We all remember these dreaded words from our parents after childhood birthdays: “Don’t forget to write your thank-you notes!”

As grueling as the handwritten thank-you note process was when we were little, we can all recognize that expressing gratitude for a gift is the polite thing to do.

In the world of nonprofits, expressing gratitude for your donors’ gifts is not only polite, but essential to your success. Recognizing your donors is a critical piece of the donor retention puzzle, and donor retention helps secure long-term support for your mission.

After marketing your campaigns and events like a pro and driving your fundraisers to success, the last thing you’d want to do is let important follow-up work (and donors’ long-term support) fall by the wayside. Showing gratitude for your donors in the form of donor recognition safeguards their support of your organization and makes them much easier recruits for your future work.

Having a concrete strategy in place for how you thank your donors and an arsenal of recognition ideas will go a long way to strengthen support for your mission over time. Here you’ll find a list of best practices when it comes to donor recognition and some awesome donor recognition ideas—so you can not only secure donations, but keep your donors coming back again and again. Let’s get started.

Donor Recognition Best Practices

1. Make it prompt.

No one wants to generously give to an organization only to feel like they tossed their money out into the abyss. Prompt recognition of your donors’ contributions is vital to making sure they feel noticed and appreciated for their support.

The first contact—and first essential aspect of recognition—after a donation should be in the form of a confirmation or receipt. For online donations, an instantaneous receipt delivered via email is a must. The receipt should contain information about the donation, a quick thank-you, and the donation amount.

Make sure you mention the specific context of the donation, like the name of the virtual fundraiser or event the donor attended. For instance, if your donor attended a virtual auction and won an item, specifically mention the event and the item that they bid on to let them know you’re paying attention to each and every donation you receive.

Setting up automated receipts and thank-you emails could be a huge time-saver for your nonprofit and help prevent donor recognition from falling through the cracks. Still, don’t forget about snail mail—a direct-mail follow up can add a nice touch and show donors that you value every donation you receive. If you want some more tips on using direct mail to communicate with your donors, GivingMail’s direct mail guide is a great resource.

Acknowledgment letters can be combined with your receipt delivery or sent out on their own, but either way, they should also go out within a reasonable time frame. “Reasonable” will vary depending on your organization, but the same day for emails and within five business days for direct mail is a good rule of thumb. The donor wants to feel like you value their gift, and a prompt thank-you gives the impression of gratitude much more than a letter weeks later.

2. Make it personal.

We’ve all heard what a difference a handwritten note can make, but that’s not the only way to personalize your donor recognition efforts.

If you send out automated emails, make sure they include your donors’ names. “Dear friend” and “Dear supporter” aren’t exactly warm and fuzzy. You could also consider segmenting your donor base by age, gender, or location to further customize your letters and make your letters even more effective.

Consider the signature of the letter or email as well. Whose thanks would mean the most to the donor? A generic signature from your organization rather than one from a specific person won’t carry as much weight. Instead, sign the letter from a real person at your organization whose job is relevant to the donation, whether it’s your fundraising lead, major gifts officer, or other trusted staff member.

The more your donor feels like your communications are to them specifically from you specifically, the stronger a bond you’ll forge between them and your organization.

Including a video with your thank-you message could be another effective way to humanize your communication with your donors. The video could be a recorded thank-you from a member of your team, a constituent of your mission, or a combination of both. You should also weave in some information about what your donor’s gift amount allowed you to accomplish. More on this best practice next!

3. Make it powerful.

No matter what form your donor recognition takes, it’s essential to communicate the impact of your donors’ gifts.

You can achieve this in a variety of ways, but you should always try to be as specific as possible about the good things their donation enabled you to do. Being specific about the impact of the gift gives the donor something concrete to feel good about and reinforces their connection to your cause.

For example, maybe a donor’s $50 donation provided school supplies for three students for a whole semester of school. One way to make this statement more powerful could be naming the students (with permission, of course) or sending pictures of them along with your letter of gratitude. Specificity will make your cause more salient to the donor and will make them feel good, which means they’ll be more likely to contribute to your mission on an ongoing basis.

Your thank-you message is probably not the place to ask for another gift from your donor, at least not yet. Imagine if you sent a thank-you note for a gift that said “Thanks for my pink shoes! I love them. Can I have another pair?”

As well-intentioned as a request for more support is, and as important as your mission is, asking for another donation in the middle of your letter of appreciation can come across as ungrateful. Instead, encourage your donor to engage with your nonprofit in a new way, like by signing up for your email newsletters. Otherwise, keep the focus on your donor and the impact of their good deed!

Our Top Donor Recognition Ideas

Once you have the best practices down, it’s time to get creative. There are all sorts of ways to recognize your donors beyond traditional thank-you letters (though those are an excellent first step). First, consider the scale and nature of your nonprofit. Different organizations naturally have different resources and capabilities when it comes to donor recognition.

Large, national organizations conducting major undertakings like capital campaigns might have the ability to erect permanent donor recognition installations on a grand scale, while smaller-scale nonprofits and campaigns might opt for a smaller plaque or thoughtful gifts.

The scale of the donation should also be considered. Establishing giving levels will ensure that smaller tiers of donations made to a crowdfunding campaign and large endowments for a building expansion are proportionately recognized. We’ll cover both ends of the spectrum with these fun donor recognition ideas:

  1. Donor recognition walls. A donor recognition wall is a meaningful option that allows you to permanently mark your appreciation for your donors. Because they can accommodate a lot of names, donor walls are usually associated with large capital campaigns. With this option, there is plenty of room for customization—Eleven Fifty Seven’s donor wall ideas are sure to inspire you.
  2. Donor recognition plaques. If a large-scale donor wall isn’t feasible but you still want to recognize your major donors in a meaningful way, custom plaques are another solid choice. Donor plaques often appear outside the doors of a new building expansion or on landscape features like benches, but get creative to find the perfect fit for your own unique community of donors and campaigns.
  3. Branded freebies. Plaques aren’t realistic for every smaller-tier donation your nonprofit receives, but branded freebies could be. Consider sending out pens, T-shirts, mugs, and other customized swag with your organization’s name and/or logo as a token of your appreciation. This option has the added benefit of doing a little marketing work for you!
  4. Events. Nothing makes people feel special like an invitation to a party. To make your donors feel extra appreciated, invite them to an exclusive supporters-only occasion or find ways to recognize them at events that are open to the public. Making them a part of your community and your cause helps to ensure they’ll keep supporting your mission well into the future. Even casual virtual gatherings and happy hours are a meaningful (and cost-effective) way to show your appreciation.

When it comes time to recognize your donors in concrete ways, these are all good choices. Select the option that best fits your organization and the level of the donation, and
remember to always be prompt, personal, and powerful in all of your communications with your generous supporters.

Nurturing your relationships with your current donors through effective, appropriate, and genuine recognition is not just “the polite thing to do,” but a smart long-term strategy for securing enduring support for your nonprofit. We hope you’ll take these tips and ideas and apply them to your organization. Best of luck!

