Online donor solicitations are powerful.

Such messages are able to reach large audiences, present powerful story-telling as only multi-media can, and provide the means for instant giving.

The allure to both nonprofits and potential donors is obvious.

What is not so obvious is what this allure means to nonprofits in terms of bankable dollars.

The Surprising Truth About Online Donors

Taking a strictly intuitive position on online giving can actually be harmful to nonprofits overall fundraising efforts.

Many organizations see the immediacy of giving, the larger average donations from online donors, and the relatively low costs in producing solicitations and look no further. They feel they’ve found the secret fundraising sauce.

All this glitter tends to temporarily blind nonprofits to the value of renewals – and the fact that  there are hardly any renewals from first time online donors.

Without proactive conversion efforts on the part of the nonprofit, there likely will be no renewal giving from online donors at all, despite repeated pleas online.

The Importance of Moving Donors Offline

Yet one of the most striking findings in our 2011 donorCentrics Internet and Multichannel Giving Benchmarking Report was that, in aggregate, online-acquired donors still have much higher cumulative value over the long term than traditional, mail-acquired donors.

However, this only holds true when the online donor has been converted to offline giving (there’s online fundraising software to help with that). Otherwise, online donors tend to be one-hit wonders that leave the nonprofits in the unenviable position of having to constantly find new supporters to replace them.

Our study also found that when online-acquired donors move to an offline giving channel, they tend to do so soon, in their first renewal year. They then continue to give offline in similar proportions in subsequent years, although the amounts are typically not as large as the initial online gift.

The higher the donor’s original gift level, the less they upgrade and, in fact, the more likely it is that the donor will actually downgrade if when they move to offline giving. However, these lower gift amounts are far outweighed by the significantly higher retention rate of online acquired donors provided by the direct mail channel.

The Long-Term Value of Online Donors

Eventually, just under half of all online-acquired donors convert entirely to offline, primarily direct mail giving.

We found that over time, i.e. year after year, large percentages of online-acquired donors switch from online giving to offline giving — primarily to direct mail. The reverse is not true, however - only a tiny percentage of mail-acquired donors give online in later years.

Whatever the reasons behind this behavior, the conclusions are clear.

It is imperative to move online donors to offline giving as quickly as possible.

However, it is not worth the time, effort and cost to try to convert offline donors to online giving. It is also clear that online efforts alone are not sufficient to fully fund any nonprofit effort.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Frank Barry, director of digital marketing at Blackbaud and blogger at npENGAGE, helps nonprofits use the Internet for digital communication, social media, and fundraising so they can focus changing the world. He’s worked with a diverse group of organizations including LIVESTRONG, United Methodist Church, American Heart Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters, ChildFund Int’l, InTouch Ministries, Heifer Int’l, University of Notre Dame and University of Richmond. Along with writing for industry publications like Mashable and Social Media Today, Frank facilitates discussions, presents solo sessions and organizes panels for industry conferences such as NTC, SXSW, BBCon and numerous others. When he’s out and about he enjoys talking to interesting people about how they are changing the world – check out his interviews. Say Hi on Twitter - @franswaa or Google+

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