How to Drive Donor Engagement: 6 Effective Web Design Tips

Engaging your supporters is a no-brainer for nonprofit organizations. Of course, you need to keep them engaged with your organization in order to retain donors.

But every nonprofit has a slightly different strategy for how to keep this engagement up-to-date and successful. The best place to start: your nonprofit’s website.

We’ve compiled 6 effective tips to include in your engagement strategy to drive donors through your online resources. To drive engagement, your organization should:

  1. Create a website that is easy to navigate.
  2. Customize your donation page.
  3. Keep a comprehensive calendar.
  4. Create an omni-channel online approach.
  5. Build a strong visual identity.
  6. Include eCommerce opportunities.

Keep an eye on engagement and fundraising trends year after year to maintain an updated version of your engagement strategy. But remember, the following tips will never go out of style. Let’s get started!


1. Create a Website That is Easy to Navigate

Where is the first place your donors and supporters will look to find updated information about your organization? That’s right, your website!

Maintaining a website that is well-designed and easy to navigate enables your supporters to search for and find all the necessary information about your organization before they donate. The height of a person’s engagement with your organization occurs when they make a donation, so making it easy to give is key to heightened engagement rates.

Make sure you use a content management system (CMS) that will be easy for your organization to use to keep your website up-to-date, and with templates designed for nonprofits like yours.

Some important CMS components to look for include:

  • Customizable templates. Templates are great tools to build your website, but be sure you can still add character to your website. The template you choose should be customizable so that you can change images, colors, modules, and layout to best fit the needs and brand of your organization.
  • Live site editing. Live site editing enables your organization to edit features on your site as they would appear on the live page. This helps ensure your back-end edits appear on the front-end exactly as you wish.
  • Adjustable user permissions. Not everyone on your team needs the same permissions to work on your site. Adjustable user permissions as a part of your CMS enable you to ensure that only the necessary members of your team have direct editing abilities on your site.

Choosing the right CMS is a big step to creating a navigable website that is easy for your supporters to use. Start researching CMS platforms that offer the above features. To continue your research, read about more Morweb’s CMS design tips.


2. Customize Your Donation Page

As stated before, the peak engagement for your donors is when they donate to your organization. Therefore, your donation page is the last line of engagement before securing that important gift.

Make sure your donation page has everything your supporters need to be informed (without overcrowding the page).

Be sure your donation page summarizes the story of your organization. This gives you the opportunity to quickly give supporters the background of what cause they will be supporting through their donation. Choose a CMS that supports customizable donation tools.

Provide necessary story-oriented information on your donation page as an enticing piece of the engagement puzzle. These elements include

  • A character. For general fundraising efforts, your protagonist character will likely be your organization. Explain how this character is making a difference. Your mission statement is a great place to start.
  • The setting. Tell your donor where you’re making the difference. Do you work abroad? In their hometown? The setting connects the character and mission to the donor. Maybe they like the idea of helping a third-world country or contributing to make their own community a better place.
  • A problem. This is where you use pathos to try to invoke sympathy in your reader. Explain what problem their donation will help your organization fund a solution for.
  • A solution. Explain how you will use the donations given to your organization to solve the issue at hand. This shows the reader that their money is going to good use.

Customization of your donation page with storytelling techniques can push your reader from supporter to donor. This automatically strengthens their engagement with your organization and connects them more intimately with your cause. Check out Salsa’s guide to donation page design for more information about how to maximize this engagement opportunity.


3. Keep a Comprehensive Calendar

Make sure your website acts as an engagement resource for your supporters so they know about the upcoming activities that your nonprofit is organizing.

Maintain a comprehensive calendar in an accessible location on your website so that it is easily located. You may consider navigating directly to the calendar from the navigation menu on the homepage.

Some activities to keep on this calendar include:

  • Upcoming fundraising events.
  • Fundraising campaign dates.
  • Volunteer opportunities.
  • Appreciation events.
  • Member meetings.
  • Conferences.

Calendar functions are an important add-on to to look for in your choice of CMS. The proper online calendar tool can make the biggest difference in the creation of this comprehensive calendar. For instance, some calendars may have color-coding capabilities to help organize your events for improved readability and convenience for your donors.

In addition to keeping your donors informed about engagement opportunities through your website, you can also promote key giving times using calendar features. For example, use your calendar as a part of your end of the year appeal strategy to remind people to give in order to receive their tax deductions.


4. Create an Omni-Channel Online Approach

Many nonprofits do a great job of keeping different online engagement channels open for donors. You probably strive to post regularly on social media and send regular email newsletters. However, as they stand, each of these channels act as a singular point of contact for your supporters.

What if you could connect them? Creating an omni-channel (as opposed to a multi-channel) experience creates a single engagement path for your supporters to follow.

Picture the difference between omni- and multi-channel engagements like this:

  • Multi-channel: Suppose a donor visits your website to read about your mission. Once they’ve read what they want to read, they exit the browser. The next day, they may run across a Facebook post you’ve written, but scroll right past. Everything is a separate engagement effort through a multichannel system.
  • Omni-channel: Suppose the same donor visits your website to read about your mission. Once they’ve read it, they see a button that gives them the opportunity to stay updated with your work. They click it and are led to an email signup page. That donor’s first email from your organization has social media buttons integrated into the template leading to your Facebook page, which they follow and scroll through all your latest posts.

Omnichannel engagement opportunities lead supporters from one engagement opportunity to the next in a streamlined fashion. Starting with your website, adding social media integrations and form builders for emails will help you keep in touch with your donors easily and lead them to even more engagement opportunities.

The next step to create an omni-channel, streamlined experience for your donors is to include links from your other channels back to your website. For example, include your comprehensive calendar in your next email newsletter, for people to click on to lead back to your site.


5. Build a Strong Visual Identity

We’ve all heard the saying: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This is especially true for your website. A strong visual identity on your website can help take your donors’ experiences to the next level.

High quality images tend to capture our attention better than simple text on paper.

