Basic Online Fundraising for Busy People

Posted by Rich Mintz, Jun 20, 2011 1 comment

Rich Mintz

At the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention, I had the pleasure of listening to Camille Schenkkan of Arts for LA giving an unusually lucid and helpful introductory summary to online tools for donor development and management.

I think those of us who work in online fundraising for a living — especially those of us who mostly work with large organizations, the kind that have a dozen or more people in the marketing department, and technical staff to handle the donor database, and so forth — sometimes forget how mystifying all of this stuff is to a lot of people.

If you’re doing three jobs at once, in an environment where there’s never any extra money lying around, with a board of directors (or a major donor, city council, etc.) breathing down your neck — sound familiar? — what you want is not a bunch of platitudes about the “next generation” and the “new normal.” You want someone to tell you the dozen or so things you need to know, and the half-dozen or so things you should try to do this month or this quarter.

Camille’s presentation was the closest thing to this that I’ve seen in quite a while. I won’t try to reproduce it here, but I will abstract some of the important points. These largely overlap with what we at Blue State Digital are regularly preaching, so if you know us, you won’t see surprises here, but maybe it’ll be more accessible in Camille’s words (and what I’m presenting here is mostly adapted from things Camille said).

So, according to Camille (and I very much agree), if you’re just getting started, here are the four kinds of things you probably need to know something about: CRM, e-blast tools, donation tools, and social media.

First, CRM, or “customer/constituent relationship management,” refers to some sort of software program where you keep track of your donors — who they are, what they’ve given to you and when, and (ideally) when and how you’ve reached out to them. You use this information to understand who’s responding, what tactics are working best, and what you should do more of.

Right now you might be keeping this information in Excel, or even on paper. But CRM tools are easier and more versatile.

Camille talked about Salsa and Patron Manager; obviously if you asked me my professional opinion, I’d suggest that you consider the BSD Tools, which combine great CRM with sophisticated outbound email, fundraising, and social sharing tools. But I digress.

Second, you’ll also need some sort of outbound email tool, so that you can keep in touch with donors and prospective donors. These range from the cheap and basic to the slightly more expensive and fantastically sophisticated.

Don’t overthink this (especially if you have a tiny organization) — but even a tiny organization should think at least in general terms about audience segmentation (who are the different groups of people who support my organization, and do I need to speak to them differently?).

Many tools (BSD! BSD!) support some degree of donor tagging, segmentation, and testing so that you can gradually make your program more sophisticated as your time permits.

Third, you need to be able to accept donations online. Camille mentioned Network for Good, but even if all you do is set yourself up to accept Paypal donations, you’re taking a step in the right direction.

And, obviously (plug plug plug!), if you use a toolset like the BSD Tools, you have credit card donations, and the ability to set up different donation forms for different promotions or events, built right in.

Finally, social media. Two of the smartest things I heard at this conference came out of Camille’s mouth during this part of her presentation. For one thing, she said “if you hate a social media tool, don’t use it.”

If you hate Twitter, and everyone in your organization who could possibly be tweeting hates Twitter, don’t use Twitter! Find the tools that you can use organically, in a way that seems authentic to your organization, and use those. Maybe it’ll just be email for now. If that’s where you are, that’s okay.

And for another, she made clear the importance of planning to a successful social media program. In this context, planning doesn’t mean “write a telephone-book-sized strategic memorandum”; it means thinking about questions like these:

* What do we want this social media campaign to achieve for our organization?
* What actions are we going to ask people to take (give money, share links with their friends, buy tickets, come to a show…)?
* What voices will speak on behalf of the organization?
* How will we schedule our social media posts and activities?  (Example: On Day 1, send an email; on day 2, update Facebook with a reminder; on day 3, have staff members send supporting tweets in their own words…)

Scheduling, as Camille said, is important. You don’t want to bombard people, especially your supporters; you want a steady drumbeat of messaging over a period of time so that all the messages reinforce each other and encourage the people who love you to take actions that support you.

Do you have any tips to add about CRM, e-mail tools, social media, or online donations? Share them in the comments below.

*This entry is crossposted on

1 responses for Basic Online Fundraising for Busy People


June 20, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Well, this sure made my day. Thank you, Rich!

The BSD tools sound awesome-- I've never used them but I'll absolutely check them out.

  • Please login to post comments.