Clicking for Dollars
While the Internet remains mysterious to some, many Web-savvy supporters have big hearts and deep pockets. Here are some basic tips on how to open both.
While the Internet remains mysterious to some, many Web-savvy supporters have big hearts and deep pockets. Here are some basic tips on how to open both.
Contributors to this article include Karen Derrico, creator of Mayday for Mutts and author of Unforgettable Mutts and Carrie Allan, assistant editor of Animal Sheltering.
When Labrador rescuers Kathy Coy and Becky Loyd needed money for the surgery that could save an injured dog named Buddy, they posted a desperate plea for help on several pet-related e-mail lists. Word of Buddy’s plight zoomed across the Internet, and within three days e-mail pledges totaling close to $700—nearly double what was needed for Buddy’s surgery—came in from around the world. The online plea also led a group of like-minded Labrador lovers to found LABMED (www.labmed.org), an organization devoted to providing medical assistance to injured and abandoned dogs like Buddy.
Coy and Loyd are one small part of a growing group of people who share at least two common traits: They love animals, and they have seen the possibilities of the technotopia sprouting up all around us. And in the wake of the dot-com slump, they may be part of a bigger and more long-lasting revolution: use of the Internet not for personal advance and gain, but for spreading the word and bringing in money for causes people care about. With everyone from elementary school children to hip grannies and grandpas getting online, the Web may be the largest financial resource out there—a resource with almost limitless room for growth and the potential to reach countless animal lovers and potential donors in your community and beyond.
Since 1996, LABMED has raised over $165,000 through its Web site, money that has helped the group assist with treatment of more than 200 sick and injured dogs. Considering that all those funds came in solely through online donations, an online auction, and an online store featuring Lab-related gift items and gift certificates, it’s an impressive figure. But for shelters and other animal protection organizations, which rescue and care for millions of animals every year and are limited by neither breed nor species, the potential of the Web is even greater; LABMED is just one small example of the difference individuals can make in the lives of animals thanks to the Internet. Maybe you’re already fundraising online; if so, we hope you’ll get some new ideas and directions from this article and learn how humane organizations across the country are surfing the Web wave. With just a little learning—and a little help from the tech-savvy—your organization can turn the ’net into a money-making machine.
Laying the Groundwork
A recent survey by the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that more and more nonprofits are raising money online, and many more plan to start doing so within the next few years. While the survey respondents reported that less than 1 percent of money raised from private sources came in online, that figure doesn’t include donations made in response to online appeals but delivered through snail mail or other traditional means. Nor, reports the Chronicle, does the percentage reflect anything but outright donations; for example, since 1999 Goodwill Industries has raised more than $2 million through an online auction site that allows people to bid on items donated to Goodwill.
The gold mines are out there, waiting to be tapped. But while a growing number of people know enough about the Internet to surf along fairly comfortably, when it comes to finding the time and developing the expertise to design a Web site or figure out an online fundraising plan, you may need some help from the pros: Look for a Web design company in your area that does pro bono work. If you can’t hook up with one of them, it’s worth checking with local colleges and technical schools—they may have students hungry to build up resumes and ready to go to work for you.
Another option for finding ’net gurus is to check out some Web sites designed to pair potential volunteers with organizations that need them. One excellent site is www.volunteermatch.org. This free online service allows organizations to specify their volunteer needs, and volunteers can enter their zip codes and specify the kind of work they can do. The site then plays matchmaker; the Marin Humane Society (www.marin-humane.org) in Novato, California, has found more than 20 volunteers through www.volunteermatch.org.
By using the Web to help you locate people who love to use the Web, you’re bound to find a volunteer or two with the expertise you need. However, in order to avoid poorly designed, uninviting Web sites and other potential pitfalls, it’s critical to confirm that volunteers or consultants hired for Web work have the technical know-how to set up shop on your site; respondents to the Chronicle’s survey agreed that charities that make online giving a large part of their development mix will be much more successful if their Web sites are well-designed and innovative.
When evaluating potential candidates for your volunteer or paid Webmaster position, you should ask for samples of at least three other sites they’ve worked on, find out the nature of their involvement in those projects, and ask for references; the more involvement they’ve had with the technical side of online fundraising—developing secure sites that can safely process payments, or working with sites that already do—the better off your organization will be. Depending on how elaborate your fundraising plan is, you will want to work closely with potential techno-volunteers or consultants to ensure they understand and are on board with your plans. Once you’ve discussed it with them, you can ask for an outline or a flowchart of their ideas.
If you’re not lucky enough to find a number of computer-literate volunteers or staffers, don’t despair. Dozens of books and online resources are devoted to helping you learn the basics of online fundraising—4Pawsfundraising.com is an excellent place to start. Featuring an informative article on “e-fundraising,” the site also contains tips and links for Web site design, marketing, donations, and affiliate programs.
