10 Online Fundraising Best Practices for Nonprofits

This is the fifth post in a blog and webinar series called 101 Digital Marketing & Fundraising Best Practices for Nonprofits, written and presented by Heather Mansfield. Please sign up for Nonprofit Tech for Good’s email newsletter to be alerted of new posts. Thank you!

Related Webinar: Online Fundraising Best Practices for Nonprofits

The first Donate Now button was released in 1999 by a project of the Tides Foundation called Groundspring (acquired by Network for Good in 2005) and for the next two decades, nonprofit professionals have embraced the study of inspiring people to give online to good causes. Innovation in online fundraising was driven by the release of new technology, such as email marketing services like MailChimp in 2001, the launch of WordPress (a content management system now used by 44% of nonprofits worldwide) in 2003, and social networking websites beginning with Myspace in 2005.

Today, nonprofits worldwide have access to online fundraising tools that could not have been imagined at the turn of the millennium, and current best practices are shaped by 20+ years of innovation and experimentation.

1) Implement donation page best practices.

Even though billions of dollars have been raised online since 1999, it’s surprising how many nonprofits make the donation process more complicated than it should be. As a general rule, donations pages should be simple, optimized for mobile giving, and ask for the minimal amount of information required to make a donation and to capture a donor’s contact information.

The third post in this series, 10 Donation Page Best Practices for Nonprofits, provides detailed advice, but its worth reiterating that the first step in being successful in online fundraising is having well-designed, data-driven donation pages.

Launched in 2002, GlobalGiving.org is a crowdfunding platform for NGOs, charities, and nonprofits worldwide which has raised nearly $500 million online. Likely a sign of best practices to come, their donation pages simply ask for credit card information and an email address (not a mailing address) and have an extensive offering of different ways to donate. A pioneer of crowdfunding and online fundraising, GlobalGiving.org is a site to study and learn from.

To make a credit card donation on GlobalGiving.org, donors do not need to enter a mailing address:

GlobalGiving Donate Page is an example of a modern best practice.

GlobalGiving.org offers multiple ways to give in order to accommodate donors worldwide:

GlobalGiving offers many ways for donors to give to charity.

2) Proactively promote your monthly giving program.

According to the 2020 Benchmarks Report, revenue from monthly gifts increased by 22% in 2019 and now accounts for 17% of all online revenue for nonprofits. Also, data from the 2020 Global Trends in Giving Report reveals that 45% of online donors worldwide are enrolled in a monthly giving program. An ever-growing consistent revenue stream, nonprofits would be wise to proactively and enthusiastically promote their monthly giving program.

To begin, create a page on your website that explains the benefits of your monthly giving program and that includes a donation form where monthly giving is the only option. For example, Alley Cat Allies’ Cat-alyst Society – Monthly Giving Program:

The landing page for Alley Cat Allies monthly giving program

This page should have a URL that can be easily promoted in print newsletters and postcard campaigns, such as alleycat.org/givemonthly. Another option is to register a domain name and have it redirect to your monthly giving program page, such as JoinCat-alystSociety.org or GiveMonthlytoAlleyCat.org. This can be easily done at a low-cost through any domain registrar. If you want to name your monthly giving program or its members, here are 30 ideas to spark your creativity.

Once you have your page set-up, the success of your monthly giving program depends upon how you promote it. Here are a few ideas:

  • Print: Create and publish an ad for your monthly giving program in every edition of your print newsletter that includes the URL. It’s also worth sending a postcard campaign to your one-time donors asking them to become monthly donors. Every fundraising appeal sent should also include a pitch to become a monthly donor.
  • Email: In e-newsletters, regularly include a pitch to become a monthly donor. Be sure that your pitch is visual whether that’s a graphic or image in the body of the email, or a header or footer banner. In email fundraising appeals, send a pitch to one-time donors asking them to upgrade to become a monthly donor. And don’t be shy about sending emails! Most small to medium-sized nonprofits send too few emails which is a lost opportunity. For detailed best practices on how to use email effectively, see 10 Email Marketing Best Practices for Nonprofits.
  • Social Media: To effectively promote your monthly giving program on social media, you’ll need to create a series of promo graphics that are properly sized for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. (2021 Social Media Size Guide). Also, with organic reach at an all-time low, your nonprofit should invest in social media advertising. Facebook has the highest ROI and it is worth investing $100-500 in a test advertising campaign for your monthly giving program.
  • Your Website: According to NextAfter, a pop-up on your one-time donation page can result in a 64% increase in monthly donations. Add a pop-up! Also, if your nonprofit’s website has empty space on its sidebar, create and embed an ad for your monthly giving program. Finally, be sure to list your monthly giving program on your “Ways to Give” page. Please see 10 Website Design Best Practices for Nonprofits for further inspiration.

