The Wired Nonprofit spoke with David Price, Vice President, Information and Technology, National Multiple Sclerosis Society
1) Can you begin by telling us a little bit about the National Multiple Sclerosis Society?
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society funds more MS research, offers more services to people with MS, provides more professional education programs and advances more MS advocacy efforts than any other MS organization in the world. As one of the nation's 50 largest charities, the Society's nationwide income for 2004 was $184 million.
The Society partners with the healthcare community to promote quality healthcare, and through its home office and 50-state network of chapters, the Society serves over a million people annually.
2) The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has been very successful in securing online donations. What does your online fundraising strategy entail? How else does the Society use the Internet to advance its mission?
Our emphasis on special events and our average gift size fit nicely with what people are comfortable with donating online.
Over 50% of our revenue comes from our special events - the Society holds MS Walks and MS Bike Tours in nearly every state, which together totals approximately $100 million annually. Our event participants encourage their family members, co-workers and friends to sponsor them in one of our events.
Our chapters have provided our participants with the tools to make it very easy to ask their friends to donate money to the Society. The tools also make it very easy to sponsor one of our participants. Typically, these gifts are in the $25 to $75 range, and people are very comfortable using their credit cards and debit cards on the Internet to make this kind of donation.
Our chapters have been the key to the Society's success in using the Internet for online donations. When the Internet was still emerging as a viable platform for electronic commerce, a number of our chapters embraced the concept early on. From there, it has simply continued to grow along with the Internet.
Our chapters have been innovative in their methods of encouraging our special events participants to use our online fundraising tools. Motivating and encouraging our participants to use our online fundraising tools has been the key to whatever success we have had. Our chapters do this by making sure our participants are aware of what tools are available to them and what the impact of using these tools will have on their ability to raise money.
3) Have you come across any obstacles in the implementation and running of an online donation program?
Probably the biggest challenge the Society has is trying to keep our online tools up to date with the latest innovations in online fundraising. The nature of technology is that it continues to either advance or become o bsolete. It is a challenging task that we all must face to try and continuously modify our tools to keep up with the latest innovations. There is still a long way for all of us to travel on the innovation curve with regards to online fundraising, so I do not think this challenge is going to go away soon. Fortunately, in a market driven economy, when there is a need, vendors emerge, and there is an up and coming array specializing in online fundraising technology.
4) According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy's sixth annual survey of online fundraising, the National MS Society raised $16.5 million in online donations, up from $10 million in 2003. Can you tell our readers what you did differently to account for this marked increase?
I believe that the bulk of this growth comes from the fact that people, in general, are simply more comfortable giving online. I would like to say that we are generating this much growth by ou rselves, but that is simply not the case. The online giving channel is at the steepest slope of its growth curve and that is driving most of our growth. It does help that we were involved in online fundraising relatively early.
Two recent events that have demonstrated that online giving has hit the mainstream are the Howard Dean presidential campaign and the recent tsunami. Those events produced record numbers of activity and online donations. With the tools and technology accessible to every organization, I expect that most organizations will see growth at this level or more for the next several years.
5) How large a percentage of your revenue is derived from electronic donations? Do you see this number increasing in the future? Why or why not?
Nearly 17 percent of our special events revenue comes from online fundraising. The number will definitely increase in the future, particularly for special events giving. I do not know where the number will end up, but I would not be surprised if eventually some 80% of our special events fundraising comes in over the web. There will also be significant growth in membership renewals as well as one-time gifts. The reason for the increase is that electronic donations are easy for the customer.
People are finding it easier to spend 10 minutes at work pledging online than it is to get cash and give it to your friend or to write a check. Over time, this will continue to become the preferred method for payment for the majority of our participants. It also helps that people tend to give more when they donate online than when they donate through traditional means for special events. That motivates our fundraisers to encourage people to donate online.
Information on MS and the Society's services is available 24-hours a day by calling l-800 FIGHT MS or by visiting the Society's Website at www.nationalmssociety.org.
*Kate Golden, Editor of The Wired Nonprofit, is a Senior Director in the Fundraising Division of Changing Our World Inc., a leading consulting firm helping nonprofits achieve their goals through revenue enhancement, ePhilanthropy, strategic planning and innovative techniques combined with sound fundamentals. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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