Marketing is still a bad word in a lot of nonprofit circles. It’s easy to see why. 

Unfortunately, the whole field of marketing, especially for businesses, is stained with bad example after bad example. For those of us of a certain age, it can be summed up in a series of very popular 1980s Isuzu car advertisement series where actor David Leisure blatantly told over-the-top lies about the benefits of the product. Everyone felt that they met a “Joe Isuzu” at some time in their lives. He checked all of the stereotype “marketing man” boxes that still linger, reinforced by much more sophisticated “Mad Man” characters who would do anything to sell a product.

Added to the negative image, the concept of good marketing remains unknown to most people. And let’s face it, most people came to the nonprofit sector to do good work through their mission—not put precious time and money into slick advertising campaigns. After all, shouldn’t just doing a great job be enough for anyone to see?

Unfortunately, no. 

But that’s okay. You’d be surprised at how many things you never considered are actually forms of marketing, and how, when done right, they can really boost your income and visibility.

It starts with keeping one thing in mind: everything is marketing. Take a look at these examples:

  • Marketing is whether your receptionist smiles at everyone coming in the door, and sounds cheerful answering every call.
  • Marketing is whether you have fresh paint on your walls and clean furniture for your clients.
  • Marketing is being transparent with your financials, so you build trust with your donors, clients, staff, and volunteers.
  • Marketing is building pride in your staff so that they treat every client like they’re special.

These examples of solid, baseline marketing actions aren’t expensive. They show that every part of your organization has a hand in marketing, whether it’s in their title or not. It changes the role of a Marketing Director to a coordinator of the entire organization’s look, feel and image—and not just one who creates the website or places advertisements in the local newspaper. 

Perhaps the biggest mistake anyone makes when considering marketing in a nonprofit context is to first focus on the tools of marketing, rather than on the purpose and message. Consider that you can have an award-winning website, but if you’re focusing it on people who will never use or support your services, then it’s no good. 

So, before jumping in with training your nonprofit team to be exceptional marketing professionals, be sure to ask yourself these questions:

What are your goals? 

Before you get started, however, you need to know why you are marketing. Are you looking to take on new constituents who will be served by your organization? Or are you seeking to secure generous donations from individuals who support your mission and want to help fund your programming.

It’s critical to avoid the Cheshire Cat, “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there,” problem. (Which, by the way, can be very expensive in marketing). Answering the following questions can help as you craft the rest of your plan. 

Who do you need to speak to?

This goes right back to your mission. Who you need to reach will make a major impact on what you will say (your message), and how you will say it (the tools and channels you will use).

Do you need more money (of course)? Where does your money come from? Donors? Government? Paying clients? Insurance companies? Are you facing a particular issue, like a zoning fight, where you need community and government support?

Are you getting the right clients for your mission? Are you focused on a specific geographic area, or a larger demographic? It should give you pause, for example, if you’re an HIV/AIDS clinic that targets a young Latino market, and you get more baby-boomers than anyone else. 

Just remember, good marketing starts at home. Perhaps the biggest, most overlooked audience for your marketing are the people who live and work with it daily: your employees and volunteers. Missing them is a major blunder. These are exactly the people who can validate everything you say, and carry your message far and wide—if they hear and see a message tailored specifically to them.

What do you want to say to them? 

What specific information do they need, and what emotions do you want them to feel? This is a good place to remind yourself that good marketing is not manipulative, and it is definitely not counterfactual. But you can tell people what’s important in ways that resonate, like stories backed with solid facts.

So how do you get this information? Interview previous constituents for stories. Collect and analyze data. Take some good pictures. It might take a bit of time, but it’ll be worth it when you see the dynamic impact that your carefully crafted messaging has on its intended audience.

What do you want them to do?

In marketing-ese, it’s called a call-to-action. It’s the action or next step you want the consumer of your message to take. Do you want them to show up for services? Volunteer? Work for you? Vote? Give? Always market with an action in mind, and don’t be afraid to ask for that action, directly. 

What tools do you want to use?

Of course, you’ll think of the traditional strategies, like print or online advertising, social media, email, direct mail, and much more. But what about the less obvious, subtle marketing means, such as consistent email signature lines, new blinds and updated bathroom fixtures? 

Blinds? Bathroom fixtures? Yes, think of the inexpensive ways you update your home. When you do, doesn’t that make you feel better about where you are? You’ve marketed the comfort and safety of your home—to yourself

It’s the same thing with your nonprofit’s marketing. Let’s say potential clients are an important group to your nonprofit. They come in and find mismatched or outdated handles on all the bathroom sinks and blinds with missing slats in a grimy conference room. When pointed out, you think “we’re being thrifty and focused on the important things.” They’re thinking, “if they don’t have enough to keep their facilities in order, do they have enough to give me quality service?”  

And that leads to the biggest lesson of them all: Always look at marketing from the point-of-view of the people you want to speak to. 

We can all think of times when we said something innocently that ended up offending someone. It happens, and you are never going to be perfect. It’s not that you need to tip-toe around everything and water down your message—not at all! But when you want support for your mission, you need to know your audience and speak to their concerns with empathy, understanding, and strength. Basically, keep in mind what’s in it for them when they support your cause with their presence, money, votes or whatever else you are asking them for. 

How can you train your team to be good marketers?

Now that you have an idea of what marketing is and how it can improve your overall operations, here are some powerful training resources that can give you ideas on how you can be marketing aware, and marketing effective, affordably:

  1. Marketing for Nonprofits: Get an overview of what makes effective marketing with the video, Marketing for Nonprofits. This free online webinar gives you 10 steps that every nonprofit staff member, board member, and volunteer needs to know about marketing—so you can get more money, and clients, for your important mission.
  2. CX University: An essential, but largely forgotten group when it comes to nonprofit marketing are your clients! Clients are who you serve, yes, but their experience has the power to bring you more clients or keep others away!
  3. Your Daily Dose of Nonprofit Newsletter: Think of it as a “drip marketing” course to your nonprofit brain. You’ll find content on communications, management, email, SEO, copywriting, marketing, video, storytelling, design, HR, events, social media, data security, public speaking, and more. 
  4. Smart Marketing for Small Nonprofits: How about one of the most popular podcasts on the web for nonprofit marketing: the Smart Marketing for Small Nonprofits Podcast? Each week nonprofit marketing expert Cindy May gives you marketing tips, tools, resources, and ideas that help you generate greater awareness and fundraising support for your cause. Each episode is designed to help you take immediate action on the most important marketing strategies that will move your mission forward. 
  5. Mission-Based Marketing: Let’s not forget books! This book from Peter Brinckerhoff is in its third edition, and deservedly so. It’s a great handbook on how to get your program off to the right start through strategic, mission-based marketing tactics.

Most of marketing isn’t crafting clever advertisements, designing impressive billboards, or even sending fundraising letters. It’s deciding what you want to accomplish, who you need to talk to, and what you want to say. Then, beginning with the small, barely noticed, and relatively inexpensive things. Start there, train your team effectively, and grow significantly!

