Thursday, November 28, 2013

On-Line: Is It Fundraising's Snake Oil?

Full disclaimer: I am obsessed with the Internet. I spend too much time on Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, Feedly and a bunch of other sites. If I buy stuff I research and order on-line. I donate on-line. I blog (Nobody reads it). I respond to e-mails quicker than phone calls. I love digital. I am a nerd. I want on-line to be the answer to everyone's problems...I really do.

Yes, I make my living from face-to-face fundraising and telephone Having said that, I created as a way for charities to cheaply harness on-line giving and fundraising. I believe in on-line. I believe mobile giving and a good on-line donation facility are essential. When your budget allows it, I believe on-line gives you some amazing opportunities.

But, as a charity, on-line should NOT be your priority.

Stephen Pidgeon recently summed it up nicely: "All you online enthusiasts out there should remember Blackbaud’s [U.S. 2012] research. Online revenue accounted for only 7 per cent of those charities’ incomes. And that includes people like me who receive a mailing then donate online."

The pro-online stats you are being fed are misleading. When on-line giving sites exclaim that 50% of donors come from Facebook, what they mean is that 50% of THEIR donors come from Facebook. The truth is probably less than 1% of ALL donations are coming from Facebook - and they're motivated by their friends.

Someone associated with Google and YouTube recently said "57% of Those Who Watch Nonprofit Videos Go On to Make a Donation". I wrote a whole blog post on why this statistic is baloney and why bad statistics are dangerous for charities.

And therein lies the problem and the ultimate truth.

The on-line stats you keep getting fed are forgetting that on-line is a 'facility' rather than a 'driver'. In other words, yes people are using on-line to make more donations because it's convenient and secure. But they are being driven to do it by something more personal: a conversation, an experience or good writing.

Do not confuse the 'method' of giving with the 'motivator'.

If you are a charity, especially a small one, ask yourself really if you'd be better off spending the next hour updating your social media or picking up the phone and calling 10 people.

If you have to choose, should you put thousands of Euro in to a flashy website or should you spend the money paying someone who has the confidence to network and 'ask' at your next event?

Text on a computer screen will never drum up the emotions that your passionate voice can. And we are in the business of emotions. This will not change in your lifetime.

If you find yourself considering 'Twitter or Facebook' as your fundraising strategy I would suggest you instead use that time to take a half-day and go to the cinema to watch Gravity in 3D.

Yes everything we do is on-line and the world is obsessed with on-line and we are drowning in #hashtags. But until charities' on-line income gets closer to 50% I honestly believe you are spending your money and time in the wrong place.


  1. Great post. For me the issue is checkout. We did some desk research in the summer - takes far too long to give online/mobile. Hence our focus on SMS - takes seconds. Until online check out is fixed I think I agree with you.

  2. Yeah I believe you are correct. If we will give to a charity, we should not forget that our first priority is to give.

  3. I like this blog post. In nearly ten years in fundraising the utopian view is that we should encourage 'the donors of tomorrow' by having an active social media strategy and investing online. I worked for a large (Australian) charity where the Fundraising Director was obsessed with Twitter and spent most of their time replying to tweets. The work I was doing with face to face, DM and telemarketing was unheralded as it was 'easy' whereas she was 'cutting edge'.

    Ultimately though the income raised by 'traditional' methods are always more predictable and return better results. Boards don't want to hear about direct mail though "junk mail". It's much 'sexier' saying that facebook followers have grown by 5,000 people (even though that doesn't pay the bills).

    Don't get me wrong the two need to live together but senior people (and Boards) can't always get their head around the logic of things (even if it's very clearly presented) but saying that the organisaiton is active in 'social media' somehow allows them to sleep easier at night.

  4. Great article, thanks for sharing! I've recently discovered Tony Charalambides fundraising blog - you should check it out!

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