On Wednesday, I lead a discussion about online fundraising for United Cerebral Palsy as a part of the national office’s monthly development conference call. The event was a success by personal standards. However, a few things came to my attention during the call that I had not realized prior to conducting the call. Many UCP affiliates were not participating in online fundraising nor were they connecting it to other communication strategies already taking place online. Now, I don’t want to generalize this fact or overstate it, but this fact got me thinking; how many nonprofit are failing to realize their online fundraising potential by neglecting free or nearly free tools readily available online?
I don’t profess to be an expert in this field, but I do have a lot of time invested into the subject at hand. When I arrived at UCP in November 2007, the extent of the national office’s experience in online fundraising was a donation text link from the home page to a page with text explaining the system-wide efficiency of UCP with another link to a one-time donation form on another page. This hasn’t changed much for UCP, but the organization has incorporated new ways to support UCP through various online-based resources discovered and implemented since this time. By regularly reading several blogs and attending several free webinars on growing a donor base or e-mail list I learned about many of the resources that I shared with the audience on the conference call on Wednesday.
E-marketing: The first tool I discussed was e-marketing. E-newsletters, e-advocacy, e-solicitations, search engine optimization (SEO) and paid submission, Google Ad Words, other online advertising (e.g. Facebook or other social networking advertisements as well as Web site specific advertisements, among others), collecting stories from supporters or advocates, connecting advocates to fundraising appeals, etc. were all a part of this topic. It is really amazing that many haven’t yet considered many of these options.
Event Fundraising Pages: There are several different options to utilize for hosting a live and physical or virtual event to collect donations for your organization. Convio is one avenue. Using this option, the organization controls the event. Think of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life event. They use this function to host personal and team fundraising pages also known as Convio’s Teamraiser. I know Blackbaud offers something similar to this solution as well.
The final option that I mentioned is more of a free-for-all, giving the fundraiser control of what type of event they want to host that is free for the organizer to set up (think of an organization’s evangelical supporter). Two companies that i know of offer this service — FirstGiving.com and Roundpoint. I wrote more about Firstgiving on the UCP blog, UCPeople. The organizer can set up any kind of event such as a bike ride, a barbecue, bowling, hosting a movie watching party, comedy or karaoke night, a run, climbing a mountain, etc. According to the companies that support these types of events it is the most difficult event to participate in (e.g. cycling a great distance or climbing a mountain) that get the most in total donations.
Now, many might ask, if the organizer is organizing the event why should I be involved; just send me the check afterwards? The answer is that nonprofit organizations can be prepared with an online fundraising event toolkit for the event fundraisers. The toolkit can come with tips that we as nonprofit professionals might take as an unspoken assumption. Such tips might include:
- Sending e-mails (to everyone in a person’s address book) and how to send a different message to different audiences. We wouldn’t send the same “ask” message to our boss that we would send to our families or best friends
- Picking up the phone (a personal phone call can go a long way)
- Social Networks (facebook/myspace status update, Twitter tweet all linking to the person’s fundraising page)
- Cards and Flyers (posted flyers in public places, a post on Craigslist.com, libraries, college bulletin boards, etc. *don’t litter and ask permission before posting in public places)
- Follow up (how to ask for money after it’s been pledged by a supporter of the event)
- Contacting Local Media (press releases, press conferences, pitching the media, etc. it never hurts to give some preformatted language/press release to supporters so that they can reach out on your organization’s behalf)
Another question might come up is to how the organization can control the “brand” of the organization when the organizer hosting the event is not a part of the organization? Each organization is different and this deserves ample attention as to whether or not to support individual event organizers. To embrace the supporter or to suggest that the supporter not hold the event for fear of damage wrought to the brand, is a valid and serious concern. However, regardless of this support, the resource is out there for anyone to utilize and to dedicate any event toward raising funds for any given organization. The more that an organization can do to help the organizer to pull off a successful event, the more likely they are to be successful in organizing the event and thus they be more likely to attempt another event. Additionally, the supporter will have even greater tendency to support your organization in the future as well as share that tendency to support your organization with their friends/family and colleagues. This outcome may be preferable to one where the supporter is off put by a protection of the brand versus embracing and supporting an organizer that might raise lesser funds that the organization would like with a single event to justify working with the event organizer in the first place. Essentially, sewing the seeds by interacting with the supporter may well yield exponential dividends to grow a relationship that likely will last a lifetime.
All of this talk of online fundraising may be something new, something you’ve already heard, or something you are greatly experienced with. The fact remains, that if an organization does not utilize these tools (quite possibly dismissing the opportunity as “small peanuts”), and quite possibly others omitted here, a great opportunity is missed that could one day become something great for your organization.