Why is this? We have more receptors in our brains simultaneously reacting to the various shapes, elements, and colors of images. Plus, images are wired to our brains’ emotional responses. Therefore, the inclusion of high-quality images to your content can help get the attention of your viewers and help them better remember the content.

Your visual identity begins with your website. This is likely where you will define your brand. It starts with your logo, colors, and images to trigger the necessary functions of your donors’ brains.

These visual elements will help guide your visitors’ first impression of your organization as they react to your brand. It will also help them remember your organization in the future.

Visual identity is an especially effective tool for:

  • Creating visual interest for your donors.
  • Telling the story of the organization through images.
  • Promoting different activities by creating a tone with imagery.

When you’re getting started establishing your visual identity, explore the other most effective nonprofit websites to see what triggers your emotional and visual responses. Take note of these elements to incorporate into your own site.


6. Include eCommerce Opportunities

One of the methods of engagement nonprofits often forget about is eCommerce. You’ve probably offered the sale of t-shirts or other customized merchandise to donors at fundraising events or other activities. Moving these sales online through your website engages donors and promotes your organization.

Many nonprofit CMS software offers features with eCommerce capabilities. Even if it is not directly included with a website template, check to make sure you can include an add-on to make this opportunity available.

eCommerce effectively engages donors because:

The purchasing process becomes a part of your omni-channel online experience.
The purchased product makes the donor feel more involved with your organization.
Sporting merchandise keeps the organization at the forefront of your donor’s mind and encourages those around them to check out the organization too.

Order custom merchandise in bulk to include on the website as a part of this eCommerce opportunity for your donors. Include a descriptive image of each item on the site so your donors know exactly what they are viewing from your online store.

Your online resources offer advanced engagement opportunities for your donors to take part in. Drive donor engagement with the 6 tips in this post. No matter how online trends come and go, these web design tips will consistently yield an effective engagement strategy.

30+ Ideas to Rock This Giving Season

One of the perks of working with a wide array of groups is the exposure we have to the wonderfully creative, successful, impactful ideas that come out of our community. Groups large and small are putting together incredible strategies to engage their communities before, during, and after their big giving days/weeks. Whether you’re thinking about piloting your first giving day or you’re a seasoned veteran, the ideas below will inspire and challenge you. Without further ado…


  • Every giving opportunity should be told from the perspective of a person impacted, be it someone who will receive a scholarship, equipment, aid, materials, etc or the team that will get the opportunity to go or receives, etc. Focus on a person. People give to things with eyes, not inanimate departments, nameless team members, or a college of (engineering, medicine, business, etc).
  • Use videos, but keep them short (less than 2 min). If you can’t hook your audience in 8 seconds, they’ll stop watching.
  • Have a clear call to action in your video and your text description.  Don’t assume people know what you need. “Click the Donate Now button to get involved/make a difference!”

Early Promotion and Planning

  • Sticker Week – prior to your big day (within a month so it’s fresh in people’s minds), put stickers all over campus that talk about how donors helped provide things like collections of books in the library, bleachers/stadium seats, landscaping, art, buildings, equipment in labs, video screens, etc. Think of it as guerrilla education on philanthropy.  People shouldn’t be able to go somewhere without seeing how supporters have transformed the campus into what it is today. Couple this with tables/booths/people that are providing stats, quizzes, etc on philanthropy at the school and give out prizes/swag. This will help people understand the importance of giving as you approach your big ask day and further spread the culture of philanthropy at your organization. You’re priming the pump.
  • Banks, baskets, jars, etc provided to students or available around campus to start early collecting of change/small donations that are collected at various places on campus during the giving day(s).
  • Note: One CF community member asks a local bank to donate to this event by simply sponsoring the piggy banks that are used. The piggy banks are very inexpensive and have the sponsor’s logo on the side. The benefits here are that 1) the piggy banks are paid for and 2) after collecting the change, the local bank will quickly count it for the institution. (taking the heavy lifting off your team)
  • Send a physical “Save The Date” along with digital announcements 2-3 months early to start getting the date/idea on people’s radars.
  • Start regular announcements about the day 1-2 months early.
  • Start weekly announcements a month early.
  • In the 2 weeks leading up to the giving day have multiple social media posts a week announcing the big day.
  • Use volunteers/ambassadors and begin preparing them early with lists of people to contact, scripts/template messaging, images for social media, etc. Clearly define roles ahead of time and prepare them for the day.
  • Create challenges surrounding action other than donor/dollar figures.  For example, the person who shares you via social media the most during the day or during a time range, the group that can take the biggest group picture promoting the day, the person who sends in the most heart-warming personal video (phone videos are great) to ____(email address or social media handle), etc.  Think of ways to incentivize creating a buzz on campus and providing your team with content that can be used for future marketing or thank you’s.
  • Secure gifts to use to incentivize milestones for campaign teams and the day at large.
  • Create a toolkit for people to use the day-of and task/encourage people from each campaign (or the team/department/college being showcased) to use them to post.
  • Use a soft launch period (1-2 weeks prior) to solicit early donors for your event. If these gifts are collected with an alternate giving form, you can either 1) Add the donations early to the event so once it goes public you have some traction 2) add these as offline donations throughout the event to show some momentum.
  • Coffee sleeves w/ Save the Date details for coffee shops on campus.

