Online Fundraising Resources Center



The first drafts of these articles were individually posted to an excellent forum site devoted to online giving. It is called "Cybergifts" and can be found at People who are enjoying these articles are invited to sign up for "Cybergifts" and join the ongoing discussion!

Copyright 1999 by Adam Corson-Finnerty [printer-friendly version]


Looking at Tactics:

We have spent quite a bit of time on strategy, futurizing, and philosophizing. It's now time to get down to the real work of Internet-based fundraising: getting someone to make a cybergift.

For four years now, I have been collecting examples of Internet-based fundraising. Magazine clippings, folded-over newspaper pages, Netscape bookmarks, and "saved" emails are clogging up my data-management system. It's time to try to put them in some semblance of order, post them with appropriate URLs, and throw away or delete the originals.

Here goes:

Donate Now. The first and most obvious tactic is to place "donate now" buttons and links all over your web pages and hope that people will take appropriate action. A great example of this tactic is the American Red Cross, which includes a green "donate now" bar as the first clickable option on its home page. The Red Cross also includes a "donations" button as part of its bottom page banner, so that wherever you travel on their site, a gift is just a click away.

When the visitor chooses the donation link, she is taken to a page that offers three giving options: Donate Online, Donate by Phone, Donate by Mail. Click on an option and you are given instructions. In the case of "donate online now" the reader is taken to a secure form, asked to fill out name, address, credit card number, purpose, and amount of gift, etc. I note that the Red Cross also creates a button that says "I may be contacted by email," with the button conveniently selected for the "yes" option. So the reader has to choose the "no" option to avoid being on their list. This is an example of "negative permission," and most people do not find this particular form offensive. (See

The American Lung Association takes an even more aggressive approach. When you first select their site, a java pop-up window appears. There are two cute kids smiling at you. The overlay message says "Help All Americans Breathe Easier! Give to the American Lung Association. Click here." If you ignore it, it goes away after five seconds. But if you click, a second java window appears that says "Thank you for your interest in donating to the American Lung Association." and brings up their main donation page.

The donation page is straightforward, and focuses on collecting an online gift. The form thoughtfully allows you to make the donation in someone else's name or honor, and enables you to fill out the name and address of someone to whom the Lung Association will send a gift notice. The form also asks if you would like to receive their e-newsletter--the beginning of a "permission marketing" relationship. It does not offer an 800-number giving alternative (probably a big mistake), though it does give a small note about sending in a check by mail, with an address.

Interestingly, the Donation site concludes with a "Cybercash" logo and these stirring words:

"CyberCash is recognized as the worldwide leader in secure e-commerce payment technologies and services. The American Lung Association takes the confidentiality of our information seriously. For this reason, we use CyberCash when dealing with your credit card information. To guard against fraud, your information is securely encrypted and automatically passed directly to the financial network for processing. At no time is this information made available to anyone else.

"We guarantee that every transaction you make at our Web Site will be 100% safe. This means that you will not be billed for unauthorized charges that are made to your card as a result of donating online. Our secure server software (SSL) is the industry standard and among the best software available today for secure commerce transactions."

I think it is a good idea to put something like this on your online donation site-perhaps even at the *top* rather than the bottom. After all, we are constantly told that people hesitate to make online gifts because of concerns about privacy and security.

(However, the effect of this statement is somewhat undermined by a sentence that the Lung Association has placed next to their donation "submit" button: "Click only once! Multiple clicks = multiple donations!" Somehow that didn't make me feel secure! (see

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Amnesty International. I should preface this review by saying that I believe AI is one of the most important non-profit organizations in the world, and deserves our ongoing financial support. But they don't make it easy on their would-be donors! There is no place on the main page that allows the visitor to make a gift, or even to get directions for making a gift. That appears to be because the main page ( is the International site, and you have to go to the local branches to get solicited.

OK, so you search for your country's chapter, and in my case, click over to the U.S. ( On the left of the U.S. homepage, we are invited to make a donation. So we click and are taken to a page that allows us to choose between making a secure credit card gift, an 800-number gift, an email gift, and a postal gift. So we click on the secure credit card link and we are taken to a page that gives us a choice of Becoming a Member, Making a Donation, or Renewing our Membership.

Note that we have searched for the Amnesty International site, which took a while. But we couldn't make a gift there. So we went to the page that gave us the link for the USA chapter, and we clicked there but we still couldn't make a gift. So we chose Make a Donation, and we still couldn't make a gift, and we chose "by a secure credit card" and we *still* couldn't make a gift. Counting the search, that's six links and we still can't actually donate! I happen to have a cable modem and plenty of patience. If I had a 28.8 modem, I'm not sure I would have gotten this far.

But it gets worse. I click on "Make a Donation" and being the savvy navigator that I am, I see that I have left the Amnesty site and gone to a site managed by Yahoo! The URL gives it away ( This doesn't bother me, because I have heard that Yahoo is getting into the business of handling e-commerce, and I have confidence in them. But most visitors wouldn't necessarily feel that way, and Amnesty USA is not letting them know what has just happened.

On the "Make a Donation" page, I find an unusual format. There is a list of gift amounts running down the center of the page. The lines say "Donation Amount: $50" or "Donation Amount: $75," followed by a gray button that says simply "Order."

Order? Am I shopping?

