Casting a Wide ‘Net’
For years, Washington, D.C.-based The Humane Society of the United States ignored the Internet’s full potential to reach donors and supporters.
Here’s the situation we found ourselves in: HSUS’ Web site in April 2003 had been transferred to its third department in five years. While the site was graphically appealing and content rich, it ran on proprietary software developed by a company that no longer was in business.
Our two newsletters, which were sent to a combined 32,000 people, fared no better. One e-newsletter was sent sporadically, as time allowed, while the other was sent by an altogether different department, which was using a different e-mail messaging system.
We also were unable to tell who opened our e-mails. We didn’t ask our e-mail subscribers to donate — and it showed. Our online income in 2002 totaled $154,000, much of it from event registrations.
In short, we were Exhibit A for what happens when an organization lacks the commitment, strategy and technology needed to leverage the Internet to achieve its mission and raise needed funds.
The online community
Organizational commitment came first, when we decided to invest in the Internet as an avenue for recruiting new donors. We took a big, first step by consolidating all online communications functions — including e-mail communications, fundraising and the Web site — under one departmental roof.
We developed seven strategic objectives to guide our program — several borrowed from other nonprofits that seemed light-years ahead of us. Chief among the objectives was to use the Internet for advocacy and fundraising. We decided to start building relationships online as our fundamental approach to boosting the lifetime value of online advocates and donors. We enshrined this goal in the new department’s moniker: eCommunity.
By summer 2003 we had the commitment and the makings of a strategy, but the technology piece proved to be elusive.