Online Fundraising 101:

The Basics You Should Know

As a nonprofit, online fundraising should be a top priority due to its convenience and effectiveness. But what if you aren’t finding as much success with it as you’d like? There are many things you can do to raise more online, but there can be a lot of information to sift through.

That’s why we’ve compiled this introductory guide to the basics you should know about online fundraising. Beyond updating your marketing plan, there’s a lot you can do with your online presence to engage donors and drive in more revenue.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

Are you ready to take a crash course in online fundraising? Let’s dive in!

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1. Optimize your donation form.

The first and most important element to consider when doing online fundraising is your donation form itself. This is where a majority of your funds will come through and it’s a good practice to keep it optimized and easy for donors to navigate.

You want your online form to be ready for events like giving days (check out the OneCause guide to planning days like this!) or just general instances of donations.

Try out these strategies to shape up your donation form:

  • Customize it. Make sure you have the ability to customize your form. This way, you can ask only the questions you need and gather important information from your donors. If you ask too many unnecessary questions, your potential donors may abandon the form.
  • Make sure it’s mobile-friendly. Mobile optimization is a must these days. This means that your donation form should be viewable on any mobile device, without the user needing to zoom in, rotate their screen, and so on. The viewing experience should be a positive one regardless of the device used.
  • Show how donations will be put to good use. While the total amount of text on your form should be limited, it’s still a good practice to explain what each donation will go toward supporting. Will $50 pay for some of the books needed to fund a classroom’s education? Let your donors know this.
  • Brand the page to your organization. Your form should reflect the rest of your organization so that donors know their contribution is going to you directly. Consistent branding instills trust in your supporters so be sure to reflect your nonprofit in each and every page (not just the donation form!).

Just the right amount of personality and customization can go a long way. If you make your donation form clear and easy to navigate, you’ll drive in more donations and see less form abandonment. Make your visitors' experience a positive one, and you’ll be that much closer to achieving your mission.

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2. Engage on social media.

Part of online fundraising means having an active presence on social media. Social media is an excellent way to communicate directly with your supporters, tell your story, and learn more about the community surrounding your nonprofit.

In order to successfully engage with your supporters online, you should:

  • Use platforms they’re already on. Take a close look at your donor base and determine the platforms they seem to use most. If you’re targeting younger generations, they likely use Instagram and Snapchat more often, while Facebook spans several generations.
  • Tell your nonprofit’s story. Talk about the successes your nonprofit has had, post photos of the work you do, and give real-life examples of the beneficiaries you’ve helped.
  • Interact. Actively listen to your supporters and have conversations! You can even reach out to your most active followers and invite them to your nonprofit’s fundraising events if they haven’t attended before.
  • Schedule your posts. Be sure to post at the most impactful times to bring in more engagement. For example, if you’re going to solicit donations on Giving Tuesday, time your outreach so that you make your asks at the most opportune parts of the day.

Your social media presence can impact your relationship with your supporters. Be sure to actively listen to and interact with them, share your stories, and make it clear that your nonprofit is doing great work and deserves support.

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3. Offer other ways to get involved.

Online fundraising isn’t always about simply donating online. There are many other ways to get your supporters involved in your cause, and this is sometimes the ideal way to go! By showing that you’re not just interested in asking donors for money, you’ll demonstrate to them that their involvement is important to you, which will result in longer-lasting relationships.

Try out some of these fun methods to get your supporters involved with your nonprofit:

  • Peer-to-peer fundraising. A powerful social fundraising tool, peer-to-peer fundraising involves nonprofits recruiting their supporters to fundraise on their behalf. By getting your supporters directly involved in the campaign, they’ll feel like they’re valued by your organization—which they are!
  • Online charity auctions. Online charity auctions are what they sound like: digital silent auctions. Allow supporters to place bids online and ship the prizes directly to them. While still a form of donation, your supporters get a fun item to take away from it! For more information on how to run this kind of event, check out the OneCause guide to online charity auctions.
  • Invite them to volunteer. Involvement doesn’t always mean monetary contributions. Encourage your supporters to volunteer and spend time with your nonprofit. They’ll get hands-on experience and learn more about your work, and you’ll get some extra assistance!
  • Product fundraising. A good option for gaining extra donations is through product fundraising. Nonprofits can design popular products, like coffee mugs or t-shirts. Then donors simply select and pay for their favorite items online and the funds from their purchase go directly to your organization. 

