Online Communications: Consistent or One Hit Wonders?

Vol. 13 No. 6

development eletter Vol13 No6 email

Consistent communication with donors keeps them coming back to your school with the necessary funds to pay for improvements. But, as one non-profit fundraising expert discovered, organizations like your nonprofit private school often lack follow-through with online donors—losing out on future donation opportunities.

Miller’s Experiment

Kivi Leroux Miller, author and adviser for nonprofit marketing and fundraising professionals, wondered why online donor retention appeared to be universally terrible. To see for herself what kind of communication strategies big-name nonprofits used for electronic donations, she donated $25 to various nonprofit organizations at the end of 2011. To 10 organizations, she made the donation directly from their websites; for another 10, she gave through third-party “giving sites” that collect the funds before distributing the money to designated organizations.

Of the 10 organizations to which Miller donated directly via their websites, eight have reached out in various ways—both effectively and ineffectively—to encourage repeated donation.

The second group of organizations started at a bit of a disadvantage, as Miller acknowledged that the timeframe for donations through third-party sites was different. Rather than "instant" receipt of donated funds, donations through third-party sites took about a month or so to arrive at the intended organization.

But by the time her blog post was published in August of 2011, eight months had passed since her donations—and only five of the organizations had made so much as a token effort at communication through a thank-you email.

After this “underwhelming” response to her donations, Miller asked, “How can we possibly expect online donors to give again if we aren’t communicating with them appropriately online?” She went on to say:

The content of those communications has to be really good. You have to thank, and report back, offer other ways to engage, and ask. Not just silence, and not just more asking.

The Takeaway

Let's bring this back to private-independent schools. Online giving, as you've probably noticed at your school, has been increasing as a donor's preferred method of donation. In fact, Blackbaud's 2014 Charitable Giving Report shows that K-12 schools report a 12.9% increase in online donations over the previous year.

With that in mind, consider how you're collecting online funds. While many schools have a direct donation page on their website for the annual fund and various capital campaigns, others use third-party sites like or Razoo. Miller's experiment reminds the schools that take advantage of the latter to check what messages the third-party's automated emails send on their behalf, if any.

The ultimate lesson we’ve taken away from Miller’s post is as true in 2015 as it was in 2012: Make sure your donors know, as quickly as possible, how grateful you are for their transformational gifts—no matter how they give to your school. Even if using a secondary vendor means that the funds take a little extra time to arrive, that doesn’t mean you can afford to wait to make your new donors feel welcome and wanted.

Online donors don’t have to be “one-hit wonders.” As with any other donor, spending a little time and attention can turn even the most unlikely prospect into a dedicated partner for years to come.

For those Development Directors who want incredible, moving promotional pieces that build strong relationships with current and future donors, ISM offers our Writing Clinic: Marketing Your Annual Fund this summer in Wilmington, Delaware. Part of our Summer Institute, this clinic will help you transform your marketing materials from average to excellent. You’ll leave with a folder of completed letters, brochures, and other materials to ensure your donor communications this year will be the absolute best they can be.

Additional ISM resources:
ISM Monthly Update for Development Directors Vol. 8 No. 8 Online Giving Is Growing--How Well Does Your School Communicate?
ISM Monthly Update for Development Directors Vol. 8 No. 6 Tips to Promote Online Giving to Your School

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 36 No. 5 Conducting a Communications Audit

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