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
Related Certificate Program: Certificate in Digital Marketing & Fundraising

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 in 2003 (a content management system now used by 58% of nonprofits worldwide), 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 online donation process more complicated than it should be. As a general rule, donation pages should be simple, optimized for mobile giving, and ask for the minimal amount of information required to make a donation and capture a donor’s contact information.

The third post in this series, 10 Donation Page Best Practices for Nonprofits, provides detailed advice, but it is worth reiterating that the first step in being successful in online fundraising is having well-designed donation pages that accept multiple types of payments, enable monthly giving, and provide the option for donors to make a tribute gift. For example, the one-time donation page for Doctors Without Borders:

An online donation page for Doctors Without Borders - a good example of best practices.

2) Proactively promote your monthly giving program.

According to the State of Modern Philanthropy Report, monthly donors give $31 per month – or $372 per year. Also, data from the Global Trends in Giving Report reveals that 45% of online donors worldwide are enrolled in a monthly giving program. As 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 includes a donation form where monthly giving is the only option that explains why monthly giving is important and the impact of monthly giving. This page should have a URL that can be easily promoted online and in print newsletters and postcard campaigns, such as shesthefirst.org/give-monthly:

A well-designed website page for the nonprofit, She's the First, which features their monthly giving program.

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

  • Print: Include an ad for your monthly giving program in every edition of your print newsletter that includes the URL of your monthly giving program. 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 newsletters, regularly include a pitch for your monthly giving program. Also, when sending email fundraising appeals, make an effort to segment your one-time donors and ask them to upgrade to monthly donors. It’s worth noting that most small and medium-sized nonprofits send too few emails, so don’t be shy about sending these emails and monthly giving pitches! 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, your nonprofit need to create a series of promo graphics that are properly sized for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. (2023 Social Media Size Guide). Also, with organic reach at an all-time low, your nonprofit should invest in social media advertising.
  • Your Website: According to NextAfter, a monthly giving pop-up on your one-time donation page can result in a 64% increase in monthly donations, thus experiment with a monthly pop-up on your one-time donation page! Also, if your nonprofit’s website has empty space on its sidebar, add 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.

3) Launch a tribute giving program.

A good fundraising platform will offer the ability to add a tribute gift option (special occasions, honor gifts, and memorial gifts) 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 separate donation pages for tribute gifts. For example, the Nature Conservancy offers both special occasion gifts and memorial gifts – each with their own donation page.

Nature Conservancy Special Occasion Gift Donation Page:

The donation page for a Special Occasion tribute gift at the Nature ConservancyNature Conservancy Memorial Gift Donation Page:

The donation page for a Memorial tribute gift at the Nature Conservancy

Both gifts are then featured on their “Other Ways to Give” page:

An example of an Other Ways to Give page - a best practice - on the Nature Conservancy website

This website structure for featuring special occasion 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, ramp up promotion during holidays (Christmas, Hanukkah, Eid al-Fitr, etc.) and 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 within five seconds. If a nonprofit is not actively promoting its email list, then there’s a knowledge gap in the organization. Despite the popular myth which asserts that email is dying, the truth is that email use is growing among 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, 26% of online donors say that email is the tool that most inspires them to give (social media 25%, 17% website, 13% print).

Also interesting is noting 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, small business, or corporation can increase revenue by as much as 19%. If your nonprofit is not currently integrating matching gifts into your annual fundraising strategy, 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. If your nonprofit is small and localized, you can work to secure five local small business sponsors that will give $2,000 each to create a $10,000 matching gift campaign.

To begin, make of list of potential matching gift donors and sponsors and begin traditional one-on-one stewardship i.e., a phone call, a personal email, a letter in the mail. That said, also experiment with actively seeking matching gift sponsors online. Create a page on your website that lists the benefits of becoming a matching gifts sponsor [see Nonprofit Tech for Good’s Sponsorship & Benefits page – it works!] and promote the page in your email newsletter and on social media. A public call for matching gift sponsors has a way of getting in front of new eyes, and thus, hopefully, new 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 donor program. They regularly send matching gift fundraising appeals via email alerting one-time donors that their first three monthly gifts will be doubled:

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

Another type of matching gift is using a service like Double the Donation which allows online donors to search for their employer directly on 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 organizations located in cities where large corporations are headquartered. 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 for Nonprofits webinar highlights current trends in online fundraising, such as monthly giving, tribute giving, crowdfunding, and donation page best practices.

The webinar is the second in a series of three to earn a Certificate in Digital Marketing & Fundraising from 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. The nonprofit promotes the campaign to its supporters and donors in hopes of reaching a fundraising goal in order to implement the project. For example, a crowdfunding campaign created by the Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity successfully raised the funds necessary to build a new warehouse that was destroyed by a tornado:

Crowdfunding empowers donors to come together to fund a project or program important to them. Today’s crowdfunding platforms for nonprofits encourage donors to leave comments on the campaign page and share the campaign with their networks on social media. To increase engagement, nonprofits can also post updates to the campaign page and email donors.

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. Setting a deadline to fund the campaign will also help your nonprofit reach its goal. If your nonprofit doesn’t reach its goal, then extend the deadline.