All that said, here’s some very useful advice on monthly giving programs from Funraise: Have a process in place for when credit cards expire and a well-planned strategy for monthly donor retention.

3) Launch a tribute giving program.

A good fundraising platform will offer the ability to add an honor or memorial gift option to a nonprofit’s primary donation page, but as discussed in 10 Donation Page Best Practices for Nonprofits, a good fundraising platform will also allow nonprofits to create multiple donation pages. For example, the Nature Conservancy offers both honor gifts and memorial gifts – each with their own donation page.

Nature Conservancy Honorary Gift Donation Page:

Landing page for donors to the Nature Conservancy to make an honorary gift
Nature Conservancy Memorial Gift Donation Page:

Donation page for memorial gifts to the Nature Conservancy

Both gifts are then featured on page dedicated to Tribute Giving:

A landing page for both honor gifts and memorial gifts to the Nature Conservancy

And then their Tribute Giving page is listed on their “Other Ways to Give” page:

The Other Ways to Give Page which lists all the ways to make a donation to the Nature Conservancy

This website structure for featuring honor and memorial gifts works well for all nonprofits, but of course with your branding and promotional text.

Launching a tribute giving program is worth the investment of your time. According to the Global Trends in Giving Report, 33% of donors worldwide give tribute gifts. To grow your tribute giving program, use the advice above for promoting your monthly giving program and ramp up promotion during holidays (Christmas, Hanukkah, Eid al-Fitr, etc.). Let your supporters know year-round that tribute gifts make great birthday gifts too.

4) Know the power of email fundraising.

A telltale sign that a nonprofit does not understand the power of email fundraising is visiting their website and not finding a prominently featured email opt-in. If a nonprofit is not actively promoting thus growing their email list, then there’s a knowledge gap at that organization. Despite the popular myth which asserts that email is dying, the truth is that email use is growing with all age groups worldwide.

The power of email is detailed in 10 Email Marketing Best Practices for Nonprofits, but it is worth mentioning again: according to the Global Trends in Giving Report, 27% of online donors say that email is the tool that most inspires them to give (social media 29%, 18% website, 12% print). More interesting is that 63% of donors worldwide say that regular email communication about the impact of their donation is what inspires them most often to give again. Compare that to 36% that said social media and 19% that said print. Using email for fundraising and donor retention is cost-effective and its power is backed up by data:

A bar chart that illustrates that donors are most inspired to give multiple times to a nonprofit by regular email communication

5) Prioritize a matching gifts strategy.

Announcing to donors that their online gift will be matched by a major donor or a corporation (or small business) can increase revenue by as much as 19%. Matching gift fundraising appeals also significantly increase the probability that an individual will donate – by 22%. If your nonprofit is not currently integrating matching gifts into your annual fundraising plan, then you’re missing an opportunity to raise more online with relatively little effort.

Odds are you already have a major donor in your network willing to allocate their donation towards a matching gift campaign. Corporations can be solicited to match up to the first $10,000 in donations made (or more) in exchange for mentioning their company in your email campaigns, on your website, and on social media. They also get a tax write-off, so it’s a win-win for both. A matching gift strategy could also be applied to local nonprofits on a smaller scale. For example, secure five local community sponsors that will give $2,000 each and create a $10,000 matching gift campaign.

To begin, make of list of potential donors and sponsors and then invite them to participate through one-on-one stewardship. That’s the traditional way to do it. You may be surprised, however, that actively seeking matching gift donors and sponsors publicly works as well. Create a page on your website with a call-to-action and a list of the benefits of becoming a matching gifts sponsor and then promote this page in email and on social media. A public search has a way of getting in front of new eyes, thus new donors and sponsors. Other ideas for promotion include an ad in your print newsletter and listing the opportunity on your “More Ways to Give” page.

