Online fundraising best practices & principles to maximize your online donations

Online fundraising best practices & principles to maximize your online donations

The first and most important principle for online fundraising for non-profits and political campaigns: You must ask! Most people are not going to wake up this morning and think to themselves, today they should give to your campaign or organization. You need to go out and ask them to give. But this doesn’t mean you should overdo it — it’s better to send a strong fundraiser once in awhile rather than bug your most dedicated supporters every day until they tune out. But don’t go years without asking, either. (Note the rules may be a little different if you’re a campaign right before election day, where burnout is less of an issue.)

The next most important principle: Make people feel something. You need an emotional pitch as well as a rational one, to motivate people to give. If they don’t care, they won’t donate. Tell stories. Make issues real by putting a face to them.

Test test test. It’s important to incorporate testing into your online fundraising campaigns to learn what works best for your organization, and get smarter over time. You can try everything from different $ amount asks, to different subject lines, different senders, different creative, to different content altogether! Try simple (graphicless) versus your normal styled emails, try different times of day, lengthy versus short, tweaks to your landing pages, anything is fair game to test. It’s also worth trying an all-graphics email, because that’s been shown to do really well more recently. Use quick donate links, if available with your donation processing system. (These links in the body of the email let your supporters do 1-click donations. The fewer steps a supporter needs to take, the less drop off you’ll experience from people changing their minds.) Also make sure your emails work well on mobile devices, or you are leaving money on the table.

A corollary to testing – learn how to do tracking with your online fundraising tool of choice. You can use tracking codes in your CRM, or even create different donate pages if you can’t use codes for tracking in your system. But you need to know where the money is coming in from to be able to tell what works and what doesn’t.

Be realistic. Online fundraising is a numbers game (and mostly an email game still, despite the rise of social media and SMS and other new technologies) – how much you raise is generally related to the size and passion of your email list. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to always be building your email list, and to keep your supporters revved up about your race. If you do not have an Obama-sized list, you are not going to be able to raise Obama-sized amounts online. But deliverability is also important to ensure your supporters actually see your messages, so pay attention to email deliverability best practices.

Look for opportunities for fundraising. Good news and bad news can both be compelling hooks. Deadlines also work well. Integrate fundraising asks with your program – if you’re working on an issue or building towards an event, ask people to donate to help pull it off.

Be detailed. The more details you give about why you need to raise $X, the more compelling your ask. Story matters. Let people know where their money is going and why. Why should they give to you in particular? Why now? (i.e. have a theory of change and tell the story for how their donation will solve the problem/achieve your mission!)

Set goals. Give your supporters a target to aim at and they will help you hit it. Using thermometers or baseball bats etc. is more than just a gimmick – research has shown it improves fundraising totals. That’s why it’s a critical online fundraising best practice. Some systems like ActBlue let you do this pretty easily, check out what your CRM offers you.

Encourage your supporters to take ownership. If your online tools allow it, let your supporters set up their own fundraising pages for your campaign (don’t forget to ask them to!). Peer-to-peer fundraising is a powerful tool, because your supporters can reach out to their friends and family and touch people you have no relationship with and would never be able to reach. You may want to consider a special program for peer-to-peer fundraising, and handle your fundraising champions with special care — offer special events and perks to motivate them and motivate others to join them. ActBlue makes this easy, but many other tools will do this.

Be timely. Use deadlines in your emails, it helps make the case for the urgency to give now. Pay attention to federal deadlines, and to other campaigns. If you’re not a federal campaign, you may want to stay clear of the end of quarter deluge of fundraising emails. Most of the people on your email list are on several other email lists also, and you are not emailing in a vacuum. You’ll need to be aware of what else is going on in the world, even if it’s not directly to do with your organization.

Pay attention to the mix of emails you send. Your email list is for more purposes than just fundraising, so don’t wear out your supporters until Election Day (or ever, if you’re a non-profit). If you send a fundraising email, you may want to make sure your next email is not a fundraiser. Asking more is not always better.

