Fundraising has always been at the heart of nonprofit missions because you need to raise money in order to launch and maintain the programming that helps you work toward that mission. However, fundraising itself has evolved over the years—once primarily reliant on in-person and mailed-in contributions, it now focuses heavily on online giving.
Just in recent history, we’ve seen nonprofits’ reliance on online fundraising increase even further in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. When everyone moved to remote operations and started working from home, one of the only possible ways to solicit donations from your supporters was through online fundraising pages.
But how does online fundraising work? In this guide, we’ll take a deep dive into the subject, covering what it is, how it fits into development planning, and ideas that your organization can leverage to amplify your online fundraising presence. Let’s get started with the basics:
What is online fundraising?
Online fundraising is a way for nonprofits to raise money using internet-powered platforms. Fundraising online allows organizations to expand their reach and offers endless opportunities for raising money.
Because the internet increases connectivity across a larger geographic area, online fundraising creates new opportunities for nonprofits to garner support for their missions from supporters around the world.
Online fundraising also allows supporters to immediately get involved with your organization, acting on their engagement with your mission as soon as they navigate to your website.
For instance, consider the following situation: Your nonprofit attends a conference held by a related organization in an attempt to promote your mission to individuals who may have a natural inclination for the cause. You meet a number of prospective supporters and hand out your business cards encouraging them to check out the cause. These supporters go home from the event and navigate to your site to learn more. They’re intrigued by your mission.
The ideal solution in this situation is to get supporters involved with your mission at this peak of their engagement with your mission. By providing an easily accessible online fundraising page, these interested individuals can easily make a gift as soon as they discover how incredible your organization is.
How does online fundraising work?
There are several different ways in which you might engage your supporters through online fundraising efforts. The most common way nonprofits leverage the internet to boost fundraising is by creating online donation pages.
On many nonprofit websites, there is a page that allows supporters to make donations electronically through their computer or mobile device. These donation pages make donating a one-step process. The easier it is to donate, the more likely people are to do it.
However, this is not the only option for effective online fundraising in the nonprofit world. You might also conduct various types of fundraising campaigns, all leveraging the internet to help you collect contributions. Some of these other types of campaigns include:
- Peer-to-peer fundraising, or social fundraising, involves supporters organizing their own personal campaigns to collect donations from their peers. The nonprofit owns the primary campaign page and encourages volunteer supporters to also create their own fundraising pages. Through these pages, they can solicit donations from their friends, family, and social networks.
- Online event registrations are another way for your organization to collect online fundraising revenue when supporters register to attend your event. They’ll make a donation or a payment in return for the ticket. When supporters can register online, you gain immediate access to the ticket funds provided. Plus, you’ll gain a better idea of how many individuals will attend your event and how you can best engage with them.
No matter what type of online fundraising you leverage to raise money, the online fundraising software you use will work hand-in-hand with a payment processor.
Payment processing for online fundraising
Payment processing is what allows your online gifts to be transferred from your supporters’ bank accounts to your nonprofit’s bank account.
Typically, this is what the process looks like:
- The donor enters their payment information via a donation page, peer-to-peer campaign, event ticketing page, etc.
- The payment enters a payment gateway and is directed to your organization’s payment processor for approval.
- Your payment processor submits a fund transfer request to the ACH network.
- The ACH payment request is relayed to the credit card company or bank, which is responsible for approving the transaction and sending the donated funds back to the network.
- The funds are then deposited into a merchant account, which begins the transfer process to start directing the funds back to your nonprofit’s account.
- The donation is moved into your nonprofit’s bank account.
While you don’t necessarily need to understand payment processing in depth, knowing the basics of payment processing can help you determine the safest online fundraising software solution. Be sure your solution is PCI-compliant—meaning it follows the recommendations necessary to be up to the standard of the Payment Card Industry.
If you’re interested in learning more about payment processing and how it’s connected to your online fundraising strategy, check out our glossary page on the subject.