So I click on "Order," and guess what? I am taken to a "Your Order" page which lines up just like a shopping cart page. I am told that "Item" is a donation amount. Then I have "options" which is blank. Then I have "Unit Price" which is $75. Then I have "Quantity" which is "1". And at the bottom of the page I have three buttons that say: "Place Secure Order," "Keep Shopping," or "Empty Basket."

Keep Shopping? I cannot believe that AI and Yahoo couldn't do any better than this. (And I am sure it will improve over time. AI may not be very sophisticated on the 'Net, but they are extremely sophisticated with direct mail. Stay tuned!)

In fairness to Amnesty International, their chief aim for going on the Internet is to stimulate and enable citizen action to promote human rights and free prisoners of conscience. Not to raise funds. The AI sites are packed with information, and feature online vehicles for taking action. Bully for them! They are taking their mission to cyberspace, and enlisting the power of individuals to make a difference.


Logic might suggest that I proceed from "donate now" to gimmicks like "adopt a turtle," but my own logic causes me to now turn to membership.

Membership acquisition is currently one of the most important mechanisms for online giving. After all, it combines a gift with permission to continue marketing to the member. Since members and "friends" are the lifeblood of most development operations, and the fertile ground from which major gifts can grow, it behooves us to pay careful attention to this particular cybergift.

It is worth noting that *you don't have to have a credit card facility to acquire new members online.* If your site is not "ecommerce-equipped," then simply have the visitor fill out a membership form, and allow them to click "bill me." See for an example from the University of Pennsylvania.

There are a great number of non-profit web sites which solicit membership but one of my favorites is the Metropolitan Museum of New York. They have developed a special membership "level" for cybernauts. It is called the Met Net membership, and is billed as being "for Internet visitors to the Museum." Benefits include:


Free admission for one to the Museum and The Cloisters

An official Metropolitan Museum of Art T-shirt

A Metropolitan Museum of Art Screen Saver

Audio assisted guides on the Internet through selected special exhibitions and permanent installations and other special features for --Met Net Members only

Pass for one-time use of the Trustees Dining Room overlooking Central Park for Friday or Saturday dinner or weekend brunch

Discount of 10 percent on all Museum merchandise

Special merchandise offers available exclusively to Met Net Members through the Internet

Free copies of the Christmas and spring catalogues of publications and reproductions

Clever! Innovative! Almost brilliant. Almost brilliant because the Metropolitan then does something rather odd. You cannot just click and sign up as a member. You have to go to their online "store." There you find a list of gift items, but Met Net membership is not one of them. Instead, they rely on a small "button" at the upper edge of the screen-easy to miss.

OK, so the potential member eventually finds it, and clicks. He is given a list of membership levels to choose from, ranging as high as $3,000. Click on a membership level and the next page asks you what "quantity" you want. Quantity? We are back into the shopping cart motif. So now he has to go to checkout. Or do some more shopping. Since "he" is me, I decide to scope out the ties. The Tiffany grapevine tie looks nice, in purple. I order it, along with a Vivaldi CD. Now I am ready to check out. My total says that the member's cost is $104, counting the $50 Met Net membership. So I have saved $6 dollars and am benefiting already from my membership. Or am I?

Turns out I am not. To process my order as a member, I have to give my membership number, which I don't have yet. And, to add insult to injury, my shipping costs are jacked up by the value of my membership. Instead of saving money by joining, I appear to be losing money!

Hello? Yo, Met, you've got some good potential synergy here. Get your IT people to fix it right. (See )

IT people, try this: make the membership form separate from the store. But after you sign up, using a credit card, you get an immediate thank-you and your new membership number, and a message that says: "As a Met Net Member, you can start benefiting right away! Take your new number to our online store and save an immediate 10% on all purchases. Click here!"

And, if you start at the store and are not even considering becoming a member, how about if your "process order" screen says "Did you know that you could save 10% right now on everything you buy? Simply click here and become a member. Your benefits will start right away!"

One final criticism. Whenever you buy from the store, it appears that you have to tell the Met "How You Heard About Us." Was it the newspaper, TV, the radio, etc. This field is "required" in order to complete your purchase. Required? Puh-leeeze! (Make a note class: Permission Marketing never, never "requires" anything that isn't really important, and when it does, it gives you something in return for giving up a bit of your time and your privacy.)

Perhaps we should cruise over to MoMA, to see whether their approach is a bit more� well� modern.

After viewing their artsy "splash" screen, we click on the menu button and, surprise, a Java window pops up. "Take the MoMA Survey," we are urged:

Please take two minutes

to fill out our on-line

survey. It's fun and easy,

plus it helps us maintain

our site at your high

standards. When you've

finished, see what

everyone else said.

Thank you!

Interesting. Online Surveys are an excellent way to involve visitors, gather email addresses, and start a "permission marketing" relationship. Can't resist checking out just how far the MoMA survey goes�

Not very far, as it turns out. They didn't ask me for my email address, didn't ask me if I would like information, didn't make an offer of something special if I joined Now - and didn't thank me for participating! They did give me the results of the survey, with a column for my choices. That's pretty cool.

From their survey, I learned that the highest number of respondents had already visited the Met site (38%); that 60% of visitors intended to look at "Exhibitions, Programs, and Events," while only 5% planned to check out "Membership;" that the greatest percentage of visitors were between 25 and 44 (51%); and only 21% of visitors had children in their household. Good stuff for website planners, including me. Oh, and that 90% of website visitors were not members. This is not a problem, this is a fabulous opportunity!

