Traditional Rules Apply to Online Fundraising

Some have predicted that the use of the Internet for philanthropic purposes will replace traditional fundraising methods such as direct mail, telephone, personal solicitation and even planned giving. This will not be the case.

Instead, organizations that succeed will be those that use the efficiency and effectiveness of Internet-based e-philanthropy services integrated fully with traditional fundraising methods.

The rules still apply.

Those who will give online will be in large measure those who are invited to give online. Years of experience offline have taught fundraisers that those who give are typically those invited to give. The reality is that there are not now, nor will there be in the future, large numbers of donors surfing the Web just looking for a place to give.

The rules still apply.

Nonprofit organizations will succeed online when an emphasis is placed not on the technology being used, but on cultivating and enhancing relationships. The Internet provides countless efficient opportunities to enhance these relationships, to improve donor satisfaction and, therefore, to raise more money.

The rules still apply.

Those emphasizing relationship building are translating their efforts into dollars raised. According to Harvard Business School's Initiative on Social Enterprise, Boston, about 4 percent of donors contributed to one or more organization online in 1999, giving about $10 million. In 2000, estimated online giving was $250 million. The study predicted that by 2010 one-third of all donations made in the United States will be given online.

For some organizations the use of this new technology can seem daunting or problematic. However, they should keep in mind that this is not the first time that nonprofit organizations and fundraisers have adapted new technologies. The radio, television, newspapers, telephone, fax machine and direct mail have all had methods developed to raise money. Some are more successful than others, and not all methods are used with equal success by all nonprofits.

As online fundraising builds steam, e-mail has become a vital and inexpensive tool for promoting nonprofit organizations, cultivating, educating, activating supporters, soliciting and resoliciting donors.

To aid nonprofits in the use of e-mail, ePhilanthropyFoundation.Org has developed the ePhilanthropy Code of Ethical Online Philanthropic Practices and the Ten Rules of ePhilanthropy Every Nonprofit Must Know. Copies are available free of charge in English and Spanish at Here are some of the top recommendations from these documents:

· Collect e-mail addresses everywhere from everyone. Collect e-mail addresses on every page of your Web site (offer a free e-newsletter), in your direct mail, at events, in the media, in person. Note, however, that the ePhilanthropy Code of Ethics requires you to let supporters opt in to receive your e-mail and opt out whenever they want to stop.

· Do not send unsolicited e-mail or spam. While it is acceptable to rent or exchange direct mail lists, it is unacceptable to buy e-mail addresses from other organizations or firms unless the people on those lists have opted in to receive mail from third parties. And do not share your supporters' e-mail addresses with anyone else unless you have received explicit permission from them to do so.

· Do not bother your supporters with too many messages or messages that are not relevant to them. The great advantage of e-mail is its ability to help you develop relationships via informal and inexpensive communications; but do not abuse the trust you are trying to build.

· Do not be afraid to ask for gifts. While most of your e-mail messages will cultivate, educate or move to action, it is OK to ask donors or prospects to make a gift (and to remind them of how important their past gifts were in achieving your organization's mission). You also can invite the donor's feedback with a short survey or request for comments.

· Be ready to answer your e-mail messages. E-mail and the Web make it easy for your donors and other supporters to contact you with questions, concerns or problems. To answer all those e-mails requires a well-organized system and staff assigned to the task. What's more, people expect an answer to their e-mails in 24 hours or less. Make sure you allocate resources within your organization to respond, and provide a phone number on your site for people who want live assistance.

Do not miss the opportunity to invite those receiving your e-mail messages to pass them along to others. This will enhance your communication efforts and allow those who support you to recommend your mission for support from others.

Though technology and the Internet offer tremendous opportunities for efficiency and success, it is the personal relationship each donor can build with the charity that will define the degree of success the nonprofit will have. It is because the rules of fundraising still apply to e-philanthropy that successful use of e-mail has become so vital to a nonprofit's online cultivation and solicitation strategy.

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