Digital Fundraising


Digital Fundraising

In this chapter,  online giving and fundraising are examined. We outlined good practice in respect of web design and examined each aspect of the e-fundraising mix in turn. We concluded by examining the topic of online communication metrics.

Giving Online

Sargeant (2008) estimates that around 5 percent of total giving by individuals in the United States is presently made online. Hart (2009) offers a similar estimate for 2008 – a total of $14.64 billion in the USA and $29 billion worldwide. The percentage of income generated for specific organizations varies widely, however; as some may do little or no fundraising online, while others have made a significant investment and are beginning to reap the reward.

For more information visit:



Total individual giving online in US

Website Strategy

Sargeant et al (2007) have explored empirically those aspects of site design that drive fundraising performance. Their results show that sites attracting higher numbers of donors online have the following characteristics:

Accessibility – the site makes it easy for an individual to make a donation at the point which they are motivated to do so. The navigation is clear and donations are prompted on every relevant page, including the home page. This factor also drives the value of  giving to a particular site.

Accountability – the extent to which the site indicates it is accountable to supporters for the way in which it will use resources such as donated funds and personal data. The provision of a strong and clear privacy statement and data in respect of how donations have been used in the past (and will be in the future) are all essential.

Education – the extent to which the site provides an appropriate facility for the donor to learn about the cause. This may take the form of access to documents, reports and specialized pages such as an ‘ask the expert’ page. This is the final factor the authors found that also drives the value of  giving to a particular site.

Interaction – the extent to which the site offers users the ability to interact with the organization in a variety of ways. Each time an individual shares information with the site, takes part in a survey, answers quiz questions, joins a social network, signs up to a blog, shares their own content with the nonprofit or downloads a file, the more likely it is that a donation will result.

Empowerment – the extent to which the site allows donors to feel that they have taken action or had an impact on the cause. Many sites permit multiple ways to support an organization such as signing a petition, emailing a politician, attending an event, making a donation etc. In each case the clearer the individual is about the difference they can personally make, the more likely they are to offer their support.

See also: Strengthening Your Online Presence: The Urgency of Rethinking the Fundraising Model in Challenging Economic Times  Convio, February 2009

The site designers, Chromatic, also have a useful checklist for successful web design. While it is oriented toward for-profits, the advice they offer is solid and free to air.


Fundraising Online

a) Search Engine Marketing – provides a wealth of practical resources for organizations looking to improve their rankings

An excellent video can be found on YouTube – created by the team from

It can also be helpful to inform your SEO approach by using Google Analytics. Again an excellent video introduction  or rather series of introductions is available on YouTube from the user wrttnwrd.

Having optimized the free opportunities to promote a site it may be necessary to consider paid or granted key word and search engine advertising. Nonprofits should review the options for granted campaigns at Google Grants is an in-kind donation program awarding free advertising to select nonprofit organizations. Google provides grants to a wide array of nonprofits that provide community service in areas such as science and technology, education, global public health, the environment, youth advocacy, and the arts.

Beyond granted advertising is paid advertising. Pay per click listings, function rather like traditional advertising. To get a high listing here it is necessary to be willing to pay a higher fee than one’s competitors. The highest bidder for a particular keyword or phrase will usually be listed at the top of the page, although the Google algorithm does factor in the number of click-throughs that a given ad is able to achieve. Those with a higher click through rate will tend to appear near the top of the list.

Mike Bashi has produced an excellent series of videos providing a guide to using pay per click

b) Online Public Relations

Online PR is a blanket term covering a wide range of activities:

  •  Link Building
  • Communicating with Journalists online
  •  Online Events
  •  Newsgroups

Infinite Ink offer a useful service for locating news groups on specific issues:

Blogs and RSS

Web logs or ‘blogs’ are an increasingly popular way of publishing news and event listings online. Many organizations have now established blogs to demonstrate credibility and more fully engage with their audiences. They typically consist of regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order.  Adrian Sargeant’s blog can be found at, while Ted Hart uses PING to twitter, Facebook and Linked In. As an aside, readers with a particular interest in interactive marketing will find the digital marketing guru Dave Chaffey’s blog worth following. It can be found at

Online Reputation Management

There are two types of reputational management of interest (Hart et al 2007). In the first the organization takes a proactive approach to seeding positive content about itself on popular sites. As an example, Google’s has launched a You Tube Nonprofit program where nonprofits can promote their work. One organization that has attracted more than 8,000 subscribers to its You Tube Channel is Rotary International

Consumer Generated Media

“Consumer-Generated Media” (CGM) encompasses the millions of consumer-generated comments, opinions and personal experiences posted in publicly available online sources on a wide range of issues, topics, products and brands. CGM is also referred to as Online Consumer Word-of-Mouth or Online Consumer Buzz. CGM originates from:

  • Blogs
  • Social networking sites
  • Message boards and forums
  • Public discussions (Usenet newsgroups)
  • Discussions and forums on large email portals (Yahoo, AOL, MSN)
  • Online opinion/review sites and services
  • Online feedback/complaint sites

See also the excellent Intelliseek White Paper by Pete Blackshaw and Mike Nazzaro. See Convio Connection’s Nonprofit 2.0 – Leveraging Technology and Social Capital.

c)  Online Partnerships

Online partnerships may take one of three forms, namely links, online sponsorship and co-branding.

