More people are fundraising online than ever before, and the same will be true in 2020 and beyond! The internet has completely changed how we connect with each other, conduct business, and look up information, so it’s little wonder that it’s also become one of the most important (and effective) ways for nonprofits and individuals to raise money for their causes.
Whether you’re a nonprofit organization, a school, a church, a social club, an entrepreneur, or even an individual looking for some support online, learning the basics of online fundraising can take you far.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through some best practices for raising money online in 2020 — just like the pros. At Snowball Fundraising, we create online fundraising tools to help growing nonprofits get up and running quickly, so we know what it takes to succeed online these days. We’ll start with an overview and then move onto specific strategies and resources to explore. Here’s what we’ll cover:
|The Basics||Resources & Ideas|
|Getting Started||Online Fundraising Tools|
|Online Fundraising Strategies||Online Fundraising Platforms|
|Marketing Your Fundraiser||Online Fundraising Ideas|
Use the table above to jump to a specific section, or follow along with us from the top. Either way, you’ll be raising more in no time!
Overview of Online Fundraising
2020 should be a big year for online fundraising. Not only are we increasingly comfortable making transactions online and expressing ourselves through online engagement, but it’s also an election year. The “Election Effect” can be observed every time a new election cycle rolls around, and it’s been especially pronounced over the past several years. Online audiences are more engaged than ever and very willing to financially support the causes, people, and projects that they care about.
Even in an unpredictable economy, small-scale online donors are happy to give when you put in the time to develop meaningful relationships and create unique engagement opportunities. With the right strategies in place, you can definitely succeed online. Consider these recent statistics for an idea of the bigger picture:
- The typical return donor makes a second donation around 349 days after their first donation. However, 19% of donors return within the first 90 days. The second donation, or”Golden Donation,” is the one that means you’ve definitely secured that donor’s long-term support.
- 8.5% of overall fundraising in 2018 came from online giving. Online fundraising represents a ton of money raised each year, but it’s important to remember that it’s just one piece of a much bigger puzzle!
- The number of new donors giving to charity declined by 7.3% in 2018. The number of new retained donors dropped 14.9%. It’s more important than ever that you work hard to develop engaging relationships with your donors. Otherwise, new causes will grab their attention and support.
Why fundraise online?
To put it simply, because that’s where the people are! If you’re fundraising for a broad cause and want support from anyone who’s interested, you can reach a large national (or global) audience. At the same time, the internet and social media also make it possible to target much smaller local audiences to donate to local projects and programs. This ability to reach tons of donors at once or laser-focus to specific audiences makes the internet an incredibly versatile outlet for fundraising.
People and organizations start fundraising online for a very wide variety of reasons today. Some of the most common reasons include:
- Raising donations for a charitable mission or particular campaign for a nonprofit organization
- Raising support for a school, church, or community program
- Generating interest and initial funding for a personal project or initiative
- Seeking financial support from friends and neighbors for a personal issue, like unexpected medical costs
Nonprofit organizations (or schools, churches, or community groups) and individuals will need to fundraise online in slightly different ways, but the core strategies that each follows should be generally the same.
Getting Started with Online Fundraising
To get started raising money online, you’ll need to learn the essentials. Even before getting started, it’s a good idea to cover your bases with a free online donation tool. This will enable you to begin collecting funds even as the rest of your strategy comes together. Once you’re able to fundraise online, it’s time to review the important steps that go into planning any type of campaign:
- Define your needs. Why are you fundraising online? If it’s just because you want money, that’s not good enough, and it won’t inspire anyone to support you. What’s your nonprofit’s mission or the unique project that needs help getting off the ground?
- Review your toolkit. What online fundraising tools do you already have? You might be starting from scratch, or you might already have a nice website and social media profile set up. Take stock of the resources you’ve already got. This will make it easier to identify the tools that you still need. Starting from scratch? Check out these top free options.
- Understand your audience. Who is your target donor? What motivates them? What do they enjoy and care about? Think about these questions early on in the process. Marketing and promoting your campaign is a huge part of succeeding with online fundraising.
- Set concrete goals. Establish a specific financial goal to work towards. Doing this now will really help to keep your efforts focused down the line. You might create extra goals, like “reach X number of new donors,” but make sure your main one is set in stone first.
- Set a timeline. Next, set a hard deadline. When does your campaign end? Then, set benchmark periods periodically leading up to the deadline. At those benchmark points, you’ll check in on your campaign’s progress and make any new adjustments or decisions as needed.
- Think about additional fundraising ideas. With the core structure of your online fundraising campaign established, take some time to consider additional fundraising ideas or in-person engagement opportunities to work in. Simple events can be effective for local-oriented campaigns. Check out our complete directory for some ideas to get started!
Online Fundraising Strategies
There are a few different types of online fundraising campaigns that are particularly successful. Here are a few top online fundraising strategies that might be worth exploring. You’ll likely recognize one or even all of these strategies, but think carefully about your needs and goals. Which method best suits those needs and goals?
