Dos and Don'ts of online fundraising

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Online fundraising offers nonprofits the opportunity to reach new audiences while building stronger relationships with existing constituents who are spending more time on the Internet. For organizations used to communicating via direct mail and telemarketing, embarking on a digital strategy presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities. Here, Pamela Barden, VP and group director, Russ Reid; Debbi Barber, president, Grizzard Communications Group; Vinay Bhagat, chief strategy officer, Convio; and Angie C. Moore, SVP and GM, fundraising services group at Merkle offer their Dos and Don'ts when it comes to online fundraising.

Pamela Barden, VP and group director, Russ Reid

Do: Think about the entire online experience

Begin with the subject line. It won't “close the deal,” but it could stop further action if done incorrectly. On mobile devices, recipients see about 20 characters of your subject, so make every one count. Test your links. If you say “click here,” make sure “here” goes someplace that moves the reader closer to giving. Immediately send a short, warm acknowledgment for every donation, telling how the gift is being used.

Don't: Don't forget the small details

Don't make the online donation form too complicated; it's about getting the donation, not collecting every bit of information you'll ever want. Don't forget to include your mission statement on your Web site. Also, don't assume a potential donor will stumble across your Web site and decide to give; be proactive online and offline in driving potential donors there.

Debbi Barber, president, Grizzard Communications Group

Do: Create seamless integration across channels

Direct mail pieces should have a unique URL landing page that supports the campaign and tracks direct mail visitors to the Web site. E-mail blasts to overlapping direct mail and online constituents should be coordinated and timed for maximum impact. Highlight critical campaigns featured in direct mail and e-mail within the online donation form. Integrate special campaign offers within paid search creative. Don't just create a campaign and then add on a digital component.

Don't: If raising funds is your goal, do not have all of your efforts pushed to the main Web site.

There is typically too much happening on the homepage for a fundraising message to stand out and be clear. Instead, create landing pages that focus on the reasons to give and drive potential donors to these pages.

Vinay Bhagat, chief strategy officer, Convio

Do: Empower constituents to act for you

Online tools provide great vehicles to harness supporters' passion for fundraising, recruitment and evangelism. This can be accomplished by writing messages that inspire donors and reflect their interests. Also be sure to make giving opportunities tangible and explain how gift levels impact your cause.

Don't: Stop building your prospect and e-mail files

Instead, use online and creativity to reach new people and provide donors who are giving less with meaningful ways to engage. Don't rely on the structure, skills and approaches of the past. Try to evaluate and reallocate resources from declining, slower growing areas to those that are more efficient and effective at reaching people.

Angie C. Moore, SVP and GM, Merkle's fundraising services group

Do: Recognize that retention is a metric, not a strategy

Take the time to understand what matters to your constituents and then create online messages around those interests. Being relevant is king when it comes to having mass market conversations with your donors. Relevance drives satisfaction, and satisfaction affects retention. Loyalty equals more support for your mission.

Don't: Never underestimate the value of non-donor behavior

Every action — dialing a 1-800 number, changing an address, volunteering, requesting information, and more — is an indication of interest and a critical ingredient in the relationship value recipe. Don't be afraid to model these interactions and understand the true value of the full relationship, not just the donations part.

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