Day Of

  • Use your volunteers/ambassadors well!  Assign them to text, call, email, post, comment on social media, etc.  If someone uses your hashtag, they should get a shout back from the school/department/team/person involved with the campaign.  The more personal, the better.
  • Update your supporters throughout the event: Show progress, say thanks, and give some action items for your supporters. Actions can be: share our project/day, give again, recruit other supporters, whatever. Just be sure to let your gratitude shine. 
  • Post updates (that include pictures) and non-ask posts throughout the day and evening.  Your audience is leaving their day-to-day grind in the evening and checking social media; that’s when you want them to see you in their feed. Don’t stop the hustle at 5.
  • Make sure that all of the Giving buttons/links to giving forms across your institution’s websites redirect to the giving event! Your audience may not know how to get to the event and look for giving options on your main page.
  • Before the event, collect and allocate offline gifts from people that don’t care to be named (anonymous or specifically designated to this effort). Break larger gifts into smaller contributions ($25, $50, $75, etc). Post pictures of landmarks on SM (close-ups or only part of the landmark) and have a competition to see if people can identify it.  The first to respond with the correct answer wins $x to give to a campaign of their choice.
  • Be creative with the images and messaging that you put in your slider on the landing page.  Pick people at milestone support levels (donor #100, 500, 750, etc) and create a very simple thank you image “Thank you, ____ (name)  Donor #500!”
  • Post announcement images in your slider.  For example, “Catch the next Facebook Live at 6 pm ET”

On-Campus Events/Activities

  • Host live events! This can look like booths/tables on campus, a happy hour off campus, ice cream socials (or cake!) on the main lawn.
  • Go where the people are. Is there a game, race, plunge, dorm competition where you can plug the day? Use it!
  • Provide opportunities for pictures with “I gave…” or “(Institution Name) changed my life by…” kinds of messages that can be personalized. Get your mascot involved.  Encourage the sharing of pictures on Social Media with your hashtag.
  • Take your own videos and pictures to use in your office’s social media posts and thank yous. In places where there’s a lot of activity, get a lot of people to just look at a camera and say “thank you”, “because of you…”, have other say things like “I have a scholarship”, a team say “we get to go to ____ (destination)” or “we get new ___ (equipment/supplies)”, “I get to build a…(racecar, solar house, etc)”, “I’m the first person in my family to go to college”, “I’m going to be a…(doctor, engineer, dancer, actor, psychologist, etc)”.  You can use this in a thank you video for later stewardship or as promotional material for next year’s big day.
  • Drawings for prizes for people that have given and/or people that have shared via social media.
  • Decorate the campus! Put up driveway signs, stake the lawn with supporter’s names, hang banners, put down floor stickers, have a digital board take-over, get out the chalk.  Nobody on campus that day should be able to say “I didn’t know about it.”
  • Before the event, collect and allocate offline gifts from people that don’t care to be named (anonymous or specifically designated to this effort). Break larger gifts into smaller contributions ($25, $50, $75, etc).  Have a scavenger hunt on campus on the big day to find hidden items (stuffed animals or figurines of your mascot) that have a printed tag/instructions that lets them know that because they’ve found this (thing), a gift of $x will be made in their name by posting a picture of them holding the item w/ your day’s hashtag to social media. Be on the lookout for the post!



  • ThankView examples
  • Segmenting different giving levels with tailored thank you’s.  For example:
    •  $1-$49 – video thanks
    • $50-$99 – handwritten postcard – capitalize on on-campus activity by having stacks of blank postcards with sample messages for students to fill out while waiting to play games, take pictures, get prizes, etc.
    • $100-$999 – phone call (NO additional solicitation, just thanks from a student)
    • $1000+ – personalized short video of thanks from a student
  • Make sure your supporters get updates about their impact at various times (WITHOUT a new solicitation for giving).
    • Immediately after their gift
    • At the close of the giving period/1 week after close : Once all your gifts have been processed and you have the final numbers, share again. Thank your audience again and consider sending new content, maybe a video from on-campus events that day, or more details on the impact their gift is making.
    • 1 month after close
    • 3 months after close
  • Get smarter at asking! Make sure to pay attention to what donors have given to LAST year or LAST event and target them accordingly. It makes a difference when the communications are personal!
  • DON’T
    • Add all your supporters to your alumni solicitation list
    • Thank a donor and ask for more at the same time!

We hope that you were able to pull out a few new ideas to try during this next giving season! If you’d like to discuss any further, touch in with us; we’re happy to talk. We’re always looking to hear about successful strategies. If you have ideas that we should include in our list, add them as a comment.

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How to Promote Your Next Giving Day During Your Event


What’s a giving day?

A giving day is a 24-hour giving event that occurs once a year. It focuses on one simple thing: reaching as many supporters and raising as much money as possible in one day. Over the years, giving days have produced many success stories and have raised millions of dollars across industries.

But don’t be fooled: just because a giving day only spans a short time frame does not mean it’s a “set it and forget it” type of event. One important factor in making a giving day successful is promotion, and that includes promotion during the event. You need to encourage donations throughout the entire day, from launch to the set up of your thank you page.

Read on to learn some key ways to promote your event during crunch time!

Have your donors post an “unselfie”

Taking the opposite idea of a selfie, self-promotion, the unselfie was born. Ask your donors to take an “unselfie” holding up a piece of paper with the hashtag #unselfie and the hashtag #givingtuesday or #givingday along with the name of your organization and initiative. An “unselfie” lets your donors use on their social capital for the good of the cause and you can reach out to different constituent groups to keep this flow going throughout the event. 

The “unselfie” is a win-win situation. Your donors will love it because they get to show family and friends what they support, especially if you let them tie it to a cause or campaign of their choice.  Plus, every share is a chance to promote your mission, vision, and impact to people it may not have reached before.


Announce the amount raised & the number of donors who have given

Track and record the amount you’ve raised every hour and the number of people who have helped you raise it on your social media sites, your email blasts, etc. Set milestones and stretch goals in advance to use as triggers for releasing pre-designed materials that reflect your progress and get your community revved up to participate!

Make sure to always reference what goals you’ve hit as well as where you’re headed. Giving donors and potential supporters a goal to move towards should help you keep momentum throughout your event.

If you have a web presence (which we highly recommend), you can show this as a rolling number on your leaderboards that can fluctuate every time a donation is received. These numbers can also be tied to individual stories or campaigns to create a gamification element and a little healthy competition between teams or departments.

Use a Countdown

Do you ever get those “deal ends in [insert certain amount of time here]” emails that stores send out? These emails make you believe that if you don’t jump up and buy something right that second, you’ll miss out forever. This is because the human brain has been trained to be motivated by deadlines.

