Tag: digital fundraising

As the grand finale to NTEN’s Leading Change Summit, a covey of 15LCS attendees pitched and developed changemaking projects during the Idea Accelerator.

The Summit may have ended, but many of these projects are just getting started. Today, we want to introduce you to “The Change Jar,” an idea pitched by Teresa Peltier.

What is your big idea?
The Change Jar is a microdonation campaign that highlights the importance of public media during the election season, in order to explore new audience networks and test new fundraising models.

The Change Jar will allow the user to chose his or her local public media station, set an automatic microdonation level, select an automatic payment schedule, and connect with his/her preferred payment vendor.

When feeling frustrated by commercial media or inspired by a local station, the user simply opens the app/mobile site, and taps the change jar to add a few cents to the pot. Or, he grabs the change out of his pocket, and drops it into a real-life jar.

On Election Day 2016, community members will automatically send their change to their local station or drop off the value in their jars. They’ll know that when they gave their change, they also helped change the conversation in their community!

How did the idea get started?

Our CEO and our Development Director shared a great story with me a few months back…

One of our listeners felt so frustrated by the negative political messaging he continually heard on commercial media (and so grateful for the respectful, in-depth coverage he heard on public media), that every time he changed the channel away from a negative message, he took the change out of his pocket, and put it in a change jar. He also stressed the importance of public media not accepting underwriting dollars from campaigns and political advocacy groups.

When the election season ended, he donated all the change in that jar to WSKG.

How did the idea evolve during the Idea Accelerator?

I came to the Leading Change Summit with a set of fairly broad strategic ideas. I planned to work on these gradually. Though I looked forward to the opportunity to practice my pitching skills at the Idea Accelerator, I didn’t anticipate offering an exceptionally interesting idea.

However, during the Summit’s opening remarks, I was really inspired by Michael Smith. He came out asking if we were “Fired up!” and I left that night fired up to work on a tangible, community-driven idea. The member story above immediately came to mind.

Throughout the Summit, I tailored my work session choices—pilot programs, systems assessments, continuing engagement—to building the idea and gathered as much feedback from my hub-mates as I could. They were especially helpful in crafting my pitch on Tuesday night.

On Wednesday morning, I came to the Idea Accelerator with a solid inspiration and opened myself to critical feedback from public radio lovers (and haters!). Accelerator helpers not only refined the basic idea, but they also gave inspiration for advanced elements down the line and perspectives on how the app could help any nonprofit fundraise. The experts onhand also provided a lot of guidance—they found all the holes, made sure I had an MVP, and gave me repeated chances to pitch the idea and hear thoughtful feedback. Thanks to the hard work my teammates put in, I even had time to mock up some basic app designs.

The Change Jar Wireframes

Who could use this?
In its original form, The Change Jar app is designed for public media stations who air and produce news content. I’m looking for pilot stations to help WSKG test the app; if you work at a station, please reach out!

However, the concept behind the app and the in-real-life campaign have lessons and models for any nonprofit. I hope that the app has legs beyond this election-specific effort for public media organizations and for other nonprofits who want to reach donors and make change in new ways!

What does this project need?

This project really needs two things:

  1. A great app developer looking to build his or her portfolio or help the public media cause!
  2. More public radio and television stations who want to pilot the app in their local communities!

What’s next for this project?
We hope to launch this project in our local market in Upstate New York as soon as possible. With a group of pilot stations, we can take it further and faster and craft lessons for all of public media. Who knows— maybe someday, you won’t hear your local station asking for donations and offering tote bags; maybe you’ll just tap your Change Jar when you hear something good!

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.


M+R and NTEN’s 2015 Nonprofit Benchmarks Report returns for the ninth year, the ultimate guide to nonprofit industry standards for online fundraising, advocacy, and list building. The data from the nonprofits we survey is big. So big, it couldn’t be contained by two measly dimensions, and had to be released in 3D. But the really exciting thing is that we’ve crunched numbers from a whopping 84 organizations this year (last year we worked with 53 organizations), which means more data, more insight, and more takeaways about nonprofit fundraising, list building, and advocacy to share with all of you.

