Study after study has documented the incredible growth of online fundraising in recent years. As the popularity of Internet commerce continues to explode across all industries, many nonprofits are realizing a similar response from online donors. Yet many other nonprofits, including camps, are still struggling to understand how to take advantage of this trend.
We recently asked a number of camp development professionals about their experiences with online fundraising. As you might expect, the response was a mixed bag of hopefulness and confusion. Some camps received as many as 50 (or more!) gifts online last year while other camps received as few as a handful. Some raised as much as $10,000 or more in online gifts last year, while others raised less than $100.
Why such a wide discrepancy? Here's what we heard from camps.
Some are finding it hard to drive people to their online giving form:
"People don't necessarily go to the website and say, "Oh, I should donate!"
Others don't believe their website is making the case for donating to camp:
"(Our website offers) inadequate education on why giving to Camp is important."
Still others are concerned that online giving could cannibalize other fundraising campaigns:
"(Do) those small asks devalue camp in the mind of the donor community? Are (they) counterproductive?"
Yet, most understand the potential of online giving:
"…there is MUCH more potential here… It is so easy to click and donate."
So, where should you start if you want to take advantage of this opportunity? Consider the following four questions to help you improve your online fundraising and positively impact your overall fundraising program.
Note that our September Webinar delves into all of these questions in more detail.
- Have you walked in your donors' shoes?
"Know your audience" is rule #1 for effective communication. Have you tried to read your communications and consider your fundraising appeals as if you were the one being asked? Different people respond to different messages in different ways at different times. Always consider your audience as you craft messages for your eNewsletters, Facebook posts, tweets, and direct mail.
Do you segment your database to better target audiences for communications and appeals? Do you tailor your messaging for specific donor and prospect segments of your audience? You can expect more generic messages - e.g. a single appeal to everyone in your database -will produce weaker response rates than a well-targeted one - e.g. a request to the CIT Class of 1984. You can use your donor database to identify your most important segment - people who have given to camp before - a group that is most likely to give again.
What you can do now
- Read your communications as if you were a donor. Better yet, ask some donors and prospect for their feedback on your drafts. Is this information of interest to readers? Is it more focused on the organization's need or on the donor?
- Run a LYBUNT (Gave Last Year But Not This Year) report to find your lapsed donors.
- Check your database - can you create a list of lapsed donors? Donors who have given more than $5000 total? Alumni vs. Parents vs. Grandparents? If not, commit right now to data management practices that will allow you to create better segmenting for more productive fundraising.
- How can you inspire your donors and prospects?
Your communications - both online and off - must inspire your audience to act. Simply stating a need is not sufficient. You can't take your audience's attention or awareness of camp for granted. Draw them in with personal stories, photographs, and even video to elicit an emotional response.
This story of a camper at URJ Camp Newman who was comforted by her camp experience is a perfect example of authentic, emotional content. Stories like this, videos, photos, and even infographics can be a powerful way to inspire as well.
For example, Stove Man is a new set of videos launched by the Paradigm Project to personalize the people they help by providing safe, efficient cooking stoves. The videos pull the donor into the work they are supporting and help them understand how their giving impacts the lives of real people. Their infographic (see above) is another visual representation of the impact of a gift.
Find the stories in your camp and use them to engage your readers. Use short headlines to capture their attention, whether in email, on Facebook, or on your blog. Find and use great pictures and videos. And when you have great content, by all means leverage it across online and offline channels. There's no need to re-create the wheel!
What you can do now
3. Is your donation page REALLY working?
- Ask your staff, board, alumni and parents for their favorite and most emotional stories about camp.
- Begin documenting these stories in a central location.
- Plan how to share these stories over all of your various communications channels.
A few years ago, Amnesty International removed just the title (Mr., Mrs., etc.) and suffix (Jr., Sr., M.D.) fields from their online donation form. The result? A 30% increase in the conversion rate. That is, 30% more people actually gave when they reached the donation page.
Making the donation page simple and quick can make a big impact on your fundraising results.
Have you tested your page for user-friendliness recently? Better yet, have someone else attempt to make an online gift and report on the pros and cons of the experience. One of the development professionals we surveyed realized their online donation process needed work:
…we could simplify the donation-collecting section of our website and make better use of social media to promote online fundraising
Other things that can drive prospective donors away before completing a gift? Too many options. Is the number of possible funds to give to overwhelming? Do you ask questions unrelated to making this gift? Is it clear who to contact if the donor runs into trouble? Have you limited the number of fields to the bare minimum?
And don't forget the inspiration. Ideally the donation page content should echo your appeal. For example, if your scholarship appeal letter includes the story of a family who couldn't attend camp without the support of scholarships, make sure that story is referenced on the donation page. A photo or quote from the full story can connect the story to the act of giving and provide the final inspiration needed to make sure the transaction is completed.
What you can do now
4. Have you integrated your communications across channels - online and off?
- Have someone test your donation page and give you objective feedback.
- Check your donation form - are there any fields you can remove? Does it have brief engaging content and stories that connect to your other campaign communications?
Many studies have confirmed what a few of our camps have noticed with their fundraising efforts - multi-channel fundraising campaigns work:
We use email and social media to support print/mail solicitations and campaigns - so they work in tandem. So when we are getting ready to close a campaign, we do a reminder via email. This generally produces a lot of online gifts but also a mini-surge in snail-mail contributions too.
When we sent a direct mail piece first, then the following email had a better than average response rate. A video embedded gets a slightly better look.
What does this mean? A multi-channel approach to fundraising and communications amplifies your inspirational messaging and results in improved fundraising.
For example, a 2010 study showed that 37% of donors gave online when they receive a fundraising letter in the mail. 14% of all online gifts were from donors who received a letter. So, what does this all mean? Steve MacLaughlin from Blackbaud discussed this particular study and what it means for fundraising:
…Humans come pre-wired to be multichannel. The key for nonprofits is to focus on the experience a donor has when they switch channels. Is it easy? Is it consistent? Is it personal? Or is it fragmented and clumsy? Successful organizations make channel flipping effortless and effective.
Once again, the key is to step in your donors' shoes, understand their expectations, and meet them. Is there an obvious, easy-to-remember link to donate online in hardcopy letters? Does this donation page emphasize (or continue) the story/message from the letter? Does your website make it easy to find the GIVE NOW button from any other page? And what if I'm old fashioned and want to make my gift by check, does it tell me where to send it?
What you can do now
- Read your appeal letters. Do they make it easy to find the appropriate donation form online?
- Check your online donation form. Is it easy to figure out how to mail a check?
- Plan your communications over all channels throughout the year. This includes cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship.
Answering these questions will help you improve all of your fundraising efforts, online and off. To learn more about how to incorporate these lessons, please review our Webinar about Generate More Giving Online and Off.