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Online Donations - Strategy or Website Coinbox?

by Ron Strand

I recently reviewed a random sample of 75 websites of nonprofit organizations. I looked specifically at their strategy for online donations. Here is what we found:

Results of the Survey

  • Of the 75 organizations surveyed, 59% had some mechanism set up on their sites for receiving online donations. Within that 59%, 65% were using their own systems and 35% were using a third party for online processing of credit card payments.

  • 35% of the organizations recognized at least some of their donors online.

  • 30% had some form of collecting names and email addresses independent of online donations, like newsletter subscription signup or requests for information.

  • 28% had some form of specific strategy or incentive to encourage online donations, such as participation in a specific campaign, membership in a giving club or the offer of a plastic bracelet or pin.

Interpretation of These Results

Letís look at these results in light of what we know about who is using the Internet. According to 68% of North Americans are using the Internet (I focused on North America because the sites I reviewed were all English language sites). Of these users, 89% of people with an annual household income of more than $75,000 are online and 88% of people with a college education are online. 78% of people aged 18 to 29 are online and 74% of people aged 30 to 49 are online. Users are more or less evenly split between rural and urban and male and female.

The point of these statistics is that Internet users represent a demographic cahritable organizations should be interested in. According to research done by the Pew Foundation that was released in November 2005, 18% of Internet users report having made a donation online, up from 11% when the last survey was done. This report can be found at This increase was attributed in part to the response to the relief efforts for Katrina victims. The urgency of this situation may have caused more people to donate online but it is logical to speculate that once the behavior is established, it may become easier for other charities to solicit online donations.

Going back to the results of my survey, I made the following observations.

If Internet users represent a good target demographic, organizations that do not have an online donations strategy should develop one. Based on my research, only 30% have a strategy and of those 30%, only a few have what appears to be a well thought out strategy. Their strategy should target a demographic appropriate for Internet users. As an example, I observed of many organizations that had loads of planned giving information on their sites - yet only 25% of people over 65 are using the Internet.

Without a strategy, an online donations form or button is the equivalent of an online coin collection box. It is a very passive form of donation collection that is not likely to result in the opportunity to cultivate a relationship with the donor. Like any form of donation solicitation, developing communication strategies that are designed to form relationships with donors are the strategies that will have the most impact.

If your organization is not soliciting donations online, why not get started? If you are, take a careful look at your online donations strategy and perhaps rethink what you are doing. One great thing about online communications is the ability to easily experiment, review and try something new.


About the Author: Ron Strand is a member of the faculty of the Centre for Communication Studies at Mount Royal College and President of Strateo Consulting Inc., a marketing and communications consulting firm. More information about the company can be found at

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