How to Embrace the Internet as a Sustainable Source of Revenue

IN THE LAST PRESIDENTIAL RACE, we saw Republican Ron Paul break single-day fundraising records by hauling in more than $6 million on December 17, 2007. That feat was termed a “money bomb.” Similarly impressive, Democratic candidate Barack Obama opted out of public financing because he could call on more than 2 million low-dollar donors who consistently dug into their pocketbooks for their credit cards to give to his cause. Obama ended up raising over $750 million during the campaign.

In both cases, the Internet played a central role in helping candidates reach new heights in fundraising.

Indeed, as more Americans turn to the Internet to do everything—from online banking to shopping to supporting causes—nonprofits would be wise to immediately em-brace the Internet as a sustainable source of revenue. By doing so, they would ensure their continuity, longevity, and relevance in the modern world. Ignoring the Internet would result in a diminished ability to make an impact and a slow decline in support.

For the past few years, organizations willing to truly embrace the Internet have seen a welcome spike in online giving. In fact, according to a study released by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, “Online giving to the nation’s largest charities continued its steep ascent in 2006. … Electronic gifts to the 187 organizations that provided figures for 2005 and 2006 grew by 37 percent, from $880.7 million to $1.2 billion. Online gifts grew by more than 50 percent at 85 organizations. Of those, 34 saw Internet gifts more than double.”

So how can nonprofits effectively embrace the Internet to garner online support?

Know Your Online Role

First and foremost, nonprofits need to understand the valuable role they play in the lives of their members and supporters. Nonprofits focus like a laser on a niche—specific issues that someone somewhere cares about. The nonprofit has a focus, a message, and a cause. By and large, supporters of a nonprofit want very little in return for their support. They give because they believe in the organization’s ability to affect the cause.

To that end, nonprofits should communicate with their supporters on a regular basis to keep supporters reminded of why they signed on to support the cause in the first place. The two primary ways that online supporters choose to get communications is through a Web site and by e-mail.

An Authentic Web Site Matters

So let’s consider your Web site, the first face of your organization. As op-posed to simply being a static, glossy online flyer, your Web site should be dynamic, authentic, and current. It needs to be a friendly environment that encourages folks to sup-port and participate in the cause. Show people the good work you’re doing and talk about it on a blog or through a video. Challenge your online activists to participate in competitions by sending in videos or short essays discussing why they support the cause. To someone who stumbles upon your Web site, user-generated content means that real people actually care about the cause, too. To current supporters and members, it means that they’re a part of something much larger than themselves and it gives them a reason to check the Web site on a regular basis.

The content on your Web site should engage your audience and make them want to learn more about the cause. Provide snack-sized entry points to help users easily understand the breadth of your organization and give them a chance to click a link to find out more about their area of interest.

Build the E-mail List Today for Tomorrow

Nonprofits have long understood the importance of building and maintaining data lists for telemarketing and direct mail efforts. However, too often organizations discount the value of an e-mail address because they don’t know how to get the information or what to do with it when they have it.

Obviously, your Web site should be equipped to capture e-mail addresses for supporters volunteering it. Every single page on your Web site needs to provide a place for a potential supporter to sign up for your e-mail list. Links passed around among friends via e-mail—with a “check this out” note—may not always take the person to your homepage but rather to a report or blog post. If there is an opportunity to sign up for your e-mail list on every page, people will sign up.

Beyond your Web site, you should build micro-sites to run on specific, hot but-ton issues like online petitions to help build support. You can send links to these sites to your current e-mail list or invest resources into online marketing to drive eyeballs of potential supporters to sign up for the cause.

Manage Your E-mail List

Nonprofits should not abuse an e-mail list by sending valueless e-mails. A wise marketer once said, “Only send an e-mail if you have something important to say.” The general rule of thumb is to send one e-mail per week that is concise and reminds us-ers with a light touch of the good work being accomplished for the cause. It doesn’t have to be lengthy—if bullet points get your activities across, then everyone from a busy executive to a hometown teacher will appreciate your brevity.

Modern e-mail delivery systems provide senders a huge amount of tracking in-formation after an e-mail is sent. You can often find out such valuable information as which users opened your e-mail, clicked on a link, or forwarded the e-mail on to their friends. Compare those lists to who gave you an online donation and segment the lists accordingly. In other words, the person who opened your e-mail, forwarded it to five friends, clicked on a link, and made an online donation is a key supporter or “power user.” That person should receive special, personal notes from the organization on a frequent basis. They want to hear from you often, and you need to fulfill that expectation.

Kick-Start Your Online Fundraising

1. Consider your site as what it really is now—the first face people might see of your organization. Is it a destination you’d want to stay at? Does it need a face-lift? Is there a place where users can make themselves accessible to you (an e-mail capture, a sign-up space, and advocacy opportunity)?

2. Create a special site or section of your Web site for donors that provides them with special, regularly updated content, with personal messaging and an easy way to donate.

3. Focus on the goals and essential message that got the donors in the door initially. Ideas are still key to “money bombs.”

4. Consider online advertising as a kick-start if online outreach hasn’t been a priority. Initially, take advantage of search engines by buying your organization’s name as a set of search terms; doing so betters your online credibility.

Don’t Ignore the Internet

No matter what you do, don’t ignore the most flexible, viable medium for interacting with people and developing a proven potential donor base. Nonprofits are the push behind ideas, and if you win hearts and minds online, you’ll win donor dollars online and offline.

Mr. All is the President of David All Group LLC (, the nation’s first conservative Web 2.0 agency. In October, he was named one of the “Top 10 Changing the World of Internet and Politics” at the World e-democracy Forum in Paris, France.