Setting up and promoting a donation page
How it works: Using online donation software, set up a branded donation page for your campaign or project. Make sure to choose a donation tool that gives you plenty of customization options while also offering a streamlined experience for donors. Then, work hard to promote your donation page online via social media, email, and your own website.
Why it works: When your donation page doesn’t slow down your supporters at all, it’s the single most direct way for them to engage with and support your cause online. Check out our guide to making the perfect donation page for more details.
How it works: You post your cause on a crowdfunding website where users can see a variety of charitable projects and consider funding them. Promote your crowdfunding campaign heavily on social media, asking supporters to share the page, too. Crowdfunding platforms take care of the logistics while you focus on spreading the word. When you reach your goal, you receive the payout.
Why it works: Crowdfunding is an efficient fundraising model that taps into the power of social media. If you don’t want to use a third party site to host your campaign, you can still take a note from this online fundraising strategy. Check out Fundly’s Crowdfunding 101 guide for a complete overview.
How it works: With pledge campaigns, your supporters pledge to complete a donation to your cause by a certain date in the future. For certain projects or missions, this can be extremely effective for generating a lot of support quickly. Disaster relief is a good example, but pledge fundraising drives are flexible and can be adapted to a variety of contexts.
Why it works: This online fundraising strategy works because it forces you to focus on making the process as fast and persuasive as possible. Pledge fundraising is also great for exposing your cause to large new audiences. Study up with our full guide to creating a pledge campaign.
How it works: With Virtual events, nonprofits can convert an existing in-person event to a virtual event that still allows their supporters to get together and fundraise for a good cause. They are great options for organizations that run into challenges with in-person events.
Why it works: These are still relatively new types of events but they allow supporters to develop a sense of community without leaving the comfort of their own houses. They are also easy to get set up and manage if you’ve got the right tools. For more information, OneCause put together a great guide about virtual events and best practices that organizations should keep in mind.
How it works: Peer-to-peer fundraising has become extremely popular among nonprofits. Basically, you allow supporters to create their own mini-fundraising pages that they promote online and use to fundraise on your behalf. With an overarching campaign strategy and an exciting goal, peer-to-peer fundraising is highly effective.
Why it works: This online fundraising strategy is very engaging for your supporters, deepening your relationships with them. Plus, wider audiences will be more compelled to give your cause when it’s being promoted by a loved one. Check out this complete guide to P2P fundraising to learn more.
How it works: Advocacy campaigns are built around specific current events, legislation, or controversies that generate public interest. Petitions, call-a-legislator pushes, email campaigns, and more are all typical techniques for advocacy campaigns. The primary goal of these campaigns is not to raise money (although you could raise some donations) but instead to create change and increase public awareness of your cause.
Why it works: Advocacy is a great way to raise your organization’s visibility and engage with passionate supporters. If you work around environmental, educational, or social issues, you could reach huge new audiences with an advocacy campaign. Plus, new tools like advocacy apps have made it easier than ever to get started.
How it works: This one’s a classic. Branded merchandise like t-shirts, mugs, buttons, and stickers have always been an easy way to raise money, and taking them online has opened up new possibilities. Nonprofits with strong brand identities can raise a lot through simple merchandise campaigns.
Why it works: Merchandise gives supporters a physical token of your organization, like a stand-in for your mission. If they’re emotionally invested in your cause, they’ll be thrilled to buy merchandise. For individual fundraisers, like new artists, merchandise can be an easy way to get in front of more eyes while raising some money in a relatively low-risk way. Check out this Bonfire guide to making custom merch for more information.
Marketing Your Online Fundraiser
Online fundraising is all about marketing. After all, the internet is a huge place, so you have to make sure your campaign both stands out and gets in front of the right people. Consider these best practices:
- Understand your target audience. Who is most likely to be inspired to make a donation to your campaign? How do you best reach them online?
- For nonprofit organizations, your existing base of donors is the smartest place to start identifying your target audience. They’ve already proven their interest in your cause! This is why keeping a database or some form of tracking system is essential for smart, modern fundraising.
- For individuals, think about who will be most compelled to support your goals. Your friends and family will likely be a good starting point but think about ways to reach others. Groups on social media, local bulletins, and more can all be smart ways to get started.
- Identify the right outlets. Once you know who will be most interested in donating to your cause or project, it’s time to think about where you’ll find them. Which social media sites are most popular with your target audience? Do you already have an email list of previous donors? For online fundraising, there are three key digital outlets to keep in mind:
- Your website – Make sure your site provides plenty of information in a concise, easy-to-use layout. Prominently link to your donation page.
- Social media – Create engaging content that encourages supporters to share it. Link out to your donation page or crowdfunding campaign.
- Email – Use your lists of existing or previous donors to send out explainers and donation requests for your new campaign. Check out our letter templates for help.
