How To Get a Non-Profit Online Fundraising Strategy Started

(We are pleased to have Clay Schossow, Partner with New Media Campaigns, as this week's guest blogger for Armstrong McGuire.  NMC designed and launched our firm’s web site in 2014 and we are thrilled with their work.)

With the energy brought by a new year, organizations are always eager to launch new initiatives to make this year bigger and better than the last. One of the most popular resolutions is getting started or augmenting existing efforts in online engagement and fundraising. It makes sense, too, as donors, especially small dollar ones, continue to move online to give to their favorite causes.

At my web agency, New Media Campaigns, we specialize in non-profit web design and marketing, and have helped organizations around the world with their online fundraising. This post is for non-profits who are just getting started or who haven’t done anything too sophisticated and aims to help you know what to plan, ask, and prepare to make 2015 the year you get started with online fundraising.

Below are some easy questions to reflect on within your organization as you prepare your first serious foray into online fundraising. By thinking through these pieces, you’ll have an online strategy and be prepared to execute it.

Why Are You Doing This?

To raise money; easy, right? Actually, you want to be more specific with this answer, because it’s going to inform what you do going forward. There are different reasons to start raising online, varying in effort and feasibility for different organizations.

* Is this just a quick donation option to direct people to during an event?

* Is it a way to turn one-time donors into recurring givers by providing that option on the site?

* Do you want to turn your supporters into fundraisers in their own right by giving them peer to peer fundraising capabilities?

* Are you trying to harvest a completely new crop of donors from around the country who maybe didn’t know about your organization before?

You need to figure out which of these options applies to you or if there’s another motivating factor for your online fundraising. Whatever the answer, it’s going to be what informs your overarching strategy and everything you subsequently do should somehow be tied back to helping this goal.

Who Wants to Manage It Internally?

“Wants” really is a key word here. While you should have a number of people involved, you really need someone who is actively interested in online and your efforts there. Things are always changing in the digital space, and you need someone who will want to keep up with trends and be interested in monitoring metrics as the campaign goes on. Generally, we find it best to put someone in charge

of managing online fundraising communications and efforts, and they can then split up individual responsibilities (e.g., Tweeting) to others on the team.

How Are You Going to Reach Your Audience?

In the first question, you answered who you’re trying to reach and why you want to reach them, now you need to decide how. The first answer will really inform this one.

If you’re trying to get in front of people with whom you have an existing relationship to make them recurring donors, get them to more events, give them the ease of giving online this year, etc., then email becomes a really good option; you’ve already got your audience’s contact information and they’re happy to hear from you – launch an email campaign to push them to give online.

If you’re trying to reach brand new people who you have no relationship with, then social media, blogging, and leveraging your existing network of supporters will be the way to do that. Start tweeting around popular topics and hashtags, encourage people to like your Facebook page, and generate compelling content on your blog that will attract a broader audience. These tactics will draw in new folks who may not know about your particular organization but care about the cause.

Once you know who you’re trying to reach, there are a number of innovative ways you can get in front of them and stay there.

What Technology Should We Use?

There is no shortage of donation software and tools out there, and it can be overwhelming to find the best fit. However, if you’ve answered the questions above, you should already have a pretty good list of what your technology needs to do (e.g., peer to peer giving or no?). From there, you can start choosing what software you want to do; in my experience, organizations usually rely pretty heavily on a web firm like ours to help them navigate these choices since we’ve been through the situation many times before.

The main areas you’ll need to make choices are in a website Content Management System, a donation tool, and a donor database. All of these can be wrapped into one, but that usually doesn’t work out well. My experience is that it’s best to separate the CMS and donor tools. You’ll want a Content Management System that makes it easy for you to edit and manage your site as you start to create more content. For the donor tools, you’ll want something with a low transaction rate that makes it easy for people to donate while also storing in a central donor database for you to keep track of your supporters; bonus points if it has email marketing built in!

Technology can be daunting, but get a list of what you need and do demos with different vendors who meet that criteria. Or find someone like us who can help guide you through the process!

What Are Your Goals?

To raise your annual funding in a single day, right? ;) It can be really hard to set goals when embarking on something new like this. It’s even hard for us to set goals for clients, because there’s no easy way to know how their donors will react and how quickly. So, when setting goals for an online strategy, it often makes sense to do the first round of goals without tying dollars to them:

* How many times you want to create content each month

* Number of people you want to add to your email list or social media followings

* Offline events/activities do you want to replace with online ones (e.g., annual report)

By establishing goals like these, you can easily make sure you’re working toward them without being held to the whims of your donors. And if you focus on things you can control like these, I promise you’ll also make progress in raising money online.

Have Fun!

This overview should give you a framework for setting up your online fundraising strategy in 2015. One thing left out is to make sure you have fun with it! Digital is a powerful and effective medium, but it’s also a new and fun one. Your organization should enter it with arms wide open and embrace fun new tactics to engage your target.

Clay Schossow is a Partner at New Media Campaigns, an award-winning web agency based in North Carolina with clients around the world.

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