Group Tries Accepting Donations Online

The United Cerebral Palsy Association, Washington, has started a one-year pilot program to accept online donations in hopes of expanding its fundraising efforts and reaching a new donor base in a more cost-effective manner.

“We have started to focus on using the Internet because it is a growing medium and we wanted to be seen as a leader in this area,” said Judy Grusso, assistant director of marketing development and communications at UCPA. “It helps reach people that are on non-traditional lists. There are more people nowadays using the Internet for research and information — so, if people come to our site looking for information we want to take advantage of that.”

So far, only a handful of organizations — including the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Assocation — accept online donations. To date, the UCPA said the traffic to its site has been lighter than it would have liked but expects it to increase once more people realize they can make contributions online. The average contribution is $50.

To help conduct the online program, the UCPA is using a fully automated system called the Internet Donation Management System, from Hockaday Donatelli/Campaign Solutions, Alexandria, VA. According to Rob Arena, senior vice president of Internet services at HDCS, the donation process differs from other online giving.

“Most nonprofits either have donors print out a donor application form they have to mail out or they have them supply their credit card information, which is then manually hand batched,” he said. “IDMS is all automated, and no human hands ever touch the donated funds.”

Becky Donatelli, chairman of HDCS, said the system has been made as simple as possible for both the donor to use and for the organization to implement. When donor s arrive at the organization's site, they click on the “Donate Now” button and are linked to a secure IBM Net.Commerce server where the credit card transaction can take place.

“By having the system work this way, it is made easy for the organizations so that they don't have to do anything to their Web site other then put the link up,” Arena said. “And if a donor doesn't look at the URL at the top of the page, they will never know they have been taken to a totally different site.”

After filling out the donor information and providing the credit card information, the donor is taken to a page where they can double check the information they provided. Then, the card is validated, and the availability of the donated funds is confirmed. Donors are thanked for their contribution and asked to answer 10 questions, which include what organizations they donate to, how frequently they use the Web, number of donations made in the last year, gender and age. HCDS said organizations are allowed to include four questions of their own. Once they've completed the survey, donors are brought back to the organization's home page.

Donated funds, which are stored in the IBM DB2 universal database system, are secured and arrive in the bank account of the organization within 24 hours to 72 hours after they are made, Arena said. At any point, organizations can see who is making donations, the amount of revenue being raised, or they can download the completed surveys.

“All of this information is automated and waiting to be put into a database program,” he said. “By using this system, organizations will be able to mail donors once a month instead of once a year. It reduces the cost of prospecting and soliciting. And once they have been captured in the e-mailing system, there is no reason for an organization to not include them on their mailing and calling lists.”

Last month, HDCS worked with more than 60 political candidates — including New York Gov. George Pataki. HDCS did not have final tallies on the amount of money it helped raise for these candidates, but Donatelli said Ellen Sauerbrey — the Republican candidate for governor in Maryland, raised 676 percent of her initial investment in a three-and-a-half week period. She said online fundraising helped reach not only a new demographic of contributors but a more generous one as well.

“Almost half, 44 percent, of those who donated online said it was the first time they had donated to a political party,” she said. “Seventy percent of them were under the age of 45, and the average donation made was reported to also be significantly higher than the donations received via direct mail or over the phone.”

The set-up fee for the system is $495.

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