The Audubon Society uses a matching gift strategy to grow its monthly donors. They send multiple emails and promote the campaign on social media:

A donation page for the Audubon Society that highlights that signing up to become a monthly donor comes with a matching donation for three months

Oxfam America communicates a sense of urgency surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and lists a short deadline to give and have gifts matched:

An email from Oxfam that features a count down clock to inspire donors to give quickly to earn a match.

Another type of matching gift strategy is using a service like Double the Donation which allows online donors to search for their employer directly from a donation form to see if their company matches their donation. Double the Donation is only open to U.S. nonprofits and performs best for large national organizations or for local organizations located in cities where major corporations are based who embrace workplace giving. For example, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society:

A donation page for a nonprofit that features a corporate match donation

Customized for small nonprofits on a limited budget, the Online Fundraising Best Practices for Nonprofits webinar highlights current trends in online fundraising, such as monthly giving, tribute giving, crowdfunding, and donation page best practices.

Promo graphic for the Online Fundraising Best Practices for Nonprofits webinar offered by Nonprofit Tech for Good

6) Experiment with crowdfunding and peer-to-peer fundraising.

Crowdfunding is when a nonprofit creates an online fundraising campaign to fund a specific project or program. They promote the campaign to their supporters and donors and aim to reach a fundraising goal. For example, a crowdfunding campaign created by the Orange Country United Way on GoFundMe Charity is raising fund for their Pandemic Relief Fund:

GoFundMe fundraising campaign for the  United Way Orange County which has raised almost 4 million dollars

The primary concept is that many donors come together to fund one project or program. Donors can leave comments and share the crowdfunding campaign with their networks on social media. It’s worth noting that GoFundMe has found that 1 out of every 5 donors will share the campaign following their donation and that the average amount generated by a donor’s share was $15.

If your nonprofit is new to crowdfunding, start with a $5-25,000 fundraising goal, promote the campaign via email and on social media, and learn and improve as the campaign develops. Often, setting a deadline to fund the campaign will help your nonprofit reach its goal.

Peer-to-peer fundraising is when a nonprofit asks many individuals to help fundraise by creating their own fundraising pages. Fundraisers ask their friends and family to donate to their fundraising pages and all funds go to support the nonprofit. Here’s a good visual from Classy.org on the difference between crowdfunding and peer-to-peer fundraising:

Graph that explains the difference between crowdfunding and peer-to-peer fundraising

Peer-to-peer fundraising is very powerful for endurance events (walk, run, etc.), birthday campaigns (Facebook Fundraisers), and for timely, news-driven events (Black Lives Matter). First-time fundraisers raise an average of $222 while return fundraisers raise an average of $501.

Nonprofits have many peer-to-peer fundraising platforms to choose from that allow custom campaign pages and a suite of features. Or, if you use a premium fundraising platform, such as Funraise or Classy, peer-to-peer fundraising is often included in your suite of fundraising tools – or offered through a third-party integration, such as DonorPerfect.

That said, advances in fundraising technology are merging the two concepts together. Nonprofits can create crowdfunding campaigns for a specific project or campaign and in addition to collecting online donations, offer the ability for individuals to create fundraising pages to help crowdfund the project or campaign. For example, the American Cancer Society on GoFundMe Charity:

American Cancer Society landing page where donors can create crowdfunding and peer-to-peer fundraising campaign directly on the American Cancer Society website

7) Sign up for Facebook & Instagram Charitable Giving Tools.

People have donated over $3 billion through Facebook Charitable Giving Tools and according to the 2020 Global Trends in Giving Report, of those who have donated through Facebook, 89% said they would do so again. Not all donors trust giving through Facebook, but for those that do, it is worth taking the time to sign up. Once approved, you’ll be given access to four Facebook Charitable Giving Tools:

  1. A “Donate” button for your page and posts
  2. Page Fundraisers
  3. Fundraiser Stickers for Facebook Stories
  4. A Live Video “Donate” button

Nonprofits that use Facebook Charitable Giving Tools do not pay fees, however, the tools are not available in all countries. Learn more about Fees and view a list of countries where nonprofits are eligible. To sign up, you’ll need 3 things to complete an application to receive donations on Facebook:

  1. A PDF copy of a bank statement from the last 3 months (you will need to upload this as part of the application). Submitting a statement that is older than 3 months will cause a delay in your application being approved.
  2. The name and date of birth of your organization’s CEO or Executive Director.
  3. Your organization’s tax ID number (EIN or VAT number), which verifies your charitable tax exemption status.