We’ve also added three new sectors to our line up, which means we have data from organizations working in environmental, international, rights, wildlife/animal welfare, hunger/poverty, cultural, and health fields (also: other).

What did the findings reveal? Here’s what you need to know about nonprofit online fundraising and advocacy last year:

  1. Online revenue is up! Online revenue increased by 13 percent from 2013 to 2014 for the groups in our study thanks to a 32% increase in monthly giving and 16.6% increase in web traffic.
  2. More gifts in smaller amounts. Nonprofits are reaching more people but their average donation is smaller. The average online one-time gift was $104 and monthly gifts were $23 for participants in our study last year. For every 1,000 web visitors, participants raised $610 – that’s 61 cents per visitor, down 12 percent from the year before.
  3. Forty bucks and 29 actions. If you’re like the groups in our study, that’s how much money you’ll raise and the number of actions your supporters will take for every 1,000 fundraising and advocacy messages you send.
  4. Audiences on social media are growing faster than email – but email still reaches a lot more supporters. For every 1,000 email subscribers, our participants had 285 Facebook fans and 112 Twitter followers.
  5. About three quarters of nonprofits are investing in paid marketing online, including paid search, retargeting, and text and display ads. And many organizations are investing big bucks — 16% of respondents spent $100,000 or more in paid search alone last year.

> Download the 2015 Nonprofit Benchmarks Study (and share it with your peers!) 

You can also check out the infographic that details key findings from the report, and create your very own infographic with your benchmarks. Also, check out the article that appeared in Mashable: Leading nonprofits are raising more money online than ever before.

If you’re interested in learning more about this report, register for our free webinar next Wednesday, May 6 at 11:00am-12:00pm PT.

For this month’s Connect theme, a number of speakers are previewing the great breakout sessions they are preparing for the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Austin, TX March 4-6. Following is a preview of one of over 100 breakout sessions.

Nonprofit organizations are always looking to find new and exciting ways to engage past and potential donors, especially considering how important multi-channel fundraising is becoming.

One of the most exciting but misunderstood ways to raise money is crowdfunding, defined by Wikipedia as “the collective effort of individuals who network and pool their money, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations.”  In anticipation of the 15NTC panel “Beyond The Finish Line: Integrated Social Fundraising” that I’ll be presenting alongside some other wonderful nonprofits, I wanted to flesh out how crowdfunding compares to the overall idea of social fundraising.

Before you join the crowdfunding frenzy, it is important to ask yourself the following question: Is crowdfunding right for your nonprofit?

The answer is: it depends. As part of an organization that initiated one of the most successfully-funded comic book campaigns in Kickstarter history, I understand the allure of crowdfunding for your nonprofit. Yet many factors need to be taken into account before initiating a campaign.

Will crowdfunding help your mission?

The most important factor when evaluating any fundraising strategy is how it articulates and connects to your mission. The core idea behind crowdfunding campaigns is that they are stand-alone and have a defined end to their “ask” period. Some great ways that crowdfunding might work for your organization are:

  • Project- or program-specific campaigns
  • Capital campaigns
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns tied to an event

Crowdfunding platforms, like IndieGogo and Kickstarter, can be useful for these types of defined campaigns but should be viewed as part of a larger strategy of fundraising. Nonprofits should not “make the mistake of thinking that these sites are magical cures for all of their revenue woes” (“How to Use Crowd-Funding Sites to Raise Money for Your Non-Profit,” The Fundraising Authority) 

A great stewardship program that rewards donors with direct communication, updates on the organization’s progress, and makes donors feel like they are part of your mission should be the foundational goal of any fundraising effort, crowdfunded or not.

Have you weighed the costs and benefits?

The obvious costs and benefits when evaluating crowdfunding as an option are the fees associated with any service that you choose and the potential income. Some crowdfunding services actually have plans built for nonprofits, but do the research into the realities of what payment processing fees will be applied if you succeed – or fail!

