Isn’t this Internet world a wonderful place? All we have to do is create a beautiful website and they will come running in masses, right? Yeah, right, and they’ll be dragging bags of money with them too!
Millions of new and naive cyber business people think they can simply create a website, register it with the search engines and then sit back and watch their site vacuum up money off the web like a cash magnet. They have read so many falsehoods written by supposed Internet Marketing Gurus that they cannot distinguish fantasy from facts. These would-be Internet millionaires subject themselves to an extraordinary number of “get rich quick schemes.” Unfortunately, non-profits can fall prey to these too.
Most non-profit organizations that are going to succeed quickly with Internet fundraising are large, well-recognized and well-respected charities. They have deep pockets full of marketing dollars and goodwill. These are the same types of large, institutional charities (American Red Cross, Salvation Army, American Heart Assn., American Cancer Society, etc.) that are so successful with direct mail fundraising. Why? Because people already trust their names.
This word of caution is not to deter you and your non-profit organization from taking advantage of some of the options made available to you through the Internet. I simply would not count on it (the Internet) providing a significant portion of your net income until it develops more fully and you learn your way around in this fundraising community.
My suggestion would be to start with a website. Emphasize lots of good content and transfer of information to your employees, volunteers, contributors and the public. You may want to explore taking contributions online as a part of your web presence, but this is going to take a little more thought and exploration to do effectively and attractively. Try to develop your idea as fully as you can before you have it designed and installed. It will likely have less kinks and problems that way. Besides, as I mentioned above, unless your organization is widely recognized as a pillar in the charitable community, most people will be hesitant to provide their credit card information online.
If you are a membership chapter of a larger, national charitable organization, see if the national office has a relationship with vendors or suppliers who are used to doing this for the local charities for a modest charge. Call on whatever resources are available, perhaps there is a national network of chapter websites like the one you wish to create.
If there is no such support, talk to board members or other constituents who have your interest in mind. Explain what you need and ask them if they can point you in the right direction with regard to suppliers, etc. Explain that you want to get your own website, and that you would prefer to be able to accept contributions therefrom. Then, you will need to reserve and pay for your own URL http://www.yourcharity’s name.org (your address on the World Wide Web).
Next, you will then want to place your url address and e-mail address on all your correspondence and printed materials, so people can see how to reach you on the web. You should also register your website and its purpose with as many Internet search engines and directories as you can. This will let people know how to find your organization’s website, the purpose of the site and where to look for it.
One of the most effective and cost efficient (free once you get their e-mail addresses) ways to communicate with your constituents is through e-mail. However, because unsolicited commercial e-mail is considered spam, you need to begin to build a list of e-mail addresses of constituents and others who welcome your e-mail news and communications.
You might begin by trying to find creative ways to collect the e-mail addresses from your constituents and supporters, beginning with insiders like volunteers, contributors and board members. Consider giving something away on your site as an incentive to people for providing their e-mail addresses. Explain that you can send them helpful information, every week or every month through your organization’s new e-mail magazine, if they will just “sign up now.”
Then, spend some quality time writing an interesting publication—always give it your best. Make sure the information in the publication is helpful and pragmatic, and usable by the masses, like the Fundraising Free Press (which you are now reading). Transmit your e-newsletter weekly or monthly but not too regularly, as you can become a pest. Make it clear and concise, without many ads. Never send to others that which you would not like to receive yourself.
Consider associating yourself with a tastefully designed Internet mall that provides you with a percentage of the revenue from purchases coming from your site. You may also find networks that accept charitable gifts on behalf of their registered member charities. They serve as the conduit through which the funds are channeled to the local charity from an Internet cooperative type of arrangement.
The only proven ways to get more significant contributions (assuming your site does a good job of soliciting gifts) for your organization from the Internet is to get more people to come (larger audience) to your website and to get them to stay on your site longer or to return to your site more often (stickier site). All of your promotional energies should be focused upon those two strategies. Bring more people, especially interested people, to your website and you are going to generate more support. Promotional advertising and marketing can bring the traffic and a quality site can keep them there or keep them coming back.
There are many inexpensive ways to promote your site on the Web. Among these are: have your webmaster help you teach volunteers to submit and resubmit new pages, doorways and key pages to the search engines, directories, links pages, chat rooms, etc. Explain to the volunteers what a difference they can make for their organizations through newsgroups, message boards and chat rooms. You might consider partnering with one of the banner exchange networks. Here you let them place their banner on your site for so many placements of your banner on theirs. The host company usually gets a small commission from the advertiser.
You might consider accepting limited advertising on your site, as long as it does not take anything away from your regular message. It might be advisable to pursue cause-related marketing agreements with related/interested businesses. In most instances, they give you a large gift in return for being able to use your organization’s name in their marketing efforts.
Leading staff members and volunteers can bring attention to your organization and to what you are doing by publishing their opinions and thoughts on other websites. They should close every such article, close all e-mails, chat room or message board conversations with the same signature (including information on their name, the organization’s name, their title, their e-mail address, their phone number and the organization’s website URL).
Building and promoting your website can be a terribly frustrating and time-consuming chore, or it can be something more—a constant and loving work in progress. By budgeting your time wisely, their name, org name, title, e-mail address, phone number and website URL managing your organization’s money carefully, you can develop a great website that will enhance your overall fundraising performance and help you strengthen your organization from top to bottom. If you have some good ideas for website promotion, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
David G. Phillips is president of Custom Development Solutions, Inc. CDS is among the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada. If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to email@example.com.