Online Fundraising – How Can Small Charities Compete?

by Heather Stewart

Online fundraising may not yet have taken over the world but it certainly seems possible that it could.  At the moment, only 3.7% of donations are made online but it is widely acknowledged that this is a growing figure.  And, with a younger generation more used to making transactions online, it is a trend that is likely to continue to grow.


Of course, the beauty of online fundraising for small charities is that it is a good way to deal with having very few resources available to you.  It provides small organisations with access to a relatively cheap way to communicate with potential and current donors, effectively reaching larger audiences than might be possible through other channels, such as direct mail, which can be costly.

Who can forget the London Riots of 2011 (thankfully eclipsed by the fantastic London 2012 Games)?  While the riots were shocking, the response demonstrated the true human spirit, such as the case of Aaron Biber, the 89 year old barber whose shop was ransacked.  Through effective use of social media by a group of individuals responding to his plight, £35,000 was raised to help him rebuild his life and business.

Small charities tend to use Facbook (61%), Twitter (48%), YouTube (32%), LinkedIn (27%) and JustGiving (27%) (source: nfpSynergy) to communicate with their donors and raise donations online. For example, since 2002, £350 million has been raised for small charities through JustGiving’s fundraising website, that provides a fundraising platform that helps small charities to collect donations online without them having to invest in complex and expensive systems themselves.  While sites, such as help charities to raise income through community fundraising initiatives.

However, to a small organisation with few resources what is the best way to fundraise online to achieve the most success?


1. Make It Easy – have a prominent donate button on your website (and if you use JustGiving, they will provide you with access to donate button ‘widgets’ that can be added to your website, Facebook page and emails).  Think about how much information you really need from donors and try to make the donation form as short as possible.  If it takes more than 5 minutes to fill out, it’s too long.


2. Think About the Donor – just because you are fundraising online doesn’t automatically make it exciting.  You still need to persuade people to give to you.  Good examples of simple, clear fundraising pages include – simple, clean copy with lots of graphics and a story that is easy to understand and empathise with.  Of course, you might decide not to bother with copy and use photographs or video instead.  charity:water – a US organisation – used a fantastic, compelling (and if I’m being honest, tear jerking) piece of film about a successful fundraising campaign: Rachels’ Gift.  This particular communication was sent to donors to the appeal but, despite it not being an ‘ask’ as such, it demonstrates how effective film coupled with a story can be.

3. Recognise that you will have to invest resources – online might be cheap.  It might even be free.  But you will have to, at the very least, make a commitment to invest time to do it properly so you need to factor it in from the start.  Otherwise, you are unlikely to be successful or to have the time to carry it out effectively.

4. Develop a Plan – just like you would for any offline fundraising, you need to consider what you need to do and when.  Think about what you are going to communicate, key times of the year for specific types of communication, targets and their timescales, and factor them all in at the planning stage so your online fundraising is NOT reactive all the time.

5. Integrate Your Online Fundraising to Make it Successful – if you use Facebook and Twitter, don’t just let your online fundraising happen on your website.  Use other online platforms to communicate your story, make asks, post images or to promote simple messages.

6. Thank Donors – set up a thank you page that publicly thanks donors for their gifts and involves them in your achievements.  Use donor case studies, if appropriate, and show donors how every donation makes a difference, no matter how small.  As well as online thank yous, every single thank you sent to a donor should be personalised, so before you launch your online giving, make sure you have the systems in place to achieve this.  They don’t need to be complicated or expensive but they do need to work.

Further Reading about Online Fundraising:

Social Media for Charities

Using LinkedIn to Fundraise

Twitter and Fundraising

Facebook & the Fundraising Golden Rules

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