It’s been proven that people are more likely to take action if they sense urgency or if something requires immediate action. Put this countdown on your main giving page, all your social media accounts and send out an email blast that includes a live timer. Still don’t think countdowns work? Check out some real examples here.

Feature a human interest story on a donor who gave and the reason why

Before your event, line up one or two people you know are advocates for your organization to give and share their story. Put together a short blurb with hero shots that can be shared across emails, your local news outlets or campus affiliates, social media, and any other applicable channels. Make sure you point back to their personal profiles and have set them up to be updating their own narrative as the event progresses.

These stories are a key element in making your giving day more human and personable as well as creating a social proof for giving. Make sure to pick donors that give at amounts that will inspire smaller and larger gifts alike so that you can appeal to donors with use cases that are similar to the monetary impact they’re capable of making. Especially with smaller amounts like $10-$100, it’s critical to show that every penny makes a real difference.

People are motivated by other people but more importantly, they are motivated by people they can relate to.

Make reminder or thank you calls

Picture this, you donate to an organization and soon after you get a real person calling you and genuinely thanking you. Not asking you for more money. Wouldn’t that inspire you to affiliate yourself and support this organization in the future?

Set up a small amount of volunteers to make reminder calls to long-time donors beforehand and then make thank you calls to all who have donated throughout the day. Here are some steps to let donors know you appreciate them.

This simple outreach strategy and omnichannel approach is a major key to creating long-term relationships with donors. The bottom line is: your donors want to know that you care about them as an individual and that they weren’t just a number.


Sign up for our #GivingTuesday Playbook!

Want more in-depth insight on how to plan and execute a successful giving day? The team at Community Funded has put together a killer #GivingTuesday Playbook that covers everything from assembling your team to creating a stewardship plan! The playbook has 8 parts, 3 of which are already LIVE and 5 more that we’ll be releasing through October 11th.  Below is the link to the first section: Assemble Your Team. If you sign up for the whole enchilada we’ll deliver every section right to your inbox.

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Measuring Fundraising Campaign Success

In the world of fundraising, our efforts can often times feel like trial and error.

That’s why the most critical element of success is learning from the past.

Optimizing your efforts will increase results and efficiency overall. This means analyzing your tactics after each campaign to determine what produced results and how you can duplicate that effort. Or, similarly, pinpointing actions that didn’t work or need to be tweaked so you can avoid or refine those strategies on your next go-round.

Measuring success can be especially useful when looking at two successive campaigns on the same subject or in a similar category such as athletics. The parallel nature of these affinity-based campaigns is helpful because you’re appealing to the same community, making it easy to develop targeted outreach to adjust or grow their engagement.  

Allowing the campaigns to play off of each other and measuring overall growth is also an opportunity to pin down what makes these types of targeted fundraisers successful over time.

Whether this is through analyzing overall results and gift sizes, or determining what received the most engagement on social media, measuring your progress and building in repeatability will promote growth and allow you to expand your operations to include more microsite initiatives.

While it can be tricky to know exactly what to measure and how to adjust your tactics, fear not! This blog is a resource on how to successfully grow your efforts.


How to Measure Success

Your campaign is complete and your hard work has paid off! Now comes the fun part- analytics. There are so many moving parts within a campaign that it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what were the most important factors to your success. There are several different areas that are measurable and can help you move the needle in the long-term. When analyzing what worked and what didn’t consider the following areas of your campaign:

Fundraising Success Metrics

  • Cost per dollar raised (CPDR) – Calculates whether or not your organization made gains on the investment you put towards your fundraising.
  • Gifts Secured – How many gifts your organization secured over an allotted period of time. Tracking gifts secured over time is another way of saying you’re tracking donation growth.
  • Fundraising ROI – Your fundraising ROI demonstrates whether or not you have seen value from the money invested in your fundraising efforts by calculating how much money you raised from each dollar you spent.
  • Conversion Rate – Measures how many donors took an action when prompted by your organization.
  • Donation Growth – Tracks your gift secured over a longer span of time to help you make sure you’re meeting your long-term fundraising goals.

Donor Metrics

  • Donor Retention Rate – Allows your organization to track what percentage of donors in your base have given more than once. Try also tracking this metric separately across like campaigns to see if you’re retaining your affinity audience.
  • Donor Growth – Simply tells you how much your donor base has grown (or shrunk) over a determined period.
  • Outreach Rate – Measures how often you’re getting in touch with your donors. Keep in mind the correlation between outreach and retention.

Giving Metrics:

  • Average Gift Size – Measures the percentage by which your average gift size has increased over a certain period of time.
  • Average Major Gift Size – Similar to average gift size but exclusively measures major gift size.
  • Online Giving Percentage – Tells your organization what portion of their overall donations have come from online channels, primarily their online donation page.

Digital Campaign Metrics:

  • Email Conversion Rate – Email conversion tells you how many of your supporters acted on a certain call-to-action, specifically one included in an email
  • Email Opt Out Rate – Measures how many recipients in your list unsubscribed from your email campaign over a certain amount of time.
  • Engagement on Social Media – Measures the public shares, likes and comments for your organization’s social media efforts
  • Social Media ROI – Social media ROI is what you get back from all the time, effort, and resources you commit to social. And it’s best calculated with dollar amounts.

How To Improve

Now that you have delved into (and recorded) your campaign’s analytics, you can apply your findings to upcoming campaigns. Because you have tracked metrics you can now tailor your efforts for a similar or successive campaign. This can be made extremely simple due to the similarities in communities surrounding these two campaigns.

Set Goals:

Your organization’s success is primarily measured by previous campaigns. Your numbers are unique to your efforts. Setting goals and benchmarks for the numbers you hope to see on the metrics listed above is a great way to cater results to your organization.

Correlate Your Metrics:

Understanding how each of these measurements directly or indirectly affect each other will help you strengthen your efforts. For example, if your donor outreach rate is low and by proxy, your retention rate is not where you would like it to be, boost your outreach program.

