Using the Internet for Major Donor Cultivation

While a growing number of AGRM member rescue missions have created web sites (see the index),  very few make it possible for users to make online credit card donations.  Those that do have experience what might be at best considered modest success at gaining donations online.

There are a few other mission web sites that have "guestbooks" and other online forms to collect e-mail addresses and other contact information from users.   Additionally, surprisingly few rescue mission have developed a strategy for collecting and using e-mail addresses of their current donors.  While the Internet can be used for gaining new donors, it has been used effectively as as a prospecting tool for researching major donors, foundations, and corporate giving programs (a topic we will deal with in a later session of this course).

At this stage of its development, the most effective use of this powerful medium is cultivating those who have already shown a special interest in the rescue mission through recent contributions.   The real power of the Internet lies in its use as a communication tool, which is the essence of cultivation, especially when we think of major donors.

Let's consider the profile of the average Internet user as portrayed in several computer/marketing publications: he is a college educated white male with an average annual income of over $60,000. This is the very profile of what might be called the "power donors" of many nonprofit organizations. Most major corporations already provide their managers and other employees with Internet e-mail. It is also now used at many smaller companies, as well.

Sound development principles tell us that this type of individual is often capable of making a sizable gift, but that his decision will depend a lot less on emotional response than most other givers. For the "power donor", a charitable contribution is often viewed as an investment and is given after a period of learning about the receiving organization. Moreover, just like the purchase of stock in a for-profit company, these donors want ongoing information about how their financial investment in a charitable organization is "paying off".

A well-designed site on the World Wide Web helps these donors, along with many corporate givers and foundations, to view the organization as progressive and forward-looking as they take advantage of this emerging technology.

The place to begin collecting this vital donor information for electronic cultivation is to include a space for e-mail addresses on response devices used in direct mail solicitations and other fund raising pieces. A field for e-mail addresses should be added with all the other donor information maintained in the computerized development management database records.

A search of current donor files will identify those "power donors" that can ben cultivating electronically. Then, definite process for collecting their e-mail addresses must be established.

"Cold" solicitations via e-mail is definitely considered bad "netiquette."  It is absolutely essenstial that we ask them to provide their e-mail addresses, whether by phone or mail. They must be told that their e-mail address will only be used to keep them informed in a very timely manner regarding how their financial investment is working to help people through the rescue mission.

The whole idea is to create a special "insiders club" communicating with them using brief e-mail bulletins of just a paragraph or two, with a note pointing them to a web page for more information. This approach, if done properly, is a very effective educational process that will draw people more closely in who have already shown an interest in the ministry of the rescue mission. It will ultimately pave the way for a more effective direct "ask" in the future.

Using a Listserver

As with "snail mail" (US Postal Service), e-mail can also be sent out in bulk, using a computer application know as a "listserver". Basically, a listserver provides asingle e-mail address (like that automatically forwards any messages sent to it to a list of current subscribers. A discussion list can be set up so that any replies sent back to this address are routed to any sstaff e-mail address. Once the listserver is set up the list owner maintains the list of subscribers via e-mail, adding and deleting addresses at any time.

For most nonprofits, contracting with an outside company to provide this type of service is very cost effective. Rates are around $100 a year for hundreds of addresses.

Web Site vs. On-line Brochure

I've met many people who say they've got a site on the World Wide Web, while, in actuality, all they have is a static on-line brochure, little different than a printed one. Once you've visited their pages, you really have no reason to return, since nothing will be changed the next time you log in.

The glory of the WWW, like e-mail, is immediacy of communication. Your donors can access web pages in seconds, at their convenience any time day or night. Web pages can and should be updated often, using regular newsletters, along with information on your staff and programs. Most importantly, you can provide your special donors with weekly (or even daily) reports on important dates and events, fund raising drives, and other activities you want them to know about.

The best web sites make good use of text, graphics, and photos, so a visit is an exciting visual experience as well as being informative.

A Note of Caution:

The web site should be created and maintained by someone with both technical expertise and a good knowledge of the essentials of good graphic design. While a member of the mission's staff who is proficient with desktop publishing applications can learn to maintain a web site with some training, it is probably best to have the initial site set up by a professional. 

It is as important to put just as much energy and creativity into WWW pages as you put into any printed materials. Web pages created for ministries by volunteers can be downright embarrassing.  As the old saying goes, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."