Matt Hugg is the founder and CEO of Nonprofit Courses.This was a guest post contributed by Matt Hugg of Nonprofit.Courses.

Matt Hugg is an author and instructor in nonprofit management in the US and abroad. He is president and founder of Nonprofit.Courses, an on-demand, eLearning educational resource for nonprofit leaders, staff, board members, and volunteers, with thousands of courses in nearly every aspect of nonprofit work.

This guest post was written by the virtual event experts at OneCause.

The pivot to virtual events has been a major—but largely successful—change for many nonprofits. Nonprofits across the country have transitioned their in-person event program to the virtual setting, discovering best practices when it comes to audience engagement.

It’s definitely more difficult to keep attendees engaged through a screen than it is in-person at a gala or auction. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible!

Your virtual event’s programming schedule plays a critical role in determining fundraising success, both in terms of engagement and revenue, so we wanted to give you our virtual event program best practices.

Here are a few of our top recommendations for nonprofits planning a virtual event:

  1. Plan early and conduct several test runs.
  2. Keep your program short and sweet.
  3. Centralize the virtual event experience.
  4. Schedule your activities strategically.

Plan your virtual event early and conduct several test runs.

Plan early and conduct several test runs.

Begin planning your livestream program as early as possible to give yourself plenty of time to refine it. You aren’t ‘recreating the wheel’ when it comes to designing a new program for a virtual setting, but you want to make sure you give yourself enough time to tweak as you go.

We suggest working backwards to determine specifics. Ask yourself:

  • What’s the timeframe of your virtual campaign or event?
  • Will you need new technology to collect donations or stream video?
  • What is the live stream platform your donor demographic will connect with?
  • Will your virtual event occur alongside an in-person event?

Carefully work through the specific guidelines your virtual event must stick to in order to support your goals. Outlining these in advance is essential for keeping the planning process focused and driving the success of your live stream program.

Make sure to incorporate several test runs leading up to your event into your plan as well. To make sure everyone is on the same page, be sure to clearly define team members’ responsibilities, like:

  • Emcee
  • Speakers or presenters
  • Chat/social media lead
  • Tech support
  • Sponsorships
  • Item Procurement (if applicable)

Planning is good insurance when you’re diving into something new—it makes executing that much easier!

Keep your virtual event program short and sweet.

Keep your program short and sweet.

A virtual run-of-show looks very similar to an in-person event, but likely much shorter than your traditional face-to-face program. Donor attention spans are getting shorter online, so be sure to think about how you can keep attention vs filling time!

You, as a producer, want to ensure that the program is of a reasonable length. (This means it should not be the same timing as an in-person event). Most virtual and online events are running 45 minutes to 1 hour max.

This is probably the most important point because, unlike an in-person event, viewers can simply log off or change the channel if they don’t want to view your program anymore.

Don’t know where to start? Here is an example run-of-show for a 30-minute virtual gala.

This example schedule for a virtual fundraising event includes all the essentials in an engaging 30-minute show.

If you’re worried you can’t trim down your program, create a rolling powerpoint to serve as a “lobby” before and after the event to maximize visibility of important points, like:

  • How your bidding tools work
  • How to ask for help
  • How to make a quick donation
  • Your mission and the event’s purpose

Centralize the virtual event experience to keep the program engaging and intuitive.

Centralize the virtual event experience.

Allow your fundraising platform to be an all-in-one experience where your supporters can register, donate, place a bid, and find the link to the live streaming program. The more platforms your supporters need to log into, the higher the chance for donor confusion and inaction.

For your first virtual fundraising event, you’ll need to invest in new software to help plan and host it. If you’ve already hosted one or more virtual events, take some time to review your toolkit and fill any gaps.

Look for tools, like the OneCause Virtual Event Center, that give you complete control and give your donors a single interface to interact with. Combined with a tight, well-timed schedule of programming, a more intuitive viewing experience will result in more engagement and revenue.

Your virtual fundraising software should allow for:

  • Flexible branding & creative campaigns
  • Versatile fundraising options
  • Social integration
  • Gamification & motivation
  • Engagement with a multimedia experience
  • Donation capability without leaving the broadcast (i.e. live stream)

Creating that sense of a giving community before, during, and after the virtual event – and delivering a delightful, online experience anytime, anywhere – is critical to fundraising success in this new virtual world.

Schedule the activities in your virtual event program strategically to boost engagement.

Schedule your activities strategically.

Let’s face it, the program may be the most important element in the virtual world. Why?

  • Nonprofits have to cut through the noise and stand out online.
  • Everyone’s attention is becoming increasingly fragmented.
  • We need to connect people to our causes virtually.
  • What we do needs to inspire giving.

This means strategically engaging your supporters during your program is of the utmost importance. Think about how you’ll schedule each of the fundraising activities during your virtual event. For example:

  • Conduct your paddle raise or live appeals before the main auction. Everyone can participate in a live appeal (but everyone might not plan to bid in your auction), so tackle it first while the energy is at its highest.
  • Keep your bidding segments rolling smoothly. Live bidding segments can be extremely exciting, but don’t let them dominate a huge portion of your event. Have your emcee/auctioneer present the items one at a time, track bids, and discuss donors’ impact for a while, but close them out one at a time in the background. This will help prevent the segment becoming too number-centric and overshadowing your mission moments.
  • Take advantage of the last-minute fundraising frenzy. Just as you would at an in-person event, send out a “last call for bids/donations” text message. Sit back and watch your numbers rise!
  • Give viewers something to stay tuned-in for. How will you conclude your event? If you want viewers to stay engaged for the entirety, give them a reason to stick around. Celebrity speakers, major announcements, raffle drawings and more can all be effective ways to wrap up.

There has to be a reason for viewers to stay tuned-in throughout the show. Think about engagement and promotion tactics that keep people watching, including:

  • Important information that’s being released
  • Fundraising updates
  • Discount codes
  • Entertainment or performances
  • Videos, photos, or mission moments
  • Giveaways

Technology is your friend, not your foe when it comes to engaging your virtual audience. Use tools that help your cause create an engaging program online:

  • Q&A / Poll / Chat. Most live stream platforms allow you to encourage communication throughout the live stream. Take advantage of these capabilities and connect with your audience!
  • Social Media. Be sure to get a social media plan in place for your event. Think about different ways you can encourage guests to participate.
    • Use creative hashtags
    • Encourage watch parties
    • Live behind the scenes on social channels
  • Text Messages. Through your fundraising platform you should be able to collect cell phone numbers of your guests through registration.
    • Send push notifications throughout the show
    • Remind viewers to bid on auction items
    • Create urgency to donate to your fund-a-need or live appeal
    • Provide updates on times, fundraising progress, and closing times

And if you have entertainment or celebrity connections, this is the time to use them. Maybe they offer a special performance or a shout out! There are endless options but, again, think about your audience and what will appeal to them.

When you’re prepping your virtual event program, be sure to incorporate these ideas and more into your event. Your donors will feel the energy through their screens, and you’ll see the benefits come through in your fundraising.