Research Your Tactics:

Spend some time on some of these resources to dive into additional tactics that can create deeper engagement among everyone in your community:


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Fundraising Relationships & Storytelling: The PERMA Model

What do relationships have to do with storytelling?

As many of you know, we’re in the process of developing the next iteration of our platform. Each month, our entire team comes together for two days of collaboration around a specific element of the overall process (story curation, donating, sharing, competing, engaging, etc.). We bring in guests, including clients and industry experts, to articulate overall challenges and what features would make their day-to-day lives easier. We’ve invited leadership from disruptive companies to join us on-site to challenge us to look at an opportunity through myriad lenses.

We’ve also been fortunate enough to sit down and learn from incredible thought leaders, like Jeni Cross, a Community Sociologist and Associate Professor of Sociology at Colorado State University, who introduced our team to the PERMA model.

The PERMA model was designed by Martin Seligman, one of the founding fathers of positive psychology, and it outlines 5 components of happiness.

P – Positive Emotions
E – Engagement
R – Relationships
M – Meaning
A – Achievement

When these elements are met, when we’re learning, feel as though we’re making a difference, have social connections, are working towards a goal, and can focus on the positive, we are happy. The more of these factors we can check off, the better!

We also know that we feel good when we give.

In a study conducted by researches at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, brain activity was observed in a group of men and women that were given $128 and asked to gift it to a charity or keep it. For those that gave the money away, the same areas of the brain were active that are engaged when we’re eating, having sex, and forming social bonds.  Studies have also linked giving to the physiological reduction of blood pressure, making giving good for our health!

In short, not only does giving feel good, it IS good!

These warm-and-fuzzies are great, but how do we convince someone to get involved so that they reap be benefits of giving?

The answer is: we do it through fascinating storytelling. And where better to learn than from one of the greats?

Lindsay Doran is a film producer that has had her hands in a slew of household favorites: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, This Is Spinal Tap, Ghost, The Naked Gun, Tomorrow Never Dies, and The World Is Not Enough, to name a few. She knows how to tell a story! She is also keenly aware of Seligman’s PERMA model and how it can be used to enchant an audience.

If you have the opportunity, watch her TED talk Saving the World Vs Kissing the Girl.

When it comes to the big blockbuster storylines we often think of romantic comedies and action flicks. The weekend box office loves to pit the likes of Mission Impossible: Fallout against Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again and see who comes out the victor….action and achievement or the tug of the heart.

What’s particularly interesting is that many of the movies that we think end with a huge accomplishment are actually about relationships.

Take a moment and think: how did Jaws end? Did The Big Lebowski fade out after an epic bowling match? Did Dirty Dancing start the credits after that incredible lift?

Jaws didn’t end with a snarled “Smile you son of a bitch!” and a shower of sharkey remnants, but with Brody and Hooper swimming back to shore chatting on a glorified kickboard. Despite everyone talking about it, we actually never see the action of The Dude competing against Jesus in the semifinals in The Big Lebowski. And even though we all remember the climactic lift, afterward the focus is on Johnny, Baby, and her dad having a heart-to-heart before the credits roll.

These stories are so iconic, not because of the great accomplishments that our heroes achieve, but because of the relationships that are forged along the way.

When it all boils down, it doesn’t matter if your audience is predominantly male or female, old or young, whether you’re captivating the masses in Hollywood or reaching a niche audience for a crowdfunding opportunity. At its foundation, your story should depict a relationship.

The first step in developing a relational story is to create a character.

For some stories, this is easy. Maybe you have a person who has had a transformative experience and they’re trying to bring support or resources to others. You might be raising funds for a memorial scholarship and want to continue the legacy of the person who has passed. For other stories, this is really tricky!

How do you create a character to raise funds for seats in a theater or to combat a goliath problem like food insecurity or safety? You give it a singular voice.

Why a singular voice when a problem like hunger or assault impacts so many? Won’t people feel more motivated to act when they know that their help will be felt by many as opposed to only one?


Don’t believe me? We’re going to run a quick experiment.

I want you to visualize an amount of money equal to $1. Picture it in your mind.

**Pause until you’ve imagined it**

Were you thinking about a dollar bill, 4 quarters, 10 dimes, or 100 pennies? Most people think of the single dollar bill.  It’s easier for us to visualize, understand, and connect with a singular object than many.

We grow numb when we look at large numbers. We don’t think our contribution will make a dent in the problem. We become apathetic and decide inaction is the same as (what we believe to be) ineffective or insufficient action, and we do nothing.

Make the problem out to be too big and you’ll lose your audience to the inaction of the overwhelmed.

That’s why it’s important to tell the story from a single character (with a face and a name) with a single voice (not a group, whole club, or a team).

Now that you have a character, it’s time to choose a storyline.

Is this person on a quest to get to something special? Is there a monster that they’re trying to overcome? Did this person go through a life transformation? Is there an immediate crisis? These are some of the most time-tested storylines that your character can follow.

If your storyline starts drifting towards referencing an achievement or accomplishment, that’s okay! We see that in all of the stories we referenced earlier: the dangerous shark was thwarted, bowling balls rolled, and people danced, but these adventures were wrapped around a relationship.

Here are a couple real-life examples we’ve seen in the past:

  • When raising funds for theater seats, the story could be told from the perspective of a student who struggled finding their voice until they were able to use it on stage. Their story could also be framed by showing that the theater department is what allowed this person to find their tribe and thrive at the school.
  • When talking about food insecurity, the story can be told by someone who experienced the anxiety, isolation, loneliness, etc. that can come with the problem of not having enough to eat or to be able to join in the social aspect of having meals with others. The next step in this narrative is showing how that problem was relieved through a sponsored meal plan or access to a pantry.
  • To raise funds to support advocacy groups, awareness, and safety officers, you can tell the story from the voice of someone for whom the current system wasn’t enough. How have they been impacted? How have they been affected by the counselors, advocates, and support groups that are available?

