Convio’s Five Tips for Improving Online Fundraising

These five practices point the way to successful online fundraising success

1. Grow your email list

The cornerstone for any online marketing program is building and maintaining your email list. To offset normal attrition and keep your list growing, you have to constantly be adding new email addresses. Here’s a few tried and true ways to acquire new email addresses.

  • A pledge or petition campaign asks current and potential constituents to show their support for your cause by signing and then forwarding information about the campaign to their family and friends to make the same pledge. Signing the pledge requires filling out a registration form online which provides your organization with the constituent’s contact information, including an email address.
  • An incentive or giveaway campaign involves offering something related to your mission in exchange for a supporter’s contact information. Once again, completion of an online registration form that captures the constituent’s email address and other relevant information is required in order to be eligible for the incentive.

The best incentives or giveaways promote your brand and are related to your mission. The goal is to increase awareness about your organization and attract potential supporters who identify with the work you do.

2. Cultivate New Constituents

Successful fundraising depends on strong relationships with your donors and potential donors. Remember, relationships start as soon as the constituent joins your email file, when they may have just become intrigued with the promise of your work. For your newer supporters, those first feelings of passion for a cause can be a very powerful thing, setting the stage for a lifetime of support.

One way to engage new constituents immediately after they register is to create a “Welcome Series.” A Welcome Series is a sequence of automated email messages in addition to any registration or donation auto-responder that a constituent receives over the course of their first 2-4 weeks on your email list.

A solid, professional Welcome Series consists of 2-3 simple messages that set the tone for the relationship, create an identifiable voice for your organization, and educate new constituents about your mission and the scope of your impact before they start getting appeals. Technology can help automate this process while tracking open rates, click-throughs and deliverability of your messages.

3. Communicate Regularly

You’ve undoubtedly heard that communication is the key to successful relationships. Nowhere is this truer than in the world of online fundraising. Here are four ways to build on the dialog you started with the welcome series and create enduring constituent relationships.

  • eNewsletters can be monthly, bi-monthly, or even quarterly depending on your organizational resources and available content. The eNewsletter consists of story excerpts that direct readers to the website for the full story.
  • An eBlast is similar in format to the eNewsletter, but contains only a single topic or story excerpt.
  • An eLetter is a personal letter from the voice of the organization. It is similar to an eBlast, but is written in the first person, normally by the Executive Director, and usually includes a picture of this person and their digital signature.
  • An eCard has a single focus like an eBlast, but with an emphasis on visual design. eCards usually include simple, timely topics.

In addition to maintaining the relationship, these types of regular communications can also play an important part in growing your email list. Sending good content regularly creates opportunities for your constituents to share it with others, which in turn will drive further awareness of your organization, website visits and new constituents. And, the beauty about online communications is that it’s cheap and doesn’t always have to include a fundraising appeal.

4. Maximize Year-end Fundraising

Year-end giving accounts for 35-70% of many organizations’ total annual online fundraising. As a result, the year-end campaign is not only the most important campaign, but also the most structured. There are firm dates between Thanksgiving and December 31st that affect the structure of this campaign. For the best results, consider a three-part series including a launch in early December, eCard in mid-December and a final year-end reminder on December 31st.

Absent the inherent urgency and timeliness of year-end fundraising, it’s even more important that a spring or fall campaign tell a story and drive constituents towards a specific, tangible goal. The structure of a good spring or fall fundraising campaign is similar to that of a year-end campaign: a three-part series, where the first message sets the goal your organization is trying to achieve. The next message is a status update and reminder that more help is needed. The final message is an update on what you have accomplished.

5. Convert Donors to Sustainers

Of all fundraising campaigns, sustaining campaigns typically produce the least amount of short-term gain, but can have the greatest long-term value. Monthly donors tend to give smaller amounts each month (compared to one-time gifts), but often have a higher annual value because of the frequency of their gifts.

The examples above illustrate the type of campaigns that can drive real results online. By focusing on the five best practices outlined in this tip sheet, nonprofits of all sizes can leverage the Internet to achieve impressive results.

Convio provides constituent engagement solutions for nonprofits to maximize the value of every relationship. For more tips and best practices from Convio, click here. Cheryl Black, who authored this tipsheet, was one of the presenters at The Nonprofit Center’s “Relationship Fundraising” program in October 2011.