A virtual event isn’t a one-to-one translation of a classic gala or auction but rather a brand new type of experience. Best part, virtual fundraising doesn’t have to be daunting.

Just follow these simple steps to create a program and experience that keeps them tuned-in and engaged with your cause.

Virtual fundraising events will be an important part of nonprofits’ strategies going forward. Whether as full replacements for in-person events or as modern, hybrid engagement opportunities, virtual tactics give organizations an unprecedented level of flexibility.

Plus, they give donors the ability to join in from anywhere! And with smart programming, your ability to retain your attendees will help ensure you hit your fundraising goals.

Imagine your most perfectly-planned fundraiser. You’re all set with the most desirable auction items, most engaging entertainment, or the catchiest campaign slogan. With all the details squared away, you can just sit back, relax, and watch the funding come flowing in, right? 

Not so fast. In order to rake in the donations and meet your fundraising goal, you need participants and donors to contribute to your efforts.

But how can you share your fundraiser with new audiences and invite existing supporters to contribute to your latest initiatives?

With a strong donation page and a multi-channel digital marketing strategy, you can amplify the reach of your virtual fundraiser and generate critical support for your mission.

At Snowball, we help nonprofits of all sizes to fundraise more effectively with our online giving tools and other software solutions. We’ve helped countless nonprofits reach their fundraising goals, so we’ve seen firsthand how a thoughtful marketing campaign can make all the difference.

Consider the following tips to promote your upcoming fundraiser:

  1. Start with an optimized website and donation page.
  2. Incorporate a multi-channel approach.
  3. Take advantage of available digital marketing tools.
  4. Simplify the donor conversion process.

A fundraiser is only effective if you can invite enough support. These tips will help you attract potential donors and secure their donations once they arrive. Let’s get started.  

1. Start with an optimized website and donation page.

In order to successfully market your online fundraiser, you should first confirm that your foundation is in tip-top shape. This means optimizing the user experience of your nonprofit’s website—particularly your donation page.

If your donation page is confusing, hard to find, or poorly formatted, you run the risk of losing potential supporters. Plus, problems with general web accessibility or mobile-friendliness may mean your donation form is completely unusable to some audiences!

To avoid these challenges, make sure your donation page is:

  • Easy to find. Your website should have intuitive and user-friendly navigation. Supporters need to have quick access to key details about your organization and mission. You’ll want to prominently link your donation page from the navigation menu and in calls to action throughout your website content.
  • Simple. Pare down your donation form to include only the essential elements. While it can be tempting to gather as much information as possible, stick to only necessary fields like contact details and payment information. We’ll dive deeper into why this is important later in this article, but for now, keep in mind that a streamlined form is convenient and easy for donors.
  • Mobile responsive. Mobile devices make up more than 51% of global web traffic, so it’s likely that many potential supporters will be reaching your site from their smartphones. Provide a positive experience for these users by implementing a mobile-responsive layout and ensuring images and text appear at an appropriate size.
  • Accessible. Your website should be in compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations in order to ensure access for all supporters. While the full list of requirements is extensive, adding accessibility elements like alt text to images is a great start.

If you’re using a well-designed CMS or donation page provider, it’s probable that these considerations are already built into the system. Still, it’s wise to double-check that there aren’t any pain points for potential donors before moving forward with your marketing efforts.

2. Incorporate a multi-channel approach.

Multi-channel marketing refers to executing a single campaign across a variety of platforms. It allows you to reach a wider audience and create a comprehensive campaign with multiple touchpoints. 

You’ll also increase the likelihood that supporters will see at least one of your messages. Due to strict spam filters and complex social media algorithms, it can be difficult to get your content in front of the right audience, even if they’ve expressed interest by following and subscribing.

Throughout each prong of your multi-channel campaign, you should rely on emotionally resonant imagery, storytelling, and calls to action. Distributing your appeal through different platforms will amplify its strength, but it won’t transform an ineffective message. 

Once you have a strong foundation for your campaign, consider incorporating a few (or all!) of the following nonprofit marketing channels:

  • Your nonprofit’s website. Your website is the hub of your digital marketing strategy. Like we discussed earlier in the article, make sure it’s well-designed and intuitive to navigate. 
  • Email. Implementing segmentation and personalization will help you to increase your open and click-through rates.
  • Direct mail. Physical letters may feel outdated, but it’s still an effective way to connect with potential donors.
  • Social media. Meet your supporters where they’re already spending their time. Share content on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whichever platform is most relevant to your audience.
  • Call and text. These methods allow for a compelling one-on-one conversation.
  • Online advertising. Consider promoting your social media posts or placing paid ads on search engines. 

Throughout the various media you choose to incorporate, strike a balance between unifying a central message and tailoring your content to the context of each platform. It should be clear that everything is part of the same fundraising campaign, but you won’t want to replicate the exact text of an email appeal on Twitter. 

Additionally, make sure each platform supports and drives traffic to the others. For instance, you might write compelling blog posts on your website then share this content with your Facebook followers. 

3. Take advantage of available digital marketing tools.

Outside of the more common marketing options that we discussed in the previous section, consider branching out to new digital opportunities. Are there any up-and-coming trends to consider experimenting with?

The huge success of crowdfunding campaigns in recent years is a great indicator of how innovations in digital technology and social media can be leveraged for fundraising success. Generally speaking, crowdfunding campaigns rely entirely on the power of social sharing to raise needed funds. 

As you explore the latest options, remember that many fundraising software providers have built-in marketing features that allow you to promote your campaign from within a unified system. Determine whether your online fundraising platform offers any of these features for an easy way to level-up your marketing strategy.

Additionally, look to marketing resources that are made available to nonprofits for free or a reduced cost. One of the best examples of this is the Google Ad Grant program. Through this grant, nonprofits can receive up to $10,000 a month in in-kind search advertising from Google. 

This program can help your fundraising campaign receive much more search visibility than would otherwise be feasible, allowing you to get your mission in front of more potential supporters. For more information, this guide to Google Grant management walks through the basics of acquiring, launching, and maintaining the grant.  

4. Simplify the donor conversion process.

You want to make it as easy and convenient as possible for donors to give. By streamlining your donation process, you’ll increase your donation page conversion rate and ultimately raise more for your mission.

According to these nonprofit fundraising statistics from Double the Donation, this is especially important for mobile giving. Although conversion rates on mobile devices tend to be lower, more and more people are accessing donation pages through smartphones. 

Take a close look at your donation page to find opportunities to streamline the process. As you evaluate the form, consider the following questions:

  • How many fields do supporters need to fill in? Can any of these be eliminated?
  • On average, how long does it take to submit a donation?
  • Is the form a single page or multiple pages?
  • How many clicks are required to submit a donation?

One useful strategy for simplifying the donation process is incorporating text-to-give. Text-to-give reduces the number of steps a prospect must take between deciding to support your cause and actually making a donation. With fewer steps, it’s more likely that they’ll complete the transaction immediately, without abandoning the page or getting distracted.

