While online fundraising has grown a lot in recent years, it is still not quite the dominant force some of us in the nonprofit sector had expected it to be (in political fundraising, online giving has very much arrived). But make no mistake: nonprofits cannot afford to ignore digital fundraising, even if initial results don’t seem promising. There is a generational shift taking place that increases both donor trust and donor expectations in digital giving.
Digital fundraising needs to be broken down into two categories: email and social media.
Email is still the undisputed leader. On average, people check their email far more frequently than any social media platform, and email accounts are still being created in greater numbers than social media accounts. Email is an incredibly efficient and cost effective way to communicate with donors and supporters. Even if you have no immediate plans to launch a significant online fundraising effort, there are two things you must absolutely do: collect as many email addresses from donors and potential supporters as you can, and get their permission to reach out to them via email. Over time, you can test the occasional email appeal and monitor responses.
The other aspect of digital fundraising is social media. Social media platforms change their tools, rules, and guidelines so frequently that it would be futile to discuss any of them here at length. My personal take is that donors may expect you to be in a certain social media environment, but if you aren’t and otherwise connecting with them sufficiently, that’s generally acceptable. However, if you choose to have a presence on social media (Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), then do commit to it. Merely creating an account is not good enough. Develop a general communications plan and stick to it. Don’t leave your social media platforms unattended. It is better to only select a few and do those well than try to cover as many as possible while managing them poorly.
The two most important things digital outreach and social media can do for you are: collecting the email addresses of your supporters and securing permission to contact them.
Digital fundraising has one great strength which is also its biggest weakness: encouraging impulse-driven gifts. Every time a major disaster makes the news, there is a significant spike in online giving. People want to help, and they want to help immediately. There is no time for a carefully crafted mail appeal to get written, edited, designed, printed, and mailed, arriving weeks after the fact. Digital fundraising is at its best when it functions as a rapid response, or when it gets swept up in a viral messaging effort like the Ice Bucket Challenge. However, because those campaigns are largely impulse-driven, they rarely result in follow-up gifts.
Rather than hoping to capture lightning in a bottle, the key to digital fundraising at your organization should be to organically increase your base of donors and followers with opt-in permissions, and to augment your other fundraising efforts with a complementary online effort until your e-fundraising drive can stand on their own.
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