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Episode 41: Online Fundraisers - Hot or Not?


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If you’ve had one toe in the nonprofit swimming pool in the past few weeks, since the coronavirus pandemic situation has been unfolding, you’ve likely heard the words “online fundraising” about a million times by now.

Lots of nonprofits have had to cancel or postpone their fundraising events because people are practicing social distancing, and they’re not allowed to gather in big groups… I know here in Wyoming, pretty much only the grocery store is open, food is available for pickup only at a handful of restaurants that are still open… and that’s it. That’s how it is in a lot of areas in the country.

So, on top of all of the closures and cancelations, a lot of nonprofits have had to stop serving for the time being.  They’re serving in limited capacities or they’ve had to re-invent because they saw a need. I just want to take this opportunity to say – I see you all, I know those of you who are making a drastic pivot and figuring out how to keep serving even in these challenging times are working so hard. I see how you are doing everything you can to help and to take care of people in any way possible, and I just want to say thank you. 

Right now, you have the choice to crumble under the circumstances and lie down in the face of adversity, or you can show everyone just how amazing and strong your organization is. Keep showing up. Keep posting, keep emailing, keep serving in any way possible. Your donors and the people you serve will take notice. You are doing an amazing job! Thank you for not giving up!

OK – SO – in this challenging time when we’re all trying to figure out our next step, let’s talk about online fundraisers – are they hot? Or are they not?

In the past couple weeks, I have heard so many different versions of what an online fundraiser could be… It could be an online auction, it could be a live streamed event where you have speakers call in like on a Zoom call, or some kind of video chat --- I saw one fundraiser banquet that was actually going to take place, but the organization was going to live stream it so people could also watch it online. Other kinds of online fundraisers could be an online appeal, or a donation drive.

But first, is it right for your organization?  The first question you have to ask yourself is, is an online fundraiser right for you? For your organization?

Let’s use an example… If you’re a school and your donors are already highly invested because they’re the parents and grandparents of your students, then you might be able to have a great online fundraiser.

If you’re a new or newer organization and you don’t have a strong, established relationship with your donors, it might be more challenging to have an online fundraiser. But here’s the good news, you can just start where you are!

How can you pivot and still raise money? What fundraiser have you done in the past that worked – how can you make it work in your current circumstances? 

Do you feel skeptical?  If you’re resistant to the idea of an online fundraiser, and you just feel like this is not right for your organization… listen to your gut. Brainstorm and think of another way to fundraise. Pivot.

Start where you are…

Send weekly emails - Use this time to build your relationship with your donors by storytelling, talk about what you do, and the value you bring to the lives of the people you serve. Bring value to your donor’s lives – send them a positive, feel good email!

Use social media – post 2 times a week with a picture, and text and a call to action – THIS WORKS. I have built an entire business on this method. It works. It gets the most results.

Send handwritten thank you notes that tell the story of one person they’re helping because they donated.  Remind them of what your mission is. You know it, but they might not be so clear about it. Tell them over and over in a few concise, clear words what your mission is. 

Ask people to give. One of the main reasons people don’t donate is because they haven’t been asked.  So, at the end of your weekly email, put a link to where they can donate. Just start there!

Here are a few ideas for online fundraisers to get you started brainstorming: 

Do you have an end of the year appeal? Do it now, but without the cost. 

Start sending emails every week for two or three weeks in advance to prepare your donors for your appeal. (This is your runway to get people prepared to give.) Remind them, do a countdown. Prep them with information about why you are doing the appeal, who the money will be helping. Let them know you need their help! 

Then, at the end of that three week “runway,” kick off a week of giving. Send a link, or post a link where they can donate, or give them a phone number they can call to donate. Do this every day during your week of giving. Update your Instagram Story, build excitement around it, tell them stories.

If you have a little extra money to boost a Facebook post, do it – Boost a post. Even $5 makes a difference in who sees your post.  Make sure everyone of your donors sees your post and don’t forget that other people in your local area can see your post when you choose the specific audience for your post.

Remember you’re building your relationship with your donors when they see your posts.

Have a walk or a fitness challenge to raise money 

Get people to pledge or sponsor people who walk around their neighborhood for one week, or count steps with their fitness tracker or Fitbit, or work out with the Peloton app – by the way, the Peloton fitness app is free for 90 days right now when you sign up – you don’t need workout equipment or a credit card to sign up – it’s amazing, I’m totally hooked.

It’s important that with these “virtual” events to be SO CRYSTAL CLEAR that you’re hosting a virtual, online event. Online fundraisers or online events can get confusing – people don’t know if they need to attend the event in person, or on their computer or what, so make sure you include those details for folks.

For example, if you’re going to have a virtual 5K walk for your nonprofit. Make sure you express in plain and simple words that every participant is going to walk the 5K on their own, in their neighborhood or at a park or on their treadmill or whatever. Give them a deadline or a time span – encourage them to walk their 5K during April 12-17th, if that’s your week of giving or whatever date span. Give them ideas on where to walk or encourage them to participate with their whole family. Tell them to post photos on Facebook and Instagram and give them an easy, unique hashtag to use like #Walk4Life2020, and encourage them to tag your organization in their pictures, so then YOU can share their photos on your organization’s social media pages, and in your emails and on your blog.

Treat it like you would a normal fundraising walk, but make sure it’s CRYSTAL CLEAR so everyone knows it’s online. 

There are so many different types of fundraisers that you can do and pivot – make them work online. Here’s another idea.

Plan an in-person fundraiser for August 

Organizations are always concerned about having fundraisers in the summer because they’re worried people are going to be on vacation, but in August, kids will be back in school. For this special time, when your fundraiser has been postponed, have your event in August. That’s far enough away so that you can have your regularly scheduled fundraiser again in March or April 2021.

Live stream an event

Having the capabilities for live streaming can be an advantage. Take note that people’s attention span is SHORT. I recently heard that attention span was 22 minutes for online videos or streaming … Your “ask” will need to be really early in the live stream event. Remember to give advance notice that is very clear to your people that they can attend your event online and how to tune in. 

Some things to think about with all your online fundraisers…

Who are your donors? Will they go to YouTube? Is this what they would like? Is this how they want to spend their time? For example, will they engage with an online auction?

Live streaming - If you’re going to have speakers get on a Facebook Live, the first thing you must think about is who are your donors – will they like this?  And second, you have to keep it short. If you have short videos to send out to your donors or post on social media, keep them under 10 minutes. 

Auction online – Do you already have the items lined up? Can you order the items online?  

Remember to tell them who you are…

Tell them who your organization is and what you do – you must remind them over and over who you are in a clear, short message. You know it, but they don’t know it like you know it. Don’t take it for granted.

Explain that you have bills, and there is still a need for your nonprofit. Tell them how you are making a difference together.

Last week, my Pastor sent out an email with encouragement – and a simple ask. (Listen to the episode if you want to hear the email – it’s a great example of an appeal!) If you don’t ask, people don’t know what you want them to do.  Ask your donors to give. Ask clearly!

Tell a friend about this podcast! 

If you have any questions – I’m right here for you! Ask away! Send me a message on Facebook or Instagram or send me an email and I’ll happily write you back with an answer! 

Remember to subscribe to this podcast, leave a review and tell a friend!

Thank you for all you do for your community, and thanks for listening. I have been getting the most amazing notes and DM’s from y’all this week – and it means THE WORLD TO ME. Thank you.


Links I mentioned in this episode:

Extra help with your emails: Episode 33: Unlock the Potential of Your Email List

Peloton App

Grant Search Resources:

Grants.gov

GrantWatch

Google Ad Grants

GuideStar

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