This Snowball graphic explaining text-to-give highlights just how streamlined the process can be: 

Text-to-give helps streamline the donor conversion process.

  • Text the number. An individual sends a quick text message with a campaign keyword (for example, #FundFosterCare2020) to a designated phone number.
  • Follow the link. The individual gets an automatic response with a link to a donation page, then chooses how much to donate.
  • Submit the donation. The donor fills out a short online donation form and provides their payment and contact information (that can be saved for next time!). Once the individual hits “send,” the donation is complete.

Whether you choose to implement a new text-to-give system or improve your existing donation page, making the effort to streamline the donation process will pay dividends in your conversion rate. 

After all, at this point you’ve dedicated ample time and energy into marketing your campaign well enough for supporters to find it. You don’t want to lose them once they’ve gotten this far!

Your fundraiser needs to reach supporters in order to be successful. By creating a compelling multi-channel campaign that drives prospects back to a streamlined donation page, you’ll be well-positioned to increase the number of site visitors and completed donations.

As you execute your campaign, be sure to track relevant engagement metrics so you can see which tactics were the most effective. Then, when you launch your next fundraiser, you can focus your attention on the platforms that will make the biggest impact.

Guest Author: John Killoran, Clover Leaf Solutions

John Killoran is an inventor, entrepreneur, and the Chairman of Clover Leaf Solutions, a national lab services company. He currently leads Clover Leaf’s investment in Snowball Fundraising, an online fundraising platform for nonprofit organizations. 

Snowball was one of John’s first public innovations; it’s a fundraising platform that offers text-to-give, online giving, events, and peer-to-peer fundraising tools for nonprofits. By making giving simple, Snowball increases the donations that these organizations can raise online. The Snowball effect is real! John founded Snowball in 2011. Now, it serves over 7,000 nonprofits and is the #1 nonprofit fundraising platform.

Let’s be honest— we’re now multiple years past the original “pivot to virtual.” Gone are the days of taking an originally in-person event, grabbing the first online event software you can get your hands on, and slapping together a virtual experience simply to have something that guests can attend.

Now, nonprofits are planning events to take place online from the start. You’re investing in online event software that has built-in engagement tools, to begin building relationships with guests near and far. You’re adjusting entertainment options to opt for experiences that look stellar over live stream and even shipping meals to event attendees to enjoy the full experience from home.

Your organization has adapted to the new reality of virtual events and it has paid off! But, we’re staring down a reality in which virtual and hybrid events are simply the norm. It’s worthwhile to revisit the foundation that you’ve built your virtual events on, to make sure it’s stable enough to support continued innovation.

At Handbid, we worked firsthand with nonprofits as they’ve hosted in-person charity auctions, pivoted to virtual, and now, created a sustainable virtual and hybrid event strategy to last for years to come. In this crash course, we’ll break down one type of virtual event — online auctions, since that’s our specialty— to help your team make sure you’re building from a strong foundation as you continue innovating these events going forward.

How do you host an online auction?

Let’s begin with a bare-bones discussion of planning and hosting an online auction from start to finish.

From planning the event, to promoting the auction, to nailing the day-of execution, these are the key steps that your team should check off to set a strong foundation for your next auction.

Step 1: Planning a Stellar Event

Hosting an online auction is not unlike being the main event at a circus, juggling many balls and working to keep each in the air as more are thrown your way by an off-stage assistant. You’re coordinating several moving parts, including but not limited to your auction software, items, marketing, event sponsorships, entertainment, and event registration. Skimping on preparation is not an option (at least, as long as you want to keep all of your metaphorical balls in the air).

To set a strong foundation for your event from the start, you’ll want to check off the following “to-do’s” during the planning phase:

  • Select the right nonprofit auction software. Your auction software will handle the behind-the-scenes work so you can focus on building excitement for your virtual event. Your platform should allow you to manage your guest list, process invoices, view stats, generate reports, and message attendees. And of course, it should empower guests with convenient mobile bidding! Having all of these features in a single platform will centralize your planning and save time that can be reinvested into making the event more engaging.
  • Set up your auction website. Your auction website will serve as your item catalog. This is where participants will go to browse and make bids. For each item, you should provide key details like the item name, category, item number, images, and description. This will help present the items in a compelling and accurate way to drive bids.
  • Procure auction items. We’ll discuss this in detail later in the guide— but essentially, you’ll want to procure items that are hard for guests to secure on their own, aligned with your guests’ interests, and generally in-budget for your audience.
  • Connect with potential event sponsors. According to Double the Donation’s guide to corporate social responsibility, “businesses are increasingly turning to CSR to make a difference and build a positive brand around their company.” Use this to your advantage when planning your online auction! For example, you can connect with companies to solicit donated items and services, or even invite them to sponsor the event financially.
  • Practice your live program. If you’re planning on having speakers, an emcee, prerecorded videos, or entertainment, it’s best to practice your run-of-show beforehand. Little things like internet connection, auction item promotions, and transitions need to work seamlessly so your guests stay engaged with your online auction.

By taking the time to prepare upfront, you’ll provide a much smoother experience during the auction itself. Once you’ve wrapped up these steps, it’s time to move on to marketing.

Step 2: Promoting the Event Far and Wide

Okay, hear us out — you can plan an awesome event… but if no one knows about it, the effort is moot!

Marketing your event far and wide is key to making sure it’s full of excited guests, eager to bid on auction items. As you plan your marketing strategy, narrow down your options to determine which channels will best help you connect with your audience.

Getting Attention’s guide to nonprofit marketing discusses a few avenues, including (but not limited to):

  • Email. Leading up to your event, send email announcements to people who haven’t registered yet and updates to people who have already done so. Create segmented email campaigns to appeal to various groups of supporters, so you can create highly-targeted messaging that appeals directly to their interests.
  • Sponsors. Not only will your sponsors help fund the event, but they also serve as a great marketing tool. They can leverage their own networks to spread the word about your virtual event. Ask them to make announcements to their customers and share your social media posts. To increase the chances that they’ll market your event, provide them with promotional materials they can use.
  • Social Media. Determine the social platforms where your supporters are active, whether Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or the latest rising star, TikTok. Then, draft posts that highlight your upcoming event and high-ticket items to encourage people to register.

Center your outreach around three or four platforms. While multi-channel marketing will increase visibility for your event, limiting the number of platforms allows you to focus your efforts on the most effective channels.

Step 3: Knocking the Event Out of the Park

You’ve put in the work to plan and promote the event. Now, it’s time to drive it across the finish line with flawless execution!