Which MoMA pretty much wastes. Membership is just another category among 20 options on the homepage, and "membership" is generally not carried forward as a toolbar option on other pages. When our visitor clicks on "Membership," she finds no incentive for "online" membership, no MoMAnet or CyberMoMA special category. And we have to go to the online store to get our membership online. Once there we find that membership levels can go as high as $10,000 ("Gifts of $5,000, $10,000, and more help to advance the Museum's core programs, including exhibitions, conservation, and education. Donors enjoy increased access to MoMA, closer involvement with curators and trustees, and opportunities for private exhibition viewings.")

But even as fat cats, we have to go through the usual shopping cart routine: "I'll take two Dr. Skud Fly Swatters, one Kangaroo Lantern, and a Major Benefactor Membership please�"

(For your own Modern experience, start at

In marked contrast to the Met and MoMA is the membership site for The Nature Conservancy. The very large "Join Today" button is graced by a picture of a very ugly and very cute baby black-crowned night heron. Click on the button and you go straight to a choice of membership levels, benefits, and the online form. And a picture of the tote bag that you will receive when you join-with the "wild and wacky" bird imprinted on same. I want one! (See

Having cruised a number of sites, commenting all the way, it may be useful to take stock, and set out some recommendations for handling "donate now" and "membership" cybergifts.

Recommendation 1. Treat a gift like a gift. Not like a purchase. People who make an online gift are in charitable mode, and you want to nurture and reinforce that philanthropic mindset. I believe it is confusing, and potentially harmful, to shift your donor to a "shopping" metaphor. A membership should also be treated like a gift, even if a package of benefits comes with it.

Recommendation 2. Place your "donate" and "membership" buttons everywhere on your site. The most elegant form appears to be in your banner or "toolbar," as is done by the Red Cross. Always present, but not intrusive. (See

Recommendation 3. Even if you have followed recommendation 3, you should also ask for a donation or a membership wherever it seems appropriate. Again, the Red Cross does not just rely on their toolbar, they also ask for a gift, with a hotlink, in almost every page devoted to their work or to a situation of need.

Recommendation 4. Go straight from your "donate" or "membership" or "join" button to the actual form that people need to use in order to make their gift. People who study e-commerce say that the majority of people who shop online "abandon" their carts and never complete their transaction. There are a number of reasons for this, but one of them is that the customer is made to go through page after page of forms and instructions before making their purchase.

I was surprised at how many sites set up intermediate pages once the visitors has selected "membership" or "donate." The designers may think they are providing useful information. If it is *critical* then put it on the form page. Otherwise, you are just creating barriers to giving.

Recommendation 5. Keep the form page as simple as possible. Don't ask for information that is not critical to the gift. That can be done in subsequent communications.

I think the ideal donation page will have these elements:

Something like "Thank you for choosing to make a donation through our secure online form. If this the first time you have made an online gift, you may wish to read 'Our Guarantee.'" (See below)

Something like: "You can also use our toll-free 800 Number to make a gift. 800-123-123x. Or you can send a check. Click here for our address." But keep this really short, and don't turn it into an intermediate page.

A choice of gift levels, with check-off boxes or radio buttons.

The minimum required information for completing a credit card gift. I believe this does not require a phone number, and it is a big mistake to ask for it. I am sure I'm the only one who feels this way, but I loathe telemarketing calls, and anytime an organization asks for my phone number, I become immediately suspicious.

A "complete gift" or "Give Now" button which completes the transaction. Perhaps coupled with a "Start Over" button that wipes out the entries and allows the donor to adjust information, or cancel the transaction.

When the donor completes the transaction, he or she is immediately fed a page that says "Thank you for your gift to [goodcause]. You will receive a confirmation of your gift through email, followed by a mailed receipt." Now, *this* page can contain some of the things that you resisted putting on the donations page, including a sign-up for your newsletter, or e-news, or whatever. And a link back to your homepage.

People who have read Cybergifts, Parts 1-3 may be surprised that I have not built "permission-getting" into the donation page. That is, a checkoff asking for some sort of permission to communicate with the donor. That is because I believe that a donation is "implied permission" to communicate, and should be treated that way. I believe most donors see it that way as well. That is, they expect to hear from you in the future. (But, for God's sake, don't send them $40 dollars a year in junk mail in exchange for their $25 online gift. Personally, I find that highly offensive-not to mention the fact that my gift has directly resulted in a net loss to the organization.)

Recommendation 6. As noted above, it may be useful to have a button or prominent link that I'll call "Our Guarantee." If the potential donor clicks on it, a page comes up that says something like this:

"Sywash University uses advanced security methods for protecting the privacy of your transaction. We guarantee your gift will be handled in a safe and protected manner.

"Should you have any question about this gift, or our method for processing, you can call our toll-free number for immediate assistance. That number is 800-123-123x."

And this should be followed by a "continue" or a "return to page" button.

Wouldn't it be nice if we non-profits pooled our resources and set up a 24/7 800-number that provided support and hand-holding for a gift? That probably won't happen anytime soon, so the alternative is (a) to maintain our own call center support, which is done by some large organizations; (b) contract it out to a professional call center, with appropriate scripting put in place; (c) maintain our own 800 line, or give a "call collect" number, that is available during office hours. I suspect that some of the e-commerce enablers, like Yahoo or Cybercash, may have their own 800-number support that clients can utilize.

