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Why Your Online Fundraising Isn't Working (And How To Fix It)

Updated on July 14, 2012

Imagine having to raise every cent for your organization going door to door. Just the thought makes you sick, right? Asking people you don't know for money the first time you meet feels slimy. Especially if the meeting is on their doorstep and you're already intruding.

That's because fundraising doesn't work without a strong relationship between the donor and the fundraiser. That relationship is generally developed through a process most fundraisers call "cultivation." The more cultivated a person or organization is, the more likely they are to give and give often. A lot of people have a lot of ideas about how best to go about "cultivating" people. I have some pretty specific ones that we'll get into later on this blog. Terry Axelrod thinks you should do it with site tours and events, Penelope Burke believes (probably a lot like Terry) in donor-centered fundraising, and "Moves Management" is a another term that is starting to get thrown around.

There are a lot of models for how to do the same basic enough of a relationship with your donors to make them give. Build stronger relationships, get better gifts.

Why Should It Be Any Different Online?

Too often, we think the internet has some sort of magic potion that makes it possible to ignore people and have them give us money. "If we set up a donote now page, donors will come running! It's so convenient," we think. "How can they resist?" That's the kind of thinking that got the business world into the dot com bubble.

There's no magic on the internet! It's just a new platform for the same old strategies. Online donations need to be cultivated just like regular donations. The internet offers some pretty amazing opportunities for fundraisers who do it right. It takes the old strategies and scales them up to get an amazing return on investment.

I wouldn't be writing this article if I didn't whole-heartedly believe that the internet gives savvy fundraisers power beyond their wildest dreams. But we still need our dusty fundraising textbooks to do it right.

Umm...So How Do We Fix It?

Ok. Here it is... The way we fix our online fundraising is online cultivation. There are proven ways to build strong relationships online. Most of us just need a little push in the right direction to bring what we know about fundraising and what we know about the internet together.

So How Do We Do Online Cultivation?

Ever heard of social media? It's been around since the invention of email in the early 70s. Whether you've heard of it or not, the best way to build quality relationships online is through social media...specifically (as the title of this website suggests) blogs. In the right hands, blogs have the potential to create the perfect online giving environment and build relationships at the same time. They also serve as the perfect spring-board for all your other social media efforts (ie. Facebook, Twitter, etc.) because you have a place to point all of that traffic. You have a home base that gives you complete control over where to lead your potential donors. I'm a big advocate of starting a blog before you even consider jumping into Facebook, Twitter, et al. I'm an even bigger advocate of being a good fundraiser before you consider doing anything even remotely related to fundraising online. While there's no magic on the internet, there are a few fundraising strategies that are well suited to the internet that may not be in your arsenal.

SEO, keyword research, email marketing, and the simple mechanics behind tools like Facebook might be among them. If you're a good fundraiser and you're just confused about how to translate your knowledge to the online space, this blog's for you. I want you to feel at home here, and I definitely want to hear what you have to teach me about the ancient art of fundraising. This blog is about how to build those online relationships that will make people want to give. In fact, unless I get some serious feedback on this post, I'm planning on writing a series of posts about what it means to use social media for building donor relationships. I'll be answering questions like:

  • What do I write about on my blog?
  • How do I get readers?
  • When do I make "the ask" online?
  • When and how should I start using Facebook Causes?
  • Can I raise money with Twitter?

And more. So if you're interested, stick around. While we're on the subject of sticking around... What are some of your strategies for cultivating donors online or off? Let me hear them in the comments. (Also if you know of any good books on offline cultivation, let everyone know about those too.) :)


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