While in-person auctions require more time to set up, online auctions are much easier to launch. Your nonprofit auction software will simplify many processes like registration, item management, and payment processing. So, with your auction software doing the heavy lifting, you only have to coordinate a few final details. We recommend the following tips to maintain momentum and maximize participation in your event:

  • Open your auction early. One of the best things about online auctions is that you have more flexibility with your timeline. Consider keeping the auction open throughout the week of the event to fully engage supporters. Providing plenty of time gives everyone the opportunity to browse at their leisure and bid on their favorite items.
  • Live stream during the event. Live streaming adds a face-to-face element to your virtual event, so consider hosting streams to kick off your event, provide periodic updates, and celebrate the end results. Some auction software even comes equipped with its own live streaming tools, so you can stream directly within your mobile bidding app or on the auction website. This way, users don’t have to leave the platform and risk getting distracted.
  • Create clear rules for your event and stick to them. Admittedly, “rules” at a nonprofit auction are more like guidelines than set in stone. However, creating these guidelines and communicating them to guests will set expectations around the event and ensure it runs smoothly. We recommend setting rules around how and when guests need to pay for won items, whether bids can be canceled, and how and when bidding will be closed.

Once your event wraps up, you’ll need to arrange for item delivery or shipping. Then, you’ll want to review your event’s performance. Take a look at which items were popular, which didn’t garner much interest, and who your top bidders were. Understanding what went well (and what didn’t!) will help you refine your future online auctions.

How can you set your online auction up for success?

Now that you understand the basics of online auctions, we can dive into the nitty-gritty details that will make your event shine. We’ve put together three tips to take your event to the next level: careful item procurement, gamification, and thoughtful post-event follow-up.

Procure items your guests want to bid on.

Remember, the success of your event depends on guests bidding (and counterbidding, multiple times!) to win items. So, the items need to be desirable for your specific audience and appealing to both their interests and pocketbooks.

Keep the following tips in mind to procure items that your guests want to bid on:

  • Take a look at past donations to gauge what your average donor would be willing to spend at an auction, then make sure your auction items fall within that range.
  • Focus on procuring items that guests can’t easily get themselves. So, rather than standard sports tickets, aim for the once-in-a-lifetime events like a big playoff game or the Super Bowl.
  • Align items with your guests’ interests. The items that empty-nesters would be interested in may be different than those that would attract young families (i.e. a vacation for two versus a vacation for four).
  • Bundle lower-value items to increase interest. Tying back to our standard sports tickets example, you could bundle the tickets with parking in a prime location, meal tickets, and early access to the stadium. The convenience increases the value of the lesser-value item.

From there, you also need to market and display your items to play up their value. So, in your event marketing, highlight hot-ticket items to build intrigue. Then, take pictures of multiple views of physical items and include them on your auction site— that way, guests can see a 360-degree view of each item.

Encourage (healthy) competition with gamification.

Historically, auctioneers have implemented game-like elements into auctions to liven up events and make them more engaging for attendees. With technological innovations, you can supercharge your events with more modern gamification techniques, such as:

  • Leaderboards to showcase top bidders.
  • Countdown timers to spark a sense of urgency.
  • Fundraising thermometers to display progress toward fundraising goals.

These tools will ultimately drive deeper bidder engagement and challenge attendees to continue participating until the final moments of your online auction. Intuitive nonprofit auction software will come equipped with gamification tools like these to make the most of your event.

Don’t forget the post-event follow-up.

Even once you’ve closed out your auction and distributed items to the winners, your work isn’t quite done yet! There are a few final steps you need to take before calling it a day. Post-auction, make sure to follow up and share results with:

  • Donors. Send thank-you letters to your donors. If possible, give them an update on the item they donated— such as whether the item was won and for how much! This is an easy way to put a number on the value they contributed to your event.
  • Bidders. Using your nonprofit auction software, automate acknowledgments and tax receipts. Then, go a step further by sending custom thank-you emails that emphasize the fundraiser’s impact.
  • Sponsors. Your sponsors make your event possible, from helping with promotion to providing funding and auction items for the event. Send personalized letters to show appreciation and encourage ongoing partnerships instead of letting the relationship dwindle.

Some event organizers skimp on this stage. However, sufficiently thanking donors, bidders, and sponsors will show your appreciation, cultivate relationships, and encourage them to continue supporting your cause.

While the initial pivot to online events was quick, it’s now clear that these events are sticking around for the long run. It’s worthwhile to revisit your online auction foundation to ensure you continue hosting successful events going forward!

Now that you understand the key steps and best practices for these events, you can begin planning your next online auction with confidence. Good luck!

Fundraising letters are the backbone of any nonprofit’s direct mail fundraising strategy. Having the most effective fundraising letter possible maximizes the impact of your organization’s marketing spend and helps drive the most donations to ensure you can do what you do best—serve your cause. To help you make the most out of your fundraising letters, here are 5 easy-to-do best practices to think about when setting up your next campaign.

1. Segment your audience.

Segmenting your audience is critical to improving your fundraising results. If your donor list is small, this can be as simple as mailing different appeals to existing, lapsed (those who haven’t given in a few years), and prospective donors (those who have never given). 

For organizations with larger constituent lists, segmentation can get incredibly complex as it’s driven by a number of variables—recency or size of the last gift, total contribution amounts, donor age or gender, type of appeal, etc. 

If you’re worried your data is out of date — or if you’ve never collected that data at all — no worries! One-time data append services can help you fill in the gaps of information like date of birth, address, or telephone number. Additionally, some nonprofit tools like matching gift tools offer real-time appending of specific information, like employer data.

Here's an example of segmenting your effective fundraising letters.

The takeaway here is that regardless of your network of support, some sort of segmentation can have huge benefits to the results of your appeals.

2. Personalize your letters.

Personalization is also incredibly important. This might be the single easiest step a nonprofit can take to improving the response to a fundraising letter. There are levels of complexity that you can use when personalizing a letter—from including the donor’s name in the salutation (i.e. “Dear Jane,”) to referencing the state/county that the recipient lives in throughout the letter (i.e. “your contributions have supported so many impoverished students in the Atlanta area.”

The more the donor feels personally connected to the letter that they’re reading, the more likely they are to respond to the call to action in that letter. People enjoy seeing things addressed to them much more than they do to “dear donor.” Keep this in mind next time you write your fundraising appeal.

3. Incorporate a multi-channel strategy.

Fundraising letters drive the vast majority of individual donations to nonprofits in the US every year. It’s important to know, however, that using a multi-channel approach not only gets you donations from other channels (online donations, text-to-give, etc.) but improves the results from your direct mail campaigns too.

Here's an example of a multi-channel approach to run alongside your effective fundraising letters.

The more channels used for fundraising the better, as long as there is coordination between them. Consistent branding, messaging, and calls-to-action are key.

4. Partner with a fundraising platform.

Choosing a top-tier fundraising partner can help you get the most from your fundraising campaigns. You put in the time and effort to help your cause, so you’ll want to make sure that you use a dedicated direct mail fundraising partner that is easy to work with, affordable, and attentive. 

5. Thank donors for every contribution.

The fundraising campaign shouldn’t end when you receive a donation. In every other situation where you receive a gift, a thank you is appreciated. Donations are no different!

Thanking your donor for their contributions helps them build a stronger connection to your cause, lets them know that they are appreciated, and makes them more likely to give again in the future.

To get started, check out our arsenal of free donor thank-you letters! And when you need to get those letters produced and mailed, GivingMail can help.