Basically, I believe any non-profit that accepts donations online should knock itself out to assist and reassure any donor of the safety of their transaction. And if you ever get a call with a concern, I believe you should make it your top priority until it is resolved. I have not heard of even one story of someone having their credit card number abused as the result of an online gift. But I, and you, don't want to be the first instance, or even the subject of the first rumor. The news will ricochet all over the Net.

Recommendation 7. Specifically on membership, I believe it is a mistake to clutter up your pages with $5,000 and $10,000 membership levels. Come on, do you really think someone is going to join online at that level? I don't.

I recommend that websites focus on the basic levels of membership, and consider adding a "net" membership as the Metropolitan Museum has done. The "net" membership can have cyber-benefits, in addition to traditional benefits. Perhaps even a "passworded" area on your website; or passworded "sneak previews" to your online exhibitions.

Don't get me wrong. People have and will make $5,000 donations online. So, in your donation forms, I believe you should go higher, and have a fill-in-the-amount box. But Membership? I don't think so.

The page that I believe comes closest to my ideal for donation or membership is the membership page for The Nature Conservancy, though they do have graphics that may slow down page loading. See



In the course of this mini-survey, I have visited some of the "name" non-profit sites, and I must confess I have been surprised to see that membership is either not offered, or vastly underplayed, or hard to achieve, or totally irrelevant to the cybernaut. Readers are invited to send me URLs for sites that promote and handle membership well, especially sites that offer Internet-based benefits. Contact




Cybergifts versus Direct Mail:

Your mail today has brought an envelope from a humanitarian organization called Save Everybody Tomorrow. You read along, learning about their work with children, their efforts to eradicate malaria, their rice-growing program in India, and their work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Sounds pretty worthwhile. You decide to make a contribution.

But when you read the donation form it says: "A $47 contribution to Save Everybody Tomorrow will result in a net loss to the organization of $20.50. Please give now, while the need is greatest."

Say what?

DM Logic:

If you are not familiar with the world of direct mail fundraising, you may not be familiar with the logic of this complex endeavor. It takes a while to explain.

We will start with the big picture. Save Everybody Tomorrow is a name that I made up, but we will imagine that it is thriving, in part due to its successful direct mail program. In fact, SET has a "House List" of 100,000 donors, who bring in a total of $6,300,000 per year. Not bad. And it only has an attrition rate of 20%, meaning that 20% of its house list stops giving in any given year.

That is actually a good figure, but it does mean that SET "loses" 20,000 donors every year. For the organization to sustain its income level, it must find 20,000 new donors each year. And for it to grow, it must find even more!

That's where "Direct Mail Prospecting" comes in. The concept is pretty simple. You pick a list of people to mail to, design a compelling package, and put it in the mail.

If you have chosen one of your "warm" lists, you may get a 10% gift response, or even better. A "warm" list is one that is made up of people who know you and are favorably disposed to you. "Lapsed" donors make a good warm list, or people who have written to you for information, or people who have been served by your organization.

Save Everybody Tomorrow is an efficient organization, and does not use expensive mailing packages. We shall posit a 10,000 piece mailing with a cost-per-piece of $1.35, including postage. (That's very low.) And we will posit an average gift response of $54. Run the numbers from the "warm" list and you find that the mailing has cost $13,500 and has brought in $54,000. That's a net of $40,500. Not too bad.

However, that's only 1,000 new donors, and you need at least 19,000 more to keep up the size of your House List. Now you have to turn to "cold" lists. A cold list is composed of people who may be sympathetic to your message. Perhaps they read a magazine that tests well for social causes, like the New Yorker or The Nation. Perhaps they fit a certain demographic profile that matches your current donor base.

A good response, a very good response, would be 2%. And a good average gift would be $47. Run the numbers. Your mailing has cost you $13,500 and it has earned you $9,400. For a net loss of $4,100, or $20.50 lost per gift.

We now have a conflict in logic. From the new donor's point of view (were she ever to be shown these numbers), her entire $47 has been spent on the mailing, plus another $20.50 from other donors. Net contribution to making a better world: worse than zero. Plus 9,800 paper-based packets have been thrown in the trash.

And we have only gained 200 new donors, and have 18,800 to go�.

Direct Mailers see it a bit differently. Sure, the DM professional may say, it cost us $67.50 to acquire a new donor, but that's not the end of the story. New donors go on to make future gifts, and over time the net swings in our favor.

Which is true. Consider this six-year scenario. Our 20,000 new donors have an attrition rate of 20%. Over the subsequent five years, that means 53,786 gifts will come from this group. Figure an average gift of $63, and figure that it costs a modest $6.75 per year in appeal mailings to "service" each donor. Counting the costs and the receipts from the first year, we find a net gain for the organization. It adds up like this:

Total six-year Direct Mail Gifts: $5,268,518

Total six-year Direct Mail Costs: $2,025,000

Net Income to SET: $3,243,518


See, Direct Mail logic prevails!

Nevertheless, this translates into a net cost per dollar raised of 38 cents. And we have not counted staff salaries, consultants' fees, and overhead costs of other kinds. Might it be costing Save Everybody Tomorrow 50 cents to raise a dollar? Probably. Probably more.

