What's Really Driving the Increase in Online Giving? | npENGAGE

What’s Really Driving the Increase in Online Giving?

By on Apr 14, 2017


Man inserting his credit card information on a laptop

If you’re like most nonprofits and charitable organizations you’re seeing growth in online giving. How fast is your online giving growing? 5%? 10%? Maybe 25% or more?

The latest figures from the Blackbaud Index for Canadian giving and U.S. giving both show that online giving continues to grow approximately 7% year over year, while overall giving remains relatively flat, growing only 1-3% per year.

So what’s driving this increase in online giving? Have charities been able to learn from e-commerce sites like Amazon and Zappos to improve their online donor journey?  Have we finally broken through to millennials with our fundraising efforts?

I’d like to say yes, but unfortunately I don’t believe that’s the case. Certainly, many nonprofits and charitable organizations have made great improvements in the way they conduct their online fundraising. Online donation pages are much better today than they were even a few years ago.

The numbers I’ve been seeing from my clients show that improved online functionality is not driving the increase in revenue. Direct mail and other traditional fundraising channels are. And most of the growth in online is just simply cannibalization from other channels. Surprised?

Here are a few examples from our clients that indicate why nonprofits and charitable organizations need to look a little deeper into online giving data to determine the true source of online donations:

  • For one international development organization HMA discovered that 91% of their online donations were given by donors who were being mailed regularly in the direct mail program.
  • For a children’s charity, HMA found that 73% of online donations were received from donors who already existed in the direct mail program.
  • And for another national organization, HMA found that while only $12,000 had been given via the specific URL provided on the direct mail pack, an additional $190,000 was given by direct mail donors through the regular website.

You might think that this doesn’t add up. Direct mail donors are old and certainly not keen to give online. And online donors are young millennials— they wouldn’t give through the mail. Right? Well, that’s not what the numbers show us.

Older donors are online

The fastest growing age cohort on Facebook is 65+. In the last year, this group has seen a 30% increase in usage. 62% of online adults 65+ now use Facebook. 47% of online adults 65+ now do their banking online. (Source: Pew Research Center) And it’s these older donors who are also increasingly making donations online as they become more comfortable with technology.

What does this mean for your nonprofit or charitable organization’s fundraising strategy?

Most importantly, it means that to increase your online giving you need to continue to invest in direct mail and other traditional sources of fundraising revenue. Yes, you should be sending regular e-mails. And yes, you should post regular updates to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels. The more integrated the messaging across channels, the better fundraising results you will see. But you shouldn’t re-allocate all of your resources to online just because that’s your fastest growing revenue channel.

You should, however, test the usability of your online donation form. Your online donation form is used by many of your older, traditional donors because it’s convenient for them. Have you ever asked a parent or grandparent to test your online donation form for you? It’s a great exercise. Just ask them to sit down and make an online donation to your organization. Resist the urge to help them if they struggle to complete the donation. But take notes and make changes if they had any challenges completing the form.

Millennial donors need to be cultivated

If most of the online revenue comes from older donors, how can you cultivate Millennial donors?

Millennials want to make an impact, but often times they don’t have the financial resources to do so. They’ll be happy to share your content through social media and participate in an event to raise money from their friends and family, but they may not yet have the financial resources to make a significant charitable donation.

So rather than focusing on trying to get money from this group, focus instead on engaging them in your cause—give them other ways to get involved. Connect with them through social media. Provide them with ways to share about your mission and the impact your nonprofit or charitable organization makes. This could include providing a platform for them to create their own peer-to-peer fundraising page.

Most importantly – show them how their support (whether financial or not) has made an impact. Because if you’re able to engage them now and keep them interested in your cause, they’ll be more likely to donate to your organization in the future.

3 tips to increase online donations from both older and younger donors?

1. Build a well-designed online donation form

Keep your online donation form to 12 fields or less. Ensure it works on mobile phones and tablets. Provide a variety of payment options. And test it on multiple devices to ensure every donor (especially your older donors) will be able to easily complete their online donation.

2. Continue to invest in off-line fundraising programs

Yes, there have been a few purely online campaigns that were successful. The Ice Bucket Challenge is one that I always get asked about. ‘How can we re-create that for our organization?’ The short answer is that you can’t. ALS didn’t even create the ice bucket challenge, it was created by individuals who cared about the cause. Others got involved and it took off. But if your strategy is to create the next Ice Bucket Challenge you’re almost guaranteed to fail. Instead, brainstorm ways you can genuinely connect with your donors. Provide them with a platform to share content. If you do a good job with that, they’ll help you with your online fundraising.

3. Focus on donor stewardship

Whether it’s an online or offline donation, great donor stewardship is critical. Donors have more choices than ever to whom they can direct their donations, so it’s important that your organization stands out. Thank donors for every gift they make. Send them their tax receipt promptly. Make thank you calls to ALL donors. And always be sure that donors know what impact their donation has made.

What other tips to increase online donations would you add? Share with us in the comments below!


Ryan is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) with more than 10 years of experience helping non-profits raise more money for their causes. At Harvey McKinnon Associates (HMA), he’s the Head of Integrated Marketing and has worked with many major non-profits across Canada and the US. He has experience working with clients on all levels from program audits, to individual annual giving campaigns. He’s also responsible for driving strategy for many of HMA’s clients on integrating their efforts through all channels including direct mail, telemarketing, e-mail, and social media.

Comments (1)

  • Eric says:

    Nonprofits should also be awarw of the opportunities to reach new donors through text message marketing. Research suggests that a nonprofit will raise more funds overall with a text donation service than without one. One excellent service is Gnosis Media. They’re very affordable, too.


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