Did you know that the first known example of a successful crowdfunding campaign took place in 1997 when a British rock band called Marillon raised more than $60,000 online to fund their reunion tour? That was a huge milestone for online fundraising. In the 20+ years since crowdfunding’s inception, individuals, teams, and organizations have continued to utilize a similar approach. Today, crowdfunding practices continue to develop in increasingly convenient and effective ways, leveraging modern technology and fundraising strategies.

In the midst of a global pandemic, requesting donations can seem more daunting than ever. Yet if you’re looking to get started with a powerful virtual fundraiser for practically any cause, crowdfunding is your answer.

If you’re looking to raise money in 2020, whether as an individual or as part of a larger fundraising organization, we’ve compiled a list of crowdfunding best practices to help:

  1. Compare top crowdfunding platforms.
  2. Send out targeted donation appeals.
  3. Set suggested giving levels.
  4. Encourage matching gifts.
  5. Thank your donors.

Ready to learn more about maximizing your crowdfunding potential? Let’s get started.

Make sure to choose the right crowdfunding platform for your upcoming fundraiser.1. Compare top crowdfunding platforms.

Not all fundraising platforms were created equal. It’s a good idea to do your research and shop around a bit before settling on a crowdfunding platform for your upcoming campaign. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind as you explore various options:

  • Pricing: Since you want to retain as much of your donations as possible, it’s important to look for a platform with reasonable and relatively low fees. However, even “free” platforms likely come with platform and payment processing fees, so it’s a good idea to look out for those.
  • User experience: Make sure your crowdfunding platform is easy to use, both for the team setting it up and for their donors. Donors should be able to make their gifts in just a few seconds with a streamlined giving process, and fundraisers should set up and maintain campaigns with ease.
  • Integrations: Software integrations have the power to bring any solution up a few levels. For example, a crowdfunding platform that integrates with your CRM automatically captures donor information, making it easier to do everything from send thank you letters to targeting past donors for future events and appeals.

To get started finding the right solution, we recommend checking out resources such as Fundly’s comparison of 35+ top crowdfunding sites, complete with pros and cons of each. Keep the above considerations in mind, and you’re sure to find one that suits your needs!

Send out your targeted donation appeals to raise traction for your crowdfunding campaign.2. Send out targeted donation appeals.

Creating targeted and individualized donation appeals is a fantastic way to personalize your crowdfunding campaign.

For example, this cheat sheet is a valuable resource for getting started with donor segmentation. Be sure to look at the following characteristics of your supporter base and ask yourself questions like these:

  • Engagement history: Has this individual given to your cause before? Have they attended an event or signed up for a newsletter?
  • Previous gifts: What is this donor’s average gift size? Have they given to your cause on several occasions—and if so, how much time elapsed between gifts?
  • Communication preferences: How does this individual typically communicate with your team? Do they seem to respond best to direct mail, email, text, phone calls, social media, etc.?

Then, by answering these questions, you’ll be able to adjust your fundraising appeals to account for each supporter’s unique characteristics. Understanding how much your donors usually give can even help you set giving tiers in your crowdfunding campaign (which we’ll discuss in more detail later).

For example, if you launch an email campaign soliciting donations, you might adjust each email for an appropriate amount. If you’re creating a crowdfunding campaign, however, you can still send that appeal letter. And by knowing that your donors usually give between $50-200, you can set the giving tiers on your campaign to $50, $100, and $200.

As a fundraising organization, the best way to keep up with this data is typically with a CRM for nonprofits, otherwise known as a constituent relationship management system.

If you’re raising money as an individual, however, targeted appeals can be completed manually by simply adjusting your fundraising letters and other outreach strategies to the intended recipient.

It's a good idea to set suggested giving levels for your crowdfunding campaign.3. Set suggested giving levels.

One of the main assets of crowdfunding is the ability to collect small donations from a wide audience in a way that can add up very quickly. A key way that this type of fundraising campaign is able to do so is by strategically demonstrating the impact that each donation has on the overall cause. This idea is often implemented through giving levels or suggested donations that correspond to a specific impact or incentive.

For example, imagine you’re fundraising for a nonprofit that provides school supplies for impoverished children. You might include the following giving levels in your crowdfunding campaign:

  • $25 provides a child with school supplies for a year.
  • $100 provides a child with a tablet for virtual learning.
  • $500 provides an entire classroom with school supplies.

By including these suggested giving levels on your crowdfunding page, you make sure each prospective donor knows exactly how their gift will be used and the type of impact they’ll make. That way, they’ll be more likely to support your campaign, and they may even make a larger contribution than they might have otherwise.

For a more concrete example, take a look at this case study where a California nonprofit raised more than $75,000 in a week for their COVID-19 related food drive by rallying their community around a crowdfunding campaign quickly and effectively. Be sure to note what worked about their campaign and emulate these best practices in your own!

Make sure to encourage your crowdfunding donors to look into matching gifts.4. Encourage matching gifts.

If you’re raising money for a nonprofit, many of your donors’ gifts are likely eligible to be matched by their employers through widespread corporate giving programs. The problem is, however, that many eligible donors are unaware of these programs!

According to Double the Donation’s matching gift statistics, 84% of survey respondents reported a higher likelihood to give if they knew their donation was being matched by their employer, and 1 in 3 donors reported a propensity to make a larger gift if a match will be applied.

That being said, it’s a good idea to inform your donors and prospects about matching gifts, while reiterating the availability and power of these programs. You can even include a reminder about matching gifts (and encourage your donors to research their own eligibility) in your follow-up messaging to ensure everyone is aware.

The more donors are aware of this fantastic opportunity to make their gifts go further, the more likely you are to receive this bonus funding for your organization. After all, who wouldn’t want to further their impact without reaching back into their own pockets?

Don't forget to thank the donors who contributed to your crowdfunding campaign!5. Thank your donors.

Once your crowdfunding campaign has concluded, that doesn’t mean your job is over. In fact, one of the most important aspects of any fundraising campaign is the follow-up.

Hopefully, your crowdfunding platform allows you to automate donation receipts so that each supporter receives a digital confirmation of their transaction and a quick thank-you note (yet another reminder to choose your crowdfunding software wisely!). However, it’s a good idea to take that donor appreciation a bit further by thanking your donors in a more personal and meaningful way.

For example, sending out thank-you letters to donors who contribute to your crowdfunding campaign can be a nice touch. Alternatively, you might choose to make a personal phone call to each individual who supported your campaign.

Regardless of your choice in donor appreciation method, the important part is that you effectively communicate with your supporters the significant impact that they had on your campaign and overall cause. After all, you couldn’t have reached your goals without them!

Crowdfunding is a fantastic way to raise funds for virtually any cause—from individuals with medical bills to nonprofit organizations looking to deepen their impact on their missions. However, a less-than-carefully-prepared campaign tends to bring in significantly less funding than the organizers desire.

Avoid that pitfall by implementing these fundraising best practices in each of your upcoming crowdfunding campaigns, and you’ll be reaching (or surpassing!) your goals in no time. Best of luck!