However, the cost/benefit analysis needs to go further than just how much money you may receive after processing fees are taken out. To successfully run a crowdfunded campaign, your organization will need to invest time, energy, and social capital to reach out to your network. Some great questions to ask when considering crowdfunding are:

  • What is your organization’s staff and volunteer capacity for marketing a crowdfunded campaign?
  • Will your donors understand the crowdfunded program’s place in your overall fundraising strategy?
  • How much time will your organization need to spend on fulfilling pledged benefits after the campaign is completed?

Furthermore, what about the data from your campaign? Your organization should make sure that you have a strategy to not only get any data from a crowdfunded platform into your CRM, but also steward your new donors as part of your overall fundraising strategy.

Is crowdfunding the same as social fundraising?

In many ways, crowdfunding is closely connected to social fundraising. However, the idea of social fundraising is more focused on empowerment of constituents to raise money for you as opposed to “buying” a stake in your project or mission’s success, like crowdfunding.

With social fundraising, the reward is more focused on raising the most money for the organization.  With crowdfunding, there may be actual physical items associated with a pledge level.

The real point of either crowdfunding or social fundraising is ensuring that your message is always rooted in the core of your mission. If it becomes transactional in nature, then there is a very high chance that your campaign has lost its way.

How can I best leverage social media for crowdfunding?

This is perhaps the toughest thing to ensure an accurate answer for, since the idea of something being “viral” is not something that can easily be “bottled” and shared.

What will make something easily shareable across social networks will be a combination of three basics:

  • Easy to understand
  • Easy to identify with
  • Easy to quantify success

What this means is that your potential donors should be able to pick up on the message, think it applies to their lives, and understand that it will make an impact as soon as possible.

Different social media networks will showcase your mission in different ways, so ensure that the proper ROI is being invested in each.

So is crowdfunding right for your organization?

Crowdfunding is potentially a unique and exciting way to engage new and existing donors to your organization, but it should never take the place of good old-fashioned stewardship. The best crowdfunding campaigns will articulate your mission, engage your donors, and invest them in your organization’s success well beyond the end of the campaign.

It’s that time again: the end of the year. It’s a time to reflect on 2014 and look forward to 2015, for you and your organization. Chances are, no matter what holiday you may or may not be celebrating, you’re in the spirit of giving. That’s great news for the nonprofit industry. In fact, people give more to charitable organizations throughout the month of December than in any other month.

So what can your nonprofit do to benefit from all of the giving feelings this time of year?

While there are plenty of ways that you can boost donations at year-end, the single-most effective tactic is to make sure you have a killer online donation page.

Donation pages are crucial for converting website visitors into donors. After all, they are the pages on which your visitor actually MAKES the donation, and they’re often prominently featured in your website’s navigation, homepage, and online ads. Because donation pages are so important, you need to make sure that your organization’s page is up to speed and ready to convert the maximum amount of visitors. To help you create your own killer donation page, I scoured the web and found a few excellent examples of donation pages to use as guides.

1. Care

Care is a charity that fights poverty in 87 developing countries. While they have an all-around solid site, their donation landing page is particularly effective.

Most importantly, this page has a clear call to action right up front: “Donate: Your Donation Today Will Be Matched.” It’s important to make sure that your site visitors know exactly what it is you want them to do on your page.

The basic research a person would likely perform prior to donating to Care is all available right on the page. There’s a mission statement up in the corner, so Care’s visitors know what they’re donating to; there are two pie charts demonstrating how Care uses their funds; and there are several stamps of approval from third party agencies.

In the donation choice section, Care includes suggested gift amounts with an additional field to give a custom gift amount. Having both suggested amounts and a custom field can be the best of both worlds: suggested amounts give a visitor a good idea of the donation amounts your charity appreciates, while a custom field allows them to give what fits their budget.

The landing page also uses a simple billing form that doesn’t require registration. People want to be able to give quickly and simply. Many do not want to sign up for your emails.

In addition, Care runs a special holiday fundraising campaign. Seasonal campaigns like this are useful because they give donors a deadline and provide a sense of urgency to give. Limiting the window of opportunity to participate in a promotional campaign is a classic business sales tactic that for-profit organizations employ this time of year; nonprofits can also benefit from the same strategy.