Remember, we see deep relationships with friends, colleagues, and family members told in stories as often as we do romances. It’s the support that you want to illustrate.

The final step for a resonant story is to tell your audience how that person, or someone like them, will benefit from support.

Be specific. Tell people what a gift of $25, $50, or $100 can do to make an impact. Tell them exactly where to click to donate and how to share your story. Be clear about your plan for using the gifts and provide updates to your supporters as milestones are reached and funds are spent.

Thank your donors lavishly and keep them up to date on the project; they want to hear that there was a happy ending!

There are some stories that stand the test of time while others are easily forgotten.  In a veritable flurry of digital noise, use your authentic, personal, relatable stories to rise above the din so that you can bring your passion, compassion, and excitement to a world that needs some more happiness.

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5 Online Fundraising Trends for 2019 You Should Jump On Now

A New Generation of Donors

The next generation of donors is coming. Sure, Millennials have been a hot topic for fundraisers for years but the older members of Gen Z have recently begun entering college and the workforce. Gen Z now makes up 27% of the population and 30% have already donated to an organization. This number is expected to increase exponentially in the next few years.

The difference in outreach strategies between millennials and Gen Z-ers might not be clear at first, but there are two major differences. 

First, mobile-friendly content is more important than ever. While millennials have increased their average use of mobile devices, Gen Z is the first mobile-only generation, preferring to conduct all online activity through their phone. This means mobile optimized giving pages and forms are the only way to convert these donors.

Second, Gen Z is much more likely to undertake volunteer experiences as a way to build their resume. Over 70 percent of high schoolers are interested in volunteering. Your nonprofit can take advantage of this trend by involving Gen Z’s in your community in fundraising activities as social ambassadors or event volunteers to encourage an affinity early.

Next Steps: Make sure you’re assessing your average donor often to adjust targeting when younger populations begin entering your pipeline. Collect and analyze donor data and adjust your fundraising activity as needed. When moving into the next year, follow some of these tips to reach out to Gen Z in a way that will get results.


A Shift in Social Media Usage

People share a majority of campaigns with family and friends through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but social usage could be on the decline next year. Within the last decade, social media has been used at an obsessive rate. This has brought up many issues in mental health that have spurred a discussion within the organizations of social platform and internet providers.

Facebook and Instagram have rolled out new time-management tools to help users take breaks from social activity and disconnect. Google also recently introduced a Digital Wellbeing app designed to help users track and monitor the time they spend on specific apps and online overall to encourage healthy habits.

Next Steps: Don’t focus all your campaign efforts entirely on your social media platforms. Branch out by asking a donor to share their version of your nonprofit story through emails, in-person or even on personal pages or appeals embedded on your campaigns. Use this resource to take an omnichannel approach to your online fundraising.

An Increase in Video Engagement

Social media and digital donors are much more interested in watching content than reading it. It’s no surprise that video content is now the most popular form of online content and is continuing to grow at a rapid pace. These statistics have shown how much of an impact switching some content from text to video can have on an increase in organic traffic and overall engagement.

Studies show that viewers absorb 95% of a message when in video form compared to a low 10% when formatted as plain text.

Next Steps: Replace that paragraph you’re about to write with an embedded video and use smaller amounts of texts to keep your audience engaged. Keep your videos an average of 2 minutes long to receive the most engagement from your audience and use these free resources to help you easily develop compelling video content.


Email: It’s Baaaack

Some good news: email is not dead! Now is the time to increase your email fundraising efforts as the channel has reemerged as a trusted source of communication.

Rumors that email isn’t a practical way to gain donations have been circulating for the last few years, but statistics don’t lie. A study done by Dunham & Company revealed that email accounts for 26% of online revenue and that the number is estimated to rise in the near future. While only 6% of donors were willing to donate through email in 2012, that number rose to 28% in 2018.

In just 6 years people have begun to trust email as a part of their philanthropic endeavors, and this trust will grow moving forward.

Next Steps: Make sure you don’t focus solely on managing your email output but you take a look at response rates as well. Use these fundraising email best practices as a guide to high response rates.

A Focus on Monthly Giving

There was a dramatic increase in recurring monthly donations last year and that trend is continuing into late 2018 and 2019.

Why are monthly givers so important? When a donor gives on a monthly basis it not only increases their long-term value, but they stay on file longer allowing you to discover secondary affinities and promote more giving opportunities. Monthly donors are also more likely to give larger amounts over time because monthly payments make it more manageable compared to large one-time gifts. 

Next Steps: Feature re-curring giving options on the main donation page and create a campaign featuring individuals who are monthly givers and the impact they drive. This will help create a value proposition for those in your community who might be on the cusp of a time-focused commitment. Check out these tips for more ways to create and keep monthly donors.

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Building a Better Narrative: Powerful Storytelling for Your Online Fundraising

People have been sharing stories since before they had words to tell them. Today, it remains one of the main ways we communicate. Whether it’s as formal as journalism or novels, or as casual as chatting with friends, the tales we tell help construct our world and our world view.

Some stories, however, have greater staying power. When it comes to telling the story of your organization or cause, you want to catch people’s attention in a way that inspires them to act, as well as in a way that makes them remember you in the future. Be deliberate in your storytelling.

For the best results, you need to be mindful of the various elements of your story and how they come together.

The Building Blocks

The Characters

Most good stories have at least one character. Sometimes plot is driven more by that character’s development than any sense of dramatic action. While you want to make sure your organization’s action is driving the plot of your story, don’t forget to spend time with the characters who create and are helped by that action.

There are three characters, or three types of characters, in this story.

Character #1 is your organization. Even though you’re a collective of people, your group functions as one entity. You have common goals and values that help define your organization and the work you do. Your group has a unique flavor to it—a personality, if you will. Make sure your organization’s personality shines in your story, as people connect with shared values and like-minded people. Highlight the actions you’ve taken and those you plan to take to continue the story, but don’t make it all about you at the expense of the other people involved.