Digitize Your Traditions
If you learn the technical basics, you’ll be surprised how easily some of your traditional offline fundraisers can be adapted for online use. “When considering ideas for projects, just be creative,” says Dranda Whaley, LABMED’s secretary. “Look at what other organizations are doing, gather ideas, and adapt them to your own group’s mission and theme.”
Animal protection organizations all over the country have long used auctions to raise money, and the audience for auctioned items can be multiplied many times over when traditional auctions go online. You don’t even have to have your own Web site: Even if just one of your staff or volunteers has Internet access at home, you can turn donations of goods into money.
In Colorado, the Humane Society of Pagosa Springs (www.humanesocietyofpagosasprings.org) raises money on donated items through a thrift store, but two and a half years ago, shelter employees realized they might be able to sell the more valuable pieces at higher prices elsewhere. The online auction site eBay.com presented the perfect opportunity to reach a much wider customer base than their small Colorado town could provide. “There aren’t a lot of people who might be interested in some of our collectibles, pottery or jewelry and such,” says Rick Strohecker, the shelter’s eBay coordinator. “But now we ship internationally—in four short months I’ve sent a few things to Japan, Canada a few times, a pair of ski boots to Finland. ... It’s just so interesting because it gives you this international marketplace. You may have something you think is obscure, but there’s someone on the other side of the world looking for that exact thing.”
Since its first venture into the world of online auctions, the shelter has sold nearly 300 items on eBay, bringing in around $2,000 a month for the organization, says Strohecker. Overhead costs are minimal because eBay and other auction sites charge only a small fee for listings and take only a small percentage of the final sale. Often the largest initial cost of auctioning items online is the purchase of a digital camera for photographing items so potential buyers can see what they’re getting. Pagosa Springs publicizes its eBay auctions through its Web site and newsletter, posting only those items worth more than $15; it’s not worth the effort to auction anything less valuable than that, says Strohecker.
An even more natural fit for the Internet is an e-mailed newsletter. The benefits of a shelter’s online presence and the benefits of a traditional newsletter are essentially the same: both forums help spread the word about upcoming events, keep members and citizens informed about programs and services, highlight animals available for adoption, and of course, generate donations. But an e-newsletter has one advantage the traditional newsletter does not: no printing and mailing costs. As long as you make sure the content is fun and informative, an e-newsletter can be an effective avenue for soliciting donations—without the need to cough up a pretty penny for its production.
The Humane Society of Rochester and Monroe County (www.lollypop.org) in Fairport, New York, has seen online donations rise since it started sending out its “Animal E-dition” newsletter by e-mail. By steering supporters to the shelter’s Web site, the E-dition lets them know about upcoming fundraising events—including the shelter’s first online auction, held in the spring of this year. The online auction was such a great success that the shelter hopes to do it again in the future.
If you opt for an online newsletter, there are a variety of factors to consider: You must keep the content interesting and entertaining, and you must promote it. Allow people to sign up to receive the newsletter on your Web site, mention it through your voice mail system, and promote it through other shelter publications. You must also provide supporters with the opportunity to “opt in” or “opt out”—if someone chooses to stop receiving the online newsletter, it should be easy for him to “unsubscribe” from it. Few things are more irritating to ’net folk than repeatedly attempting to get off a mailing list and remaining on it—the result of such privacy invasions is usually the loss of a supporter and bad word-of-mouth about your organization. And don’t send it out too frequently, or recipients will just starting hitting their delete buttons. (For more information about creating great newsletters, see Turning Snoozeletters into Newsletters in the July-August 2000 issue of Animal Sheltering.)
Surfing a Crowded ‘Net
Even if your Web site already includes a fundraising element, it won’t do you any good unless people are visiting it. While you can publicize your site through shelter publications and through your voice mail system, you still may not reach that person down the street who wakes up one morning and thinks, “Hmm, I should donate to my local shelter.” Reaching those folks takes a little technical fiddling, but not anything that should cause you conniption fits.
As you begin exploring ways to grab the public’s attention with your Web site, you’ll soon discover one of the best things about fundraising on the Web is that you can reach people all over the world. Wanna know what one of the worst things about fundraising on the Web is? You can reach people all over the world.
If you’re not careful about honing in on your little corner of the new global village, the Web’s limitless possibilities can actually create a Catch-22: Because people are already so overloaded with information and bombarded with solicitations, it can be difficult to reach them. It can all become a blur, especially on the Internet, where a potential donor living in your city might do a search for the words “humane society” and come up with links to sites of shelters across the country. To ensure your online presence doesn’t fade into obscurity like so many other Web wallflowers, you need a clear online identity; on the Web, personal and organizational identities can blur to such a great degree that visitors to your site will be endlessly grateful to see your organization clearly branded and described. You should network with local businesses—especially pet-related businesses—and ask them to link to your Web site on their own sites; you may find some businesses are reluctant, but most will be eager to have their companies associated with such a good cause. And make sure that any local government Web site contains descriptions of your organization and links to your site.
