How to Fundraise When the Media Spotlight Shines on Your Organization’s Mission

Mal Warwick | Donordigital Account Director Wendy Husman and Whitney Broadwell, Senior Resource Development Officer at International Medical Corps presented a session together at the 2016 Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Jose in March 2016.  They discussed how to harness the opportunity to grow your email list, increase your social followers and raise money when your organization’s issue is in the news. Review the presentation deck to learn more about how to prepare a fundraising and communications plan, how to implement that plan on short notice, and how to leverage unexpected events into more supporters for your organization.

Typhoon Haiyan spurs humanitarian and fundraising response

Philippines Typhoon HaiyanThe super typhoon that struck the Philippines on November 8th is believed to be the most powerful storm on record to make landfall, damaging more than 16 million homes and causing over 6,000 deaths. The humanitarian and fundraising response around the world was immediate.

Two Donordigital clients sprung into action to raise money online from their supporters to fund urgent humanitarian campaigns in the Philippines and the region.

AmeriCares and International Medical Corps closely followed the news of the approaching storm. Within hours of landfall, both organizations sent out email appeals to their supporters, providing news of their humanitarian response and asking for financial support. Speed of communications requesting donations is critical as a means to engage potential supporters, particularly during a time of very high media coverage of unfolding events on the ground. Additional email updates were sent over the following weeks, keeping supporters informed and encouraging additional donations in support of emergency relief efforts.

To increase the fundraising response of email appeals, two other tactics were used. One tactic was resending one of the appeals to email subscribers that did not open a message (“non-openers”). Another tactic was to introduce a match, which encouraged supporters to make a gift and also encouraged larger gifts. Due to the scale of the humanitarian disaster in the Philippines, both organizations used their messaging opportunities to distinguish their emergency response from other organizations by focusing on their unique response role. AmeriCares focused on its efforts to provide medical supplies to an established network of local clinics, while International Medical Corps focused on its efforts to provide relief on remote Philippine islands.

On their websites, both organizations dedicated homepage carousel slides to the situation in the Philippines. Half of available slides were used to promote Philippines fundraising, featuring media coverage of their work on the ground and providing specific details of the organization’s humanitarian response. Special donation pages were built to accept donations, featuring pointed messaging about work being done on the ground.

On social media, both organizations presented timely and frequent updates from the field along with numerous photos, interspersed with fundraising appeals. The photos were heartbreaking and provided an invaluable channel to keep supporters informed and engaged with new developments.

As the year-end fundraising season is now in high gear through December 31, both organizations have implemented strategies to encourage donors that gave during the Typhoon Haiyan relief emergency to also make an additional gift at year-end. New and returning donors that give during emergencies are always deeply appreciated by charitable organizations, and the challenge is keeping them engaged year-round with the important work of the organization.

mstein-photo-thumbnailMichael Stein is a Senior Account Executive at Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company. Contact:

Laura Domingo and Nick Garcia contributed to this article.

Can your organization take advantage of mobile “impulse philanthropy”? – and what it may do to your donors

Nearly all our clients are trying to figure out how to use mobile phones for fundraising and cultivation.

Ever since the Red Cross raised $31 million from $10 text-to-give messages to help the suffering in Haiti, nonprofits have been lusting after what Jim Manis, president of the Mobile Giving Foundation, calls “impulse philanthropy.”  Others have been worrying that, as mobile devices surpass PCs and laptops in a few years as the main Internet access points for most people, will younger donors adopt this “impulse” giving in place of long-term loyalty to organizations.

First, the facts.  The Red Cross and Wyclef Jean’s Yele were the only big winners in mobile giving around Haiti, with the Red Cross getting nearly all of it.  Among the hundreds of other organizations responding to the earthquake, a dozen or so each raised a few hundred —  nothing to sneeze at, but a fraction of what they raised from emails and their Web sites.  And when people give via text messaging, the organizations don’t get their contact information, apart from one text message asking them to opt in to ongoing communications.   Nine of 15% of donors opt in to ongoing messaging, said Jim Manis of the Mobile Giving Foundation, which works with the mobile carriers to manage donations.

Apart from Haiti, there have been a handful of other successful efforts over the last few years, such as Alicia Keyes’ text-to-give appeals at her concerts to benefit her charity fighting AIDS in Africa charity.