Similar logic, and similar numbers, apply to Advertising and to Telemarketing. I am not as familiar with these areas, and I invite comment by those who are. Nevertheless, I have purchased both services, and the numbers are appalling. In fact, one telemarketing firm refused to take my money for a membership-acquisition drive. "The results for cold membership calls are so bad that you'd be wasting your money," the CEO told me in a moment of rare candor. (Cushioned for him by the fact that we were negotiating three other calling projects with warm lists.)



I do not think it is necessary to argue that acquiring gifts online is-ultimately-more efficient and more ecological than Direct Mail. It saves money for the Charity, it results in more of the donor's money going for the mission, and it doesn't waste tons of paper.

Right now, cybergiving's numbers won't necessarily look that good. If it cost an organization $25,000 in outright expenses and staff time to create a website, and if online gifts in the first year total only $3,000, that's a huge loss per gift.

Well, you say, but our website isn't just for giving. It is there to educate people about us and our mission. That is exactly what Direct Mail people will argue about their mailings. In fact, many organizations charge a large part of the cost of such mailings to "education" rather than to fundraising.

Anyhow, there is a modest argument to be made for the educational value of some Direct Mail pieces. Perhaps not the recent Philadelphia Museum of Art piece that told me I could win a new Lexis if I took out a membership, among other wonderful prizes, but certainly pieces I have seen from the Sierra Club, Habitat International, the American Friends Service Committee, and so on.

There is no easy way to get a handle on cybergift fundraising costs, since the field is so new, and sites vary greatly in terms of design cost and purpose. However, some short observations can be made. The first is that there is a huge difference between investing in a site that is primarily for fundraising, and one that serves other purposes.

Colleges and universities are developing websites to promote admissions, to facilitate information-sharing on campus, to support classroom instruction, to stay in touch with alumni, to publish the results of research, to host distance learning programs, and so on. Fundraising, so far, is an afterthought at most academic websites. Similarly, libraries have mounted websites to provide access to information, starting with their catalog, but branching to online databases, filtered lists of subject websites, and much more. Again, fundraising is either absent, or an afterthought.

In both of these cases, and in the case of advocacy organizations like amnesty international or common cause, we can see that their website is carrying out and even extending their mission in a new medium. This justifies a considerable investment. And once that investment has been made, the cost of adding a fundraising component is trivial. In fact, there is a strong argument that says: the organizations which will be the most successful in online fundraising are those which have a strong purpose to be served in cyberspace. Traffic to the site flows naturally from this purpose, and loyalty to the sponsor should follow from involvement online.

Conversely, organizations which have no purpose to be served in cyberspace, other than fundraising, are taking an investment risk by mounting a website. Of course, if you have volunteers setting up your site, and your out-of-pocket costs are minimal, then the risk is small. But, if an NPO spends a ton of money on a flashy site which has no raison d'etre other than fundraising, this may represent a horrible squandering of organizational resources.

Which goes back to a question that I posed at the beginning of this series: why would anyone want to come to your site? If you don't have a good answer, think again about why you are bothering with cyberspace.

Going back to the question of cost-per-dollar-raised, one cannot determine a figure by dividing the total cost of a website into the receipts thus far. Yale has spent plenty on its website, as have most universities, but it would foolish to divide gifts received online by the total cost of developing and maintaining the site. The same for the San Francisco Public Library.

There can be some marvelous efficiencies in online fundraising. The experience of is certainly instructive. Readers of cybergifts, parts 1-3 will recall that two activists decided to circulate an internet petition urging congress to "move on" from the clinton impeachment drama. They got such a strong response that they sent out a call for donations, and received back over $13 million in pledges. Their "fundraising" costs were practically nil, so the cost per dollar raised must have been *way* under one cent.

Such an example may be an exception, but the experience of the Red Cross and other relief organizations during the Kosovo refugee crisis is a predictor of the future. The Red Cross had raised over $1.2 million in online gifts for Balkan Relief, from more than 9,000 donors in the first half of 1999. And the money continues to come in, and the average gift online was significantly higher than the average phone or mail gift.

I could sit here and argue for pages that efficiency, ecology, and just-plain-morality argue that Charities should dump Direct Mail and shift to cyberspace. But such arguments will fall on deaf ears unless the Internet shows better and larger returns. For every Red Cross, there are probably five NPOs with "give now" buttons on their site who have garnered practically nothing.

Guess what? The bottom line for fundraising will continue to be what it always has been: The Bottom Line. When online giving begins to exceed Direct Mail results, direct marketing will migrate to the Web without shedding a tear.

And indeed, the purpose of the Cybergifts Series is to suggest ways that we can raise money online. In Part 4 I covered "Donate Now," and "Membership" mechanisms. In parts 6 through ? I will cover a surprisingly large range of other solid ideas (and some silly gimmicks.)

First, however, let's look at the results of a very interesting-and encouraging--study on the potential for cybergiving.

Online Philanthropy Study:

Craver, Mathews, Smith & Company is a Direct Marketing firm that has been around for 25 years. Their clients tend to be on the "progressive" side and include the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Humane Society, the ACLU, and others. For 25 years, CMS has been doing what you might expect a direct marketing firm to do: advise on marketing, direct mail, targeting your message, segmenting your constituency. Along the way, according to Company Chair, Roger M. Craver, they have pioneered new concepts in telemarketing, segmentation, personalization, and high-dollar direct mail programs.