Character #2 is your recipient. It might be helpful to have a few individuals’ stories here. People have a hard time connecting with large numbers of people, and while the members of your organization function as one entity, your recipients can all too easily become statistics. Keep these people feeling like individuals in order to best communicate the emotional experience and importance of your work.

Character #3 is your donor. Prospective donors might not have contributed yet, but they have a lot of power in your story and can help determine your success. Make them feel like they’re a part of your story with specific impacts, not as a feel-good move, but because they actually are. By detailing what specific benefits could arise from their contribution, you offer them an entrance point to becoming part of your story, a bit like a choose your own adventure book. They can choose to act and become part of the narrative, or they can choose not to. You know which choice to encourage. 

The Setting

Every story happens somewhere, and yours takes place both where the project is as well as where the donors are. While you don’t necessarily have to write both into your narrative, they can help you move the story in different directions. Emphasizing place differently depending on your cause and donor base can actually change the path of the story itself.

The most important setting in your narrative is the location of your recipient. This is probably the same as your organization’s location unless you’re fundraising for a distant project or a national cause. Just as the characters in your story should be relatable, the setting should feel concrete.

In Penn State’s Birding Cup fundraiser, the funds specifically benefit Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center. The description of the annual fundraising tournament lists several of the surrounding counties and communities that benefit from the center’s programming, as well as describing different levels of competition based on region and range. They also explain what part of the center will be receiving funds from this year’s competition; in this case, the raptor enclosures need remodeling and are shown next to a map of the center.

The setting almost is a character in this case. Whether you have humans, animals, or an organization as the characters benefiting from your efforts, the location can be just as vital for a specific project and should be valued accordingly in your storytelling.

One other factor to note in Penn State’s case is the location of its donor base. Those who physically participate in the tournament are probably locals. This is their home, so they have a vested interest in the success of the region. Similarly, many of the donors list central Pennsylvania cities as their homes. Even if they aren’t birders actively participating in the event, they are drawn in by the locality. How, then, do we explain those donors who listed cities as far as Texas, California, and Hawaii? They might have once lived near Penn State, but they might have been drawn in through other means.

While local donors are easier to reach, don’t discount more distant people. Alumni, former community members, friends, and family may be spread out, but the region your fundraising will benefit was once very important to them and probably still is. Bring them back to this space through your marketing and storytelling and remind them of the value they gained from it. They don’t have to be physically in your location to be connected to it.

The Problem

It can be hard to name conflict, but the tension that it brings drives your narrative. Traditional narrative conflicts include man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. society, and others, although not all conflicts or problems fit into these categories. You don’t need to have a villain in your story and you don’t need to classify your conflict, but you do need obstacles in order to create the stakes that will drive people to donate.

What is the conflict your organization faces? What problem are you trying to solve? Your fundraising might be a good solution, but you need to make it clear that a solution is in fact needed. Maybe you’re working toward new lab equipment, repairs to a building damaged in a storm, or transportation to an important event. Maybe you’re working with a more widespread or abstract problem, like health or hunger.

Whatever your obstacle and goal may be, name them and describe how you will conquer them. Include enough tension to demonstrate need, but enough optimism to keep things from feeling futile.

The Framework

Plot Arc

Also known as a plot mountain or Freytag’s pyramid, this is the basic structure you probably learned about in a high school English class. It consists of the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. 

When telling your story, frame your organization as poised at the climax, ready to take action. You’re so close to solving your conflict—you just need that little extra push! This has the effect of creating momentum, while also maintaining a sense of urgency. The story isn’t finished yet, and it’s up to the donors to contribute to the most exciting moment of action.

This could be a good place to reference previous successes and completed stories if you have projects that are episodic in nature. You’ll get to showcase a history of your organization’s accomplishments while reminding people that your work is not done. Balance the struggle with the success to keep people involved and emotionally invested.

Texas State University’s fundraiser for radiocarbon dating for the Eagle Cave archaeological site told a story that positioned the team at a critical juncture in their narrative. Exposition: they provide context about their work, progress, and process, and why it is historically important. Rising action: their description details a project with three years’ momentum and no sign of slowing when it comes to having material to analyze, but there is not enough funding to process that material. The samples they have collected are meticulously catalogued and ready to be dated as soon as they can secure the funds to do so. Climax: their goal is funded and they can move forward with the next phase of radiocarbon dating.

Because they divided the project into phases, there is a goal against which to measure their success. They’re looking to fund a defined section of a larger project with limits that make a massive effort seem more achievable. Because they have a collection of samples already prepared, they can look forward to the next phase as well, and do so by listing it as a stretch goal should they meet and exceed their original. They are at the precipice for this piece, but do not close the door on possible future fundraising for this project. Still, they make sure to follow through to the conclusion of the episode by sharing updates on their research rather than leaving their donors hanging.

If you’re unsure of how to frame the plot of your narrative, there are a number of tried and true plot archetypes that tend to work well in fundraising scenarios. One of these models, if it fits your organization or an individual recipient’s story, can be a nice base from which to build.


In today’s fast-paced, media-heavy world, there are a lot of things to pay attention to and not necessarily a lot of time to devote to any one thing. Flash prose, which generally tells a complete story in 500-1500 words, is rapidly growing in popularity for just this reason. It requires a relatively small attention span and very little time to read.

The big takeaway from these little stories is to keep things concise and interesting. Tell as much of your story as you can as briefly as you can to grab people’s attention and keep them coming back for more information. You can tell multiple stories from different individuals, but make sure that they’re focused and work well together to strengthen your broader narrative.


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Response Round-Up: How do you collect fundraising ideas from your community?

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Cheatsheet for Getting Buy-In from Key Online Giving Stakeholders

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Integrating online giving initiatives on your campus like giving days and crowdfunding begins from within. To this end, it’s critical to get buy-in from the internal stakeholders that will play a role in your long-term success.

