What donors need to hear and see is the same, but the communication tools have changed radically -- and this is transforming what is possible for people doing good in the world.
We can now touch our donors faster and more frequently at marginal cost. The storytelling power of video is virtually available to all. Our messages are a click away from the vast networks of our supporters, the media and influentials.
But the pace of change and innovation is dizzying. Blogs, podcasts, vlogs, mobile text messages. Last week we were making sense of MySpace and YouTube, and this week we’re hit with Twitter and Joost. How does one plan for success in such an environment?
Here’s the advice I give my clients. Forget about the particulars and focus on the big trends. Pay attention to what people are doing online and why. Then figure out how to use this to tell your story and spread the word. To help get you started, here are three trends and ideas for tapping them:
1. Video. We love film and TV, and now we love online video. It is here to stay. Take advantage of this medium. You are doing heroic work everyday. Get it on video and share it with the world. Get camcorders in the hands of your staff and volunteers. Or hire a professional. Do a content audit to identify assets such as old video or stills that can be repurposed.
2. Interaction. Internet users have become active participants. They no longer are passive consumers. They want to comment, share and shape their experiences. This is the essence of Web 2.0. Tap the collective intelligence of your supporters to solve a problem. Provide them with tools (video, games, etc.) to empower them to spread the word. Ask for their stories.
When I say people want to shape their experience, I mean they want control over how and when they receive information. Ultimately that means organizations are going to have to move beyond e-mail. Open rates for opt-in e-mail are plummeting. You know why. You don’t pay attention to all those e-mail newsletters, and neither do many of your supporters. Send the e-mail blasts for those who read them, but offer alternatives such RSS feeds, podcasts and mobile messages. Or design highly targeted e-mail programs like Healthy Child Healthy World’s “First Steps” program for new parents (www.healthychild.org/programs/first_steps).
3. Play. Like video, online games and mobile games (for cell phones) are here to stay. Games with a mission are a fast-growing segment of the market, popular with kids and adults alike. Create games that educate or activate. Check out UNICEF’s World Heroes game at www.unicefgames.org/heroes.
Donors Choose can be found at www.donorschoose.org. Last year it was named Amazon.com’s most innovative nonprofit.
Larry Eason is senior strategic consultant with Mindshare Interactive Campaigns and founding Partner at The eOrganization.