Peer-to-peer fundraising is when a nonprofit asks its supporters and donors to create their own fundraising campaigns/pages to help fundraise for the nonprofit. Fundraisers ask their friends and family to donate to their fundraising campaigns/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 especially powerful for endurance events (walk, run, etc.) and birthday campaigns, such as Facebook Fundraisers. 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 Giveffect and Qgiv, peer-to-peer fundraising is often included in your suite of fundraising tools.

7) Sign up for Facebook & Instagram Fundraising Tools.

People have donated over $6 billion through Facebook & Instagram Fundraising Tools and according to the Global Trends in Giving Report, of those who have donated through Facebook, 89% said they would do so again. Of those who have donated through Instagram, 92% said they would do so again. Donors have communicated clearly that they do appreciate the ability to give through Facebook and Instagram.

Donations made through Facebook and Instagram are processed by the PayPal Giving Fund and donation fees range from 1.4% to 1.99%. Learn more about eligibility, the countries where the tools are available, and how to apply.

Once approved, you’ll be given access to four Facebook Fundraising Tools:

  1. A “Donate” button for your page and posts
  2. Supporter Fundraisers
  3. Nonprofit Page Fundraisers
  4. Live “Donate” button

Then, if your nonprofit is located in a country where Instagram Fundraising Tools are available, you may also sign up for Instagram Fundraising Tools by:

    1. Switching to an Instagram Business Account if you haven’t already.
    2. Linking your nonprofit’s Instagram Business Account with your nonprofit’s Facebook Page that has been approved to use Facebook Fundraising Tools.

Once approved, you’ll be given access to three Instagram Fundraising Tools:

  1. “Support” buttons on profiles (only visible in the mobile app)
  2. Supporter fundraisers in photo posts, reels, and live videos (only visible in the mobile app)
  3. Nonprofit fundraisers in photo posts, reels, and live videos (only visible in the mobile app)

Finally, take note that the PayPal Giving Fund does not provide the mailing addresses of Facebook and Instagram donors to nonprofits – only the email address if the donor opts in. That’s a deal-breaker for many nonprofits, but with the rapid shift to digital and trends in online privacy that increasing protect contact data of donors, nonprofits that embrace multiple channels for giving will raise the most in the coming years.

For more information and tips on how to use Facebook and Instagram for fundraising, see 10 Facebook Best Practices for Nonprofits and 10 Instagram Best Practices for Nonprofits.

8) Embrace cause awareness and giving days.

Nonprofits of all sizes 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 implement 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. Your landing page should also list at least three actions that your donors and supporters can take on the awareness day, such as making a donation, signing a petition, sharing the page with their social networks, or becoming a volunteer. Your landing page should also prominently feature a donate button, an email opt in, and social media icons.
  • Consider hosting a Facebook Live campaign, TikTok series, or webinar on the day of the campaign.
  • Design a set of website, email, and social media promo graphics using a tool such as Canva in order to maximize awareness and social sharing of your campaign. Be sure to add your logo and campaign hashtag to the graphics.
  • At least one month before, send out an email announcing your campaign and 1) ask your subscribers to follow you on social media so they can help promote your campaign to their social networks; and 2) let them know that they can make an early donation, especially in the case of GivingTuesday. #GivingTuesday has become so popular that subscribers are now inundated with emails on the day of GivingTuesday and it’s very difficult to stand out from the barrage of #GivingTuesday social media posts on GivingTuesday. In the years to come, it will become common to ask donors to give in the weeks and days leading up to GivingTuesday as well as other cause awareness and giving days.
  • 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 and posts on social media. Always include the campaign’s hashtag and a link to your landing page.
  • On the morning of the cause awareness or giving day, your first tweet, update, and post should announce that today is the 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 posts on social media. 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 with your campaign hashtag at least every other hour and link to your landing page. For other social media, post two to three times throughout the day. Spending on social ads is a wise investment due to significantly decreased organic reach.
  • In the days after 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.

Screenshot of the homepage for World Ocean Day

World Ocean Day is June 8

9) Host online fundraising events.

The pandemic resulted in many nonprofits moving their in-person events online (conferences, panel discussions, concerts, dance parties, run/walks, cooking classes, galas, etc.). Post COVID-19, many of your supporters will want to reconnect in person, but online fundraising events are here to stay and some nonprofits will even host events in the metaverse in the coming years.

Nonprofits can use Facebook Live with the “Donate” button for real-time fundraising or create a more formal live online fundraising event using Zoom or GoToWebinar. Or, if your nonprofit uses a service like Eventgroove, you can easily set up a virtual or hybrid fundraising event with online ticketing, livestreaming, and an online auction.

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.

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

A CRM is a database that captures and automates 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 Fundraising 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 top-reviewed CRMs on Capterra, and when comparing CRMs, Nonprofit Tech for Good recommends adding Keela, Funraise, Bonterra, Givebutter, and Giveffect to your list.

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.

Post Updated: April 9, 2023

Our Certificate in Digital Marketing & Fundraising program covers the fundamentals of website design, email marketing, online fundraising, and social media for nonprofits.

The program requires the completion of three webinars and costs a total of $100 USD. To earn the certificate, you can attend the webinars live or view the recordings – or a combination of both. Learn more & register!

A screenshot of the "Certificate in Digital Marketing & Fundraising" offered by Nonprofit Tech for Good.