Raising Money Through the Web

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The Internet provides charities with many ways to raise money, and nonprofits that don't take advantage of them are missing valuable opportunities. Here are some of the ways you can increase your fundraising via the Web.

E-mail. This is the best way to raise money. You must start collecting and using e-mail addresses. Direct mail is one of the best ways to drive traffic to your Web site or to promote any of the other fundraising opportunities that follow.

Good lists of other e-mail addresses are hard to find and won't work nearly as well as your own list.

So, every time supporters give you information, ask for their e-mail addresses and offer to keep them informed of your group's progress through e-mail. This includes reply forms from direct mail appeals, sign-up sheets from special events, membership applications and any other time you ask for someone's phone number or address.

Change your database to include e-mail addresses. Because some are long - for example, pnachadurian@shenandoah.co.va.us - you need to allow at least 50 spaces in each record for e-mail addresses. You also should begin an e-mail newsletter, preparing a series of one- or two-paragraph stories about important events, successes and challenges. Each should conclude with a call to action (send money, call a legislator, attend a meeting, e-mail for more information).

Charity shopping malls. If the culture of your organization allows, sign up for one or more online charity shopping malls. Even if you're a novice Web surfer, you've seen Amazon.com affiliate buttons on other people's sites. If not, go to www.rickchrist.com/whois and see the ones at the bottom of that page. It's there because if you buy the book I recommend by clicking through to Amazon.com from my site, I get 15 percent of the book sale. Charity shopping malls are little more than collections of affiliate buttons that promise to share usually half of the commissions with the charity that the shopper designates. Your supporters are shopping somewhere already, so why not have them shop online with you as the beneficiary?

Choose carefully from among the more than 30 malls available. More spring up every week. Even those of us who consult in this area can't keep up with the explosive growth. Some are aimed at certain kinds of nonprofits, like schools. Others are open to any nonprofit. Some charge to sign up, though most are free. Some offer a donation to you for each person who registers, even if he does not buy anything. Some include a variety of other services, such as the ability to process credit card donations to your group. Samples include greatergood.com, igive.com, ireachout.com and charityweb.com.

Online charity auctions. If you already do a real-life charity auction, you can explore expansion of your auction to the Web. You already do all the work of collecting the items you want to sell, and you promote the auction to everyone associated with your group. But you can raise money only from the people who show up.

If you take the same auction and run it concurrently on the Internet, you'll attract more enthusiasm from local supporters as well as participation from more distant supporters.

Generally, the online auction closes the day before the live auction, and the highest online bid becomes the opening live bid. If there are no higher bids, the online bidder wins.

ISPs, get-paid-to-surf and viral e-mail programs that support charities. Almost every business model for making money on the Web has an angle that lets users donate part of that money to a worthy cause. Web sites gain value and make money if lots of people see them. If you send your supporters to a Web site in return for money, the Web site gains from that traffic.

At least two Internet service providers allow users to sign up and direct a portion of their monthly ISP cost to the charity of their choice. Why not switch to the ISP that will give to your favorite charity?

There are various get-paid-to-surf sites where you agree to have ads served to you while you are connected to the Internet. At least one of them, ongiving.com, offers the chance to donate that revenue to the nonprofit of your choice.

How do you know which opportunity is right for you? Most firms will tell you which nonprofits are signed up. Talk to your colleagues and monitor the discussion group's cybergifts through www.charitychannel.com and online fundraising, www.gilbert.org/fundraising/.

• Rick Christ is an Internet consultant to nonprofit organizations.

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