Online Fundraising: Why You Need It and How to Do It Better

June 01, 2017
by Jay Wilkinson |


When I say “online fundraising,” you know exactly what I mean, right? It’s basically anything that allows you to collect money from constituents online—typically through your website.

But online fundraising is easier said than done; many nonprofits still struggle in a mighty way. They don’t have a website built with their audience in mind and lack the tools online visitors need to take desired actions—donate, register for an event, volunteer, etc.Of the 88% of nonprofits with a website, three-quarters designed it in-house or use something donated by a volunteer or public agency. Herein lies the single biggest issue as it relates to nonprofit websites: We always try to do more with less.

Instead of focusing on doing more with less, I would suggest we try to maximize our return on investment. Rather than considering our website a cost, we need to view it as an investment. A successful online fundraising strategy begins with a fully functional and easy-to-use website. The right website will help you raise more money. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but you won’t get one for free.

Here are five ways to get your online fundraising strategy—and website—positioned to grow your bottom line and raise awareness.

  1. Gather email addresses online and off. This is the beginning of your online dialogue with someone—access to their inbox. You probably have a way to capture email addresses on your website, but don’t forget to capture them offline too. Once you have someone’s email, you have the opportunity to drive them to your website and engage with them digitally. One of the best times to grow your email list is at events—you automatically have an audience who cares about your cause and organization. Take advantage of that.
  2. Make it easy for people to engage. One of the biggest things constituents want from a nonprofit’s website is simple event registration. Don’t make people work hard to register for events—many simply won’t. If I want to participate in your organization’s annual banquet, don't make me print out a PDF and mail or scan it back to you. I just want to fill out the registration form online, pay and be done. If I want to donate, let me give you my money with a seamless, secure process that keeps me on your website. See where I’m going with this? The easier you make it for people to do what you’d like them to do, the more likely they’ll do it.
  3. Become a thought leader. If someone is talking about the issues you support, the next thought in their head should be, I wonder what <name of your organization> thinks about this? You want them to immediately associate your organization with your particular cause. Thought leadership means you lead the way on the issue you're passionate about. How does this relate to your website? One of the best ways to establish and foster thought leadership is with a blog, which you, of course, house on your site. A blog allows you to update your content consistently (which search engines love) and share your expertise.
  1. Optimize your website. SEO is about making it easy for people to find you online, in part by using keywords that identify you as an organization. For example, if you serve families who need an afterschool program, you will want to use keywords in your website content that resonate with those families and individuals. Someone might type “affordable afterschool child care” into Google to find information about programs available in their area. You want to identify the right keywords—or words/terms that people use in search—to increase your findability.
  1. Use a professional donor database tool. A Rolodex, file cabinet and Excel spreadsheet are not professional donor database tools. Bloomerang, however, is, and it integrates seamlessly with the Firespring website platform. Why does this matter to you? Because it can make your life infinitely easier, save you time and alleviate stress by storing all your important donor data securely and right at your fingertips.

If online fundraising hasn’t been part of your fundraising strategy, I would encourage you to use these tips to begin formulating a plan. Without online fundraising, you’ll miss out on significant revenue and growth. Consider these benefits:

  • Cost effective: One print campaign can cost thousands of dollars to implzement. Even if a direct mail piece elicits more response than an email message, email marketing can be very effective. If you can send 20,000 email messages—and effectively connect with that many constituents—it will cost you pennies on the dollar compared to sending out that many direct mail pieces.
  • Faster to implement: If I implement an online campaign today, I’ll know within 24 hours whether or not it will work. Within 48 hours, I’ll know if it’s a success. With traditional direct mail, it could take months before I know its effectiveness. Plus, an online campaign can be launched quickly.
  • Personalized and targeted: When emailing, I can easily target different groups. How I message Millennial parents would be much different than how I appeal to Baby Boomer grandparents, right? It’s possible these two groups have similar values, but the way they make decisions and what they respond to is likely different. Since online fundraising is digital, you can personalize messages and appeal to various audiences much more easily.
  • Expanded reach: Go where the masses are: online. People increasingly rely on mobile devices and tablets to access the internet, so it’s important to not only reach them online, but to reach them via a website that looks great on any device.

At Firespring, our mission is to help you accomplish yours—that's how we measure our success. The way we do that is to work with you to create an affordable online presence that not only looks incredible, but gives your audience what they need. Want to see what that would look like? Try a free demo today.

Jay Wilkinson will also be a guest presenter for Peachjar's "Online Fundraising Best Practices for Nonprofits" webinar on Thursday, June 8th at 11:30am PT. Register for the webinar.

About Jay Wilkinson

Jay Wilkinson has been actively involved in the nonprofit community his entire life. He sits on the board of several nonprofits and is an avid supporter of programs that provide leadership and enrichment programs for America’s youth. As a philanthropist, Jay has raised millions of dollars for nonprofit organizations. As an educator, he has trained thousands of fundraisers, marketers and nonprofit executives and has appeared on CNN and other national news outlets discussing the important role nonprofits play in the U.S. economy.

Jay is the founder and CEO of Firespring—a company that provides beautiful websites and essential tools to nonprofit organizations. Firespring helps nonprofits raise money, manage donors, organize volunteers and conduct events while presenting a powerful and professional online presence. Firespring is proud to be the first B-Corporation in Nebraska and is on a quest to transform the business landscape by encouraging all companies to leverage their people and profit as a force for good.

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