On December 8, Todd Cohen authored a timely piece entitled, “Charities Missing Out on Digital Giving,” aptly noting that non-profit managers “must work a lot harder to develop digital strategies to reach, inform and engage givers and raise money.”  Expanding on this observation, there are a number of ways organizations of all sizes can leverage web tools to understand their users, target and acquire new followers, and solicit online donations.

Understanding Users

Google Insights for Search allows firms immediate and free access to online market data.  Non-profit managers can longitudinally observe relative Google search query data across geographies on terms relevant to their operations or message.  This tool allows managers to instantly pinpoint target markets and uncover related keywords, enabling an iterative and potentially exhaustive process of understanding online users.  Additionally, it indicates percentage keyword growth, intimating seasonality within isolated timeframes. 

Alternatively, Facebook Lexicon measures the relative frequency of keyword use in wall posts on the site.  While this tool is less robust in that there are no geographic distinctions, it can provide a second data point to corroborate broad trending seen on Google Trends.

Building Targeted Channels

Knowing effective keywords, their growth, related terms, and the target markets in which they have the highest proportion of search, all have intrinsic value.  Such knowledge enables a number of new and highly targeted channels for traffic acquisition, and user adoption.  For example, strong performing keywords across all geographies can be used in search engine optimization, incorporating these terms in varying capacities on the website.  Strong performing keywords in isolated geographies can be leveraged through Google AdWords, often provided for free through Google Grants with proof of 501(c)(3) status. Ads with relevant ad text and call to action can be targeted at relevant geographies based on the user’s default browser language and Internet Protocol (IP) address.

Further outreach can be pursued through the putative means of email, website, Facebook, YouTube channels and Twitter. Less often utilized MySpace, Orkut, and LinkedIn target different online demographics, and offer branding opportunity.  Other methods such as Flickr, StumbleUpon, and Scribd can all create conduits through which users arrive on the site.  Web analytics tools can then analyze and confirm those means that are most effective.

Transforming Traffic

Once online users are understood, and they are systematically targeted through a number of platforms, such traffic can be converted into revenue.  Many forms of new media can be monetized passively through non-disruptive ads such as AdSense for content, Assetize for Twitter, and Pixazza for images.  Owners can also directly facilitate web-based donations. 

Both PayPal and Google Checkout offer easily embeddable “Donate” buttons.  These buttons can be customized with default donation increments.  Furthermore, differentiated buttons can be targeted to different users based on their method of site entry. Inbound site links can forward to destination URLs populated with targeted buttons.  A branded YouTube channel can distribute a message, provide branding, and drive traffic to the website, but it can additionally serve as a conduit for donations via a customized button. 

While PayPal and Google Checkout facilitate micro-donations, there are even other more creative ways of soliciting donations, both on and off-line.  For example, many text message (SMS) services exist that enable mobile donations.  U2 lead singer Bono has convinced thousands of concertgoers to make mobile donations to his Unite campaign against poverty. Such prompts for SMS donations can come through either online, or traditional, marketing.

Today, many organizations facilitate such mobile donations.  Mobile Accord and mGive, for example, prompt users to SMS a short code number assigned to the requesting organization. Upon text receipt, the donation is instantly applied to the corresponding cell phone bill, and later collected for disbursement to the registered corresponding non-profit organization. Mobile donations therefore eliminate even the most basic inconveniences of the online donation button by adding donations into an already established method of customer billing.

Web tools are available to empower those firms creative enough to use them collaboratively.  As we enter the next decade, their prevalence and centrality will only grow.