It's crunch time for nonprofit fundraisers looking to take advantage of the holiday giving season. If you don't have a plan in place yet, no worries. This guide from Care2's Eric Rardin and Heather Holdridge, along with Mark Rovner and Sarah Haug of Sea Change Strategies, "A Procrastinator's Guide to Year-End Fundraising" will give you a crash course on best practices for maximizing online giving and how to connect with new supporters, and communicate year-round to foster the best possible relationships with donors. This well written, concise guide is a must-read.
Here are Top 10 Tips to better managing your year-end fundraising campaigns online:
1. Inspire your donors every day
- Tell your organization’s founding story once a year. Communications guru Andy Goodman calls this one of the “sacred bundle” of stories—a profound reminder of the deep values and moral struggle that gave rise to your organization’s existence.
- Have a genuine acquisition and cultivation strategy and calendar. You can’t thank donors enough, and chances are, you don’t.
- Ask your donors for their feedback and opinions on a regular basis. And use their advice when appropriate; it shows them that you know there are people behind those email addresses and that you’re not only asking, but also listening.
- Offer periodic live chats or phone-in briefings with your CEO. This is a staple of major donor fundraising, inexplicably absent from the online giving scene.
- Offer real-life glimpses into the life of your organization. We are entering an era when authenticity is arguably the paramount value in marketing communications— a potentially massive shift from the fakey-fake formula that still guides most direct mail.
2. Blaze trails to your donate page
- Create “keyword” ads on Google and Yahoo! Link the ads straight to your donate form. This is especially important at year-end and during intensive fundraising campaigns. Make sure the ad language is clearly fundraising-related.
- Drive traffic through other advertising and outreach. Keywords are high quality but can be low volume. Do you have a group on MySpace, Facebook, Care2? Add a link.
- Make sure you have multiple donate links on your homepage that go straight to your donate form.
- Consider a “home page hijack.” A year-end splash screen should be big and brassy and offer no more than three options: donate now, learn more, and click to the usual home page. Or you can go for broke—make the splash screen your form!
- Use consistent language for buttons and links. Focus on the words “Give,” “Donate,” or “Contribute”—and stick to that one word throughout the donation process.
- Ask them to change channels. Ask your offline donors to donate online. This will convert donors into using your least expensive
giving channel, saving you money and allowing you to do more with theirs.
3. Optimize your donation form
Suppress Global Navigation. If what you want is for a visitor to your donate page to make a donation, then for god’s sake, don’t give them your website’s full range of navigation options.
Minimize Giving Choices. Provide a single donate choice if possible and keep folks on task.
Make sure people can tell that the form is a form.
Do not ask for any information you don’t need!
Provide your mailing address and phone number on your donate page, all fundraising-related pages and your home page. Your mailing address and phone number really should be on every page of your website, but the above locations are critical.
Provide a taste of inspiration. Remind them in a brief bullet point or two, or a well-chosen image, why your cause is so important.
Make sure error handling doesn’t suck. If at all possible, make sure donors thrown into error hell don’t have to re-enter all their personal information!
Do not require would-be donors to create an account to make them donate. You might as well just provide a link to another organization’s donate page.
4. Test drive your online donation process
- Recruit three test subjects. Spouses and significant others are just fine, as long as they meet the following criteria: (1) they have donated to some group online in the past; and (2) you trust them to be honest with you; and (3) you won’t have a huge fight with them if you don’t like what they have to say.
- Give each subject a ten-dollar bill. Sit down with them in front of a computer with broadband Internet access (most online donors have it), and ask them to make a $10 donation to your organization. Do NOT give them the URL. If they won’t use their own credit cards for this, lend them yours. Watch them launch the browser and find their own way to your home page (you’ll be amazed). Ask your test subject to verbalize all of their thoughts and reactions as they go along.
- Videotape your friend’s efforts (try to get the screen in the shot or have a colleague take detailed notes).
- Ask for feedback once they’ve made the gift.
5. Create a “Why Donate” page
- Create a new web page called “Why Donate” or “Case for Giving” or something equally straightforward. Provide links to this page from your About Us section, from your year-end home page hijack or splash screen, and from your donate form.
- Include on this page simple pie charts of where your money comes from and where it goes.
- Include a four-star bug from CharityNavigator (if you have four stars).
- Include one or two brief endorsements from credible authorities.
- Include any other badges of honor.
- Provide links to your full financials and/or to that PDF of your annual report no one will ever read. It’s good to have the link there just in case.
6. Thank your donor at least three times.
- Use the “finish page” strategically. The finish page is that screen that comes up once the donation process is complete. That’s your first thank you opportunity. This is not the time to put a tax receipt front and center; it’s the time for a big hug and an inspiring image.
- Review your auto-responder thank you copy.
- Send another thank you email a few days later.
- Consider a sincere, hand-signed letter or phone call for large gifts. A genuine personal thank you is in order, and worth the effort.
7. Provide for a warm welcome
- Plan a follow-up email after every concerted fundraising period. Before January 15, make a point to send every single online donor an email that reports back how much money your raised, how it will be used, and how you propose to keep donors in the loop going forward. do not under any circumstances ask for a second gift in this email.
- Send one or two “orientation” emails to new donors. In addition to that effusive thank-you email you’ve now sent from your CEO (see point above), send a couple more to help bond your new online donor.
8. Launch a two-pronged cultivation plan
- Plan a monthly communication whose principal aim is to re-inspire your donors. This can be your monthly email newsletter, but it better be good.
- Make listening a key element of your donor conversations. Ask donors what they think as often as you can in your regular communications and on your website.
9. Measure and Test
- Test elements of your donate form. Throughout the year, change one element on your donate form and keep it live for a few weeks or months, depending on your traffic, to measure if the conversion rate increases (or decreases).
- Test links from the donate form. Right now your donation landing page may be bristling with options—give monthly, join, donate, renew, learn about planned giving options, etc.. Chances are those pages lead a lot of folks to do nothing, but do you really know?
- Test a one page donate form vs. a multi-step form. Create a well-designed multi-step form and use it for awhile to see if your donations increase. Year-end fundraising is always a busy time for fundraisers and concerns which don’t have immediate ramifications have a tendency to be brushed aside till later.
- Make sure you have someone on staff that is responsible for compiling metrics for your year-end campaign. It’s usually a lot easier to define metrics ahead of time and compile during and immediately after the campaign, than it is to go back in July to see how your efforts performed.
10. Avoid procrastinating next year!
- Understand what you value. When reviewing your strategy and budget consider the value of your efforts and how you measure it. Be sure to develop your strategy to address the different aspects of communication valued by your organization.
- Put your money where the growth is. Identify your budget for list building and online advertising. If you have money left from this year use it!
- Planning is the mortal enemy of procrastination. Map out a plan so that you’ve recruited most of your new supporters by mid-fall. This will give you time to build a relationship with them.
Thank you to Care2's Eric Rardin and Heather Holdridge for preparing this guide. Click here to download the guide.