This month CMS launched its own website, and to inaugurate the site, they released a report on a commissioned study entitled, "Socially Engaged Internet Users: Prospects for Online Philanthropy and Activism." The thrust of the message: *The pool of potential online "progressive" donors is much larger, significantly younger, and more sophisticated than the pool of direct mail "progressive" donors.*

It looks like this: CMS estimates that there are 50 million "socially engaged Internet users" over 18 years of age in the U.S. Three-quarters of them are under age 50, and 29% have household incomes over $70,000. A hefty 80% of these people have donated to a cause or charity through "traditional means." And the group is about evenly divided between people who describe themselves as "liberal" and those who describe themselves as "conservative."

Direct Mail "progressives" tend to be older (64% are over 60), more "liberal," and to identify themselves as Democrats. They also discovered that:

  • Online activists are more demanding than their direct mail counterparts when it comes to organizations demonstrating progress and being accountable to donors. Online activists are 14 points more likely to say it is absolutely essential for organizations to demonstrate real progress toward their goal (42% compared to 28% among direct mail donors). Similarly, while 51% of online activists say being more accountable to donors is absolutely essential, only 45% of direct mail donors say the same (6 point difference).---
  • Potential online activists and donors are a bit less concerned about the amount of mail and phone calls they receive than are direct mail donors. The 1998 Hart Survey found 39% of direct mail donors saying it is absolutely essential for charities and organizations to reduce the amount of solicitations they send, compared to 31% of activists who are online.

There is more, much more, that can be gleaned from this study. While its methodology may be debated, it is the first extensive set of numbers that can give us guidance to the world of potential online donors. (Yes, I'll give the URL in a minute. What's the rush?)

One more conclusion to note: The study breaks down the 50 million online "progressives" into segments. This segmentation should be very instructive as we plan our online strategies. The first two segments are considered prime groups for online solicitation:


Progressive Pace-Setters (15% of sample; est: 7.6 million)

This segment is highly engaged on progressive issues and has broadly integrated the Internet into their everyday lives. They are most likely to have made a contribution or taken action online and intend to do so in the future. They are also much younger than the other segments.

Thresholders (15% of sample; est: 7.3 million)

This segment is on the verge of becoming engaged in online activism. They are highly engaged in progressive issues, have done some shopping and say they have taken some online actions. Many are unaware of the opportunities for online activism, but are waiting to be told. They are slightly less likely to give than the Pacesetters and are not quite as engaged in the community aspect of the Internet. They are older than the Pacesetters, but younger than traditional mail donors

The other three segments are less promising, but individuals in these groups may migrate to the other groups over time. They are Snail Mail Donors (10% of sample; est: 4.9 million); Moderate Computer Crunchies (26% of sample; est: 12.8 million); and Online Apathetics (35% of sample; est: 17.3 million).

The CMS study found that only 7% of the 50 million online progressives have actually made a donation online. This contrasts sharply with the statistic that 80% have made donations through "traditional" avenues. This suggests that, for the short term, most prospects will have to be approached with a combination of traditional and Internet communications. A pure Internet play is not suggested, though considerable advice is given about how to respond to what these people care about.

I was gratified to find that two of my pet theories were born out: Online prospects do not like giving out their phone number-so don't ask for it! And, people who have used the Internet for online purchases are more likely to make donations online. Well, duh, you may say, but keep in mind Adam's Internet Fundraising Mantra: As e-commerce grows, so will e-giving. So if you think that e-commerce is exploding, what conclusion should you draw about the future of giving online?

And yet one more of my inclinations was validated by the study, and by the conclusions that CMS reached from it. What is the most effective way to reach progressive online donors? I quote: "Email. Email. Email." Specifically, permission email, which was covered in Cybergifts, Part 4.

The site: Start at Their site is *very* advanced. So advanced that it will take a little getting used to. But check it out. It is powered by Cold Fusion and is clearly on the cutting edge.




Readers are invited to send comments and criticisms to me at I would be particularly interested in comments from anyone who knows about the economics of Direct Mail, and can check my numbers.


Ideas, Tactics, Gimmicks:

A Cybergifts list member recently wrote directly to me and shared this comment:

---A site that I think handles contributions EXTREMELY WELL is:

---The Heifer Project International. I think they have such a great and easy site! When I was researching orgs that were fundraising via the internet they came up somewhere and I looked into them. I can't even count how many sites I looked at and I had never even heard of HPI before and I actually gave them a contribution (the only one in my research to receive a gift) and I will continue my giving to them. And

it was ABSOLUTELY painless - actually it was quite fun.---

Cows? She gave money for cows?

Yes, and after I looked at their site, I was ready to dig into my digital wallet and give money for cows, pigs, goats, and bees. In fact, I really wanted to donate a whole Ark! Only $5,000!

Somewhere there must be an organization that gives awards for fundraising website design. If so, the Heifer Project International should get the blue ribbon. It is beautifully designed, poetically written, and brilliantly conceived and executed. I have never encountered a website that I found more compelling.

Heifer International is a Christian organization that works in the U.S. and in developing countries to combat poverty. Having worked in the International Development field, I know that they have an excellent reputation for village-level work, and hands-on projects. The basic concept of HPI is very simple: field workers place donated animals with families. The family agrees to pass on one or more offspring to other families, so that they can derive benefit from the sheep, cow, or goat. This is grassroots development at its most personal.

