Online Fundraising for Beginners

Online fundraising

Regular contributor and digital strategist Laura Packard (of PowerThru Consulting) is back with us, this time to help folks take the plunge into digital fundraising. This post first appeared the PowerThru blog.

“We’re a small/brand new non-profit or campaign. How do we get started fundraising online?” At PowerThru, we see that question on occasion. A digital consulting firm like ours may not make sense when you’re at the beginning, but here’s some advice to get you started when you’re very small. P.S. if you’re a brand-new organization or campaign, read this first: how to launch your campaign or organization successfully online.

Online fundraising is very much email-based.

Social media is great for many things, but it does not (as of yet) deliver the day-in/day-out funds that a solid email program does. Which means you should start by building an email list of your supporters.

How do you get started tech-wise?

There are lots of great CRM software solutions (i.e. mass email, fundraising, online actions etc.) out there that will do many different nifty things for non-profits, but I’m assuming you don’t have much of a budget or capacity yet. You could begin with the usual Constant Contact, but another mass email solution to look at is MailChimp. For a list of under 2K people, it’s free (hard to beat that price). See for more.

What you do NOT want to do is use somebody’s personal email account for sending mass organizational mail. It doesn’t look professional, people will be reluctant to donate, and you may run into deliverability or sending problems for more than a very small handful of emails.

Website and social media

You’ll also need a basic website (with a PROMINENT email signup link) and social media properties (also with email signups!). It will be hard to fundraise online successfully without those at a minimum, to show your organization has credibility. More about setting up or rebuilding your website. Wherever you have your domain name registered, see what cheap/free solutions they offer for building a simple 1 page website (enough to get you started for now).

Online donations

You’ll need a way to process online donations via credit card. These days, most online donors do not have the patience to mail off a check, so it must be as easy as possible for them to give via credit card. If you’re a Democratic political campaign or a c4, take a look at ActBlue. If you’re a c3 or not eligible for ActBlue, you could look at PayPal. Note that down the line, you may want a full CRM for your organization: MailChimp, PayPal etc. are good tools for when you’re just getting started and need to keep costs low, but NationBuilder, Salsa, EveryAction and their ilk are build for the long term.

So you have the basics. Now how do you use them?

The size and quality of your email list will have a large effect on how much you can raise. Here are some tips on how to grow your list.

But having a good list is only part of it. You also need to ASK. More tips on online fundraising and best practices to follow.

If you are a 501(c)3, you may be eligible for a Google grant too. More about Google grants. That won’t be as helpful as an email list of dedicated supporters and making sure people can sign up for your list via your website and social media. But it couldn’t hurt in getting the word out about you, especially if your website is brand new and the search engines don’t know your organization yet.

Thanks, Laura! Besides the great resources she links to above, you can also check out a certain ebook for an in-depth look at email, social media, online fundraising and more. – cpd

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Laura Packard
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