3 min Read
February 4, 2010

Fundraising 2009

2009 ended on a high note for many nonprofits whose year-end appeals raised more money online than in 2008.

  • According to Network for Good, online giving in December 2009 grew 25% compared to 2008.
  • The average online gift in December 2009 remained relatively the same as it was in December 2008. The average gift processed via Network for Good was $153 (a 4% drop), and the average gift processed via Blackbaud was $244.17 (a 2% drop)

Because most nonprofits raise nearly 50% of their online donations during the October-December time period, we follow year-end campaigns closely. (We even created a few year-end campaigns for our clients, but more about that in a future Duck Pond issue.)

For the 2009 year-end season, we kept an eye out for interesting campaigns that found their ways into our inbox. Although Twitter and Facebook are certainly all the rage, email is still king when it comes to online fundraising. Here are a few dos and don’ts that we saw. Keep them in mind as you develop your 2010 online fundraising strategies.

What we hope to see more of in 2010 (aka “The Dos”)

Strategies that work.

Many of you seem to love a good matching gift campaign–and your donors do too. While this may seem like a pretty canned approach to fundraising, it still works–and works quite well for many groups out there.

Copy and design that compel readers to give.

If you’ve stated a fundraising goal, let your supporters know how it is going with periodic updates. When possible use real numbers–even if they look odd or messy. Real numbers are much more believable, and it’s always good to be transparent.

And then there’s always the classic thermometer. We’ve seen some organizations do nice riffs on this with designs that match the campaigns’ themes. Using visuals can make your ask more compelling. One organization even placed their thermometer horizontally across the top of the message so it appeared in the preview pane.

Subject lines that make us want to read more because they are timely, curious, or engaging.

One of the best ways to judge a subject line is to take a look at how that message performed (i.e. how did the open and click-through rates compare to previous messages). What works for some may not be right for you. But here were a few of our favorites:

  • 48 hours left-help us reach $1 million for animals (strong sense of urgency and connection to a goal)
  • Before The Ball Drops Tonight (sent hours before midnight on 12/31)
  • A Holiday Card Like You’ve Never Seen (the hook is baited–and we bit!)
  • Freedom and Justice–the Sum of Our Efforts (connects the organization’s work with the donor’s passion)

Connecting the dots and telling a good story.

All good stories and appeals for support have a beginning, middle, and end. They state a goal up front, explain how the donations will be used, send updates along the way, include relevant blurbs (in enewsletters, home and donation pages, Facebook pages and Causes updates, and occasional tweets). They even tell us how the campaign fares overall with a report after January 1 and say, “thank you.” You are most welcome.

What we wish you’d avoid in 2010 (aka “The Don’ts”)

Strategies that fail to engage and cultivate existing and potential donors.

You know we love a good matching gift campaign, but not when it’s likely to discourage high gifts. One nonprofit offered to match only gifts less than $250. I guess we’ll take our $500 and give it elsewhere.

Messages that lack quality control or haven’t been tested internally

We also saw a few groups who forgot about the almighty power of peer review and testing. Victims of this fate forgot to

  • Check the link to donation pages–using a .com URL it didn’t own instead of its .org address
  • Test how the message looked in different email browsers so it appeared to recipients as a smorgasbord of font sizes, which made reading it next to impossible
  • Update the thermometer so the numbers changed when it was sent as an update one week later

Subject lines that make us want to hit “delete” because they were uninspired or confusing.

We don’t have data for the messages we received, but we suspect a few of these went in the virtual trashcan.

  • Only 4 days left to make a tax-deductible donation for 2009! (sent on 12/28/09)
  • Happy New Year (sent on 1/11/10)
  • Important Information Regarding Tax Deductions for 2009
  • There’s still time: $2-for-$1 match triples your gift

What worked and didn’t work in the 2009 year-end appeal season for you? How was your online fundraising? Did you keep existing donors, attract new givers, and/or reengage old ones?