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A Non-Profit’s Guide to Online Fundraising

Updated on July 14, 2012

*Transcribed from A Rookie’s Guide to Online Fundraising, a webinar by Network For Goods's Chief Operating Officer Katya Andresen.

Online fundraising is growing rapidly. Promoting your organisation’s cause online could substantially increase reach and impact. Implementing online fundraising is not a passive process; it still requires the same smart, strategic marketing as with the offline medium. At the crux of technology are the people – your donors and supporters. Technology is futile if it fails to engage, motivate and mobilise people.


A donor centric approach to everything is the key. Consider why a person gives money; common reasons include because someone asked them to, it’s something that has personally affected them or it’s a cause that has resonated with them. Ultimately, people give because of the personal connection and emotional link with the cause. Also consider why people don’t give money; common reasons include the continual harassment by charities with no mention of how previous donations were used, a lame donation form or a boring e-newsletter. Knowledge of why people do and don’t give will assist your organisation in formulating a successful online fundraising campaign.


In order for people to feel comfortable enough to make a donation, your organisation’s website should address the following:

  • · Mission, goals, objectives or activities of the organisation;
  • · How donations and contributions will be used;
  • · Signs of the organisation’s legitimacy, reputation and local presence.

Off-putting aspects of a website:

  • · Lack of or unclear information about mission, goals, objectives or activities;
  • · Inability to locate donate button;
  • · Lack of or unclear explanation of how donations were used;
  • · Difficult to navigate homepage or website.




Explain the worth and impact of your organisation - it is recommended that you address what you do and how you use your donations. Come up with a short statement that encapsulates the aforementioned (not a mission statement). Your homepage should also have an emotionally engaging image. Put one human face to what you’re doing, not a crowd. Research has shown that people can only relate to one person or thing at a time.

Website layout

  • Make sure your website is clear and easy to navigate – avoid a busy or cluttered homepage or site as this only frustrates visitors.
  • Have a prominent donate button on every webpage as some visitors may be willing to give.
  • Provide links to your organisation’s social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. This enables people to share your organisation’s message to a wider audience.

Website Content

Your website needs to make a quick case on why your organisation is something someone should support. You need to address the four questions potential donors have:

Why this particular organisation? Why should the donor care about your organisation?

What for?Where is the money going to go? How will the money be used? What’s in it for the donor? What tangible impact will result from donations?

Why now? There are many non profits competing for money, so what’s so urgent about your organisation’s cause?

Who says? Who’s asking the potential donor? It is a trusted organisation? It is important who the messenger is, especially with online fundraising. Disclosing details about third party endorsements from evaluators such as Charity Navigator helps establish credibility and trust to your organisation. If you don’t have third party endorsement, find a trusted person or a beneficiary of your services to give a testimonial; they are more reliable than the organisation itself.

To strengthen the support of those that are interested in your organisation but not ready to donate, give them the option of signing up to emails offering further information, facts, ideas or tips e.g. visitors to the Diabetes Association website can sign up to a weekly e-newsletter offering tips on how to manage diabetes. Avoid saying ‘sign up for a weekly e-newsletter’ as this is unlikely to attract anyone’s attention. You need to give people a reason to want to give you their data.

Donation Form Checklist (Minimum Requirements)

  • Have a clear call for action on your donation form.
  • Formulate a compelling and brief copy that emphasises the urgency of your mission and make it clear what will happen as a result of donations
  • Make sure your copy is easy to read and short e.g. use bullet points and use a font size that is easy to read for those over 50 years of age
  • Keep the form short – the more fields to fill, the higher the abandon rate
  • Provide opt in for e-newsletter option. Don’t just say ‘sign up for e-news’ or ‘to hear from us again’ as people may think that you are harassing them for more money; use phrases like ‘click here to find out about the impact of your gift’.
  • Have pre-determined amounts or an ‘other’ section for those wishing to donate a different amount
  • Enable donors to make a donation in honour or memory of someone
  • Enable donors to give a recurring gift
  • Have a way to automatically thank people instantly
  • Provide an automatic email tax receipt once a gift is made
  • Have a tell a friend a prompt
  • Implement web analytics, such as Google Analytics, Yahoo! Web Analytics and Webtrends, to track the actions of people on the form. Web analytic tools provide performance based metrics such as open rates, click-through-rates, bounce rates, delivery rates and conversion rates.

Email Appeal Checklist

Increasing the chance of having your email read

  • To help increase email open rates, a familiar name or name of your organisation should appear in the ‘from address’ field.
  • The subject line should be direct, highlighting the urgency of your mission - don’t be mysterious or ambiguous.
  • Test different subject lines by splitting your email list and comparing open rates. Ensure you implement web analytics to facilitate such measurements.
  • Make the most of your preview pane as some people rarely open emails. Ensure that it is readable in multiple email clients such as outlook, hotmail, gmail and yahoo.

Email Content

  • Keep your email short and make sure it is easy on the eye. People don’t read online, they skim.
  • Use a central theme, develop a story, connect your appeal to your organisation’s mission and give clear reasons to donate and include a deadline; don’t just ask for money.
  • Does the email have a personal touch (your potential supporters need to feel like they’ve been seen and heard, not spoken to)? Address the reader with their name or segment donor list according to their unique attributes in order to create customised content. Segmentation increases the chances of better response and giving rates.
  • Use power and authentic visuals such as photos, slideshows or videos – they put a face to your story.

Email Best Practices

  • Incorporate web analytics to get performance based statistics such as unsubscribe rates and subscriber retention rates
  • Incorporate a donate now button
  • Integrate social marketing tools such as Facebook and Twitter
  • Provide an option to unsubscribe
  • Are you being compliant with CAN-SPAM laws? Make sure the person you are emailing has given you permission to email them.
  • Avoid using the blind copy (Bcc) field – it violates SPAM laws, emails will end up in SPAM filter and you can’t use web analytics to track the actions of people you’ve sent the email to.


Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are effective viral marketing and outreach tools. Benefits include being able to engage and interact with supporters and to help push traffic back to your organisation’s website (incorporate web analytics to track any traffic from your social media page to your website). People use social media because they want to be seen and heard, they want to be part of something other than themselves and it’s a way of connecting with others. Get someone from your organisation (preferably someone high up or a well known and respected representative) to thank online supporters for supporting the organisation and to respond to any queries or comments. Listening is appreciated in a very profound way online. The number one goal of social media shouldn’t be about raising money, it should be about building and nurturing relationships amongst people.

Find a few wired fundraisers (a tech savvy person with a strong online influence, has lot's of followers, an ability to build online relations and spends a decent amount of time online) to disseminate your organisation's message to a broader audience. You only need a few of them to make a big impact, but they are worth your time.


Here are some considerations:

  • Are your donors and supporters online?
  • Availability of staff and/or volunteers to invest in time into online fundraising. You need around 3 to 12 months (12 months to see results)
  • Budget
  • Technological familiarity, capabilities and infrastructure

For more information about online fundraising, visit Network for Good and (some great free webinars available).


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