Online fundraising – make it persuasive, easy and personal

Written by: Madeleine Sugden
Posted: 11th July 2012

Have you tested and evaluated different online fundraising methods and messages to see what works for your supporters? Do you understand what inspires your digital donors to give? If not, you’re not alone. The ‘build it and they will come’ mentality still rules in our sector. It’s time for a fresh look at your online asks.

Even the big boys / household names haven’t completely cracked digital fundraising. I have recently been doing some benchmarking work looking at online fundraising of big charities and results have been disappointing. Even though they’ve all probably had a web presence for 15 years, successfully asking for money online is still a bit of a dark art. Everyone is doing it but not many are doing it brilliantly.

Clearly there are issues which mean that online fundraising is a big challenge. Aside from technical and budgetary barriers, fundraising teams now need to have expertise and an understanding of how their audience uses web and social media. They need to understand what has worked and what success looks like. Individual return-on-investment statistics are essential.

However, in the absence of sector benchmarking stats on how much or what proportion of income is generated online, it is difficult to know whether your organisation’s online fundraising is working / needs further investment or is just typical of general online giving. In this case, knowing your own audience and their behaviour is crucial. Using your data (web traffic, successful donations / sign-ups, abandoned processes, responses to appeals, unsubscriptions etc) will help to give you a picture of how well you are influencing and retaining your supporters.

Fundraisers also now need to be experts in producing appropriate content for each of the channels and platforms they are using and balance this with all the other key messages of the organisation. This can be tough, especially if the internal relationship with other teams responsible for publishing of web / social media is complicated.

Recently I have been evaluating the online fundraising of 15 of the top UK charities. Fundraising is a prominent part of everyone’s digital presence (website / Facebook site). However, it is not good enough to simply have a presence. Here are my top tips for gold star online fundraising and some examples.

Be persuasive

It’s not good enough just to have the facility to give / sign-up online, you need to write in a way which inspires and involves potential and previous donors. Many of the sites I looked at didn’t feel persuasive, it was almost as if because I was on their website already they didn’t have to inspire me. Below are some examples of how to include persuasiveness in your fundraising and please check out this blog too for further thoughts.

Use thoughtful language

Think about how to include and welcome your supporters. Whether on your website, in your tweets or newsletter saying ‘please’ / ‘thank you’ and recognising ‘your support’ / ‘your help’ makes a big difference. It shows that you both value and need their support. In your content, talk directly to your supporters rather than about them.

By using ‘you’ rather than ‘they’, readers will feel included.

Good content is key

Good content doesn’t have to be lots of content, just engaging well-written or produced and appropriate for the audience or platform it is on. Good content tells a story, gives an insight into the issue, can be surprising, shocking or emotionally engaging and gives an action at the end so you can get involved / make a difference. This applies to written content, video, social media, emails – anything you produce to get your message across. Above all it should be interesting and engaging.

Take a look at the examples shared at May’s nfpTweetUp which was all about good content. We heard from ChildsiFoundation and WomenForWomen about their inspiring content and a panel shared their favourite content sites KnowHow NonProfit, RNLI’s OutOnAShout tweets, Living Streets’ gamification campaignCharityWater and The Blue Cross. All very different but all making use of their very individual assets.

Balance asks with achievements

No supporter wants to be constantly asked for donations – the ‘give us more, more, more’ message quickly becomes ineffective. Instead show them what has been achieved with their help and they will want to give again. An extreme example of this is ShelterBox who say they never directly ask for money (see their guide to How to raise funds without directly asking for them).

Make it easy

Complicated sign-up processes, pointless registration forms to download a fundraising pack, tiny donate buttons all mean that people who intend to give get put off by frustrating and poorly designed user journeys. Check the usability (and accessibility) of your processes.

They may make sense to you or your developers but can real supporters use them? Are you putting too many steps or barriers in the way of someone taking action? Do you really need to collect so much data when they sign up? Is your labelling clear? Do you clearly show which fields are mandatory? Do your error messages make sense? Have you ever actually made a donation or signed up to your own fundraising newsletter via your own online process to see what the user experience is?

Making a donation or filling in a form should be quick and simple. If it takes an average user longer than five minutes, it is probably too complicated. Well designed processes tell you how many steps there are, what each step is and how far through you are. On completion, they say thank you, tell you what will happen next and (for the gold star) show other ways you can support (such as ‘recycle your mobile phone’ or ‘send this tweet to tell your followers about our work’).

Organisations who have a strong community on Facebook, Twitter or other platforms miss a trick by not integrating fundraising asks into these channels. Does your Facebook site have a donate button / page?

How frequently do you tweet fundraising stories or asks? Does your YouTube video have a link at the end to get involved? Do you publish standard tweets on your website and invite supporters to use them? Do you include your TextGiving instructions on your website or posters? Do your emails have a standard ask in their signatures?

Think about how to make it easy for your community to give.

Say thank you

Build a relationship with your supporters – whether on or offline, publicly or privately. Saying thank you and involving supporters in your achievements is vital. Some organisations do this very publicly for example listing the top five most recent supporters on their homepage and showing what they have done (‘Joe signed up for the Great North Run, Rita made a donation’ etc), saying thanks via Twitter or sharing case studies of fundraisers with a story. A one-to-one, personalised thanks (even if its just the supporters’ name – so ‘Dear Chris’ rather than ‘Dear supporter’) should be part of every transaction.

Show that every donation / gift makes a difference, no matter how small. Macmillan do this nicely when they say: ‘Remember, it doesn’t matter how much you raise. Small amounts x lots of people = MANY lives changed.’

Fundraising isn’t rocket science

These tips are not complicated to implement but it does take effort to produce digital fundraising which is engaging, persuasive and simple.

Look at what other organisations are doing. Try and put yourselves in the digital shoes of your supporters and think how you can improve their experience. Then test, test and test to see what works.

Madeleine Sugden is a freelance web content consultant and trainer.

After five years at RNIB she helped create and develop KnowHow NonProfit. She now helps large and small charities get
better at writing for the web and social media.

Follow her on Twitter: @madlinsudn

One Response to Online fundraising – make it persuasive, easy and personal

  1. Matt Kepple says:

    Totally agree that content and the ask need to be persuasive. Inventing a new platform will only get you so far. What counts is giving people a compelling reason and proposition to give. I’ve found that targeted giving accomplishes this:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>