Online fundraising for beginners

Online fundraising for beginners

How do non-profits and political campaigns get started raising money online? At PowerThru, we see that question on occasion. A digital consulting firm like ours may not make sense when you’re at the beginning, but here’s some advice to get you started with online fundraising when you’re very small. P.S. if you’re a brand new non-profit organization or political campaign, read this first: how to launch your campaign or non-profit organization successfully online.

Online fundraising is like magic, right? You send email and the money just flows in, just like for Barack Obama or Bernie Sanders. Well, it’s not quite that easy. We’ve worked on campaigns that raised millions online, but it takes a special campaign and a national moment and message to pull that off. Given that, how can you make the most of what you’ve got?

Online fundraising is very much email-based. Social media is great for many things, but it does not (as of yet) deliver the day in-day out funds that a solid email program does. Which means you should start by building an email list of your supporters.

But also step back for a moment: for most non-profits and campaigns, online fundraising is only one leg of the stool. Make sure you are reaching out to large dollar donors (in person, by phone, by mail), holding fundraising events, applying for grants, and possibly running a mail program for your small dollar donors too. Online fundraising does NOT mean your candidate or executive director gets to stop making major donor fundraising calls.

How do you get started techwise? There are lots of great CRM software solutions (i.e. mass email, fundraising, online actions etc.) out there that will do many different nifty things for non-profits, but I’m assuming you don’t have much of a budget or capacity yet. You could begin with the usual Constant Contact, but another mass email solution to look at is MailChimp. For a list of fewer than 2K people, it’s free (hard to beat that price). See the appendix for some full CRM options.

What you do NOT want to do is use somebody’s personal email account for sending mass organizational mail. It doesn’t look professional, people will be reluctant to donate, and you may run into deliverability or sending problems for more than a very small handful of emails.

You’ll also need a basic website (with a PROMINENT email signup link), and social media properties (also with email signups!). It will be hard to fundraise online successfully without those at a minimum, to show your organization has credibility. More about setting up or rebuilding your campaign or non-profit website. It will be hard to fundraise online successfully without those at a minimum, to show your organization has credibility. Wherever you have your domain name registered, see what cheap/free solutions they offer for building a simple 1 page website (enough to get you started for now).

You’ll need a way to process online donations via credit card. These days most online donors do not have the patience to mail off a check, so it must be as easy as possible for them to give via credit card. If you’re a Democratic political campaign, c3 or c4, take a look at ActBlue. If you’re not eligible for ActBlue, you could look at PayPal. Note that down the line, you may want a full CRM for your organization: MailChimp, PayPal etc. are good tools for when you’re just getting started and need to keep costs low. There are also various crowd-funding options for if you’re just getting started—but those don’t work like magic either. You still need to have a list of people and/or a social media following to direct them to your crowd-funding page.

So you have the basics. Now how do you use them?

The size and quality of your email list will have a large effect on how much you can raise. Here’s some tips on how to grow your email list.

But having a good list is only part of it. You also need to ASK. More tips on online fundraising and best practices to follow.

If you are a 501(c)3, you may be eligible for a Google grant too. More about Google grants. That won’t be as helpful as an email list of dedicated supporters, and making sure people can sign up for your list via your website and social media. But it couldn’t hurt in getting the word out about you, especially if your website is brand new and the search engines don’t know your organization yet.

Need some help after you’ve gotten started? Contact us – we’ll be happy to talk more about how we can help you grow.

One Comment
  1. […] Regular contributor and digital strategist Laura Packard (of PowerThru Consulting) is back with us, this time to help folks take the plunge into digital fundraising. This post first appeared the PowerThru blog. […]

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