Online Fundraising

By Mark Sutton

Large annual fundraising events are standard practice for a reason--they raise money and get supporters involved with a camp's community. But they also require a lot of planning, resources and energy. What’s more, they don't take into consideration that supporters may not be available at the time that was designated, but want to help at other times during the year.

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Both the large event-centric strategy and an organization’s role as primary coordinator are rapidly changing. Much of the shift is due to the advent and rapid growth of the Internet and its ability to allow people to raise funds online. Initially made popular by larger organizations with pledge-based fundraising events, online fundraising pages are now being used by organizations of all sizes.

Your organization has a community of people who care strongly about your efforts and want to help. By encouraging and providing them with more opportunities to be actively and easily involved using Internet tools, such as personal online fundraising pages, you can create a deeper sense of community and commitment. More importantly, it lets you capture more of the available pool of donors.

How Does Online Fundraising Work?
An online fundraising page is created by an individual using one of several available Internet tools and used to ask for and accept donations. In general, it’s the high-tech version of the old paper pledge form fundraisers used to carry around.

Online fundraising pages allow your supporters to personalize their appeal:

  • Post personal pictures and images

  • Write a personal message about what they are doing to support your camp, why they are doing it, and why they need the help of family, friends, colleagues and community

  • State their fundraising target

  • Recognize others involved

  • Display a list of donors and their supportive comments

For the organization holding a pledge-based event, looking to increase overall donations or needing to raise funds for a specific project or program--such as a new pool or playground or scholarships for attendees--there are two new approaches to fundraising that have proven effective. The first is events determined by the individual fundraiser, and the second is collaborative fundraising efforts.

Events Determined By The Individual Fundraiser
Many groups and their supporters have adopted this first approach because any organization--no matter how large or small--can engage in this type of supporter-driven fundraising; it is not necessary to have a large staff or plenty of money.

In many cases it’s the supporter who comes to the organization and says, “I want to raise money for you by putting on this particular event,” or “I’m running a marathon, and I want to get sponsors to donate money to this camp.”

This approach is similar to traditional event fundraising, except that the supporter’s central role in organizing the event greatly lessens costs and logistics for the organization. These types of fundraising campaigns are most effectively conducted online using one of many free tools, where the individual’s friends, family and community can easily make a donation.

More importantly, the secure online transactions are safe because the individual can be sure that the donation is going directly to the organization. Even better, online fundraising has proven to raise three times more money than traditional means.

People are also raising funds for camps through online fundraising pages. Whether they are past camp attendees, family members who appreciated the attention and help that a relative received or just a general supporter, they have great passion, and without organizing an event of any sort, found an effective way to engage their communities to do much good for their favorite camp.

The best way to make this available to your supporters is to put a “Create a fundraising page” link in the “How to Help” section of your site. In addition to offering supporters the ability to donate money, volunteer, etc., you can also make it easy for them to donate in honor of their wedding, birthday, or in memory of, or in tribute to, a loved one. Also, you can send supporters an e-mail at various times asking them to create a fundraising page.

Collaborative Fundraising Efforts
Another way to approach person-to-person fundraising is to engage multiple supporters in individual fundraising campaigns for a common goal. For example, you can encourage supporters to launch their own grassroots fundraising appeal in honor of your organization’s scholarship program. Or, during the holiday season, you can remind your supporters that they may ask for donations to your organization in lieu of holiday gifts. Other examples of programs by which organizations can effectively use online fundraising pages include:

  • Mission and volunteer trips

  • Board member and alumni appeals

  • General fund--unrestricted donations

Collaborative fundraising also has the benefiits of being personalized and immediate. For example, your camp staff might create an online fundraising page after a natural disaster (i.e., fire, flood, storm damage, etc.), where there is a need to fix or repair facilities. In order to keep supporters engaged, post compelling photos and periodic updates. These areas are growing rapidly because so many people now are not only using e-mail, but they are connecting with others through blogs and online social networks.

Every time you run a campaign that encourages supporters to be fundraisers is one more time that your message gets out to the world, thereby helping to build awareness and keeping your organization visible. The more creative and compelling a campaign, the more memorable it will be, and the greater the likelihood that your community will grow as a result.

Online fundraising does not require much time or money, and needs little management. The point is to keep things simple, and to harness the passion that already exists in your community. More importantly, supporters will appreciate having a range of opportunities through which they can be actively involved in helping you in a meaningful way.

Mark Sutton is CEO of Firstgiving, a Web-based company that enables individuals to raise money for any 501(c) 3-certified nonprofit with person-to-person online fundraising pages or widgets. The company works with over 800 charity clients and tens of thousands of individual fundraisers who have raised more than $40 million online. For more information, visit www.firstgiving.com.