The ePhilanthropy revolution is here to stay, “and it will transform charitable giving in as profound a way as the web is changing the commercial world. Charities that have dismissed ePhilanthropy as a fad, or run from it in confusion, will sooner or later have to become reconciled to it. If they don’t, they risk losing touch with donors and imperilling the vitality of their work.”
This quotation from Prof. James Austin of the Harvard University Initiative on Social Enterprise laid the foundation for an informative session on the how, why, when, where and who of online fundraising – perhaps most imperatively, the why – at the Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference on Fundraising.
The donor community is online, it’s buying goods and services to the tune of – for example – $43 billion retail sales, $31 billion airline tickets and reservations, $14.87 billion to eBay last year, and it’s doubling online donations to charity every year for the past five years, to hit $1.2 million last year.
In fact, while other forms of philanthropy are stable or even decreasing, online giving is growing dramatically, points out Harry Gruber, Chief Executive Officer of Kintera Inc. and moderator of the session. On the other hand, the potential remains huge and largely untapped, he notes, as online still accounts for only .57% of total giving.
Bring people to site
First requirement for a nonprofit which wants to juice up its online donations, he says, is a top-line web site, one which draws traffic continually – think AOL, MSN, Yahoo – by building a transactional community, a place where the content is constantly changing because visitors themselves are engaged in it and take action which affects it.
“Online fundraising succeeds in the same way as traditional fundraising,” says Gruber. “You have to build a strong community.”
An interactive community, he suggests, involves a group of five overlapping, interconnected circles, including content, contacts, communities, communication, and reports. Its benefits include communicating common goals, showing progress, motivating and exciting, providing instant gratification, delivering immediate recognition, driving team spirit, and providing stewardship.
The key to creation of such a community is to integrate all the site’s activities – direct marketing, events, major gifts, programming, stewardship, eMail campaigns, every way in which the organization reaches out to its supporters and prospects – through one portal, one central software program.
The Internet can support a wide variety of aspects of online philanthropy, says Gruber; one of the most exciting and potentially rewarding is handling special events. Instead of having one supporter “walk through the office with solicitation forms”, the capacity now exists to reach out to thousands of potential pledgors through personalized web sites and solicitation eMails.
Personal eMails acquire donors, he stresses, citing the experience of several events his company has tracked. Statistics from these experiences show the average volunteer sends 28 eMails, of which 26% result in a donation. Most of the giving is undertaken in the workplace, he says, showing how the bulk of donations come in Monday to Friday during working hours. People are involved with their eMails, he contends; there were 25 billion messages per month in 2001. People report eMails take up 35% of their work day and 75% of their Internet time.
Target them further
The donors “discovered” through personal eMail solicitations by event volunteers, Gruber points out, become targets for further marketing through tracking their web site activity, discovering data segments, and customizing content to their interests through the web, direct mail, eMail, and telemarketing.
People DO respond to eMail, he says. A Stanford University study of eMail recipients showed they made 44% higher donations, their average gift was 73% higher, and they paid 47% more web visits.
Gruber’s presentation was backed up by the real-life experience of three Kintera clients: Wesley McKinney, Director of Donor Services, The Salvation Army, Georgia Division, Atlanta GA; Ginnie Wiley, Director, Development Operations, American Heart Association, Dallas TX; Rusty Burwell, Assistant Vice-President, Revenue Group, American Lung Association, New York NY.
The Salvation Army, suggests McKinney, is a rather conservative organization where change comes gradually and usually meets with some resistance. But in today’s economy, those responsible for raising money for a cause have to be alert to new ideas, new technologies, and new vendors, to spread their efforts out beyond the traditional fundraising vehicles.
The Army is also a difficult organization in which to implement a new idea, he says, because it is structured into thousands of different units, each with different needs and different imperatives.
Ring2Help rings bells
Last year, it plunged into the Internet, virtually for the first time, with its Ring2Help.org campaign. Before it could even start, permission had to be secured from international, national and territorial officials, and then a divisional commander “with vision” had to be identified to play point person on the project.
Although there was no actual event connected with the campaign, it was treated as though there were, with individual or team web pages set up for donors which could be eMailed to friends. Each identified an individual goal and recorded the money raised to date, as well as listing an “honour roll” of to-date supporters.
The opening page, which featured a virtual version of the Army’s traditional red kettle and a ringing bell, also recorded the top fundraising individuals to date as well as rankings for “bellringer” teams.
The campaign was heavily promoted through the media, newsletters, handouts, and direct information to existing donors, McKinney says.
Brought in new supporters
Results: 69% of responses were new donors; contributions from new donors paid for the program; the average gift was $60; existing donors were upgraded, giving 33% more than the previous year.
The American Heart Association needs software to handle its huge special events, says Wiley; for example, it has 260 current sites for the American Heart Walk and expects those to total more than 600 by the end of fall 2003, and it has 50 Train to End Strokes sites. These all needed to be brought under one umbrella.
Success measurement of the program, which is still being implemented and rolled out, she says, lies in the numbers: the average online gift for the American Heart Walk is 290% higher online than offline; the similar differential for Train to End Stroke is 170%, and now 47% of all TTES income is raised online; for general online donations through the association’s web site, gifts are currently 52% more than the same date last year, with the average gift up by 12%.
The program works by allowing each participant to create an individual web page, based on a user-friendly supplied template which the participant can personalize with messages and graphics and use as a base for an eMail campaign.
From the staff’s point of view, donations on each web page are tracked in real time, and the staff can run reports to track donations, recruitment, sponsorship, and participation.
Early adapter to cyberspace
The American Lung Association shares with The Salvation Army the problem of co-ordinating activities (and selling new ideas to), 75 local associations which are autonomous and separately incorporated, with local board and staff control, and including 200 local offices within them.
Despite the challenge, says Burwell, the ALA was an “early adapter” to the Internet, in pre-World Wide Web days. In 1994 it posted content on AOL and enabled local office dial-up access to a national Bulletin Board System. Its web site was launched in 1995 and it accepted its first online donations in 1997.
Since then it has incorporated eAdvocacy and web-based program delivery into its mix and is now moving into local event support under an umbrella program.
The vision, says Burwell, is a “single integrated solution” including all of eCommerce (donations, events, product sales), eAdvocacy, eCommunication (eNewsletters, surveys, program services), content management, and local presence/national co-ordination.