Online Fundraising: Setting the Foundation for Your Nonprofit

July 16, 2020


If you work in or around the nonprofit world, you’ve likely seen the benefits of online fundraising.

Recent advancements in technology have allowed nonprofits to maximize their donations through features like embeddable donation buttons for their website, online giving pages, virtual events, and even website AI. The future will likely bring even more exciting tools for nonprofits to utilize.

But with new advancements come new opportunities to disrupt your fundraising ecosystem. This can create frustration for you, your team, and your donors. In this blog post, we’ll explain what your ecosystem is, how data can disrupt it, and how you can set a foundation for fundraising success.

Understanding your nonprofit’s online fundraising ecosystem

When it comes to online fundraising that works, the best strategy is a holistic one. A nonprofit’s efforts, whether in-person or online, work best when they’re integrated. By leaning into your organization’s strengths and improving the weaker areas, you’ll have a more robust and healthy fundraising ecosystem.

If you’ve ever studied biology or watched a few episodes of Planet Earth, you know how delicate the balance is between living things and the environment. Interconnectedness is key with properly-ordered ecosystems. Your fundraising ecosystem is no different.

Your online fundraising ecosystem consists of all the tools you use that have information about your contacts and donors. As you expand your online fundraising tools, there will be more information to balance and connect together. But in order to ensure that everything is working together properly, you’ll first need to understand all the tools within your ecosystem.

Building the foundation for organized data 

Nonprofits that add more and more online fundraising tools without a way to organize all the data run the risk of experiencing diminishing returns with their software. This means you’re investing more in your software tools but you’re not receiving a return on your investments. That’s why it’s important to have a “source of truth” when building your fundraising foundation. This source of truth is the place where all of your data is stored and easily accessible.

It’s also important to review your online fundraising ecosystem because technology is always changing. The software options that worked for you last year may not work this year. Maybe it’s time to consider a new payment processor, email marketing platform, or online giving provider. That's why we recommend you assess your software suite at least every year. That way you can see what’s working for you, what isn’t, and what new tools may exist now to set you up for the most fundraising success.

Disorganized data hurts your relationships

Before we move on to the tools in your ecosystem, we want to share a potential scenario that will drive home this point about the importance of having a strong foundation and source of truth.

Imagine you’re getting ready to meet one of your major donors for coffee. You’ve had a busy day, which means you didn’t have the chance to prepare for your conversation before getting to the coffee shop. The good news is that you arrive five minutes early so you have time to catch your breath and prep to meet with this very important donor.

Now, in the five minutes that you have in the parking lot, how do you find all the information your organization has about this donor? When did they last give, and how much was their gift? Do they subscribe to your emails? Have you or has someone else from your organization sent a direct appeal recently? Have they ever participated in one of your peer-to-peer fundraisers?

If your data is disorganized, it will be almost impossible to find this information quickly on your phone before a donor meeting. You’d have to pull up your donor database, your email service provider, your direct mail records, your peer-to-peer fundraising platform, and more. And even then, this information is scattered and hard to put together into a coherent story. You’ll end up being late to coffee, frustrated, and still unprepared for your meeting with your donor. When you look at it that way, can you really afford for your data to be disorganized?

That’s why it’s so important to organize your online fundraising data. You have valuable information about your donors and their relationship with your organization in several different sources. You need to be able to access this information quickly and coherently whenever you need it. That means you need to be able to access it all in one place, and ideally, you would be able to pull it up on your phone before your next donor meeting or phone call.

Identifying your organization’s fundraising data

Now that you’re ready to get organized, the first thing you need to do is to identify each source of your fundraising and donor data. This will set the framework for your online fundraising strategy. We’ll break down five broad areas to consider when looking for your data. You can also download a PDF copy of this data audit checklist to help guide you through the information.

Transactional and payment processing sources

  • Think of: Anything that helps you collect donations and payments, including the software that powers your online giving pages, your peer-to-peer and crowdfunding platforms, your Ecommerce platforms, and your payment processing systems.
  • Examples include: Classy, GoFundMe Charity, Shopify, PayPal, Square

Marketing and communication sources

  • Think of: Anything you use to get your message out. What do you use to send your emails? How do you edit and update your website? What social media platforms do you use?
  • Examples include: Constant Contact, Mailchimp, Squarespace, Facebook, Twitter

Event and auction sources

  • Think of: Anything that helps power your fundraising events, galas, silent auctions, and volunteer days. How do your attendees get tickets? Where do you host virtual events or online auctions? How do your volunteers sign up for volunteer events?
  • Examples include: Eventbrite, BidCoz, Golden, Zoom

Accounting sources

  • Think of: Where your accounting data lives. Even if you outsource accounting, where does your accountant or accounting team store all your financial information?
  • Examples include: QuickBooks, Aplos, spreadsheets

Offline sources

  • Think of: Any ways you collect information that aren’t online. It’s okay that everything isn’t online. Just make sure to take note of what isn’t so you can take it into account.
  • Examples include: Anything on paper or in an offline software like spreadsheets.

