Generating online donations is not necessarily easier than offline fundraising, but it is a workable opportunity. Some nonprofits are better at it than others, but one thing’s for sure, if you’re not trying, it’s not working for you at all. In the spirit of considering opportunities and challenges, let’s review some basics with an emphasis on crowdfunding.
Of course you already have a donation button on your nonprofit website. And of course it’s not doing that much for you, all by itself.
The key is to develop a strategic approach to driving people to that button.
What works is having a specific campaign with a specific story.
Also, including a deadline is a best practice, particularly for crowdfunding (more on that in a moment).
The crux of making that donation button work is telling your story through email and social media and all other available means and actively driving people to it; instead of hoping it will be meaningful as a passive donation machine.
Although it’s ideal to have a large email database and a large social media following to make that button productive, even that, by itself, is still not enough. Your email database and social media following both need to be nurtured with ongoing information about your cause, not just during the time you are asking for money. (Experienced fundraisers will note it’s the same in the offline world).
Online Donation Campaigns
There are a number of ways to facilitate donations via the internet. But establishing a “campaign” is fundamental. A campaign features a specific story and goal. Marketing and real effort will make it successful.
To re-state the point, merely having a donation button on your website is “not” representative of a campaign. Which is why it’s not productive. You need a campaign that reaches out to people and rallies them to your cause through inspiration and your story.
Think of any offline direct mail campaign that you’ve sent or received in the past. The letter provides reasons to donate and why the donor should give now. The reason involves a story.
Sure, you want to highlight past successes. Of course you want to identify specifics of who is helped. Statistics are important and have their place.
But a story that inspires potential donors emotionally, usually highlights specific individuals in clearly identifiable ways.
Show individual characters who represent your story: not just numbers.
You want to touch the hearts of your potential donors.
Furthermore, in the online world, you’ll want to ensure your story integrates the power of search engines, in addition to the actual human recipients, to strengthen your marketing.
Speaking of using story development in conjunction with search engines to bolster your messaging, it’s helpful to understand that the Google Ad Grants Story Triangle is predicated upon getting keywords to work for you and is just as valuable to search engine optimization as it is to advertising. (More on that in a moment).
You’ve heard about crowdfunding. You have even heard some amazing success stories. What you may not have heard is that those big successes are not the norm. Also, what you may not have heard are the number of crowdfunding campaigns that yield little or even no results. That’s zero.
In brief, crowdfunding is seeking donations from a large amount of people online, often within a certain time period.
The truth is, crowdfunding does drive donations. But if you think it’s magic, you will be disappointed with your results. On the other hand, if you look at crowdfunding in the same way you contemplate putting together an annual, real-world fundraising event and dinner, then you’ll have a better perspective on the amount of work typically involved in making crowdfunding successful for your nonprofit; especially the first time.
In the simplest of terms, fundraising is hard work, whether online or offline.
Here are a few comparisons to online fundraising, in general.
Online fundraising: This is a broad term and embraces all types of internet fundraising, including crowdfunding. It can include seeking donations via email, social media, online advertising, peer-to-peer fundraising and any online method that results in donations. It may or may not use a 3rd party platform to accept donations and it may or may not offer rewards in exchange for donations.
Crowdfunding: This involves raising small amounts of money from a large group of people. For nonprofits, this typically features donor reward levels, which are a hierarchy of donor gifts, which are offered in exchange for donations. This it not selling a product or service, since it’s fundamentally a fundraising campaign. It’s simply offering something of value as a gesture and the higher the donation the greater the value of the gift. For example, a $20 donation may receive a personal email “thank you” message. A $100 donation may receive a T-shirt. And so on. Yes, some non-crowdfunding campaigns also have donor hierarchies, so there is overlap in the details.
Keep in mind that crowdfunding was originally established for creators and businesses and some of the best practices of nonprofit fundraising were borrowed.
More specifically, crowdfunding is often done through one of many third-party platforms made for this type of fundraising and each platform has their own rules. In other words, really, you’re not sending them to your donation button if you’re using a special platform (but you could if you wanted, although it would usually be more work).