2. Convoy of Hope

Convoy of Hope provides disaster relief and sustainability programs to the continental US. Their donation form is particularly effective because it states what your gift will be able to accomplish (i.e. a gift of $30 feeds one child for 6 months). It also offers you the option of including a comment with your gift. This type of selection box not only helps a donor know exactly what their money will go toward, but also allows them to provide specific instructions on how to use the gift, making the gift more tangible to the donor.

3. RoadRunner Food Bank

RoadRunner Food Bank of New Mexico is an organization that supplies food to 70,000 hungry people every week. They have a very unique donation page with a recently implemented @Pay button. The @Pay button is a pay portal that allows payments to be made with just two clicks. The ease of payment makes donors more likely to complete their first donation and even more likely to donate again in the future.

RoadRunner also uses Thanksgiving imagery to make the page relevant to the season, and explains in great detail the work that they are able to do in New Mexico. This kind of storytelling allows them to build trust with potential donors, as well as tug at their heartstrings. And we all know when you tug at the heartstrings, it loosens the wallet-strings, too.

4. Goodwill Industries International

You probably know Goodwill from their stores and donation centers, but they’re also a charity that helps people find employment and provide for their families. They have a wonderful donation page that, like the RoadRunner example, also uses powerful storytelling. But instead of telling their story in writing, an embedded video on the page puts a human face to their cause and reinforces why donors should give. According to DonorDrive, fundraisers who customize their donation pages with a personalized video, images, or messaging raise 20% more funds, on average. After all, the internet is a visual medium and more and more consumers (think donors) prefer video and images over words.

Further, Goodwill’s page provides trust-boosting statistics that help inform about their cause in a visually engaging way.

So, as you kick off your own end-of-year donation pages and start planning for 2015, keep these four examples in mind. Don’t forget to KISS and TIE (Keep It Simple, Stupid, and Test It Everytime!). Good luck! Let us know what you find works and what doesn’t work in the comments below.

Many nonprofit organizations are leaning heavily on digital marketing and donation appeals due to the ever-growing cost of snail mail, among other reasons. If your organization is adopting this trend, are you utilizing the right tools and strategies to optimize the amount of online donations you receive?

Here, we’ll explain two simple strategies for improving your organization’s corporate giving metrics by making just a few simple edits to your website.

“Ways to Give” and Donation Confirmation Web Pages

Almost every nonprofit has a section on its website that allows constituents to make an online donation. When donors have the easy and convenient option to donate with a credit or debit card, it increases the likelihood of securing a donation. On these pages (pre- and post-donation), your organization can add images, links, and other kinds of attention-catching items to educate your donors about the possibility of matching gifts.

Briefly put, matching gifts are a kind of corporate giving program in which an employer will match an employee’s donation, generally dollar for dollar, to an eligible nonprofit organization. For example, when an employee of General Electric makes a $50 donation to a charity of their choice, GE will match the donation at a 1:1 ratio, resulting in a total of $100 donated to the charity.

If you need another reason to promote matching gifts to your donors, more than 65% of Fortune 500 companies offer some form of matching gift program, and thousands of other corporations (big and small) do, too. There are billions of dollars being left behind annually because nonprofits don’t take full advantage of these corporate giving programs – don’t be part of that statistic!

Include a catchy image that mentions matching gifts on your “Ways to Give” page and on your donation confirmation page (you’re already three-quarters the way to victory, since they’ve already made the initial donation), to get the attention of your donors. Because many donors simply don’t know about matching gift opportunities, it’s a simple and effective way to increase the amount of money being brought in through corporate giving programs.

Meals on Wheels of San Francisco includes Employer Matching Gifts as a subsection of their Ways to Give page. When someone clicks on Employer Matching Gifts, they see a catchy image inviting donors to check to see if their employer will match their gift as well as two short paragraphs describing how easy it is for donors to get their gifts to the nonprofit matched.

Volunteer Opportunity Pages

Most nonprofit organizations also offer the opportunity for constituents to volunteer, whether it’s skill-based volunteering or hands-on help at events. Using these pages to promote volunteer grant programs is another great way to utilize your digital savviness to increase fundraising dollars.

