Open for (Online) Donations: 10 Best Practices for Your Online Giving Environment

Open for (Online) Donations: 10 Best Practices for Your Online Giving Environment

Open for (Online) Donations: 10 Best Practices for Your Online Giving Environment
May 19, 2021 James Werner
Online Giving Environment


It’s no secret that relationships are foundational to fundraising. What the pandemic revealed is that donors can be effectively engaged online when the same personal touch is applied.

JamesWerner“There have been great advances in online giving, especially over the past year,” said James Werner, Chief Strategy Officer for Affinaquest“That success has come, in part, from creating engaging and interactive web environments, something that is much easier to do with the innovative recruitment tools found in today’s prospect management systems.”

Even with the right advancement solution in place, however, it is imperative that the utmost attention is given to creating as personalized an experience as possible. 

Step up your online giving platform with our ten best practices: 

  1. Infuse content with emotion
  2. Tell a story
  3. Use the right tools to reach donors
  4. Cast a wide net
  5. Keep it simple
  6. Provide donor directives
  7. Balance tradition with technology
  8. Test your campaigns
  9. Say thank you
  10.  Follow up


1. Infuse content with emotion. 

Dale Carnegie said that “when dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.” 

To be successful, find out what your donors care about, what motivates them to give, and then use these insights to inform your content and foster leads. Content that forges an emotional connection plays a significant role in the choices that donors and alumni make in their giving decisions. 

Vanderbilt University’s giving campaign capitalizes on the emotional pull of content that highlights how donor gifts impact individual students.

2. Tell a story.

The ability to craft a narrative has always been the cornerstone of fundraising. People remember stories, not campaigns. Even more, if you can make your donor feel like they’re part of the story, then you’ve built a connection based on emotion. 

Equally important is how you choose to tell the story. Testimonials are powerful because their “take it from me” messaging builds trust and credibility. Likewise, videos are powerful ways to show how a donor’s contribution makes a lasting impact. 

“It’s hard to overstate the impact of videos,” Werner said. “People like to hear from experts. They also want to be brought into the world you are trying to create with a particular donor campaign.”

3. Use the right tools to reach donors.

Online giving campaigns are more than making an appeal to the masses—it’s about leveraging tools that, over time, provide deep understanding through data so that you can cultivate your constituent pool in a way that’s meaningful and authentic.

“With constituent management software like Affinaquest, you don’t have to build out complicated biographic or demographic tools—that information is already built into the software,” Werner said. 

For example, development officers often build dossiers on specific alumni to better connect when they approach them for a gift. Online campaigns are no different. Using donor database best practices, you can analyze data through report features built into the fundraising software, then simply tailor messaging to an individual or group. The use of digital marketing tools such as the Salesforce Marketing Cloud can then allow you to produce even more sophisticated marketing campaigns. 

Just as valuable, the right advancement platform identifies target constituents that haven’t yet given, creating new opportunities for your advancement campaigns.

4. Cast a wide net. 

While major gifts have historically come in from in-person relationship building, the pandemic has forever changed the value and importance of online giving. It makes sense, then, to cast a wide net when thinking about the best ways to capture donations of all sizes. 

“Because of the cultural shift that we’ve experienced in the past year, people are much more amenable to doing business online and making gifts online,” Werner said. “Online solicitation is here to stay, and I even think we will see many more major gifts consummated in the digital world. It’s very possible to get a six-figure gift online.”

5. Keep it simple.

Because of the feature-rich tools available in constituent management software, it’s tempting to use every bit of functionality to wow donors at every stage. 

The problem is, people are moving at the speed of light, so to catch their attention, it is imperative that messaging is simplistic and to the point. 

Your donor website should be personalized but also easy to navigate and intuitive. What’s more, research has found that the more friction in the giving process, the more donors will slow down or even abandon the process altogether.

6. Provide donor directives. 

Complementing the “keep it simple” approach is the practice of providing donor directives. In other words, you want to lead your donors from idea to intent to gift. Just make sure to sidestep the practice of giving donors too many choices.

“Back in the days of direct mail, one of the greatest innovations was providing donors with boxes to check at different giving levels,” Werner said. 

“Donors could write in an amount but overwhelmingly, they chose to give by checking a box with a preselected amount. This tactic for soliciting donations has the same great success in the online world.”

Similarly, you could include an opt-in checkbox so that donors can make a recurring monthly gift. After all, 45% of donors are enrolled in a monthly giving program.

George Mason GivingGeorge Mason’s “How to Give” campaign personalizes the giving experience by allowing the donor to choose where to give their gift while at the same time providing donor directives to specific programs.

7. Balance tradition with technology.

Donors in higher education may value school traditions, but that doesn’t mean your donor website should look like it was built in 1997. It goes without saying that while messaging should reflect donor concerns, the technology and overall user experience behind it should be of the moment. 

Donors are more inclined to give when your website, the front door of your college or university, seems fresh and innovative. Be sure that your advancement professionals have the tools they need to elevate your institution’s fundraising efforts.

8. Test your campaigns.

Testing is one of the most effective ways to build a personalized online environment. It’s also one of the least used. 

When you test different versions of your donor campaigns, you’ll be able to see which one is more effective at reaching your target audience. 

The same idea applies to engagement scores. Assigning interactions with a point value identifies patterns that can then be used to nurture donor relationships through personalized campaigns. 

Fundraising is already complicated enough, but when your donor engagement software allows you to build microsites, implement engagement scores, and track tests, it’s much easier to hone in on which campaigns and messages pack the most punch.

9. Say thank you.

It goes without saying that you should always thank your donors. Online engagement allows you to think beyond the standard letter and get creative.

“For example, you can add dynamic dashboards to your web pages that show how many people give in a certain time frame, or what number the donor was in making a contribution to a specific project or campaign,” Werner said. “It’s another way to engage and personalize your donor website, except that this time, it marks the end of the customer/donor journey.”

10. Follow up.

After the thank you stage, build in regular follow-ups. Donors should be cultivated over the long term, so what better way to enhance their interest than by keeping them up-to-date about campus events and projects of interest to them

Don’t forget: People like to be remembered. Being patient and building out a long-term strategy of engagement can turn one gift into many more.

Ready to fuel your online giving strategy with your unique constituents’ needs in mind? 

Request a demo and see how Affinaquest helps you personalize online engagement so that you can create and nurture the constituent relationships you need to support your fundraising goals.




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