Like millions of nonprofit organizations around the world, Global Press Institute (GPI), relies on generous individuals to give to our mission and programs.

In the five-year history of GPI, a not-for-profit media organization that has trained and employed more than 110 women in 23 countries across the developing world to be professional journalists, small individual contributions have been a key ingredient to our life-support cocktail. We pride ourselves on a low-cost, high-impact model—our budget last year was less than $100,000.

For years, we sported the standard “donate” button on the top-right corner of our website. But it produced meager and unreliable results, as socially conscious netizens tire of seeing them and eventually ignore them.

In search of a new model, we ruled out social media, which requires copious time and money. Our organization publishes high-quality, context-rich investigative journalism from some of the world’s most silent corners, and our readership was already strong. The question, rather, was how to connect an increased global appetite for our news and sporadic online donations.

After careful consideration, a new strategy emerged. In four steps we were able to revamp our online giving culture and more than triple the number of monthly online donations for the last six months! Here’s how:

Step 1: Customize Vocabulary
GPI migrated away from the traditional NGO language of “charity,” “gifts,” and “donors,” and toward a more action-based vocabulary that emphasized the “value” and “impact” of investments. On Oct. 1, 2010, GPI changed all language—“gifts” became “social investments” with double and triple bottom lines, “donors” became “social investors,” etc.

Step 2: Rearrange the Online Puzzle Pieces
We then moved our new investment button on the homepage from the right to the left, changed it from round to square, and transformed a text-based ask into an image-based invitation. The new button features gorgeous images and powerful taglines. We also included a roll-over feature that explains the change from “donate” to “invest.”

The results were immediate. Within 90 days, of every 10 people who visited our homepage, six clicked on the new investment button!

Step 3: Prize Investor Motivation With a Personalized Platform
We also changed where the button took them. Not to PayPal or a basic donate page. Instead, we created the Social Investment Center—a new platform where potential investors could learn more about GPI and make social investments based on their own motivations.

The Social Investment Center first asks one question in bright red: “What is your motivation?”

The options are People, Places, and Journalism, which link to program descriptions and real budget lines so potential investors can choose exactly how their investment is spent.

For example, one new GPI social investor is a former Peace Corps volunteer in India. When asked for his motivation, he selected Places, then clicked India. There, he found a description of a new specialty-reporting seminar for our reporters in India, “Reporting Modern Slavery.”

Interested, he clicked the Invest Now link, which led him to a more detailed program description and three investment options—$168, $70, and $21—that specifically detailed what each would pay for.

On Jan. 15, the investor selected the option to invest $70, which paid a month’s salary for one GPI reporter in India. He made the same social investment again on March 12 and wrote:

“When I first clicked thru here I was intrigued by the concept. After investing $70 and seeing the immediate result of the money, I am hooked! Thank you for sending me a copy of the story my investment paid for on women trapped in the cycle of poverty and resorting to surrogacy as a way out. It was indeed a unique story and so well done. I hope this investment can also go to Fozia who is doing great work thanks to your program. Sincerely, Arthur T.”

Step 4: Engage Donors
As Arthur’s note suggests, GPI took three direct action steps after his social investment:

  1. Mailed him a thank-you note.
  2. Updated him when an article was being produced from his investment.
  3. Sent him a link to the published article, along with a link to the same investment option.

Since the launch of the Social Investment Center, GPI has earned more than $7,000 USD—nearly 7 percent of our annual budget.

The Social Investment Center has presented some challenges. For a small organization that runs on few general operating funds, this level of donor follow-up is time-consuming.

The largest challenge, however, is that some people just don’t get it. We’ve received questions like, “Do I earn a return on my money?” or “What if I want to make a donation and not a social investment?”

In response, we continually consider how to most effectively follow up with investors, tweak the Social Investment Center’s language, and talk to potential social investors in hopes of creating clarity.

Overall, the Social Investment Center engages investors on a new level and helps people understand the full value and impact of GPI.

GPI uses journalism as a development tool. Each woman we train earns a strong living wage. She becomes a leader in her community and a voice for the voiceless. All GPI news is syndicated, free of charge, to news outlets around the world to create global awareness. We have seen women with no prior journalism experience catapult themselves into the middle of important social justice conversations and ignite social change from local villages to parliaments.

These women are certainly worth investing in. But the reality of web-based fundraising is simple—people are saturated with causes. Our Social Investment Center invites people deeper into our organization and pledges to them that 100 percent of their investment will be used exactly the way they want it to be.

The future of online giving cannot just be a Donate button and a prayer. The future must be a collaborative relationship between social investor and social organization, both willing to work together in the name of progress, innovation, and change.