There are many types of crowdfunding platforms but two distinctly different types are an all-or-nothing campaign, whereby a campaign runs for a certain amount of time (often a month) and at the end of the campaign if the funds are higher than the stated goal, the funds are collected from the donors on behalf of the donor. If the fundraising does not meet the goal, then no funds re collected. There are also crowdfunding platforms which operate with a more traditional approach in that whatever funds are raised, regardless of how much or little, those funds go to the nonprofit. For many nonprofits, the latter model is more desirable, but the former model is associated with some of the largest crowdfunding campaigns.
There are often fees associated with using a crowdfunding platform and all the rules should be considered before deciding which crowdfunding platform to use for your campaign.
Crowdfunding typically has a visible date when the campaign ends. These are not usually campaigns that last a long time. Although they can be longer or shorter, a very popular time frame for crowdfunding campaigns is 30 days.
Some crowdfunding platforms are more well known and offer the potential for greater donations. In other words, when considering crowdfunding platforms, it would be wise to consider the marketing benefits in addition to the fees. More specifically, if you consider you might raise more money from one platform, even though it has higher fees, it may be worth further evaluation.
An important point of a crowdfunding platform is the desire to reach more new donors than you might through your own network; that is more likely via the more expensive platforms because there are more people following them.
Regardless of which crowdfunding platform you use, the success is wholly contingent upon the marketing and publicity efforts you generate.
Five-Month Crowdfunding Program
Depending upon how quickly (or not) you can mobilize staff and/or volunteers in a new direction, you may want to consider a 5-month timeline for a crowdfunding campaign. For some nonprofits, the timeline may be longer. For others, it could be shorter. Here is a workable five-month program.
1. HIGH-LEVEL PLAN: In the first month develop an overall plan, which will include: fundraising goals; donation levels; types of “rewards” to offer donors at different levels; marketing; and who will be the key people to execute the campaign. The main points to envision are the campaign marketing messaging and publicity necessary to achieving your goals. How will you get the word out about this campaign? You should have some solid ideas for the three main phases of a successful crowdfunding campaign: Pre-launch, Launch and Post-Launch. The goal for the first month is have a written plan with key persons designated to take responsibility for marketing and tasks.
2. DETAILED PLAN: In the second month, flesh out the realities and details relative to the plan. You may find that some of your reward ideas in the first month were too ambitious or impractical and new ones need to be conceived. If rewards need to be created or manufactured (such as shirts, hats, mugs, etc.), who will make them? What are the timelines? What are the costs? Most importantly how will you let people know about this campaign? Certainly mail, email and social media should be part of the mix. Peer-to-peer fundraising should be considered. (More in a moment). Beyond that, get the marketing and publicity fully ready to launch. Can you get into your local paper? Can you get publicity via partners or influencers? Can you use paid advertising? If so, what’s the budget and best way to spend it? The goal for the second month is to have a detailed plan that takes into account ‘all’ aspects of the Pre-launch, Launch and Post-Launch.
3. PRE-LAUNCH: This is the most important month. It largely determines the success of your campaign. This is when the promotion starts. This is when you are letting people know the exact date the campaign will be launched and when it will end. (30 days is the most common. But shorter or longer may be better for your specific needs). It can not be over-stated that the success of your Pre-Launch marketing will determine the success of your completed campaign. The goal for the third month is to engage all efforts towards marketing and publicizing the fundraising that will be achieved on Day 1 of the campaign launch.
4. LAUNCH: Month 4 is the actual launch of the crowdfunding campaign. Really, it’s a continuation of the maximal efforts initiated at the beginning of month 3. There are three general rule-of-thumb milestone days of a 4-week crowdfunding campaign:
- Launch day (Day 1)
- 7th day
- Ending day
LAUNCH DAY: The amount of money raised on Day 1 is a critical factor regarding the success of the overall campaign and is primarily determined by your efforts in the pre-launch month. A strong opening day is an auspicious indicator for how the campaign will end. Conversely, a weak opening day means you’ll need to redouble your efforts to make the end of the campaign productive.