As an experienced fundraiser, your days are probably filled with sending out donation request letters and brainstorming fun and new campaign ideas. With virtual fundraising rising in popularity (and necessity), your nonprofit’s website is likely the host of most of your engagement and fundraising tasks.

A nonprofit website is a key tool to increase donations and connect with your supporters. It’s also likely the first place people go to learn more about your organization. Besides having key design elements in place and regularly updating your content, your website should also ideally be fully accessible and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. 

Here at Cornershop Creative, we work closely with nonprofits to help with website design, custom development, and site maintenance. We’ve put together this quick guide to understanding nonprofit web compliance in order to help leaders like you create the best website and ensure you’re not glossing over any essentials. Here’s what we’ll be answering:

  1. What is nonprofit web compliance and accessibility?
  2. Why is full nonprofit web compliance important?
  3. What are some quick ways you can increase your website’s accessibility?

Nonprofit web compliance and accessibility can help your organization in more ways than one, from expanding your online audience to increasing donation conversions. Ready to learn more? Let’s begin.

What is nonprofit web compliance and accessibility?

1. What is nonprofit web compliance and accessibility?

To increase your online fundraising efforts, you’re going to need a fully compliant and accessible nonprofit website. 

Put simply, web accessibility is the idea that the internet should be easily used by all people, no matter their location, device, language, or ability. This includes more than just ease-of-use and clear navigation. If the internet (and your website) is fully accessible, then people all over the online world with diverse abilities and devices should be able to engage with it. 

Without accessibility in mind, websites and other online apps can inadvertently exclude entire groups of people. For instance, a website purely dependent on streaming videos without any added text elements isn’t fully accessible to deaf people. To increase accessibility, platforms like Netflix have built subtitles and audio descriptions into their content.

If you want to ensure your own website is accessible, you must consider the needs of all types of audiences, as well as make sure that your site is ADA compliant. Nonprofit web compliance ensures that organizations and their websites are aware of and comply with relevant laws— in this case with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). 

The ADA became law in 1990 to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities and requires all “public accommodations” to be fully accessible. Physical offices and facilities of nonprofits that serve the public fall under this category, but legal cases have increasingly considered websites to be public accommodations, too. In fact, the 2019 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stated that some websites (including nonprofits) may actually violate the ADA if they are not accessible to those with visual, auditory, and other disabilities.

It’s imperative that your nonprofit and website keep the ADA in mind when designing or updating your website. If your nonprofit’s website is brought under scrutiny and is found to violate the ADA, you may even face legal action. 

To ensure your own website is ADA compliant, look to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a set of usability standards developed by the World Wide Web Consortium.  With three levels of compliance (A, AA, and AAA), your website needs to adhere at least to the AA level to be considered legally compliant. We’ll touch more on the WCAG later on, but for more information on exactly what the compliance requirements entail, we recommend heading over to their official website.

Why is full nonprofit web compliance important?

2. Why is full nonprofit web compliance important?

Besides the fact that a fully compliant website could be legally required for your nonprofit in some circumstances, there are other benefits that come with it. It can help expand your online fundraising efforts and widen your reach to larger audiences of passionate prospects.

Consider the following additional benefits. Full nonprofit web compliance:

  • Makes your website usable on all devices. The best nonprofit websites ensure that anyone can easily engage with them, no matter their device. After all, how your content displays might differ per screen size or lighting setting. With 96% of Americans owning a smartphone, your website should definitely be usable on mobile screens.
  • Fosters a more inclusive culture. With visitors of all abilities able to interact with your website, you’re advocating for a more inclusive and diverse culture. This not only refers to your website community, but for the culture of your entire organization. Think of your website as your virtual front desk— you want to ensure all visitors feel included.
  • Promotes a user-friendly experience. When your website is easy to use and engage with, people will associate it with a pleasant experience. They’ll keep coming back, knowing that your website is effectively serving their needs. 
  • Minimizes loss of website visitors. Building off the previous point, if your website is hard to use and otherwise inaccessible you’ll likely see a decrease in online engagement. Less people will refer to your website and your bounce rate will only grow.
  • Improves search engine ranking. A fully compliant and accessible website is also easier to read by search engines. This can in turn increase your search engine result page rankings and increase the number of visitors to your nonprofit’s website!

The elements that contribute to your web accessibility and compliance are also catalysts to increased online engagement and fundraising. With more people accessing and interacting with your website, the stronger their relationship with your mission becomes and the easier it is to support your organization.

What are some quick ways you can increase your website's accessibility?

3. What are some quick ways you can increase your website’s accessibility?

In order to determine if your own website is fully compliant and accessible, let’s review some of the WCAG’s core principles of accessible design:

  1. Perceivable information and intuitive user interface
  2. Operable UI (user interface) and navigation
  3. Understandable information and UI
  4. Robust content and reliable interpretation

As you’re going through regular website updates and maintenance, it can be helpful to look to the above concepts. They’ll likely relate to your own nonprofit website in unique ways, and everyone will have their own actions to take in order to increase their website’s accessibility. 

However, there are a couple of quick actions that any website developer for a nonprofit organization can take if they want to increase accessibility. Learning from the WCAG core principles, your top priority should be improving user experience. Consider the following quick ways you can improve your nonprofit website’s accessibility:

  • Make sure that all non-text content also comes with a text alternative. This applies to graphics, images, videos, and audio components of your website.
  • Avoid sensory characteristics to relay important nonprofit content. For instance, if a field on your donation form is required but only designated as such by the color of the text, usually red, that has the potential to be an accessibility issue for colorblind users. Make sure to also indicate any important content or instructions with text as well.
  • Don’t use any graphics or videos with flashes and other bright lights. This can cause problems for those who are seizure prone. If you really want to incorporate this type of content, make sure to include a clear warning.
  • Ensure that all page titles are clear and entry fields include the necessary instructions. You want to make your nonprofit website as easy to use as possible for your supporters. They should know exactly when they land on your online donation page and should be able to fill out the giving form with ease. 
  • Design an intuitive and easily navigable menu. This is a great place to organize all of your most popular landing pages so that users can quickly access the content that they are seeking. Splitting your main menu by audience type is a helpful way to organize your site content.
  • Incorporate key calls-to-action (CTA) throughout your website. Make it easy for supporters to access the page they want by adding link or button CTAs directing to it. This is especially useful for your online donation form and event registration forms. 

While you likely already implement some (or all!) of the above components, this is a handy general checklist you can refer to. As your nonprofit organization and fundraising solution grows, make sure your website continues to follow the above tips as well as monitors its compliance.

For more in depth, large-scale, or technical updates, nonprofit tech consultants will often be your best bet. They can help with auditing your entire site, cleaning up your structure and code, and ensuring clean tab order all without eating up your team’s time.

A fully ADA compliant and accessible nonprofit website is crucial if you want to increase your online fundraising and donor engagement efforts. From protecting you from legal liability to designing an overall stronger site, hopefully this guide provides a solid foundation for what you need to know to get started. Good luck!