3 Tips to Boost Your Online Fundraising in 2013

Make 2013 the year online giving takes off for your nonprofit.

By now, news of the continued, meteoric rise of online giving as detailed in this Chronicle of Philanthropy piece hardly counts as surprising. According to that piece, in the fourth quarter of 2012, online giving grew between 36 and 38 percent, depending on what you’re measuring. Hopefully, this new set of data combined with several years of data leading up to it – all showing the sharp upward trend in online giving – will convince your organization’s leadership to increase investment in online and social media. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in that situation of extra budget for online engagement, the following are three areas I suggest your bolster first:

Develop an online ambassador program: I’m convinced that you can tweet, post to Facebook, write blog posts, and what ever else until you’re blue in the face. None of those things will drive action as much as having your strongest online supporters share your org’s message with their networks of online friends. From FSU’s Great Give, to Columbia’s $6.8 million 24-hour campaign, the commonality among many successful online campaigns is the organization’s use of online volunteers to spread the news about the campaign. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Instead, check out this Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising report that tells us, among other things, the five most influential forms of advertising or promotion are as follows: 1) Recommendation from a friend, 2) consumer opinions posted online, 3) editorial content such as newspaper articles, 4) branded websites, and 5) emails.

So how can you build a strategy or program around something that seems so uncontrollable – the messages your followers are sharing with their friends? It’s about developing and sticking with an online ambassador program that 1) identifies potential online ambassadors, 2) has a plan in place for soliciting the help of those ambassadors, 3) continually and consistently stewards those ambassadors through good content and exclusive access to fundraising-focused webinars, and 4) includes those ambassadors in campaign communication plans.

Trust me. We’ve done this with clients and heard other orgs talk about similar projects. It works better than anything else we’ve seen when it comes to boosting online giving.

Redo your online giving infrastructure: Most organizations have room to improve when it comes to their online giving infrastructure, a.k.a. your online giving websites and forms. First and foremost, ease of use is critical in this area. Do you have any idea what your Giving Completion Rate or GCR is? Have you heard of a GCR before? If not, you might want to talk with my colleauge, Heather Greig, but I digress…

There’s a fine line between what makes for a good online giving form and a not-so good form, but I would suggest your first concern should be ease of use, both for new donors and returning donors. We work with a lot of higher ed and healthcare clients, but I believe many of the best examples exist outside of these industries. If you work in higher ed or healthcare, you might consider stepping away from your peers and looking at nonprofit industry leaders like charity: water for the best examples in online giving pages. After all, you’re competing against other nonprofits like charity: water for your donors’ dollars – not other higher ed or healthcare organizations, in most cases.


Regardless of the nonprofit sector you work in, you’re competing for your donors’ dollars with organizations like charity: water. So you better have an online giving presence that’s competitive with those organizations.

Invest in a Social Media Manager: After you’ve built an online ambassador program, you’re going to need someone to manage and engage all those peer-to-peer fundraisers working on behalf of your organization. And when you have a seven-figure increase in your online giving, you should have no problem justifying a $60,000 per year salary + benefits, right? This is part of a change in mentality when it comes to online giving and social media – IT IS NOT FREE JUST BECAUSE A FACEBOOK ACCOUNT IS FREE. Just like most things, investments are needed in staff and online infrastructure if you’re serious about increasing fundraising – both online and off – for your nonprofit.

With the right mindset and an increased investment in online and social media constituent engagement, 2013 could be your best year yet. Good luck!

Justin Ware is a fundraising consultant who specializes in online and social media engagement at Bentz Whaley Flessner. To contact Justin, click here.


4 thoughts on “3 Tips to Boost Your Online Fundraising in 2013

  1. Great point about the online ambassador program: “None of those things will drive action as much as having your strongest online supporters share your org’s message with their networks of online friends.” I am a BSO (Baltimore Symphony) Ambassador! I feel that it allows me to make a difference, even if I’m not able to regularly attend or buy a ticket, and it helps build a sense of ownership and pride associated with the success of the BSO’s programs. It also inspires me to make additional posts on my own! The awards system is cleverly designed to connect Ambassadors to music – earning notes for clicks, shares, referrals, etc. – and the person with the most notes at the end of the month receives a relevant prize from the BSO (new CD, tickets to a performance, and so on). I haven’t won yet, but it certainly sparks some friendly competition to increase online engagement with BSO content!! Fun, interactive, and intrinsically rewarding – sometimes extrinsic and tangible. : )

    I have written more about some of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestras’ innovative initiatives on my blog: http://mezzaphonicallyspeaking.wordpress.com/baltimore-symphony-orchestra/

    Feedback welcome! I love the idea of developing the “social side of giving.”

    Thanks, Justin.

      • How to Earn Notes and Win Prizes:

        1. Overture
        Signing up to be a BSO Ambassador and choosing social networks to connect = 1 note for each.

        2. Intermezzo
        Someone comments on, likes, and/or shares = 2 notes

        3. Finale
        Every new visitor to the BSO website from your personal social network = 3 notes

        4. Encore
        Each new person to become a BSO Ambassador, recruited through your link = 4 notes

        Your notes are collected in your personal “song bank” and the Ambassador with the most notes at the end of each month is rewarded with a prize.

        More info on the BSO Ambassador’s program through Social Toaster: http://www.bsomusic.org/main.taf?p=3,20,10

  2. Pingback: Online Ambassadors Help Columbia Reach $6.8 Million in 24 Hours « The Social Side of Giving

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