Online fundraising best practices
We’ve established the importance of online fundraising for your nonprofit—it helps you reach more people in a way that’s convenient and safe for both your organization and supporters. But that doesn’t mean adding online fundraising into your strategy willy nilly is the best course of action.
Rather, your nonprofit should follow some best practices to make sure you’re making the most of your online fundraising strategy. We’ll discuss some of the best practices that you can incorporate for your strategy in context of this donation page example from charity: water.
- Ask for recurring gifts. Recurring donations are those given by supporters on a regular basis, usually monthly. On your donation page, you can include a checkbox or button encouraging your supporters to contribute on a regular basis rather than just once. This subscription-style giving makes it easy for supporters to give regularly without having to input their payment information over and over again. The above example makes it easy to simply click the “donate monthly” button to encourage recurring gifts.
- Set up suggested giving amounts. Suggested giving amounts use social proof to encourage higher donations from supporters. Rather than trying to figure out exactly how much is best to give to the organization, supporters can simply choose the gift amount that best fits their budget. The example above shows these suggested giving amounts in a monthly giving capacity, but they can also be leveraged on a standard single gift donation page.
- Leverage social platforms where appropriate. Imagine you’re a supporter who completely finished the donation process and reached the confirmation page after filling out the form in the example above. What’s your next action? Probably to quit the page and potentially forget all about the donation. Providing social media buttons to share the contribution with friends and family continues the supporter’s engagement past the donation and allows them to market your nonprofit to their networks.
- Brand all donation pages to match your organization’s branding. If your donation page looks too different from the rest of your website, your supporters might think they left your organization’s site and lose trust in the process. However, if you carry the brand throughout the site and all donation pages, you’ll maintain that vital trust, keeping more supporters on the page. Like the image above, make sure you include the logo for your organization on the donation page and use on-brand images.
- Leverage donor data to better reach your audience. When you reach out to supporters to give online, be sure you use the most relevant appeals for the appropriate audience. To do this, you’ll need to leverage the right donor data. For instance, you could reach out to regularly contributing donors and encourage them to become recurring supporters for easier engagement. In this case, you’d need to know who your regular contributors are, how much they typically give, and how frequently they give.
- Include an impact statement to encourage gifts. Impact statements show supporters what their gift has the potential to do before they even give it. In the above example, the impact statement says, “Your $40 monthly donation can give 12 people clean water every year.” This attaches meaning and impact to the exact contribution the supporter is considering giving.
A poor online fundraising strategy can lead to increased instances of donation page abandonment—what happens when supporters navigate to your donation page (or campaign page) but leave before making their final contribution to your organization.
Optimizing your fundraising and campaign pages will help convert more supporters into donors, capturing more donations and making the process easier for your supporters.
Getting started with online fundraising
Now that you’ve determined that online fundraising creates new and valuable opportunities for your nonprofit, you might be wondering how to get started with incorporating it into your strategy.
We’ve compiled a list of the steps that you’ll need to take to get started with online fundraising at your nonprofit:
- Choose the online fundraising idea that will best suit your organization and your audience. In the next section, we’ll discuss some of the top online fundraising ideas that you can leverage to build out your strategy. Consider your audience and the types of fundraisers most likely to engage them. Then, prioritize those ideas in your development strategy.
- Invest in the online fundraising platform that will allow you to make that idea possible. The right fundraising platform can make all the difference in your online fundraising strategy. By choosing the best solution, you’ll ensure you have the capabilities to customize donation pages and engage your supporters without breaking the bank.
- Develop marketing materials to push your online fundraising opportunities. Generally, to generate online fundraising revenue, the majority of your marketing efforts will also take place online. By reaching out on social media, email, and other online platforms, you can add a link directly to your online fundraising opportunity to capture donations right away. If you choose to send direct mail appeals, you might also include a QR code or URL that directs people to your fundraising page so they can give on their phones.
- Start collecting donations! Be sure to record success metrics from all of the campaigns you set up. This will help you better understand which campaigns are most effective and impactful for your specific supporters. Plus, you’ll gain new information about your supporters, allowing you to reach back out to them.
