M.J. Dunion knew she had a mess to clean up six years ago when she was hired as director of development operations at Boston Medical Center, formed when a private academic medical institution and a city hospital merged. Her main task was to combine several departments that had been using different databases in fundraising efforts. She knew this largely was a matter of using the right technology as efficiently as possible.
In the formative years of online fundraising, nonprofit organizations assumed that if they built a Web site with bells and whistles, rich content and a device to accept donations, donors would come. But to the chagrin of many fundraising pros who defined effective online fundraising as the ability to take credit card transactions through a Web interface, donors came in fits and starts. Charities soon learned that they needed to be just as creative, diligent and engaging in their approach to the Internet as to any offline fundraising medium.
The Salvation Army rolled out its Online Red Kettle program nationwide this past holiday season, after testing the concept in Atlanta, Dallas and Washington, D.C., in 2002. The way it worked: Volunteers who signed up to be “virtual bell ringers” had their own Web pages from which they could send e-mail messages to family and friends, asking for contributions. The pilot produced $60,000 in online donations during the months of November and December, but when the program was given a national stage a year later, total donations reached only $45,000.
The American Lung Association currently is in the throes of redesigning, revamping and relaunching its Web site, www.lungusa.com. While the current site provides rich content on a whopping 60,000 pages, the infrastructure is very “last generation,” says Rusty Burwell, assistant vice president of the development division at the ALA.