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Use your web site as a marketing tool
By Dee Vandeventer
Mathis, Earnest and Vandeventer
Cedar Falls, IA
If you’re looking for another way to connect with potential donors but don’t want to send out another brochure or organize a special event that will be only moderately successful, don’t overlook e-philanthropy.
E-philanthropy involves using the Internet to give possible donors another giving option. In addition to the usual methods of donation solicitation, many philanthropic organizations have web sites that allow potential donors to receive information or make a pledge.
According to the Jan. 25, 2001, issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, there are several reasons donors don’t give on-line:
• the giving option isn’t offered;
• there is inadequate information to make a decision;
• the donor is uncomfortable about giving out credit card or other personal information over the Internet.
Many donors are just now deciding to make their first on-line contribution. Donors will expect your organization to maintain the highest standards of ethics, privacy, and security to ensure their on-line giving experience is a positive one.
Before you jump into the deep end of the e-philanthropy pool, here are some life preservers to keep you afloat:
• Establish your e-brand. If you build it, they might not come; you have to build it well. Building an on-line brand is just as important and as difficult as building on off-line brand. People should be able to discover you, understand who you are, and contact you. Brand building on the web means defining your role in people’s lives.
• It takes know-how and vision. You need to see your organization’s web site as a marketing, communication, and fundraising tool. When you set up a web site, you take on the responsibility of using the tool; if you don’t use it correctly, you won’t see any returns from it. Part of your responsibility is communicating with those who use your site and changing the site to serve their needs.
Keeping your site up to date and clean tells your audience three things:
— your organization knows what it’s doing;
— you’re worthy of being taken seriously;
— you’ve taken the time to think through the needs of your users.
It’s crucial that you provide updated content that has enough appeal to make people want to come back to your site. This applies to links pages as well. It is important that you check links regularly to make sure they are functional. The payoff is that your audience becomes or remains your customer.
• Know your site’s target audience. Who are your current and potential contributors, and what do they need? Your web site’s content should be driven by what your audience needs most.
• Follow through. Make on-line giving easy, give the donor options, use the latest technology, and show your donors how their funds are being used. Following through also means making your web site accessible and easily navigable as well as using the site to give people more than one option for responding to you, such as e-mail, an electronic form that can be filled out, an 800 number, and snail mail.
Once you’ve heard from people, let them know you’re there and you’re listening. Get back to them pronto by phone or e-mail and keep them updated on what’s happening with your organization. These things will ensure they come back to your site.
• Integrate your web presence into everything you do. Your web site alone will do nothing. Every activity should drive traffic to your site. Incorporate your web address on all materials, and target web audiences through publications, web portal sites, and web directories. Word of mouth, search engines, traditional advertising that features your web address, news and magazine articles, and links from other sites are all key ways to get people to visit your site.
According to the Mellman Group’s report for Craver, Mathews, Smith (September 1999), word of mouth is the most frequent method (34%) of driving traffic to charitable web sites. Search engines and traditional ads that include site addresses come in second and third, respectively (33% and 31%). The least effective method is receiving information from the sponsoring organization (11%).
• Don’t trade your mission for a shopping mall. Many nonprofit web sites fail to emphasize their mission, instead turning themselves into on-line shopping malls. By then, it’s too late and potential donors have gone elsewhere.
• e-philanthropy is not a quick fix for your fundraising woes. e-philanthropy is a tool to be used in your fundraising strategy; it should not be viewed as quick money or used in place of your other fundraising efforts. There are no shortcuts to building effective relationships. But the Internet is one more way for you to build a community of supporters for your mission.
Remember one of the central tenets of giving: People give to people. Creating and maintaining a web presence should enhance — not hinder — good relationships with current and potential donors.
[Editor’s note: To learn more about e-philanthropy, visit these web sites:
www.craveron-line.com (Landmark Study of ePhilanthropy)
Dee Vandeventer is president and partner of Mathis, Earnest and Vandeventer, a fund-raising and integrated marketing communications consultancy in Cedar Falls, Iowa.]