In any case, very few groups have made mobile work – yet.  Of course, you don’t want to use email or your Web site to ask supporters to give via mobile when they could give much larger gifts online, with full contact info.  Mobile might be good to get impulse gifts from people you couldn’t reach any other way, or who won’t give any other way.  If you could be on dozens or thousands of billboards with your mobile number, that might get new gifts.  If your quarterback could ask for mobile donations from the 70,000 folks in the stands – and many more watching on TV – that could work (though groups who have done this have generally been disappointed in the results).  If you’re an aid group and there’s another Haiti, you want to have your mobile giving program ready, especially if you can convince Michelle Obama or Sarah Palin to promote it with PSAs.

At a recent conference on mobile giving, Tim Sawer of World Vision, shared some of the wisdom he’s garnered as head of new products and new channels for the giant development organization, which is also a master of marketing.  Allow the donor to give via their channel(s) of choice, he stresses.   World Vision has gathered mobile numbers in churches and by asking for them from the stage at events, then followed up with a fundraising appeal.   The mobile donor demographic sweet spot is 18-35 but then World Vision sees a pretty even spread among other donors under 70.  These donors are giving to the cause more than to the organization, so specific asks — $10 for a malaria bed net or $10 for a water project – work best.

The ongoing challenge, Sawer explains, is to move the donor toward loyalty to the organization – from impulse to a relationship, from giving to a cause or event to giving to the organization.  The other challenge is to make the back-end work – to see if you can ID the donor in your database when all you may have is her mobile number – and to manage the donor across channels.  Asking for mobile numbers in all donor communications across channels is going to be essential, Sawer says.

Nick Allen is co-founder and chief strategy officer of Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company.  Contact: or phone (510) 473-0366.

Did you text WILDLIFE to 20222 to donate for Gulf Oil Spill?

Did you text WILDLIFE to 20222 to donate $10 to National Wildlife Federation’s Gulf Oil Spill Restoration Fund?

I didn’t think so.

While text-to-give mobile giving raised about $37 million for Haiti – almost all for the American Red Cross – it’s not generally ready for prime time … yet.

In the meantime, the most practical use for mobile by nonprofits is going to be for advocacy, organizing, and information sharing, especially with the demographics who are more likely to rely on their phones rather than their PCs.   Low-income Hispanic immigrants are a perfect audience for the pro-immigration campaign, Reform Immigration for America.

Says Online Director John Brian McCarthy:

“We have over 150,000 subscribers in our SMS network. I can’t give you an average response rate, because it varies so much by the ask and we send so much less frequently than email that it’s tough to normalize – an ask to call Members of Congress might generate 30,000 calls while an ask to call in and leave a voice mail about why reform matters to you might get just 1,000, and an ask to attend a local rally is nearly impossible to track.

“That said, we’ve generated more than 325,000 calls to decision-makers since we started the program last year…  Another SMS metric relates to a series of house parties we hosted last October – out of the 1,000 house parties the campaign sponsored, more than half were self-organized by individuals who signed up to host via SMS, with thousands more people texting in to find a house party near them (and that was when we were at just 80,000 subscribers!).”

In the next few years, most of us are going to be spending most of our online time on some kind of mobile device, whether it looks more like an iPhone or an iPad.  Mobile commerce tools from Google, Apple, PayPal, and/or Visa will make mobile buying and giving easy, reliable, and significant, at least for people under 40 or 50.  (Texting, with its 140-character limit will morph into something that looks more like email or Facebook updates by then.)

With a major disaster (Haiti), a major brand name (Red Cross), and major TV promotion, mobile can bring in the $37 million (around 4 million gifts at a fixed $5 or $10 apiece).  Apart from the Red Cross, most organizations raised a few tens of thousands of dollars from mobile – and they didn’t get donors’ contact info to thank them and resolicit them; even getting opt-in to continue communicating is difficult with the current mobile fundraising program, governed by AT&T, Verizon, and the other carriers.

Meanwhile, the average Web site gift for Haiti for the organizations that also did mobile was well over $100 or $150, and they got donor information and email addresses to continue the conversation. So if an organization gets a mobile gift from a person who has given, or would give, a Web gift, it’s a major loss.   What’s more, giving via text or Facebook Causes could be a worrisome signal that some younger donors actually prefer to make a nearly anonymous one-off gift to avoid getting on a list for ongoing appeals, according to Chuck Longfield, founder of Target Analytics.

As with Facebook, another channel which isn’t effective (yet) for fundraising,  mobile is here to stay.  And organizations need to be where their supporters are, discussing sharing, educating, advocating … and cultivating.

Nick Allen is co-founder and chief strategy officer of Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company.  Contact: or phone (510) 473-0366.