Overall giving to nonprofits in 2012 was nearly flat. According to a recent Blackbaud Report via the Chronicle of Philanthropy, a survey of more than 3,000 organizations combined saw a 1.7 percent increase in giving. That’s down from the 4.2 percent increase in 2011. But it wasn’t all bad (or neutral) news for nonprofits, smaller nonprofits fared better than their larger peers. And, not surprisingly, online giving was up 11 percent. As Blackbaud’s Steve MacLaughlin put it via that Chronicle piece, “there is ‘a real return for nonprofits’ use of digital tools.’”
So let’s take a look at the forest through the trees. Overall giving is flat, while online giving is continuing its meteoric rise. Again, overall giving is flat, but online is going up significantly – which means other methods of traditional giving are going down. The math is simple – if you don’t have a strong online giving presence, you’re either losing donors and dollars or you’re about to be. With that terrifying prospect in mind, here are three tips that will help your organization develop an effective online giving program that will boost your fundraising at all levels:
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.
For a blueprint to follow as you embark on redesigning your organization’s online giving form(s), have a look at this “Architecture of a Donation Form” infographic from Cause Populi.
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.
Justin Ware is a fundraising consultant who specializes in online and social media engagement at Bentz Whaley Flessner. To contact Justin, click here.
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