Links – the specialist site Linking Matters provides considerable guidance on how best to maximize this opportunity.

Online Sponsorship – involves a sponsoring organization linking its name with that of the nonprofit for the purpose of strengthening its brand. It is more than the provision of a simple banner or other form of advertising and typically takes the form of a genuine involvement with what the nonprofit is trying to achieve online, perhaps by sponsoring specific forms of content, or engagement with specific stakeholder groups.

Dave Chaffey has written an excellent introduction to the topic (as always!) here.  

Co-branding – takes online sponsorship one stage further. It is an opportunity for partnership rather than mere sponsorship, so the difference is one of degree. In co-branding, both partners work together to further the goals of both. An arts organization might therefore work with a corporate partner to co-brand a password protected part of its website for high value donors.  The corporate partner has exposure to potential high value clients, while the arts organization gains an additional facility it might not otherwise be able to afford.

d) Interactive Advertising

The term interactive advertising refers to all advertising through the web, email, wireless technologies and interactive television. Internet advertising commonly takes the form of banner ads, skyscrapers and underlay/overlays.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has a wealth of resources many of which are free to non-members.

e) Opt In Email

Email marketing is a cost effective way to communicate with existing or potential supporters. A regular, but not too frequent, email campaign keeps an organization visible, keeps it in the minds of supporters, and keeps them returning to the website when they might not have planned to (Warwick et al, 2001). Emails can take the form of newsletters, announcements, invitations to events, or notifications of new content on the website.

Spam traps and filters don’t like subjects with all capital letters, exclamation points or certain words. A proposed communication can be run through a spam-checking filter before sending it out to maximize the likelihood of delivery. These programs will check the ‘From’ and ‘Subject’ lines as well as the content of the email itself. A service that might be used is Is Not Spam or email spam test

There are numerous examples of successful practice online including In particular a good summary article by Joanne Fritz – E-mail Is Not Dead.

There is also the 2005 E-Mail Solicitation Survey – produced by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) – log-in required.

Information on the CAN-SPAM Act can be found at the Federal Trade Commission website.

f) Viral Marketing

word of mouseViral marketing or ‘word of mouse’ uses the power of the web for rapid and personal communication. It is a mechanism whereby an organization’s donors (or other stakeholder groups) are encouraged to pass along a message to their friends and associates promoting the organisation. This message may be a video clip, cartoon, political message or news item. It could be sent as a link, a Flash email. a JPEG or a text message over the Web or SMS networks.  Whatever its form, the key to successful viral marketing is that the content should be compelling enough for people to want to pass it along.

A good viral video produced by the is available to view via YouTube. You can join the movement associated with this on Facebook

g) Fundraising Portals

There are five types of portal that are of relevance to fundraising, namely

  1. Giving Portals – One of the largest in the U.S. is Network for Good, a centralized website that allows visitors to view information or donate to a wide variety of organizations.  It is a relatively inexpensive giving channel, typically charging about 3% of each donation with no other fees.
  2. Affinity Shopping Portals – There are a number of virtual shopping malls online that support the nonprofit community. Typically the mall charges commission to the stores that populate it and then shares a percentage of this commission with nonprofits. A newly developed shopping portal website now allows Internet shoppers and browsers to benefit their selected charity or good cause simply by visiting, and registering free of charge for an Affinity Button.
  3. Online Charity Auctions – A number of commercial organizations such as e-Bay or specialized organizations which auction items donated by celebrities and donate the funds generated to good causes. To work with eBay nonprofits must first sign up with PayPal’s Giving Fund (formerly MissionFish).
  4. Sponsorship Portals – sites such as have revolutionized the way in which sponsored events are now operated
  5. Charity Search Engines. A number of search engines are set up to donate funds to nonprofits. Goodsearch for example donates 50-percent of its revenue to charities and schools designated by its users.


Online Communication Metrics

The following resources may be helpful:


Collecting Online Donations offers a wealth of practical advice to nonprofits seeking to navigate the range of alternatives available. There is also a good article by Kara Davis  on VigetAdvance.

For those readers in the UK, VolResource publishes an excellent resource on this topic.


Recommended Reading


Test your knowledge with our Quiz: E-fundraising

Fundraisers are the catalysts of change.