The HPI site works with this theme brilliantly. On the homepage, we are shown a picture of a smiling boy cradling his goat in his lap. The section title says "The most important gift catalog in the world" and includes a prominent "Make a donation" button. My first thought was, "Oh, God, another tote bag and logo-item store, the proceeds of which go to help�," but I was delighted to find that the catalog is entirely philanthropic. The concept is very simple: make a gift to a family somewhere in the world, and make a gift to someone you love by dedicating the gift to them. Thus:

---Decide in whose name you'd like to make your gift. Send a sheep to an aunt who likes to knit woolly sweaters or ducks to a child who likes to feed them at the lake in the park. It won't be hard to find a gift animal that feels right for someone you want to remember. You'll be giving something that means so much more than the season's best-selling gadget or must-buy toy. We'll send you an attractive card to send to your recipient that explains your gift.---

On the left of the page are buttons that allow the visitor to choose from a variety of animals, including llama. I chose honeybees, and this is what I learned:

---From India to the Dominican Republic, HPI bees help struggling families earn income through the sale of honey, beeswax and pollen for medicine. Bees require almost no space and, once the hives are established, are inexpensive to maintain. As bees search for nectar, they pollinate plants--everybody's--rich and poor alike. Placed strategically, beehives can double some fruit and vegetable yields and bless a whole village. Most HPI partners who keep bees use them to supplement income, but some families depend on them for their total livelihood. Your gift provides a family with training in beekeeping, a package of bees, the bee box and hive.---

Earlier in "Cybergifts," I argued strongly that a donation was not a purchase, and that websites should not use "shopping cart" software or the shopping metaphor. HPI breaks that rule, and to excellent effect. I see a button at the top that says my bees cost $30, and that I can click there to add my bees to my "order." Once I click, I am taken to a page that confirms my order, and asks if I want to "check out" or go back to the catalog. Well, since the bees are for cousin Ida, and I need something for Aunt Sue, I go back to the catalog. How much is a llama, anyway?

Turns out it is $150. Not too bad, but I don't usually spend that much on Aunt Sue. Happily, there is a button that allows me to purchase a "share of a llama" for only $20. Not bad. Aunt Sue gets to share her llama with someone else.

But the most compelling gift is The Ark. I clicked on it to see what they had in mind, and the first thing that I saw was the pricetag: $5,000. Ouch! Yet consider this description of the gift:

--The Heifer Project Gift Ark carries hope to people who are poor and hungry. Your gift of $5,000 launches an Ark -- 15 kinds of lifegiving animals begin their voyage two-by-two, wherever they're most needed.---

--And 30 families begin a journey toward better health, more income and self-reliance.---

--From Tanzania to Kentucky, each family who receives livestock from your gift will pass on one or more of the animal's offspring to other families in need. Like a stone dropped in water, your generosity will ripple out for years to come, providing family after family the means for a better life---

---2 FLOCKS OF CHICKS to help two Kentucky families improve nutrition and care for their land with pastured poultry;

---2 SHEEP to help New York state families produce wool

---2 TRIOS OF RABBITS to provide food and income to families in Guatemala


And so on, two by two and three by three. I must admit, I have never made a $5,000 gift before, but this presentation really stirred me. I imagined myself sitting by the tree at Christmas time, and saying to my family: "This year, I did something very unusual. I decided to give an Ark�"

So I clicked on the Ark button. Then I went to review my order. It told me:

Gift Qty Price

The Ark 1 $5,000.00

Pig 1 $120.00

Honeybees 1 $30.00

Share of a llama 1 $20.00 TOTAL: $5,170.00


And then gave me "proceed to checkout" button. There I could fill out the usual information, and make an online secure credit card gift, or fax my order. I did neither, because I cannot afford such a gift right now, but if I could�.

So the Heifer Project International site is a winner, and well worth studying for technique, design, and overall approach. There's only one small problem.

The problem is summed up in a disclaimer that they place at the bottom of the catalog page:

---The prices in this catalog represent the whole gift of livestock, technical assistance and training. Each "purchase" represents a contribution to the entire mission of HPI. When animal groups are fully funded, additional donations will be used where needed most to help hungry people. Heifer Project International, 1998.---

Ummmmm, let me think about this for a minute. Did I almost buy a pig or a "pig"? An Ark or an "Ark"? I go back to the Ark page. At the bottom, after the list of two by twos, is this disclaimer:

---The price of a Gift Ark includes the purchase/transport of quality animals and the training/support Heifer Project gives recipients. Contributions to the Gift Ark program are symbolic and represent a contribution to the entire mission of HPI. When animal groups are fully funded, additional donations will be used where needed most.---

Oh, so my honeybees and my pig and my trios of rabbits are "symbolic." And what I am *really* doing is making an unrestricted contribution to HPI. Hmmmm.

And therein lies a tale. Not a tail, that's a share of a pig. A tale.

Adopting a Wolf:

Next to "donate now" buttons, and "join online" hyperlinks, perhaps the most frequent online inducement for a gift is to "adopt" something. The Nature Conservancy allows you to adopt a bison, the International Wolf Center invites you to adopt a wolf, Save the Children encourages you to sponsor a child, as does World Vision. (,,, )

Do such invitations raise money? Absolutely. Take Save the Children. Their website informs us that "Last year Save the Children sponsors donated $23.6 million, more than 20 percent of total operating revenue of $117 million. Sponsorship funds represent more than 55 percent of the agency's private income." (The $23.6 million was not from the web, but mostly from traditional sources. As for the overall figure, Save the Children, like many relief and development organizations, receives money from governmental sources, like USAID.)