While the number of corporations offering volunteer grant programs as part of their corporate philanthropy isn’t as high as the number offering matching gift programs, there is still a large amount of money being unclaimed by nonprofit organizations via their volunteers.

When an employee of a company volunteers with an eligible nonprofit organization, there is the opportunity for that employee to submit a volunteer grant request, which come in two different forms. Some companies require employees to volunteer a certain number of hours before they can request a volunteer grant (for example, if an employee of Best Buy volunteers 40 hours in one year, Best Buy will provide a $1,000 monetary grant to the same organization). The other type of grant is when a company will pay a per hour rate. For example, if a Capital One employee volunteers with a nonprofit organization, Capital One will pay $1 per hour volunteered.

Again, the biggest obstacle for a nonprofit organization trying to receive donations via volunteer grant programs is the lack of knowledge on the constituent’s level. Use your website to educate your volunteers! Include pictures, fancy buttons, and simple text that promote corporate giving programs to your followers, and simply ask them to check with their companies about these kinds of opportunities.

The Colon Cancer Alliance shows off a variety of ways to get involved with the organization through an easy to navigate page that includes each type of opportunity.

By making some simple edits to your organization’s website, you can increase your fundraising totals. Matching gifts and volunteer grants are great programs that many people just don’t know about (or if they do, they think they are long, tedious processes, and that’s just not true).

Use technological tools to educate your constituents about the easy-to-do aspects of these requests (most companies offer online corporate giving requests!) and the immense benefit your organization will see from increased funding. Again, once your organization has the volunteers and donors, you’re more than halfway toward increased funding. Just ask them to take the extra step (and of course, do it with flair), and they’ll be likely to oblige.

For many organizations, their primary means of receiving donations is through their donation page. For this reason, it is really important that you make sure that your page works well and is straightforward for your donors to navigate. Here are a few tips on how to make your online donation page the best that it can be.

1. Keep it simple

The more complicated your donation process is to your members, the more difficult and confusing it will be for them. It will be harder for you to keep track of, as well.

The key to making the process easy for your members and donors is functionality and simplicity. A typical donor will expect a few things from a donation page—not just an e-commerce form that asks for credit card information. Create a simple page that explains why they should give, and what their money supports. Provide a simple way to make the donation and make it clear, if using a third party payment gateway, what they will see on their credit card statement. Make sure to also have a statement that you will not give their information to any other charities or organizations.

Here are some examples of some effective donation pages:

  • Johns Hopkins Giving—This site is devoted solely to giving.  It explains why you should give, where you should give, and how to give. Also, it includes a great section that has stories about Hopkins students and professors.
  • United Way—United Way shows a nice chart that shows you how much of their donations go to each area.
  • Red Cross—Here there is a nice first page that lets donors designate where they would like their money to go.

2. Don’t force visitors to register before donating

If you require site visitors to register before donating, chances are that it will turn them off to donating. Many people do not want to have to fill out another form or join something they don’t want to join. Instead, set up a self-explanatory donation process that allows people to donate without registering, but give them some registration options on the page in case they would like to join later (like in the Red Cross example above, where donors have the option to either continue without signing in, or sign in to use previously saved payment information).

3. Show how you will be using the funds

As mentioned before, showing your donors how you will be using the money that they donate is really important—if your donors aren’t sure exactly where their money will be going, they will be less inclined to give. A pie chart or a graph that demonstrates the distribution of funds is a reassurance to donors that their money is in good hands. In addition to the United Way page mentioned above, here are a few more examples of donation pages that display a pie chart or graph of where their donations go:

4. Continuously test your donation page

Always making changes and testing your donation page will make a difference in how many donations you receive online, according to a presentation from by Eugene Flynn of 54 Degrees. He says that if you increase your conversion rate from 40% to 80%, then you’ve doubled your online donations for just a small investment of money. He gives some examples of what you should test as well, including page heading, donation amounts, form layout, and button text. According to Convio (Blackbaud), a normal web donation page that has never been tested converts fewer than 15% of its visitors.

Have any advice on making a great online donation page? Add them in the comments below!