- Say thank you to all of your supporters who give and start building relationships. One of the huge advantages of online fundraising is that you can immediately collect and organize the information from your donation pages. This will help you send out an immediate thank you email, then reach out again to show appreciation. Try calling supporters, sending handwritten letters, and other appreciation strategies to show ample appreciation. The purpose of this is to lay the foundation for an impactful and long-lasting relationship with each supporter.
Remember that not all of your supporters will want to leverage online fundraising to contribute to your organization. Be sure your supporters are also able to continue giving in person or by mail if they prefer doing so.
Top 10 online fundraising ideas
Looking for ideas to start building out your nonprofit’s online fundraising strategy? Here are the top 10 ideas that we recommend considering. Remember that you should choose the right fundraising strategy for your organization according to the preferences and potential engagement of your organization’s supporters.
Online donation pages
Online donation pages are the cornerstone of an effective online fundraising strategy. This is an online page on your website where you can collect donations from your supporters. This is also where you’ll leverage the common best practices listed above, including recurring donations, suggested donation amounts, and consistent branding.
Be sure your online donation page is easy to navigate to on your organization’s website. You might choose to include a link to the donation page directly on your main navigation or to include a button above the fold on your website home page. This way, supporters who visit your website looking for ways to get involved will find it easy to contribute right away. Be sure to also embed your donation page onto your website rather than link out to an external site. This maintains supporter engagement on your website and maintains consistent online branding to establish trust with donors.
Event ticketing and registration
Event ticketing and registration, even for in-person events, can leverage online fundraising strategies to amplify the effort and collect contributions. You might create a temporary page on your website or a microsite for your event allowing you to sell tickets and seats to your organization’s event. Often, online fundraising software will also allow supporters to give additional donations during this registration process.
Event ticketing and registration provide the dual purpose of allowing supporters to contribute to your organization and provide some information about who will be attending your nonprofit’s event. You can use the information from your online registration forms to plan for proper event capacity.
Pledge drives are often leveraged during times of crisis, encouraging supporters to promise a donation to your nonprofit that will be paid out down the line. You can set up online pledge campaigns to garner support right off the bat and encourage people to get involved in important campaign issues.
Be sure to follow up with your pledge supporters after the initial campaign to encourage them to follow through with their promised gift. Make it easy for them to complete the contribution directly online.
Social fundraising allows your nonprofit’s supporters to raise funds on behalf of your mission. When you leverage peer-to-peer fundraising software, you’ll develop a primary online campaign page. Then, your supporters will each create their own online fundraising page as well to raise funds.
While many organizations use peer-to-peer fundraising to garner support from new supporters, to get the most out of these campaigns, you should be sure to also reach out and show ample appreciation for the volunteers raising funds for your nonprofit. These are the champions for your cause and deserve your attention.
Crowdfunding is an online fundraising strategy that allows your organization to collect small donations from a wide audience. The small contributions made to your campaign can add up to make a great impact.
Design your crowdfunding campaign page online, then encourage your supporters to spread the word about your campaign far and wide. These campaigns generally gain a lot of traction on social media as supporters share the campaign with their network of friends and family.
Text-to-give fundraising campaigns allow your supporters to give to your nonprofit directly from their smartphones using the internet. All supporters need to do is text a keyphrase to a preset phone number, fill out their payment information, and complete their gift.
This type of fundraising is perfect for events, where you can collect donations from supporters as they sit in the audience listening to a keynote speaker or while fixing their plate at a potluck. When you make solicitation requests over a loudspeaker or provide the keyphrase and number to text on event signage, your guests can continue giving easily throughout the event activities.
Matching gifts are an underutilized method of fundraising that allows supporters to give more than they originally anticipated. These gifts are contributions usually made by employers to match the donations made by their employees to eligible nonprofits. While these gifts are a valuable source of essentially free revenue, they’re often overlooked by organizations and not taken full advantage of.
