Tips for Nonprofits – Meme

December 11, 2007

Topics: Blogging.

So, this is an interesting non-profit web tips blog meme which is being started by Elizabeth Able. Her concept is that we should write up one tip — just one — on how nonprofit organizations can take best advantage of an online presence.

Just one tip, eh? So it better be a good one.

Make it easy for people to give you money.

There’s nothing like visiting the web site for a nonprofit organization you really care about, wanting to give them some help, and not being able to figure out how. A nonprofit’s website, ultimately, has the same needs as any other online business: to convert visitors into “purchasers,” or, in this case, donors.

It’s not just about making sure your contact information is obvious, or that you have a convenient, highly noticeable “Donate” button plastered all over your site. If you’re a nonprofit accepting donations, you have other important factors to take into consideration.

First of all, be sure to list your legal non-profit status: if you have 501(c)(3) status, you need to say it. If you don’t; you also need to say that. Most donors want to know right away what kind of organization they’re dealing with. (And if they don’t; they should.)

Second, make sure you provide the practical information: will you send a receipt? What name should be written on checks? Can you accept donations via credit card? Over the phone?

Third, and most importantly, be explicit what you will do with the donor’s private information. Your privacy policy is very important to your donors. I want to know whether giving you money will cause me and my descendants to receive junk mail from you and your “charitable partners” for the next 150 years. If there’s an option to contribute without getting on any mailing lists, tell me. If there isn’t, tell me that — and start planning to create one.

Visitors to your website must have confidence that you are an organization that they can trust. They need to know that you will handle their information in good faith and that you will handle their money effectively to build on your mission.

Check out the Charity Navigator “Donor’s Bill of Rights”. If your web site can’t answer these 10 issues in the affirmative, it’s time to revisit your online presence.

Here are my tags

So, I have to tag three additional people to participate in this meme. So, here goes. First, I’d like to tag Jack Pickard, to get the voice from over the big waters.

Second, I’m going to ping Rhea Drysdale, a person I finally met in person just last week at Pubcon2007. Hope she’ll run with the topic.

Last, I’m going to tag Mike Cherim. Why? Because I always tag Mike – he’s usually got something worth saying. That, or I’m just sadly lacking in creativity.

Have something to contribute?

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11 Comments on “Tips for Nonprofits – Meme”

  1. I think so. If you are a Nonprofits organization and accepting donations, you must list your legal non-profit status, so donors have confidence that you are an organization that they can trust. I think the tips can help many of these non profits grow and improve their services.

  2. You’re absolutely right — the transparency of how a donation is actually spent is critical. I wasn’t really trying to be that thorough, since the goal was really just to offer a single tip, but managing donations in general is a major issue for any nonprofit organization.

    Thanks, John!

  3. Excellent tips. I think that many non-profits are not as transparent as they could be. The tips you have outlined here are grat. But, they do not address some of the real concerns that many people have about donating to many non-profits. Transparency in terms of where the money is going is as important as to status and other ansiliary things.

  4. I think non-profits can learn so much from each other and blogging or utlizing meme’s is a wonderful way to do that! I think an exchange of ideas and knowledge would have helped many of these non profits grow and improve their services.

  5. So the whole “fund-raising” issue is very clouded; nonetheless, one of the key points above is about disclosure. Regardless of the reason for your fund-raising, you should always make a point to disclose information about why you raise money and what you do with it.

    Non-profit organizations are very diverse: but I feel that it’s universally true that when accepting donations of any kind, there are certain rules they should follow in the disclosure and personal privacy realm, at the very least.

  6. It depends by what you mean by donations we don’t ask for monetary donations. However, we do raise money for other charities even though we are a non-profit ourselves.

  7. It may not be perfectly accurate to say that all non-profit organizations in the United States are specifically focused on fund-raising; but it’s certainly reasonably accurate to say that most of them are willing and ready to accept donations.

    I know very little about the laws governing or defining a non-profit organization in Australia, but in the US it covers a very wide range of possibilities.

    I would say (cautiously) that there are no organizations in the US who’s official function is “about fund raising.” Fund raising is the means by which the organizations get the funds to accomplish their actual missions, whatever those may be.

    Gaining support, communicating information — these are the ultimate purposes of the organizations. But, at least in the United States, fund raising is usually necessary in order to be able to accomplish these missions. Perhaps Australian organizations have better community or governmental support.

    I can’t and won’t speak for all non-profits; but I’ve never worked with one which did not actively pursue donations at some level.

  8. A nonprofit’s website, ultimately, has the same needs as any other online business: to convert visitors into “purchasers?, or, in this case, donors.

    I don’t know if non-profits have a different status in the US than they do in Australia, but over here they’re not necessarily about fund raising. In fact I’ve done two sites this year – one for a national church association and another for a local junior tennis organisation – whose sole purpose is to get information about what’s going on within their respective bodies out to the public.

  9. That’s a very good point, David: saying thank you is pretty damned important.

    Mike – I’m certainly fully aware that the management of a non-profit can make or break the value of that non-profit. There are organizations out there where only a few cents from every dollar donated actually acts to support the target audience, and that’s something well worth researching.

    But, to some degree, that’s an issue which goes beyond what I was trying to discuss. Full and absolute disclosure of financials and management particulars is something we may want to know, but I’m not certain that publishing it on your public web site is necessarily something I’d recommend, however valuable it may be. Discovering the overall value of an organization you wish to donate to simply has to lie on the shoulders of the donor, at some level.

    Let’s face it: the organizations which abuse your donations aren’t going to come out and say “give us money, we’ll use it to buy a new yacht.” 😉

  10. I don’t know what to add, Joe. But I do have an up-coming article that may be applicable in making a reference mention. Having been elected to the board of directors of a non-profit organization in my past, my outlook on the operation of non-profits in slightly skewed. I won’t go into details, but it changed my impression realizing it’s the management not the legal status that makes an organization worthy. In some cases, a non-profit is nothing more than a legal way to bury money so you can keep the books at zero come year’s end.

    A good point to consider about soliciting donations is that it must be marked accordingly (as you noted, Joe). One is not allowed to seek “donations” if not a non-profit without a lot of back-up justification to legalize it. To avoid this, seek “contributions.” It’s weird, I know, but the law is weird.

    @David: 100% agree. The acceptance of my money and taking action is not thanks enough. I like to get a very short letter of acknowledgment. This can be as easy as them clicking reply to the (vendor’s) PayPal notification with a simple “Thank you.” That’s what I normally do when someone contributes to me for my form etc. It’s not an unreasonable request.

  11. Your idea is a good one, Joe, but I would like to expand it one step further.

    Aside from making it easy to donate, make certain that you have procedures in place to say “Thank You” to those who do make a donation.

    A few months ago our local newspaper printed a story about a local animal rescue league who did great things, on few dollars, to help make certain stray and homeless animals found a good home. My wife suggested we make a donation, which I did using their website and their online PayPal donation form.

    Needless to say, other than receiving the standard PayPal advisory about a money transfer, I never received one note of thanks from the animal shelter. Don’t get me wrong, we donated to help the animals and would have done so even if we knew beforehand that a “Thank You” was not forthcoming. That being said, everyone likes to be told their actions were welcome and needed.

    My advice to all non-profits accepting donations is simple: Always say Thank You!