It’s worth noting that fiscally-sponsored nonprofits can not sign up for Facebook Charitable Giving Tools. Your organization does need it’s own EIN number. Also, Facebook says the process takes 2-3 weeks, however, some nonprofits have said it can take 2-3 months.

It is worth noting that Facebook does not provide the mailing addresses of donors to nonprofits – only the email address if the donor opts-in to provide their email address through Facebook Pay > Settings > Email. That’s a deal-breaker for some nonprofits, but with the rapid shift to digital, nonprofits that embrace multiple channels for giving will raise the most in the coming years. To learn more and begin the sign-up process, visit (and bookmark) socialgood.fb.com/charitable-giving.

Homepage for the Charitable Giving Tools on facebook.com

Because Facebook owns Instagram, it’s easy to sign up for Instagram Charitable Giving Tools. Simply:

  1. Enroll and be approved to use Facebook Charitable Giving Tools.
  2. Switch to an Instagram business account, if you haven’t already.
  3. Link your nonprofit’s Instagram business account with your nonprofit’s verified Facebook Page.

Once completed, your nonprofit will be able to add a “Donate” Sticker to your Instagram Stories and a “Donate” button to your Instagram Profile, such as the YMCA of NYC:

Screenshot of the YMCA of Greater New York that has a Donate button on their profile

Instagram has not released any information on how much has been raised through Instagram Charitable Giving Tools, but according to the 2020 Global Trends in Giving Report, of those who have donated through Instagram, 92% said they would do so again – a higher rate than Facebook donors.

8) Embrace cause awareness and giving days.

Nonprofits, regardless of their size, can tap into the power of cause awareness and giving days. Your nonprofit can create your own cause awareness day or giving day campaign, or build one around those that already exist, such as Earth Day (#EarthDay), International Youth Day (#YouthDay), and #GivingTuesday. For the campaign to be successful, your nonprofit needs at least six weeks to effectively create and launch a digital strategy for your campaign. To begin:

  • Create a campaign landing page on your website (or a microsite) that prominently features the date and hashtag of the cause awareness or giving day and describes why the cause is important. It should also detail as least three actions that your donors and supporters can take on the awareness day, such as make a donation, sign a petition, share the page with their social networks, become a volunteer, and so on. Your landing page should also prominently feature a donate button, an email opt-in, and social media icons.
  • If fundraising is central to your campaign, also create a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign to encourage others to raise funds for your nonprofit during the campaign. If you do so, add a “Fundraise” button and pitch your awareness day landing page.
  • Consider hosting a Tweet Chat, Facebook Live Video campaign, or webinar on the day of the campaign. Promotion for these online events should be integrated with your landing page and included in email promotions.
  • Design a set of promotional images and graphics using a tool such as Canva in order to maximize promotion and sharing on mobile and social media. Be sure to embed your avatar or logo and embed hashtag for the campaign on the images and graphics.
  • At least one month before the cause awareness or giving day, send out a save the date email announcing the campaign and ask donors and supporters to follow you on social networks so they can help promote your campaign to their social networks. If you will be running a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, encourage donors and supporters to create their fundraising pages in this email. In addition, send an email reminder one week before the cause awareness or giving day and again on the morning of.
  • In the weeks and days before the cause awareness or giving day, send out countdown tweets, updates, and posts on social media. Always include the campaign’s hashtag and a link to your landing page.
  • On the morning of the awareness day, your first tweet, update, and post should announce that it is a cause awareness day. For example, “It’s #WorldWaterDay! Help us provide clean water to the 780 million people worldwide who go without: yourlandingpage.org” These are consistently the most popular tweets and updates on social media. Pin, post, and retweet this announcement multiple times throughout the day for those in different time zones.
  • On the day of your campaign, tweet and retweet a wide variety of content at least twice per hour and link to your landing page and use the campaign hashtag as often as possible in your tweets. For other social networks, post four to five times throughout the day. Investing in social ads in a wise investment on cause awareness and giving days Also, be sure to thank donors and supporters in real-time on  social media.
  • In the days following the campaign, update your landing page. Summarize the campaign’s success and thank donors and supporters for their participation. In addition to fundraising totals, you could list the number of page views, retweets, and shares received as well as the number of petition signatories, volunteers, and so on. You should also announce the date of next year’s campaign, if known.