There are thousands of organizations out there making a difference in the lives of animals; registering your organization’s site with search engines and online directories ensures that your work is more likely to be noticed by potential donors. Submitting your site to major search engines is key to increasing your online profile; if you aren’t registered, new supporters will have a hard time finding you. One way to have this process taken care of is to develop a relationship with sites like www.trafficmagnet.net and Microsoft’s bCentral (www.bCentral.com). These sites are designed to help folks deal with online marketing issues; for $179 a year, a bCentral service called Traffic Builder will submit your URL and site description to a variety of search engines, post banner ads for your organization, and create customized electronic newsletters designed to drive supporters back to your Web site.
If you’re still in the beginning stages of developing your online fundraising and don’t think the annual $179 fee is worth it, you can get your site noticed without paying someone else to do it. At the Humane Society of Santa Clara Valley (www.scvhumane.org), volunteers and staff have ensured that the shelter enjoys high visibility on the Web. If you surf to search engines like Yahoo!, Metacrawler, or Google, the Santa Clara, California, shelter is certain to be one of the many organizations to come up when you search for “humane society.” That’s because volunteers like Tom Becker, whose full-time job involves Web development, have taken the time to register the HSSCV Web site at most of the major search engines. “I submitted our site to a bunch of different search engines manually, by just sending them e-mail. ... That helps put us at the top of the list,” says Becker.
According to Becker, the process isn’t a difficult one, and it’s certainly less costly to visit search sites one by one and submit your site on your own. The search engine will have an online form to fill out, and you’ve got to follow the instructions carefully, says Becker, “because when you submit your site, the reviewers and search engine staff will sometimes overlook or ignore the listing if you haven’t filled out the forms correctly.” That means if a form asks you to describe your organization, you shouldn’t type in a marketing plea—just describe your organization, where it is, what it does, and the most important things about it. Keep it simple, and stick to the word count the form asks for. That way, when that person down the street types in, for example, “animal shelter in Everytown,” the Web site of the Everytown shelter will pop right up.
With so many sites vying for donors’ attention and money, it’s imperative to keep your organization’s name and mission out in cyberspace as much as possible. Submitting to search engines, swapping links with other animal-related sites, and networking through e-mail lists can all be of tremendous help in generating visitors and attracting potential donors to your site. The Web site www.selfpromotion.com offers some great advice on some of the basics of getting your site noticed by as many surfers as possible, and a shelter fundraising e-mail list available on Yahoo! provides a great way to make contacts and get new ideas—you can join up at www.egroups.com/group/ShelterFundraising.
Don’t Make Me Think
Once you’ve got your animal-loving Web surfer on your site, your next challenge is keeping her there. People cruise around the Web so quickly that if they don’t immediately see what they’re looking for, you can lose their interest—and their donation—in one click of the mouse. It’s the “don’t make me think” principle, says Becker, who notes that many shelter Web sites make potential donors work too hard, sending them through page after page to get to the donation area. “We always have something on the home page that says ‘Give,’” says Becker, “because the last thing you want is to make anyone search for something. ... I’ve seen some shelter sites where you have to go through level after level to even find a street address to send a donation to.” Likewise, the Humane Society of Charlotte in North Carolina gives instant access to donation information from the top of its home page (www.clthumane.org); visitors to the site are greeted with the invitation: “Our Strength Depends on You! Donate Now.” Another prominent link at the site of the Oregon Humane Society (www.oregonhumane.org) takes users to a menu of options, allowing them to designate an amount and a reason for the donation.
The Santa Clara Valley Web site also has a button on its home page that takes visitors to a page with several donation options: direct online donations, automobile donations, and pet food donations. Also listed are the shelter’s mailing address and the contact information for the director of development in case a donor has any questions. For those planning large donations or thinking about including the organization in their wills, the shelter even links to a Web site devoted to planned giving legal issues. It’s all designed for ease and convenience.
As soon as the home page of the Humane Society of Rochester and Monroe County loads, users see instantly how to donate or become a member online. The site also links to the shelter’s online gift shop, where people can make honorarium donations or purchase shelter t-shirts, dining discount coupon booklets, and memorial bricks. Supporters can also register for dog obedience classes, says Director of Information Systems Cynthia Welch. “If you call the shelter for information, one thing you hear when you’re on hold is that you can go online now and register,” she says. “And I think a lot of people hang up and do that. ... The majority of people who sign up for our dog obedience classes do it online.” In the last year and a half, says Welch, the shelter has made almost $99,000—and that doesn’t include profits from the online auction.
