Fundraising Online 2015: Five key takeaways

Each May, the Resource Alliance brings together fundraisers from around the globe via our free virtual conference, Fundraising Online. This year, we were joined by over 3,000 fundraisers from more than 100 countries, including 16 speakers who shared their experiences of successfully adapting to and benefiting from technological change to enhance their fundraising. Below are my top five takeaways from Fundraising Online 2015.

1. You can’t afford to ignore mobile

Nick Allen suggested that you need to think “mobile / social first” to build your base of supporters, raise money and create a compelling donor journey. By this he means that consumer expectations—and therefore also donor expectations—have shifted with the widespread adoption of mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets.

Organizations are seeing mobile traffic increase rapidly: between January 2011 and 2015, the Humane Society saw mobile traffic to their website increase from just 7% to 57%. Google now favours mobile-friendly sites in their search rankings, so making your site mobile-friendly is not an optional extra–it is a must-do if you haven’t done so already.

As well as SMS / text messaging, fundraisers also need to consider mobile friendly email, websites, and webforms. Nick shared examples of a whole host of ways to raise money on mobile including:

  • SMS offer via DRTV adverts on trains, billboards, Facebook, F2F, web, and email
  • text message with PSMS gift (charged to telephone bill)
  • text message free offer, with telemarketing follow-up call
  • mobile-friendly email with mobile-friendly webform (credit card, PayPal, direct debit, alternative payment method)
  • text messages with a link to a webform

SMS can also be used very effectively for activism and therefore lead generation for fundraising. There are different opportunities in different markets, depending on local regulation and agreements with mobile operators, but nevertheless, the opportunities are endless and an essential part to any fundraising strategy.

2. Gaming offers fundraisers a wealth of new opportunities

Online gaming is an area that many organisations have not yet considered in their fundraising portfolio. Yet the multibillion-pound video game industry could be a goldmine for fundraisers according to Reuben Turner. He believes that great storytelling and finding a videogame partner that matches your brand and values is essential for fundraising effectively within gaming communities. These communities are expanding rapidly as gamer numbers are still on the rise. Ruben shared some amazing and sometimes surprising success stories demonstrating how different features available in online gaming can be used to raise funds.

RuneScape’s Well of Goodwill is an in-game feature where players can donate money to real life causes chosen by the game studio. This feature unlocks virtual currency held in the virtual bank accounts of video gamers, which is estimated to be worth around two billion dollars.

The Red Cross partnership with Sim City, which allows players to purchase Red Cross support for in-game disasters, is an example of downloadable content (DLC) partnerships between nonprofits and game studios. Players are encouraged to purchase something in-game which supports a cause.

Organizations such as Games Done Quick have raised more than a million dollars per marathon by running community initiatives such as gaming marathons where teams of gamers undertake sponsored challenges in support of charitable causes. With live streaming of these initiatives, the potential donor base is truly global.

3. Online fundraising isn’t just about technology; it’s also about people and culture

In his nonprofit take on his book, “Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do,” Euan Semple underlined the importance of internal changes in using social media to its fullest potential. He asked: How can you be 2.0 on the outside when you aren’t even 1.0 on the inside? Your staff are your biggest advocates, but you need to empower them and let them have an authentic voice on social media to connect with current and potential donors and your wider community of supporters.

Jon Bernstein illustrated the difference this can make, through WaterAid’s Big Dig campaign. The campaign aimed to improve access to safe water in two villages in Malawi and as part of the campaign, WaterAid equipped two of their field officers with smartphones. They were then able to connect supporters directly to the villages through their regular blogs and Instagram photo updates to chart the transformation of the villages as new boreholes were dug and toilets installed. The campaign raised £2.25m, double the original target.

4. Pay attention to what the data is telling you and test, test, test

There are vast amounts of data and analytics available to fundraisers thanks to all the new technologies we are now using, but it can be daunting to know where to start with interpreting it all. Steve Lerch of Google highlighted some of the key data trends to which he believes all fundraisers need to pay attention. Data about donor behavior is indispensable. For example, 57% of donors watched online video in their journey before donating, and online video is the number two source donors use to understand a nonprofit’s impact. Therefore, developing a video content strategy is an important part of any fundraising and communications strategy.

Lerch also spoke about experimenting with Google Adwords to increase your organization’s visibility on search. When bidding for AdWords, it is important to set a budget and goals, then regularly track your results and adjust what you are bidding on according to the results you are seeing. You also need to consider the landing page to which the AdWords are directing potential donors.

5. Innovation can come from unexpected places

In Colin Habberton’s session on innovation, looking at how nonprofits adapt and thrive as the environment they are working in changes, he shared the story of a South African organization which is truly innovative at many different levels. Qhubeka, meaning to move forwards, truly lives up to its name thanks to its very simple and compelling value proposition. They provide sustainable transport, in the form of bicycles, to children who previously were walking miles to get to school which negatively affected their attendance. But they aren’t any ordinary bikes – they are specially made for the local environment. They engage with a diverse community to fund their work, including corporate partners, individual donors, and a pro cycling team that also acts as peer-to-peer fundraisers. The pro cycling team even races under their name in a truly innovative partnership. They are a relatively small organization making a massive impact in a way that people can connect with while delivering 53,000 bikes to date, 70% of which have gone to girls.

Laura Boulton