- Create a multichannel campaign. A multichannel marketing campaign is designed to engage your audience in a variety of places and then direct them all towards a central goal, in this case donating. Use your social media posts, blog posts, email blasts, and more to generate traffic and then direct it towards your donation page. An example might be encouraging social media followers to sign up for your email newsletter, where you can then motivate them to donate. Explore this in-depth guide from the tech experts at DNL OmniMedia for more tips on this strategy.
- Make sure to set some KPIs. KPIs, or key performance indicators, are the metrics you use to measure the success of your marketing efforts. Without them, it’s difficult to tell exactly what works well and what doesn’t. You can set up various analytics tools to help measure these, or you can develop a manual method. At the very least, make sure your donation tools give your access to your fundraising data. It’s important to give yourself a way to identify the techniques that directly contribute to your goals. Typical KPIs for fundraising marketing include:
- Total amount of donations raised by the campaign
- Total number of individual donations raised by the campaign
- Number of new donors acquired
- Number of previous donors retained
- Number of new email subscribers or social media followers
- Web traffic generated
These days, it’s relatively easy to develop your own professional-caliber marketing strategy using free or inexpensive tools. However, if your nonprofit is looking for a more comprehensive, enterprise-style marketing toolkit, it’s worth investing in software designed specifically for that purpose. Check out these leading software suites for more information.
Online Fundraising Tools
You can’t fundraise online without the right tools. Donation pages, fundraising platforms, ticketing tools, marketing software, and more all play crucial roles in a well-developed fundraising toolkit. The field can definitely be overwhelming for newcomers, so it’s important to cover your bases first. The ability to accept donations online while you begin nailing down your full strategies will be critical.
We definitely recommend our own Snowball suite of donation tools! It’s the easiest way for nonprofits, churches, schools, and small groups alike to get up and running with online fundraising tools quickly. The suite includes:
- Online donation pages
- Recurring gift options
- Full access to your fundraising data
- Unlimited accounts
And that’s just the free version. For an additional yearly fee, you get access to a complete set of text-to-give tools, fundraising thermometers, and event ticketing features.
Of course, you’ll likely need more than just these tools as your fundraising operations grow. Data management, donor outreach, and digital marketing software all play crucial roles in a nonprofit’s online fundraising toolkit. Check out our complete set of reviews of the top nonprofit software on the market today:
Online Fundraising Platforms
Online fundraising platforms are websites where you can raise money by tapping into the site’s existing tools and audience. These tend to be useful resources for individuals fundraising for personal projects or causes. However, they’re not always the best choice for nonprofits organizations that can generate more long-term value by building their own toolkits of fundraising software.
Online fundraising platforms typically work through crowdfunding, although they come in all shapes and sizes. Explore these resources if a web-based platform seems like the best move for your campaign or project:
- Top Free Fundraising Software Providers for Nonprofits
- Top 15+ Crowdfunding Websites by Double the Donation
- Re:Charity’s Top Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Platforms
- PayPal Alternatives for Nonprofits: A Comprehensive Guide
Remember, for organizations, small groups, schools, and churches, building your own toolkit of online donation tools tends to be the smarter choice than using standalone platforms. This is because using your own tools is more efficient in the long-run than constantly setting up new campaigns on third-party sites. Plus, the ability to generate, store, and analyze your past fundraising data is essential for improving your strategies down the line.
Online Fundraising Ideas to Launch Your Campaign
There are tons of fundraising ideas out there to help your campaign stand out or to help structure it in an engaging way. Consider a few tried-and-true fundraising ideas that can be easily adapted for online success:
- Online raffles
- Email campaigns
- Viral video challenges for social media
- Merchandise design contests
- Seasonal or holiday item sales
- Online auction event
- Corporate matching gifts
- Community outreach campaigns
Online fundraising ideas perform well when they’re especially engaging and when they take advantage of opportunities that might otherwise be overlooked. Corporate matching gifts and social media engagement are great examples.
Keep exploring with our complete directory of fundraising ideas, but be sure to put your own creative, digital spin on the ideas that best suit your campaign, audience, and goals!
Online fundraising can unlock huge new opportunities for your organization or team! Bookmark this page and be sure to continue your research. Most importantly, take the time to develop real strategies (and back them up with the right tools), and you’ll be set for success. Check out these additional resources for more ideas and support:
- Recurring Donations: Building a Stronger Fundraising Model. Securing recurring donations from supporters is the single best way to ensure your organization’s success! Learn more about these crucial gifts and how to target them.
- Starting a Nonprofit Checklist: 14 Steps. Ready to take your passion to the next level? Start the process with our easy-to-use guide. You’ll be fundraising in no time!
- Online Donation Forms: A Nonprofit’s Guide. Your donation form should be the cornerstone of your organization’s online fundraising strategies. Learn how to optimize it for success with our complete overview.
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