SOS Children’s Villages is a large international children’s charity helping orphaned and abandoned children in 133 countries around the world. SOS Children’s Villages Canada’s role is to raise funds in Canada to fund programs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Using SEO To Attract Overseas Donations

So much rides on our search engine rankings. In Canada, 3 to 6 percent of donated dollars go to international charities. It’s a very competitive marketplace for all nonprofits and extremely competitive for international charities. Advertising can be effective, but it’s also costly. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) allows us to capture the attention of the niche market of people who may want to make an overseas donation.

Most new donors don’t go looking for SOS Children’s Villages Canada specifically. A new donor typically finds us after seeing a news media report. For example, after 250 girls were abducted in Nigeria, potential donors searching for more information discovered our work operating schools and helping children in Nigeria. Any issue related to vulnerable children, protection of child rights, gender equality, and orphans can drive potential donors to our website. Once donors find us, our content must clearly help them understand the need.

Why Google Didn’t Love Our Content

The search engines should have loved all our granular content, but they weren’t even seeing it. As it turned out, our own proprietary shared hosting platform was the culprit. Here’s why:

1. Slow page load times. Page load times are critical for SEO. But because we were hosted in Europe on a proprietary platform, our page load times were too slow for Google and other search engines. Users didn’t seem to notice, but our search engine rankings told another story.

2. Not SEO-Optimized. In addition, our website wasn’t optimized for SEO or for usability. Google Grants gives us $10,000 a month in Google AdWords funding, which is really effective if your site is optimized. Ours wasn’t, putting a damper on low-cost marketing strategies like SEO and free advertising. For example, our page on Angola didn’t have a page rank at all because it was seen as duplicate content.

Transitioning From A Shared Hosting Platform

When we made the decision 8 years ago to pool resources with 25 other nations to share a joint proprietary platform, it seemed like a good way to save money. But it wasn’t as cost-effective as we thought. Not only were our search engine rankings suffering, but we were investing a significant development budget each year to maintain the proprietary platform, costing us 18,000 CAD a year.

We wanted to spend donors’ money more effectively so we could drive SEO and bring in more donations. In 2013, we decided to go rogue from the joint platform.

The Solution: Open Source & Drupal

We chose open source and Drupal. We wanted a powerful and cost-effective website that was optimized for SEO, so we engaged a Drupal web development agency to build it.

The Results

Our page ranks are increasing, while our load times are decreasing. Like most charities, we raise the majority of our funds in the two months leading up to Christmas and just beyond. It’s still early, but we’re already well-positioned for this year. We’re slightly up over last year at this time, when we were fundraising for one-time donations during an international crisis and getting an unusual amount of press.

1. Giant leaps up in Google rankings

On pages with the exact same content, we’ve seen page ranks shoot up 4 full points—Angola rose from 1 to 5, for example. Now we’re indexed correctly to Google. The right third-party modules have all been configured and installed. Our new website platform optimizes page delivery within our design, allowing us to increase each page’s perceived value within the search engine marketplace. We’re actually showing up in other nations ahead of the local SOS National Association for that nation—specifically, in anglophone countries. People are starting to ask us what we’re doing differently.

2. Much better page load times 

Our improved search rankings can be directly attributed to the lower page load times. Getting on Drupal and using the new website platform decreased our page load time significantly, averaging 49.7% faster average load time. As a result, Google immediately assigned a better quality score to our pages, and to our site overall.

3. Award-winning design

Our new website was so visually appealing that it outshone 5,000 competitors in 24 countries to win the 2014 Summit Creative Award, Silver medal, for a nonprofit website.

Parting Thoughts

If a colleague at another nonprofit were to ask, “What’s the best way to manage our large nonprofit website?” I would tell them this: “Option 1 is hiring a team to build the infrastructure on a cloud provider. Starting from scratch, they set up the servers and all the infrastructures. Then, they configure everything to make it high-performing for Drupal. In the end, you pay tens of thousands a year for hosting, and your search engine rankings could still suffer. We’ve been down that road. Option 2 is running your website on a container-based cloud infrastructure. You don’t need to worry about constant infrastructure maintenance or reconfiguring the architecture whenever your audience grows. And, because your site is so much faster, growing your audience through SEO becomes much easier. At least, that’s been our experience.”