7TH DAY: One week into the campaign is another milestone. Did the momentum continue? If you have a strong first week it tends to psychologically inspire others on the sidelines to donate during the remainder of the month. However, the publicity and messaging needs to continue at full force to make that happen.
ENDING DAY: For many crowdfunding campaigns, particularly successful ones, a flurry of donations will occur at the very end. However, this is predicated upon all the earlier messaging and donations. In other words, a strong campaign will often end strongly. On the other hand, a campaign that begins weakly will seldom end as a smashing success. But if all promotional efforts were redoubled after the first day, the end can still be meaningful.
5. POST-LAUNCH: The biggest risk of the post-launch month is considering that since the fundraising is over, it’s time to take it easy. Certainly, the pressure is reduced. But the professional execution of the post-launch period will inform how those who donated to this campaign will respond to future campaigns. Regardless of how successful, or not, your fundraising efforts were towards achieving your targets, messages need to be communicated, rewards need to be fulfilled and everyone needs to see that expectations are being completed as promised. Post-launch may also be longer than 30 days. It takes as long as it takes to ensure every individual reward and thank you note is delivered. If some donor rewards need to be manufactured, and the manufacturing was not to begin until after the money was raised, then it will likely be longer than 30 days before those rewards are received by the donors. And of course, those timelines should have been clearly identified in month two and communicated clearly to donors at all times in the following months.
Additionally, a thorough survey of all who participated in the campaign administration should be documented and aggregated to establish a central repository of all successful and unsuccessful actions that transpired, along with future suggestions articulated. This will be vital to informing even more successful campaigns in the future.
In brief, a successful crowdfunding campaign, like any fundraising, is a lot of work. The point that seems to be most readily under-estimated is the amount of marketing, publicity and general communications required to be a big success.
Peer-to-Peer fundraising is not new, but the terminology and technology to support it have become more common in fundraising parlance in recent years.
Peer-to-peer fundraising can support crowdfunding, or any type of fundraising campaigns, since the very nature of the activity is to reach a larger audience by way of individual supporters soliciting their personal networks for donations. These campaigns can serve as time-based initiatives (to support crowdfunding) or a year-round fundraising opportunity.
Getting supporters to raise funds on behalf of your organization represents an ideal vision. The reality is that getting others to actually do that work can be a mixed bag. A critical point is establishing a specific person who can and will run this as a campaign and offer ongoing encouragement and direction to the supporters. This is not a set-and-forget activity.
Having said that, any new funds that result from others who will appeal to their personal networks on behalf of your nonprofit is obviously a good thing.
Google Ad Grants Fundraising
The most important factor that will determine the success of your online fundraising and crowdfunding efforts is having an engaged, online community.
Google Ad Grants can help you build that online community
Using Google Ad Grants to directly advertise for donors can be worth trying. But it’s not a best practice. The best way to use Google Ad Grants for fundraising is to use the free advertising as a way to continually build an online community, who you can later ask for donations as part of your crowdfunding and other campaigns, after you’ve established a relationship.
Here’s the sequence for successful crowdfunding:
- Build a community with Google Ad Grants
- Nurture and inform the community about your nonprofit to build a relationship
- Then ask for donations from the community
It’s a lot of work to get people into a community and then to nurture and educate them about your nonprofit. But it’s way more effective to get donations from people who know your nonprofit than who don’t.
Hence, just like in the offline world of fundraising, the best practice is to never forget that your database is comprised of real people and not just numbers. It cannot be repeated enough: build a relationship first. In this case, it happens that the relationship-building is established online.
Google Ad Grants is ideal for building an online community. It’s up to you to nurture the community and inspire some of them to become donors.
To see more info on a robust online fundraising campaign using Google Ad Grants, visit The Perpetual Fundraising Engine for Nonprofits.
Few veterans in the nonprofit world would ever be accused of considering any type of fundraising, whether offline or online, as effortless. However, generating online donations, when approached with the same diligence necessary for any sincere offline fundraising, can realize results.