The goals of stakeholder buy-in are:

  • Building awareness and excitement for the initiative
  • Forming an implementation and launch team
  • Developing an implementation plan
  • Locating your first storytelling teams
  • Promoting the initiative and any linked individual stories ahead of the public launch

As a general rule of thumb, there are three groups who will help you lay the foundation for success:


The tip of the spear is your leadership team. Having buy-in from this group gives you the authority you need to begin motivating and involving other stakeholders.

To make the case to leadership it’s important to clearly lay out the goals of undertaking online fundraising and develop materials that lay out how these goals would be achieved. Some examples might be to:

  • Increase participation
  • Empower volunteers and ambassadors
  • Ease the burden on staff to better accommodate fundraising requests
  • Create a more robust pipeline of major gift prospects

You should schedule one-on-one or small group meetings with your leadership team to discuss and understand the benefits and challenges involved with implementing focused online giving initiatives.


Advancement Staff

Look to form your oversight and launch team with internal ambassadors you recruit within the division staff of development. This includes Annual Giving, IT, Marketing & Communications, Major Gifts, Gift Processing, Research, and select unit-based fundraisers.

Start by presenting at full staff meetings, ideally with a stakeholder packet that includes the materials you developed for leadership about the goals of the initiative as well as:

  • The vision for your online giving program
  • An endorsement from your leadership
  • The types of stories you want to include
  • Examples of a range of successful initiatives to spur ideas

Follow-up with individual meetings with interested parties and discuss the value proposition and how this endeavor will benefit their role. For example, the value proposition to major gifts might be that they can use a giving day story to make an annual solicitation on top of a major gift. For research, it might be the ability to create donor affinity profiles or for communications, it could be the evergreen content of new stories that you can build fundraising initiatives around.

Keep in mind though that these meeting should be dynamic and focused on feedback and organic ideas, not a “pitch.”

Once your core team is formed, make sure to continue to share consistent updates and conduct relevant training and webinars for remaining staff to keep them involved and continue cultivating potential ambassadors.


External Partners

After forming your core team, it’s time to make a list of key programs and units that can help you locate your first storytelling teams and promote your initiative internally. Every institution is different, so a good rule of thumb is to look through your campus directory well before your outreach efforts to establish which departments would be the biggest value-add to the platform. Keep in mind how active departments are in campus fundraising, personal connections you or others in advancement might have, and the available resources each department has on hand.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Student Affairs/Activities
  • Athletics and Club Sports
  • Student Government
  • Institutional Communications
  • Research Office
  • Student Aid
  • Career Services

Reach out initially through email, but make sure to arrange a meeting with the units you think will be most valuable.


For quick reference, use this cheat sheet that reiterates what we’ve covered above:

On-Campus Stakeholder Cheatsheet





Responsible for integration and ongoing support. •     Email

•     Scheduled meetings

•     Stakeholder Presentation

Annual Giving Team

Evangelists for the crowdfunding platform and will likely have some responsibility in execution and ongoing oversight. •     Conversation

•     Email/Bulletins

•     Scheduled meetings

•     Stakeholder Presentation

All Development / Advancement Officers

Evangelists for the campus platform and may have some responsibility in execution. They can also be responsible for creating internal development campaigns, funds and programs. •     Conversation

•     Email/Bulletins

•     Scheduled meetings

•     Stakeholder Presentation

Foundation Staff

Evangelists for the platform and may have some responsibility in execution. •     Conversation

•     Email/Bulletins

•     Scheduled meetings

•     Stakeholder Presentation

Student Clubs / Orgs

Encourage them to create crowdfunding campaigns and programs each semester to support campus funding needs. •     Email/Bulletins

•     Meetups

•     Student Org Leadership Events, Workshops

•     Invitation to Creator Training Events

Deans of Colleges

Evangelists for the crowdfunding platform and may have some responsibility in execution as platform administrators. •     Conversation

•     Email/Bulletins

•     Scheduled meetings

•     Stakeholder Presentation


This is a significant source of campus campaigns, you can encourage them to set up programs for each varsity sport. •     Conversation

•     Email/Bulletins

•     Scheduled meetings

•     Stakeholder Presentation

Marketing Department

They must work in concert with platform marketing, promoting and sharing as needed through various campus channels. •     Conversation

•     Email/Bulletins

•     Scheduled meetings

•     Stakeholder Presentation

Alumni Office

Evangelists for the platform; encourage them to create campaigns and programs. •     Conversation

•     Email/Bulletins

•     Scheduled meetings

•     Stakeholder Presentation

Office of the President

Ambassador for the crowdfunding platform. •     In-person meetings

Student Government

Evangelists for the platform. Encourage them to create campaigns and programs. •     Email/Bulletins

•     Social Media

•     Meetups

•     Class visits

•     Invitation to Creator Training Events

All internal media channels such as campus radio, newspaper, blogs, etc.

Major promoters of the platform. Encourage them to create crowdfunding campaigns and programs, but also share relevant stories. •     Email

•     Phone

•     Meet 1:1

Faculty / Staff

Key players in discovering and submitting ideas in which they care deeply and great partners for eliciting interest from others. •     Conversation

•     Email/Bulletins

•     Scheduled meetings

•     Stakeholder Presentation
(for interested parties)

Alumni Contacts

This is a source of potential ambassador campaigns, as well as voluntary evangelists. •     Conversation

•     Email/Bulletins

•     Social Media

•     Inclusion in direct mailers

•     Inclusion in phonebank scripts

Once you have your list of desired participants, we encourage another formal stakeholder meeting that gathers as many of the interested parties as possible. Stakeholder meetings are a great way to share the vision for the crowdfunding campus platform, answer questions, and build awareness for the opportunities the platform presents.

A stakeholder meeting will typically include:

  • Presenting the vision for the platform
  • Basics of crowd fundraising and its value to different stakeholders
  • Facilitating conversation and discovering potential team members
    • Overview of goals & timelines
  • Q&A / Discussion

If you do this correctly, not only will you find willing allies, but you’ll inspire excitement and interest for the impact the platform can make on campus and in the world!

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Stellar Crowdfunding & Giving Day Examples Part 2