Online fundraising is a powerful way to raise donors for your organization. But if you have the wrong expectations, it just won’t work.

I co-founded RaiseDonors because I’ve seen firsthand how online fundraising has transformed the way people give to the causes they care about. This isn’t a fad—it’s here to stay!

And with the right tools and strategy, online fundraising can be one of the most effective ways to drive your mission forward toward your organizational goals.

Unfortunately, I’ve run into a lot of strange things that people believe about online fundraising that just aren’t true.

These strange beliefs come out as bad expectations that can sabotage your best efforts to cultivate generosity online.

Do you tend to believe any of these bad expectations about online fundraising?

#1. Online fundraising brings in fast results

No one expects direct mail to bring in results quickly.

We know it takes weeks to print all the letter packages, to land in donors’ mailboxes, and for donor checks to make their way back to our P.O. box.

The term “snail mail” is here for a reason.

Compared to direct mail, online fundraising moves at the speed of light.

Click “Send”—and Boom!—it’s in your donors’ inboxes.

Naturally, we think that money should be rolling in within the hour. But it doesn’t work like that.

Online fundraising is a long game.

While it takes microseconds for your marketing and fundraising messages to reach donors, it takes much longer to grow your relationship with donors.

It takes time to develop your case for support through email campaigns, blog articles, and social media posts.

Donors need time to understand your cause, your organization, and the value of their participation.

Online fundraising doesn’t always speed up the process of donor development – but it does give you the opportunity to scale your fundraising like never before.

In other words, because of its speed and low costs, online fundraising gives you more chances to make your case to more people.

#2. Technology is the problem

Fundamentally, poor results in online fundraising aren’t (only) a technology problem.

Don’t get me wrong! Bad technology can get in the way.

Bad user experience, slow loading pages, cryptic error messages… these can and will cause donors to give up on making their donation online.

However, in most cases, solving those problems is only the first step toward making your online fundraising strategy successful. Because ultimately, people aren’t giving or ignoring your online fundraising because of the technology you use.

Without a clear messaging strategy, value proposition, or a well-built relationship with the donor, your online fundraising is bound to get stuck.

Even if you’ve got a cutting-edge platform like RaiseDonors, nothing replaces the relationship you have with your donors.

Technology can’t build credibility for you.

Technology can’t make you into an organization worth giving to.

At RaiseDonors, we’re proud to give you online fundraising tools that make the online giving experience smooth and seamless for your donors.

But credibility, strategy, and showing your donors appreciation—those are just as important to successful online fundraising as technology.

#3. If I have a donation page, people will give online

Like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, you might think that “If you build it, they will come.”

Unfortunately, that only worked in the movie.

The reality is, after you have your online giving pages ready to go, you’ll need a way to generate traffic to your pages.

Even though the Internet is a pretty crowded space, your donation page will stay lonely if no one knows it’s there.

Once you get your online giving page up and running, you will need a comprehensive digital marketing strategy to make your donors and prospective donors aware of the opportunity you have for them to participate in your mission.

It’s not enough to simply set up a giving page.

#4. People will give online because our cause is so noble

This bad expectation goes well beyond online fundraising, but it really bears repeating here.

All good people everywhere should be sympathetic to your cause. But that doesn’t mean every good person will give to your organization.

There’s no doubt your cause is urgent and worthy of support.

But chances are, there’s somebody else doing the same thing you are, or at the very least, something similar.

Online visitors need to see clearly why your organization is the one worthy of their support right now.

Even if you have the most compelling images of the need you are working to solve, the potential donor needs to see in the first two inches of copy why you’re the organization they should give to.

#5. Because it’s online, I don’t have to deal with people

Everyone online who visits your website, receives your emails, or reads your donation page is a real live human being.

Technology and the anonymity of the Internet sometimes make this difficult to understand.

But if you fundraise online as if you’re only dealing with technology, you will get poor results.

We’ve forgotten the principle that people give to people. We’ve forgotten that email is a two-way medium. And we’ve forgotten that fundraising is not about programs, it’s about relationships.

Email marketing at its worst allows us to “blast” hundreds of thousands of people until they either decide to give in and donate or mercifully unsubscribe. But email marketing, at its best, allows us to scale 1:1 relationships more efficiently than ever, using the medium to create valuable connections with our donors.

Jeff Giddens, NextAfter

Just like in the physical world, you need to be available for donors to talk to, ready with answers to their questions.

If they respond to your email, you need to reply within 24 hours – just like you would a friend. If they leave comments on your social media, you need to jump into the conversation quickly.

Don’t leave them hanging! They want to engage with you and your organization’s brand.

#6. Online fundraising isn’t “real” fundraising

I’d never tell you that online fundraising is all you need to do. But thinking of online fundraising as an add-on strategy to your development plan will severely limit the results you get.

54% Of Worldwide Donors Prefer To Give Online With A Credit Or Debit Card – 2018 Global Trends in Giving Report

And in North America, this same Giving Report (by Nonprofit Tech for Good) shows that up to 60% of donors prefer to give online.

Online giving isn’t a fad. It’s not a cool tactic to reach younger donors.

Online fundraising is now a primary channel for nonprofits of every kind to cultivate and receive gifts that fuel their missions.

This doesn’t mean you should chuck your direct mail program out the window and go paperless.

But it does mean that a majority of your donors will still prefer to give via your donation page whether they’re responding to your print or digital fundraising communications.

Yet perhaps more important is the recurring giving trend in the data.

45% Of Donors Are Enrolled In A Monthly Giving Program – 2018 Global Trends in Giving Report

Almost half of donors world-wide enjoy the benefits of recurring giving! This in itself is reason enough to get serious about online fundraising.

Do your donation pages lead people to the decision to become recurring givers?

Is your online giving equipped to make recurring giving easy for your donors and for you?

Does your online fundraising platform send recurring giving receipts that cultivate and inspire donors to give again?

Based on the trends of the Giving Report, these are important features your online fundraising platform must have.

#7. Online fundraising will pay for itself immediately

Would you expect an acquisition direct mail campaign to pay for itself within the first year?

Even renewal direct mail campaigns are sometimes a bust. That doesn’t mean we stop sending fundraising packages in the mail!

So why do we look at online fundraising and expect to have an immediate return on investment?

Especially if your organization just started online fundraising in the last two or three years, don’t expect your online fundraising program to produce the same results as your direct mail program.

Learning how to raise funds online isn’t something you can do overnight. Your donors also need time to realize that they can find you and give online.

Give your online fundraising strategy time to produce results as you would with any other strategy.

Managing expectations

Everyone has an idea of what online fundraising should be like when they get started. Managing these expectations is key to being successful and sticking with it over the long haul.

At RaiseDonors, we’re here to help you reap the benefits of your online fundraising and protect you and your donors through our state-of-the-art security protocols.

Online fundraising is about the relationship you have with your donors. It’s our job to make sure that technology never gets in the way of that relationship.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Brand & Community at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2024 Stephen Boudreau.