Three building blocks for online fundraising success

publication date: Jun 1, 2012
author/source: Holly Wagg
What is the first thing that you think of when you hear the phrase "online fundraising"?  If you're like most of the nonprofit organizations we speak with, social media is probably the first thing that comes to your mind.  You may even wonder how tools like Facebook and Twitter can help you raise more money.Holly Wagg photo

If you were to ask me how to bring in donations through social media, you would be surprised to hear me say that you don't.

It's not that social media isn't important. It is.  But it's just one component of your overall online fundraising strategy.  It's how you use social media as an engagement tool that generates the greatest returns, and that value to your organization isn't often quantified in dollars.

For most not-for-profits - small, medium or large - your greatest successes in the virtual realm will come from an online strategy that incorporates three basic building blocks:
  1. Your website
  2. A "donate" button
  3. Email
It's pretty basic, but it's something that we see organizations struggle with or even overlook time and time again.

Whether you're just adding online fundraising to your integrated strategy, or you want to take stock of how well you're currently doing in that domain, here are three tips to help you put your best online face forward.

Your website

It should probably go without saying that your organization should have a website.  A website is the cornerstone of your identity and is likely the first touch point that the majority of people will have with your organization.  So if you already have a website, that's good.  If you don't, getting a website should be your first priority.

If you already have a website, ask yourself these questions: Is it a good website?  Are you sure?

Most charities we talk to cringe when we ask them about their websites. From their look, feel and flow to their lack of content (or conversely, an overwhelming surplus of information), most organizations need to invest more in their websites.

Making the right changes doesn't necessarily mean an expensive design overhaul or a new content management system.  As a fundraiser, take a critical look at your organization's website to assess, if nothing else, two key elements:
  1. Are we clearly telling donors what we do and what difference we're making?
  2. Are the sections of the website on fundraising accurate and up-to-date with contact information?
If your organization's website isn't doing one or both of these things well, then you know where to start.

A "donate" button

You need to make it easy to give.  If you have a good website that shares the phenomenal work you're doing, donors could be inspired to give at any time.  That is why we recommend having a donate button on your home page, and on every page throughout your site.  It's not sufficient to have the donate button in just one place. That forces someone to make multiple clicks or to undertake a massive excavation just to locate it.

It's best if the word "donate" can be directly built into your site's navigation.  It's even better if your design has the word "donate" pop or stand out from the other items in the navigation menu.

Once the donate button is clicked, it should be easy to make an online donation.  Whether you host your own online form and undertake the back-end processing of a thank-you and receipt, or you use a third party like CanadaHelps, it's imperative that all donations that start online flow right through to the final thank-you and receipt through the same online system.

Capturing an inspired donor needs to happen efficiently. Otherwise that inspiration can evaporate in the time that a donor must write a cheque or - worse - download, print and complete a form to mail back to you with their gift.


Email is a fantastic way to communicate with both your donors and your stakeholders.  It's an easy, low-cost way to solicit and steward your donors.  It's also becoming a great way to acquire new donors. Email is a key component in any successful online fundraising strategy.  

One of the most basic elements to an email program is the opportunity to sign up.  Yet time and time again, we see nonprofits who make it difficult, if not downright impossible, for people to get timely news from the charities they're most interested in.  Ideally, the option to sign up for email should be placed on the main page of your website, in a place that is immediately visible when someone arrives on your site.  Including it in the contact us, news and events, donate, or about us sections is a bonus.

Once you have made it easy for people to accept content from you, you can ask yourself how you can best use email to communicate.

Do you have a paper newsletter that you're converting to an electronic format?  Are you creating online versions of your direct mail appeals?  Are you running email-only campaigns? 

Use email to tell the great stories of what your nonprofit does and the difference it makes in people's lives.  Use the stories and pictures that you can cull from your organization with relative ease to put into the body of your email.  Seeing and hearing what you do on a regular basis is valued by your donors, and coincidentally, also doubles as stewardship.

Once you've implemented our three tips above, you will be able to offer your donors a great website, the opportunity to donate with ease, and regular contact by email.  This is a solid foundation you can build on to lead to fundraising success.

Holly Wagg is a consultant at Good Works: a national consulting firm that specializes in helping charities build highly loyal donor constituencies. Holly would love to hear from you at

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