Though seeking online donations can be an efficient means to spread the word of your cause, it’s becoming increasingly crowded, making it difficult to capture the attention of those most likely to care about your message. Here are some best practices to implement into your fundraising efforts to cut through the clutter of a crowded online donation space.

Establish a clear brand identity that works everywhere

Because donations often have a personal motivation, soliciting donations from the virtual world adds an additional layer of complexity. Establishing a clear, relevant and consistent brand across your online and traditional tactics will help to build a sense of familiarity for your organization. In fact, data indicates that the presence of an established and consistent brand on a donor page can boost donation likelihood by nearly 15 percent, and increase repeat donations by 38 percent.

Cater to appropriate devices

If you do not know the devices visitors use to access your site (particularly on the donor page), you may be missing an opportunity to convert “low hanging fruit” already drawn to your cause. Using a free tool like Google Analytics, you can determine which devices your audience uses to confirm that your site is functional and responsive to relevant operating systems and screen orientations. Ensure that visitors can navigate your website from their device, easily input their credit card and bank account information to make a donation — and share their support of your cause on their social networks.

Make it easy to donate

While branding on your donation form is important, less is more in the remainder of your site’s appearance. Remove unnecessary navigation and search boxes, and “autofill” information that will expedite the customer’s donation experience. Do not force them to create a registered user account, and eliminate duplicate requests for shipping and billing information. Suggest pre-determined donation amounts that the user can select from a drop-down menu (along with the ability to enter a customized donation amount). Additionally, provide a checkbox offering the customers to receive the receipt by email, and demonstrate that payments are secure by showing recognizable logos confirming as much in your footer.

Ensure donors of your legitimacy

Regardless of your cause, donors want to know where their money will go and who will benefit from their gift. Disclose exactly where a customer’s donation goes and the purpose it will serve. Consider using tools like pie charts in your online communications that itemize where donations go, and add language from your organization’s leader explaining the strategy behind the financial allocations. If donations to your cause are tax-deductible, make it simple for donors to secure the appropriate tax information to claim the benefit. If you are affiliated with larger parent organizations or have affiliations within your local community, secure permission from those groups to include their logo in your campaigns and branding materials as well.

Ask for continued support

You invest considerable time and effort into convincing donors of your worthy cause — boost your donation retention by taking advantage of integrated payment processing tools that ask the customer’s permission to make automatic recurring donations, whether monthly, quarterly, or yearly. Allow the user to select the option to automatically donate a recurring amount with the click of a button, and display clear language indicating that they can end the recurring donation at any time.

Spread the word

Your most likely online potential donor pool can be difficult to predict, but birds of a feather flock together. Give site visitors and donors the ability to easily share your cause with their social networks (and the option to share the fact that they’ve made a donation to it). As you expand your online reach with the help of those supporters, you may begin to learn more about the types of people who care about your message, so you deepen and refine future online marketing efforts.

Customize emails to the reader

Compelling imagery can be invaluable to an online donor campaign in the ability to evoke emotion, but an overreliance on such imagery can actually work against your online donor efforts — especially with email campaigns. For example, Litmus email analytics estimates that 43 percent of Gmail users check their email without turning the images on. Analyze your donor marketing list to ensure that the images you do use are appropriate to the majority of email clients your recipient list uses, and redesign messages that will be essentially be “meaningless” if the recipient cannot view the images.

Though the online donation space is becoming increasingly crowded, it’s a cost-efficient mode of communication that nonprofit organizations should try to leverage in efforts to reach donors. By incorporating these best practices into online donation efforts, you can manage the costs associated with marketing and, ideally, locate more financial supporters for your cause.

Leading your nonprofit to success means being nimble and having the ability to quickly respond to your supporters.  With online giving on the rise, it behooves nonprofit leadership to focus on embracing technologies for more effective fundraising.