A good example to learn from is the website for World Oceans Day, however, it is worth noting that that the date of Worlds Oceans Day (June 6) is not prominently featured. It’s a somewhat confusing, yet very common omission. Nonprofits more often than not do not prominently feature the date of their cause awareness or giving day campaign on their landing pages or microsites.

Homepage of the World's Ocean Day website

9) Host virtual fundraising events.

COVID-19 has resulted in many nonprofits taking their in-person events online (conferences, panel discussions, concerts, dance parties, run/walks, cooking classes, galas, etc.). After COVID-19, many of your supporters will want to reconnect in-person, but virtual events are likely here to stay. Your nonprofits can use Facebook Live Video with the “Donate” button for real-time fundraising or create a more formal live online event using Zoom or GoToWebinar, and Eventbrite for online ticketing. Or if your nonprofit uses a service like MobileCause, you can easily set up online ticketing, an event website that comes with a fundraising thermometer, text reminders, and text-to-pledge.

Another idea is to embrace online auctions. The ability to launch online auctions may be included with your CRM & fundraising suite. If not, services like Auctria are affordable and easy-to-use.

All that said, if you are a small nonprofit with limited resources, keep it simple and do your research. WildApricot offers some advice on getting started with virtual fundraising events and MobileCause provides a very useful Virtual Fundraising Events Checklist & Planner. Also, Wired Impact lists virtual event success metrics for nonprofits to track and measure.

Screenshot of activists and supporters of the Rainforest Alliance on a Zoom gala

The Rainforest Alliance’s virtual global house party, Guardians of the Rainforest, raised $44,579.

Virtual Fundraiser landing page for the Rainforest Alliance

See Hope Grow raised nearly $460,000 for TreeHouse teens.

10) Invest in a customer relationship management (CRM) platform.

A CRM is a database that captures information about your donors, members, and volunteers and enables your nonprofit to track donations, create fundraising reports, and analyze and compare fundraising campaigns. Today’s most effective CRMs are cloud-based to allow for easy management and remote access and integrate with commonly-used third-party tools, such as MailChimp, Facebook Charitable Giving Tools, and Apple Pay.

If your nonprofit is spending a lot of staff hours and financial resources maintaining an out-of-date CRM, then it may be time to research and select a new CRM that is better suited to modern fundraising trends. To get started, view this list of CRMs recommended by Nonprofit Tech for Good. In addition, when comparing CRMs, add Funraise and Keela to your list. A good first step is to download Keela’s CRM Buyer’s Guide:

Promo graphic for a CRM Buyer's Guide for Nonprofits

A Final Word: Study and mimic large organizations similar to yours in mission and programs.

Small and medium-sized nonprofits can learn a lot by studying how large nonprofits fundraise online. Large nonprofits have expert staff and the resources necessary to embrace and test emerging trends. To begin, select five nonprofits similar to yours in mission and programs and analyze their website and donation pages. Be sure to subscribe to their email list and study their “Welcome Series.” Follow them on social media and pay attention to which posts get the most engagement. Also, make a small donation and study their “Thank You” landing page, their “Thank You” email, and subsequent follow-up emails.

101 Digital Marketing & Fundraising Best Practices for Nonprofits is a blog and webinar series (written and presented by Heather Mansfield) on website design, email marketing, online fundraising, and social media best practices for nonprofits, NGOs, and charities worldwide. Those who register and attend all three webinars in the series will earn a Certificate of Completion in Digital Marketing & Fundraising from Nonprofit Tech for Good.

Certificate for Digital Marketing and Fundraising Program which requires the completion of three webinars

10 Online Fundraising Best Practices for Nonprofits
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