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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

How can nonprofits leverage digital technology to increase giving?

According to a 2019 Statistica report on social media use, users spend an average of 136 minutes per day on social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat. Facebook alone has 2.41 billion monthly active users, and that number is expected to grow to over three billion by 2021. Individuals are not only using digital channels to entertain themselves or connect with friends and family, but to connect with causes they care about. 

The digital age represents an opportunity for nonprofits to increase giving. With merely a click of a mouse or tap on a phone, individuals can quickly learn about and donate to nonprofit organizations. Digital fundraising, specifically on social media channels, provides a way for nonprofits to connect to younger generations who do not have the time nor desire to receive lengthy appeal letters or printed newsletters. It is a rapidly growing medium that nonprofits must tap into if they wish to attract and maintain donors.

Social media and online giving both increased six percent between 2010 and 2018. On the other hand, direct mail decreased by 26 percent. With 75 percent of the population on social media every day, nonprofits have an ever growing audience of vast ages to solicit their missions.

The benefits of using digital tools such as social media are plentiful. Below is a sampling of benefits nonprofits can enjoy when they use a social-first digital fundraising strategy:

Data collection: Digital technology not only helps donors learn about, connect and give to nonprofits; it provides a way for nonprofits to learn about and connect with donors themselves. Nonprofits benefit from data collection to sort and track donors and personalize messaging. For example, a nonprofit raising funds for childhood cancer research may see that the majority of its donors are mothers under 40 years old. The nonprofit can then run Facebook advertisements that only show to mothers who are under 40 years old.

Global reach: Nonprofits do not have to limit themselves to their immediate geographic location for support. Thanks to technology the world is literally at one’s fingertips. Messages can be shared worldwide, resulting in new supporters. In addition, because of technology information is available 24/7. The public can visit a nonprofit’s website, easily find financial documents, sign up to volunteer, make a donation, and even have text translated to their native language.

Instant results: With the ability to instantly reach their audience, nonprofits can share stories in real time, view statistics in real time and edit communications in real time. The Humane Society of the United States uses this method to raise funds during and after a major animal rescue operation.

Growth: Social media use continues to climb, with one person joining a social network every 6.4 seconds. Millions of videos are watched online every day. And more than 50 percent of online browsing occurs through mobile means. Users are looking for fast and easy ways to connect to each other and the causes they care about.

One does not have to look far to see examples of successful online fundraisers. In 2014, the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral. Participants were challenged to donate to the ALS Association or dump a bucket of ice water on their head before challenging three friends. The ALS Association raised $115 million from the challenge. After a video of koala being rescued from an Australian brush fire went viral, donations to the animal hospital caring for injured koalas saw an influx of donations. To date, the fund has raised more than $1.8 million.

Nonprofits wanting to capitalize on digital fundraising and technology should adhere to five recommendations.

  1. Make it easy. Websites should be easy to navigate with a mission that is clearly identifiable with a link to donate easy to find. A study by Microsoft found that people lose concentration after only eight seconds. With only a few seconds to work with, nonprofits must be calculated in their marketing efforts to capture the attention of potential donors and complete their transaction.
  2. Be consistent. Campaigns should use the same photos and messaging so if a donor sees a photo in an online ad, the photo they see on a webpage is the same. This branding helps donors recognize they are in the right place. If photos and messaging do not line up nonprofits run the risk of donors becoming confused and leaving the website. Or, they may accidentally donate to a completely different nonprofit that has a similar name.
  3. Be strategic. Nonprofits should use data collected to their advantage to send targeted appeals and communications. Sorting and categorizing donors and potential donors leads to a more personalized experience. For example, an easy way to do this is to address donors by their names in email messages. Programs such as Constant Contact and Mail Chimp have built in coding to do this.
  4. Be timely. It is common for nonprofits to wait until they see examples of success before diving in themselves. This risk aversion is due to the often limited resources of nonprofits. Nonprofits cannot afford to try something new and fail. However, this thinking often leaves nonprofits falling behind their peers who do have the resources to take risks. Playing catch up results in a loss of momentum from donors that cannot easily be made up.  To be successful, nonprofits must assume risk in staying current with technology..
  5. Use a professional. Digital fundraising is a specialized skill that encompasses fundraising, marketing and public affairs. Users should be highly trained in the mission of the organization, be fluent in social media trends and practices, and be aware of any legal issues that may present themselves through online communication.

By following these steps nonprofits will be well on their way to maximizing digital donations.

Crystal Nettles is a graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. Nettles is a public affairs professional with experience in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from California State University, Fullerton, and will earn her master’s degree in nonprofit leadership and management from Arizona State University in December 2019. In her spare time she enjoys spending time outdoors, going to Disneyland and fostering kittens for her local animal shelter.



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