Tell a story over time. Your first fundraising email in a series may not do so well, if you are introducing a new program or campaign. But over time as you tell your story and engage your supporters, fundraising may get better and better. When possible, try to think in terms of series than one-off emails.

Segmenting works. Past donors and non-donors may respond very differently to your content, so it’s good to send to the groups separately so you can track how they perform. You can also segment by activity level, by issue interest, anything you can think of. You can treat those segments differently – could try thanking past donors and asking them to donate again, for example. Try a step up ask, asking previous donors to give more this time.

Try a low dollar ask. Not sure what the right dollar ask is? Try a low dollar ask to start – in line with PCCC, MoveOn, and most political campaigns trying lower and lower dollar asks. It led to more donors and more dollars! Becoming a donor is a psychological leap: it makes sense that you’ll want a low bar to get more people to become donors. THEN you can ask them for larger amounts.

Giveaways generally work. Lots of PACs and campaigns offer a bumper sticker or other small giveaway with your donation – they keep doing it because it works. Make sure you keep track of all of your costs to make sure this is cost-effective to repeat, and test it as well – we’ve seen this work better in converting people to give for the first time, not for past donors. Your mileage may vary! You could also try contests (ie. a bigger giveaway like dinner with the candidate etc) to get people to donate or donate again.

Recurring donors are gold. But you’ll generally need to ask for people to become a recurring donor. You may want to set up a special program for sustaining donors to encourage monthly or quarterly donations. Also take full advantage of your donation software tools – if they can automatically ask a donor to consider making their donation recurring. This is a higher bar ask than a one time donation though.

Don’t forget the report-back! Respect your donors by reporting back to them about where their donation went and how it was used (and thanking them again for giving). Let them know how their donations had a tangible impact towards the goal. This will build trust in your organization, and hopefully make them more likely to donate again too. Goal thermometers on your donate page (or in your fundraising emails) are a good way of giving immediate feedback on how your fundraising is going – and helping to build a feeling of ownership by your supporters. They are very effective motivators too.

Work on your online-offline integration with your whole fundraising team. Online and fundraising people should work together to maximize what you can raise online and offline. If a direct mail piece is going out to past donors, maybe you should chase it with a fundraising email. You can email out fundraising event invites to past or likely donors. In person events could have a signup sheet asking for email addresses of donors. For non-profits, annual giving from multichannel donors is almost four times that of offline-only donors and two-and-a-half times that of online-only donors! Retention rates also increase dramatically for multichannel donors (per M&R’s e-benchmarks study). Don’t forget to be multi-channel online too – if you’re sending out a fundraising email, put the content on your website, share it on Facebook and Twitter too.

Always be filling your (leaky) bucket. Fundraising emails in particular often have a larger than normal unsubscribe rate. Be sure to have ways identified to replenish your email list or you could wind up with an empty bucket before Election Day. Read our guide to growing your email list online for more ideas.

Don’t forget your passive channels. Make sure your website has a prominent Donate button, your mass emails have a donate link at the bottom, you have donate sitelinks in your Google ads, and you have donate links on social media. If you have a 501c(3) nonprofit, apply to use Facebook’s fundraising tools — including a Donate Now button on your page.

Remember: More asking is not (always) more money. You may be better off with one good, timely well-written fundraising email than several weak ones.

Have more questions or need help pumping up the online fundraising for your non-profit organization or political campaign? Contact PowerThru today, and we’d be happy to talk about how we can assist.

  1. […] Regular contributor and online fundraising pro Laura Packard joins us again with some key best practices to help you optimize your digital giving campaigns. Laura and her PowerThru Consulting colleagues have learned these lessons through hard work with many clients, and I was excited to get to steal her best stuff in a presentation we gave together at last weekend’s excellent Organizing 2.0 Conference. This post first appeared on the PowerThru blog. […]

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