Getting Online Donors to Care Today and Into the Future

By re-conceiving online fundraising as the “selling” of feelings of goodwill, nonprofits can proactively utilize website and communication best practices to promote ongoing relationships and garner more support.

While I don’t disagree with the smart people telling nonprofits everywhere to value online fundraising, it’s important to recognize what most nonprofits already know to be true: Online fundraising is hard.

As a nonprofit, you’re constantly competing for attention, not only with pictures of yawning puppies and videos of giggling babies, but with other nonprofit organizations.

You’ve certainly got your work cut out for you when it comes to making your website visitors care about your organization and the good work you’re doing in the world.

“Selling” Goodwill Is Tough

As a nonprofit looking for online fundraising dollars (or really any kind of support from website visitors), what you’re essentially doing is selling a feeling of goodwill. Sure, sometimes you may sweeten the deal for a donor by giving away a slick bumper sticker or tickets to an event, but donors aren’t simply buying a product from you. They’re buying that less tangible but still powerful feeling that comes along with making the world a bit of a better place.

However, most consumers aren’t nearly as well practiced at gauging the benefits of something like philanthropic donations. If I’m buying a shirt, I’ve had enough experience doing so that I have a pretty good idea of how the benefits of owning it stack up against the financial cost of getting it (including shipping and handling).

It’s far more difficult for me, as a donor, to grasp the benefit to my life of making a donation. The feelings associated with making a positive impact in the world are tough to weigh. Even more difficult is predicting the quantity of future warm feelings I’ll have as a result of making a donation today.

As a nonprofit trying to garner donations, it’s your job to make these vague positive feelings as concrete as possible, both immediately and on into the future.

When it comes to creating these feelings of goodwill that often accompany doing good to help others, it can be helpful to think of them in two somewhat distinct ways: Initial Goodwill and Ongoing Goodwill.

Below I’ll address how to maximize Initial Goodwill. For more about Ongoing Goodwill, be sure to check out the second part of this series.

Initial Goodwill

Initial Goodwill describes that positive feeling a donor gets right after clicking the “Send Donation” button on their favorite nonprofit’s website. It’s that moment when they know they’ve done something that matters. They have contributed to the good that’s happening in the world in their own way. And it often feels great.

While this moment of Initial Goodwill may be fleeting, it’s still quite important. In a lot of ways, this moment serves as the threshold between being a more passive visitor and becoming an active full-fledged supporter. A bit of forethought on the part of your organization can help make this moment as impactful as possible.

Maximizing Initial Goodwill is largely about getting website visitors invested in what you’re doing, both leading up to and just after they donate. In an attempt to maximize Initial Goodwill, consider some of the following:

Use strong storytelling. People get invested in stories. They feel, tell, and share stories. You need to figure out how to showcase what you do in a compelling way and, more importantly, highlight the impact you’re having in the community in a way that invests others.

Create moving photos and videos. Photos and videos are becoming more important than ever before. Compelling photos and videos are highly shareable, and can be great ways to facilitate your storytelling efforts. But make sure they’re good. Your camera phone is nice to have in a pinch, but investing in high-quality photography and some professional video production can quickly pay for itself.

Make your cause easy to articulate. It’s important that you make the reasons for donating clear and easy to articulate. In one sentence, how can you summarize what it is your nonprofit does? It’s your responsibility to give supporters the vocabulary and understanding to explain what you do. You need to explain it to potential donors, and those donors need to be able to explain it to themselves and to others in conversation. The easier it is to articulate, the easier it is to understand.

Make outcomes clear and tangible. If I’m giving to a cause, I want to know what the amount of money I’m donating will enable. Focus on specificity. I’m going to give money to support “flu vaccinations for a class of 28 six-year-olds” before I drop the same amount to “help support healthcare in schools.” I can picture flu vaccines and a classroom of six-year-olds. I know how miserable the flu is. I can’t picture in any concrete way what “healthcare in schools” looks like.

Tell potential donors what their donation equates to in tangible terms whenever possible. Once they’ve donated, they’ll have a more concrete idea of the good they’ve enabled and will be able to more easily explain why it is they’ve donated to your cause.

Create a strong post-donation experience. A lot of nonprofits put great care into cultivating donors. But for some, the moment of donating is actually a bit anticlimactic. After confirming a donation, a moment that should be celebrated, what do your donors see?

Many nonprofits have a generic “thanks for donating” page, with some text about how much the donor’s financial support is appreciated. While that’s an appropriate sentiment to convey, this post-donation experience should be so much more.

Keep your new donors immersed in the work they’re empowering. Show them videos made by the community aimed directly at thanking a recent donor and welcoming them into the work you’re doing. Or have first-hand accounts from folks that benefit from your services. Or have a photo gallery of a recent event you put on in the community you serve. Provide links to the best parts of your website. Give them content to really care about. Many donors will be on a bit of a high from making the leap to support your cause. Keep those good feelings rolling.

Provide immediate recognition. Automate your system to send out a confirmation email as soon as possible. Try to avoid any feelings of doubt on the part of your donors as to whether or not you received their contribution. Make this email a part of the post-donation experience as well. Make it compelling, with strong visuals or videos and links to stories from the community. Let them know how much their donation is appreciated by both your organization and your community.

By maximizing the Initial Goodwill your donors feel, you can further invest them in the good work your nonprofit is doing to make the world a bit better. Once you’ve given thought to cultivating Initial Goodwill, you can start aiming at building that lasting relationship by fostering Ongoing Goodwill, which I’ll cover in my next post.

What sorts of things does your organization do to promote Initial Goodwill? Has anything worked particularly well? Or do you have anything to add that you’ve experienced in donating to a nonprofit? I’d love to hear your thoughts.