So, we may ask, given what we learned from the Heifer Project review, does sponsoring a child through Save the Children or World Vision mean "sponsoring" a child? Yes, and no.

Save the Children invites you to fill out a sponsorship form. Would you like to sponsor a boy or a girl? Do you have a preference for a part of the world, or can it be "wherever the need is greatest"? Then you are asked to use your credit card to commit $288 annually for your sponsorship. World Vision goes a cyberstep further. They have placed pictures of specific children online. Would you like to sponsor Jesus from Bolivia? Here is his picture and his birthdate. No? Well, how about Alberto?

It turns out that Save the Children and World Vision are not talking about a symbolic "Alberto," but a real Alberto. When you sign up for sponsorship, you receive a picture of the child you are sponsoring, and an address to write to. From then on, both organizations assist you in corresponding with your sponsored child. Save the Children will even arrange a visit, should you decide to travel.

However, your sponsorship money does not go to Alberto and his family. At least, not directly. Instead, it goes to fund the entire program of Save the Children or World Vision, a program which seeks to bring betterment to entire communities, and not just to individual families who were lucky enough to "get sponsored."

As Save the Children puts it, but quite a ways down on a *different* page:

---The last direct check to a child was mailed in the early 1980s. Today all sponsorship funds are pooled for community development: hiring a teacher, training midwives and health workers, administering vaccine and teaching mothers about infant nutrition, oral rehydration and iodized salt, digging wells, teaching about hygiene and setting up

micro-credit loans for small businesses.---

---Projects range from bricks and mortar, the things that can be seen and touched, to attitude change, the intangibles like treating girls the same as boys, teaching how to protect against AIDS and STD transmission, learning how to avoid landmines and understanding the importance of clean water. Experience shows that human development is more important than facilities development.---

---While development philosophy has changed over the years, sponsorship itself - the concept of relating to a representative child in need - remains a constant, bringing together caring adults and children

in need. Sponsorship puts a human face to the often overwhelming and

abstract needs of massive disadvantaged populations in far-off

countries. It helps overcome "compassion fatigue" among potential

donors who are bombarded by images of deprivation, suffering and

hopelessness in much of the developing world. As sponsorship has

evolved, Save the Children has led the way.---

It appears, from delving into the World Vision site, that they take the same approach. It is just harder to find any explicit statement to that effect. Again, it seems that "sponsorship" gifts are in reality "general gifts" to the organization. Since neither organization states that explicitly on the solicitation page, a sponsor might be forgiven if he or she gains the impression that his/her $22 per month is going straight to Alberto and his family.

I would be the last to argue that Alberto should get the money. For every Alberto, there are a million other children, all in need of help. And direct aid is not necessarily the most effective method for raising the living standard of poor children and their families. Save the Children is right: digging wells and teaching about nutrition are far more important, and affect more needy people. Such projects also provide a "hand up" rather than a "hand-out."

Nevertheless, I think it is very important not to mislead donors. If donations are going into the general fund, an organization should make that absolutely clear on its donation page--not on some other page, or buried in a FAQ.

All of us in the non-profit charitable field know the difference between an "unrestricted" gift and a "restricted" gift. In my opinion, the overwhelming impression given by the websites of HPI, Save the Children, and World Vision is that I am being asked to make a restricted gift -- that is, a gift designated for a specific project or purpose.

Clearly, sponsorship and "adoption" pitches work. That is, they raise money for the organization. And there is every reason to think that they will work just as well in cyberspace. But let's not mislead or confuse our donors. In the long run, that is not good for our organization, or for charity in general.

I don't see any reason why HPI, for example, doesn't put every "animal" donation into a restricted program fund. The receipts from online giving cannot be so great that they are unable to spend the money on the actual purchase, transport, etc of animal donations. I would be much more comfortable, as a donor, knowing that my animal gifts actually went--in their entirety--to distributing animals. Then the task of HPI would be to educate me about the entire organization, and solicit me for an unrestricted gift. This is a standard fundraising mechanism: start with a restricted gift, and move donors into general support of your organization.

As for sponsoring a child, I don't see why Save the Children and World Vision, and other "sponsorship" programs cannot take a slightly more upfront approach: "Your unrestricted gift of $250 or more will entitle you to participate in our person-to-person program. We will link you with a child (and his or her family) who is benefiting from our program. You can then write to this child�" And so on. How hard is that?



Readers are invited to send comments and criticisms to me at I would be particularly interested in comments from people who maintain sponsorship or adoption programs.

Future sections of Cybergifts will cover auctions, online shops, and other inducements for giving online; followed by "offsite" fundraising.

"Cybergifts, Parts 1-3" can now be found on my site courtesy of my colleague Laura Blanchard:

The first drafts of these articles were individually posted to an excellent forum site devoted to online giving. It is called "Cybergifts" and can be found at People who are enjoying these articles are invited to sign up for "Cybergifts" and join the ongoing discussion!


Adam Corson-Finnerty
Development Officer, Author and Occasional Consultant 215-635-4084

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