So how do you create a user experience that will motivate donors to take it a step further than just a $5 donation and a goodbye? How do you engage them so they will champion your cause and ultimately spread your message to their friends and family? It’s not as hard as you think. There are a few key strategies and technologies to embrace in order take your fundraising campaigns to the next level.

Donors are busy—You need to be in their pocket

Your donors are mobile, and so your website has to be easy for them to access from wherever they are. Maybe you’re a small theater company, and a thrilled patron pulls out their phone in the lobby at intermission to make a donation right then and there. Or perhaps someone waiting at an airport hears a news item about a flood and wants to donate to victims’ relief. Donations are often made for emotional reasons, so you have to be right there in your donors’ pockets while they’re in the mood. Make sure you make mobile giving easy.

Listen more—Know why your donor gets up in the morning

Do you really take the time to get to know your donors? You should. If you stop and listen, you will learn more about their passions and what drives them. Ask open-ended questions and get them talking. Have you thought about asking for feedback? Find out why they did (or didn’t) donate to your last fundraising campaign. Ask why they care about your organization. The more you understand, the better job you can do to match your campaign’s content or “ask” to what your supporters care most about. Relationships are key when raising money.

Use graphics to get attention

NP Engage, a great source of information for anyone engaged in nonprofit work, shows us an example of a fundraising page for Charity: Water. The image below catches your eye, showing a glass of fresh clean water next to a glass of dirty water. The “donate now” button on the page is a contrasting bright blue color. This visual cue that shows what the donation will do is much more persuasive than any number of words could possibly be.

Charity: Water
Charity: Water 

Build your community—Use social media to convey your message

The rise of social media has turned marketing into a two-way conversation. You have to reach out to your donors in whatever online habitat they like to hang out in—and then ask them questions, listen to what they have to say, and generally just tune in to how their lives are going. While they’re reading your latest email newsletter or checking out the cool photos you just posted on Facebook and Twitter, donors will also see your “Donate” link that’s always right there.

Be sure to say thank you

It is often overlooked and one of the most basic rules—say thank you. This is key! Donors want to know that they are making a difference. They are the ones that truly believe they can help drive change in this world. So help them feel special. Be sure to thank them for their gift.  And if you can, go the extra mile to let them know exactly how their gift made an impact. Did it buy 15 backpacks so underprivileged kids can go to school? Did it feed five hungry children? Communication builds trust, and trust builds repeat donors. Donors want to feel a part of something important and if appreciated, will be very loyal supporters.

Use technology—the right technology 

If you work in the nonprofit industry, you can’t help but notice that online donations are growing at double digits annually. You need to get your slice of that pie. But keeping up with the fast pace of innovation isn’t an easy task.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy talked to six nonprofit groups that receive more than half their online donations from donors on a regular monthly or yearly schedule. These groups said that the way to get repeat donations is simple: make it easy for donors to give.  Don’t require donors to re-enter their information each time they give.  This is particularly important on mobile devices.  Be sure you offer your most loyal donors an easy, secure 1-click way to donate.

When looking at donation tools, there are three key areas to consider:

  1. Donor Experience: With donation drop-off at 85 percent, you’re looking for a solution that doesn’t get in the way of any donation—regardless of the device a donor is using. Ideally, you don’t want to ask your donors to create a username and password to manage an account.
  2. Data Security: This is the holy grail of 1-click donations. To reap the benefits of easy, 1-click donations, your technology provider needs to securely store user credit card information—which instantly ups the possibility of being a breach target. And quite often, that information is protected by usernames and passwords—files that are easily stolen and decrypted. Look for a solution that has expertise with data security to truly get a secure 1-click solution.
  3. Ease of Integration and Overall Flexibility: How hard is the integration? Will it work with the systems you have—CRM, Website, Email?  Is the 1-click donations solution portable? The speed of innovation is breathtaking, and you need to ensure that you have the flexibility to use the best solutions across all your initiatives. The ideal 1-click solution operates independently of, yet integrated into, your CRM and website.

The nonprofit world has entered the ecommerce marketplace. With modern technology providing the advancements needed to communicate better and solicit donations more seamlessly, connecting with your donors and raising the bar on your next fundraising campaign is easier now than it’s ever been.