It’s because the shelter has made it so easy to donate online that it’s been so successful with online fundraising; no one who logs on to the Web site will ever surf off frustrated by an inability to find a way to send money. The site has an attractive layout and a professional look. It makes giving a pleasure. “For a local charity, I think the total money we have coming in over the Internet is pretty remarkable,” says Welch.
Securing the Green
Once you’ve helped people locate your donation page, you’ve got to make the giving process itself convenient as well. Many Internet users, especially newer ones, are concerned about supplying credit card information online; some shelters have opted to simply provide a printable form that supporters can mail in with a check. Although this method does work, organizations that have upgraded to online credit card processing have seen dramatic increases in online donations; the Internet as a medium caters to speed and impulse. But one way to make the form-printing, check-mailing method a bit less unwieldy is to make it a one-time thing: Donors print out and mail an online form in which they agree to have $5 or more automatically charged to their credit cards each month.
If you do any online shopping yourself, you know that concerns about credit card information falling into the wrong hands are legitimate. If you do decide to provide the online credit card option, make sure your donors’ information is secure. Many banks now offer online credit card processing, so your technical staff or volunteers should speak with the bank you use to see if they can offer that service to your organization. Some online processing companies can connect your site’s users to secure servers that take donations for organizations; the Humane Society of Charlotte uses donate.net, which not only processes donations but sends out an e-mail receipt and a note thanking the donor for his support.
Other options for credit card payments include services like Propay.com and Paypal.com—both are free and allow a user to pay anyone with an e-mail address. All you have to do is register with the site and then add a link to one or both of these services onto your home page. For extra incentive, Paypal gives you $5 for registering your site, plus $5 each time a new visitor to your site uses the service. Those shoppers using Paypal for the first time also receive $5.
Establishing relationships with online retailers is fairly simple: After registering with a retailer, you can place a link to that retailer on your own site; a percentage of all purchases made through this link will trickle back to your organization. Or, if you want to steer visitors to your site toward certain humane products or resources, you can actually post a link to those items; for example, if one of your trainers is fond of a particular book on dog care you can refer users to the book along with a link to Amazon.com. If it results in some sales, you’ll get a small cut.
The Humane Society of Rochester and Monroe County, which shelters and places many horses, targets its customer base even more specifically by affiliating with an online equine tack retailer; 10% of the purchase price on sales initiated through the shelter’s Web site goes back to the shelter.
Even if your organization doesn’t have a Web site yet, you can still use the Internet to your advantage by registering as charities at sites like iGive.com and greatergood.com. These sites allow a customer to designate a favorite charity and then go shopping—at retailers ranging from Neiman Marcus to the Discovery Store to proflowers.com. The sites deliver a portion of all the customer’s purchases to the chosen organization, and greatergood.com even offers a downloadable service that reminds registrants to go through the site when they shop, thus ensuring that a forgetful supporter will still shop to your organization’s advantage. If you don’t accept electronic payments, the companies will send you a check based on how many customers selected your group and what those customers bought.
Shelters across the country are already participating in programs like these, which can be particularly profitable during holiday seasons when the Internet is clogged with shoppers. If you do sign up with one or more of these affiliate programs, make sure—through your Web site, newsletter, and voice mail system—that your supporters know where to look for you when they shop online.
Whatever methods end up working best for your organization, you should strive to take advantage of the moneymaking opportunities the Web can offer. It just takes a little learning and investigation of the options to make it a reality for you, for your shelter, and for Fido, Whiskers, Fluffy, Scurry, Wags, Green-eyes . . .
A List to Consider
Are You doing right by your Internet supporters?
Recently the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), the largest group of of its kind in the world, announced it had developed principles for an “E-Donor Bill of Rights.” Noting that the opportunities for fundraising online are accompanied by risks for donors, and that accepted practices for soliciting and accepting online donations are still evolving, the AFP released the following list of “donor rights.” In a world of decreasing privacy and increasingly invasive solicitation practices, it behooves fundraisers to review this list.
The AFP believes that online donors have the following minimum rights:
- To be clearly and immediately informed of your organization’s name, identity, nonprofit or for-profit status, mission, and purpose when first accessing your Web site.
- To have easy and clear access to alternative contact information other than through the Web site or e-mail.
- To be assured that all third party logos, trademarks, trustmarks, and other identifying, sponsoring, and/or endorsing symbols displayed on the Web site are accurate, justified, up to date, and clearly explained.
- To be informed of whether or not a contribution entitles the donor to a tax deduction, and of all limits on such deductions based on applicable laws.
- To be assured that all online transactions and contributions occur through a safe, private, and secure system that protects the donor’s personal information.
- To be clearly informed if a contribution goes directly to the intended charity, or is held by or transferred through a third party.
- To be clearly informed of opportunities to “opt out” of data lists that are sold, shared, rented, or transferred to other organizations.
- To not receive unsolicited communications or solicitations