There are many ways to get your supporters involved in your nonprofit’s activities. Whether that’s through recruiting them to be a more integral part of your campaign or inviting them to events and volunteer opportunities, you’ll find that these interactions are invaluable. Forge long-term relationships with your supporters and set your fundraising goals up for success.

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4. Show appreciation.

After your donors have interacted with your nonprofit, whether that’s through donating their time or money, showing appreciation is an absolute must. Saying “thank you” demonstrates to your supporters that you appreciate their contribution and allows you to explain what it will go toward.

Follow these tips to ensure you show appreciation and keep donors coming back:

  • Stay in contact. Email long-term supporters thank-you messages in between campaigns. Keep them updated on your progress and show that you want to keep them involved.
  • Be donor-centric. Make your campaign about your donors, their experience with your nonprofit, and the impact they’re making.
  • Be prompt. Donors should quickly receive thank-you messages after they’ve submitted their donations (which is not the same as a simple confirmation email!). Tell them what their gift will go toward and encourage them to stay involved in the future.
  • Personalize your outreach. Personalization goes a long way, especially when you’re attempting to re-engage past donors. Address donors by their name, rather than saying, “Dear Donor,” which can easily be done using mail merge tools.

Showing that you appreciate your supporters goes a long way in terms of retaining donors and keeping them involved. Post-fundraising event duties involving donors can be extensive but are necessary to leave a lasting, positive impression and help create a buzz for the following year’s event. Continuing to forge strong relationships after the event shows you don’t just see your donors as funders, but as teammates tackling a cause alongside you. Donors are the reason your nonprofit can keep moving forward, so be sure that your interactions with them are donor-centric and your communications with them are personalized.

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5. Keep your CRM updated.

One of the most important components of online fundraising is your CRM, or constituent relationship manager. Your CRM holds all of the profiles of your supporters and helps you segment and keep your donor data organized.

If you don’t keep your CRM updated and clean, you may miss out on many engagement opportunities that could drive your mission forward. Be sure to stay on top of your data so you can do the following:

  • Leverage prospect research. If you’re looking for major donors or building any sort of list of prospective donors, be sure to leverage prospect research. With the data in your CRM, you can use wealth screening and philanthropic indicators to identify those who are most likely to give to your organization and perfect your outreach to them.
  • Segment your data. Segment your donor profiles into groups so that you can effectively personalize your outreach to certain types of donors. For instance, tailor your emails so that first-time donors get an acknowledgment and message that you hope they’ll keep giving in the future. For longer-term donors, you can reference the ways they’ve supported you in the past. If you’re unsure how to word your appeals, check out these templates.

When your data is clean and updated, you’ll be able to leverage more accurate data and make informed decisions about your outreach. Knowing how much to ask for based on prospect research and keeping your data segmented and clean can make all the difference. That’s why your nonprofit needs to have efficient CRM software. From there, you’ll be on your way to raising even more!

Online fundraising takes focus and multiple channels, but you can absolutely leverage it to your advantage. By optimizing your donation form and showing supporters that there are other ways to get involved, you’ll build long-lasting relationships that ultimately drive in more revenue. Keep these strategies in mind as you build your campaigns—good luck!

Author: Joshua Meyer

Joshua Meyer brings over 14 years of fundraising, volunteer management, and marketing experience to his current role as the Director of Marketing for OneCause. Currently, as a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Josh manages all of the firm’s marketing efforts. He has a passion for helping to create positive change and loves that his current role allows him to help nonprofits engage new donors and achieve their fundraising goals.

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