Around 65% of Fortune 500 companies offer these valuable matching gift programs, but often people are unaware of their eligibility for these contributions. While not exactly online fundraising in and of itself, your nonprofit can encourage supporters to search their eligibility for matched contributions directly on your donation or confirmation webpage by including a matching gift database search tool.
Often, one of the best ways to encourage people to give to your nonprofit is by offering them an incentive in return. Rather than just asking for donations, you might decide to sell merchandise through an online store on your nonprofit’s website.
When you work with a merchandise fundraising company, your organization can sell t-shirts, mugs, water bottles, and more directly from an online store. These products will then be shipped directly to your generous supporters. Further, these products can be branded to your nonprofit— so every time a supporter wears their shirt outside or brings a coffee mug to work, they’re spreading the word about your cause.
Giving days are single-day pushes for fundraising for very specific causes. Giving Tuesday is the example that most organizations are familiar with, but you can always create your own to stir up excitement for your mission.
Promote the online opportunities and allow people to give from wherever they are on your giving day. You might also invite your supporters to attend a virtual or in-person event in celebration of the day of giving. Be sure to follow up with all supporters about the impact of the campaign.
Virtual events are fundraising event opportunities that occur through an online platform. That means there are a multitude of fundraising opportunities that present themselves through the duration of these campaigns.
For instance, you may encourage your supporters to purchase tickets for the event, provide an optional additional give opportunity during this registration process, or even sell event-specific merchandise.
Other online fundraising resources
The good news is that you’re not limited to the ten ideas that we listed above for your online fundraising initiatives. Exploring new online fundraising ideas today is a cinch thanks to all of the incredible content being posted by experienced nonprofit professionals around the world.
Blogs are a great resource for nonprofit organizations looking to step into the world of virtual fundraising. The following blogs were cited by nonprofit organizations as being some of the best blogs for nonprofit fundraising.
Bloomerang’s team of fundraising professionals designed their blog to closely follow the latest trends in the nonprofit sector, covering detailed topics and reaching out to a number of trusted consultants to discuss relevant topics.
Association of Fundraising Professionals’ (AFP) vision is “to stimulate a world of generosity and positive social good through fundraising best practice.” Their website contains a wealth of information on nonprofit research, industry news, and fundraising advice, making it a great resource for organizations looking for new fundraising ideas.
As a powerful online fundraising software and trusted Kindful integration partner, Classy knows a thing or two about effective virtual fundraising techniques. Visit their blog for posts like “How to Boost Donations Through Online Point-of-Sale Fundraising,” “5 Ways Online Fundraising Pays for Itself,” and other topics pertaining to virtual fundraising.
Joan Garry is a seasoned nonprofit executive, consultant, author, and speaker. The Joan Garry Consulting blog offers readers tools for everything from growing your email list to getting creative with your virtual fundraising strategy.
Nonprofit Hub exists to educate nonprofit professionals through helpful blogs, webinars, guides, and more. They are well-versed in the world of virtual fundraising and offer users content on topics like best practices for fundraising virtually and keeping email subscribers engaged.
Sandy Rees and Get Fully Funded
Sandy Rees and the Get Fully Funded team create resources for nonprofits looking to revolutionize the way they raise money. Through webinars, videos, classes, and blog posts, Get Fully Funded provides its readers with valuable information about all aspects of fundraising, including fundraising online.
Fundraising in the digital age requires the use of virtual tools and online fundraising. Not only does it make giving more convenient for your organization’s supporters, but it also helps your nonprofit expand its reach and grow its database of supporters.
Build out your fundraising strategy with a number of different online and offline fundraising initiatives, allowing supporters to give however they’re most comfortable and according to their preferences.
- Kindful blog post: 1,118 Nonprofit Professionals Share The Best Fundraising & Nonprofit Blogs
- OneCause Guide: Nonprofit Guide To Virtual Fundraising
- Bloomerang Guide: [Free Download!] Nonprofit Development Plan | 3 Helpful Tips