Evaluating the strength of your online fundraising foundation

Once you’ve documented all the sources of your fundraising and donor data, it’s time to get your team together to ask some honest questions about how well your organization is doing today:

  • Do you have a source of truth – a donor management system or other central database – that holds all your donor data? If so, does it connect with your other online fundraising tools?
  • If not, how do you keep track of your fundraising and donor data? Do you have to go to several different places to get different information?
  • What steps do you need to take next to make sure you’re getting the most out of your fundraising software and setting a good foundation for your fundraising strategy in the next 12 months?

After asking these questions, you may find that your nonprofit is already doing well with data organization. If so, great work! Keep using the tactics and strategies that are working well for your nonprofit. But if you think your fundraising information is becoming more and more scattered, there’s a simple way to get organized.

Using an integrated software solution

Our recommended solution may surprise you: Add one more tool to your software suite. Specifically, we recommend adding a donor management tool.

You might be wondering why you should invest in more software. Won’t that just add to the mess instead of organizing it? One of the benefits of a donor management platform is that it can connect the data from all of your online fundraising sources. It’s the software that holds all your other software together. That way, you can continue to expand your online fundraising suite without continuing to spread out your data.

Even if you’re already using a donor management system, it may not integrate with the other online fundraising software you’re using. In this case, you may want to consider another option that does. You’ll also want to make sure your next solution can help you migrate your donor data into the new system.

Putting a donor management system in place that can integrate with your online fundraising tools is the foundation that will springboard your fundraising efforts. It will grow with you, allowing you to continue expanding your online fundraising suite and maximize your fundraising efforts.

Finding the right person to manage your online fundraising ecosystem

The process of organizing your data and keeping it organized won’t happen by itself. You’ll have to make sure you have the right person to take on this responsibility. So who’s the right person for the job? We’ve put together some questions to help you determine if you need an online fundraising manager.

Considerations when looking for your online fundraising manager

You may have never considered an online fundraising manager as an important or necessary role for your nonprofit. But the more you invest in your online fundraising ecosystem, the more important it is to designate the responsibility to someone on your team or even hire someone to take ownership of your online fundraising efforts.

  • Who do you have available to take on this position? Is there a staff member who could take on the extra responsibility? A reliable volunteer? Someone on your board? Or will you need to consider adding someone to your team?
  • How much work will it take initially to integrate your online fundraising ecosystem? If it’s going to be a big lift, you might want to consider opening a temporary position just to help you get started.
  • How much data management will be required in the future? What will the ongoing responsibilities be? If you have a lot of software or a lot of data to manage, you may need someone to focus most of their time on managing your online fundraising ecosystem.

Looking for the best fit for your online fundraising manager

Once you’ve identified the need for your organization and are ready to consider a person for the role, you’ll want to make sure you find someone who’s fit to do the job.

  • Is this person technology-driven, and do they have the ability to understand all your online fundraising tools?
  • Have they worked with your specific software tools before?
  • Is this person systems-oriented? Do they understand how all of your online tools work and how they fit into the larger structure of your organization?
  • Are they good with details and willing to take on data-oriented tasks?
  • Do they understand the needs of your development team, so they can best set your organization up for success with fundraising and donor relationships?
  • Can they help you use the data you have on hand to tell a compelling story about your nonprofit’s efforts that will convince donors to give?

Managing online fundraising via your donor management provider

For many nonprofits, the idea of adding this responsibility may seem overwhelming, especially if you have a smaller team or are on a tight budget. But depending on the donor management provider that you choose, it may not be necessary to have a person completely dedicated to managing online fundraising.

Check and see if your donor management provider offers onboarding or training. Consider investing in these services. That way, a professional can guide you through the process of getting your data organized, and you won’t have to worry about adding the extra responsibilities to your team.

If you don’t have a donor management system yet, check and see if onboarding and training services are available when you research your options. This will help you make the most of your investment by keeping your data organized.

One step closer to getting started

Online fundraising is an effective way for modern nonprofits to raise more funds and strengthen their relationships with their donors – just make sure you have the proper foundations in place for success.

If you haven’t already, make sure you complete your online fundraising audit. The next step is working with your team through your organization checklist and deciding what next steps are best for you, whether you add an online fundraising manager to your team or add a donor management system that will connect your online fundraising ecosystem together. 

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