Online Giving Leads to Bigger Gifts and More First-time Donors

As online giving continues its yearly explosion in popularity, we’re starting to learn more about what Internet giving means to our fundraising efforts overall. One of the lessons seems to be that online is a great way to introduce new donors to your organization.

First, have a look at this recent Blackbaud study on Internet and multichannel giving. Among the many findings in this study are the statistics that show a growing number of first-time donors are finding organizations through the Internet as opposed to direct mail. In fact, more donors made their first gifts online than via direct mail for every age group under 64 years old. The study also says online-acquired donors make much larger gifts than direct mail-acquired donors.

For a real-world example of an online campaign leading to new gifts, check out this post on the recent, 36-hour, online-only campaign conducted by the annual giving team at Florida State University. Not only did FSU receive $186,000 in online gifts in just a day and a half, but of the 1,100 donors who gave, 380 of them were first-time donors to the university.

The End of Direct Mail?

No. Not yet. Not even close, because direct mail, according to that same Blackbaud study, is where the majority of first-time donors give their follow-up gifts after they’ve made their initial online gift. And the reverse is not true. Only a tiny percentage of those who give their first gift via direct mail make the switch back to online. Of course, it’s highly likely that we will eventually see the day when direct mail is no longer part of the game, but according to the numbers, that day is decades away.

Social Media for Stewardship

So we know the Internet is a great way to bring new donors in and we hope we can then transition those new donors into lifelong supporters. It also appears that once those donors make the transition over to consistent supporters, the majority of them no longer use the Internet as the primary vehicle for delivering their gifts to the organizations they support. So does that mean that the Internet should be pigeon-holed into an acquisition-only tool? Most definitely not.

Have look at some of the written responses submitted at the end of the recently completed Cygnus Donor Survey. As I read through this list, every request could be satisfied through smart online tools or an integrated social media strategy…or both. Let’s take a look at a few of those written responses (in bold) to serve as examples…

…giving loyal donors feedback about their accumulative giving to a cause over five, ten or even fifteen years. Often donors who make big, one-time gifts are featured and thanked, but other donors like myself who give what we can but do so year after year are not appreciated in the same way. Being reminded of how long I have been giving and what that has added up to over time would, in itself, be a new incentive to giving more.

A nonprofit could easily build the infrastructure that allows for this type of information. I would advise that you make it part of a social network – perhaps a custom-built Facebook page could link to this information stored on your organization’s server? Or maybe your org offers supporters a private social network where this information could be stored?

…knowing someone personally who is involved in a not-for-profit. This heightens my desire to support them in their work. This is especially so when the person is a volunteer who is passionate about the cause – both my heart and my wallet are more likely to open. That said, I’m also open to giving to a paid employee. I just made a donation to Unicef because their canvasser – who I’m sure was paid – was extremely well-informed as well as very passionate about what Unicef does for children.

Having an integrated social media plan that everyone in your organization understands and is aware of makes it possible to utilize your entire staff (and volunteers) in managing your daily online conversations. It’s one of the best and easiest ways to use your existing staff to open a window into your organization for supporters to peer through.

…knowing that my giving produces results. I have increased my support to Ceasefire in Chicago because they are so good at providing measurable results. Also, I increased my support for my university when someone from the Development Office took me out for coffee to tell me what they have been doing with donors’ contributions. She did not ask for money. I was impressed and became a larger, more regular donor.

Use your website, email, and social media to convey the good news about your work on a daily basis. Also, have conversations with your supporters through social media.

…having greater confidence that the not-for-profits in which I take an interest really achieve sustainable progress. For example, some NGOs trying to help poor children in Africa and Asia seem to increase their dependence; it’s like keeping a whole continent in childhood. It’s nice and very honorable to try to help, but only if it results in increased independence and sustainable growth. As a young donor and recent university graduate, I also think it is my job to be informed about the impact that charities make with donors’ contributions. We’re both responsible.

One of the most effective examples I’ve seen to date at providing this type of stewardship is A Child’s Right – an international clean water charity. Check out their “Proving It” blog to see online stewardship at its best.

Once you’ve acquired a donor, next comes the relationship building. Modern, online communications – specifically that which is rooted in social networks – is about forming relationships with those who matter to your organization. Use the tools Mark Zuckerberg and others have made available to you as a method of both attracting new donors and stewarding existing donors. As this Blackbaud study confirms, your fundraising efforts will grow as a result.

For more on social media in philanthropy, visit

One thought on “Online Giving Leads to Bigger Gifts and More First-time Donors

  1. Pingback: 4 Steps to a Better Facebook Campaign | HelpAttack!

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