Best practices for promoting your fundraiser online

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As marketers in the nonprofit sector, we realize that conversations are taking place online between nonprofit organizations and their donors, as well as among many supporters and their friends and associates. The growth of the Internet and online technologies has created tremendous opportunities for marketing your fundraising events in new ways. Yet it can quickly lead to information overload.

With so many different possibilities available, it's helpful to develop a targeted strategy that outlines how you intend to spread awareness of your cause, recruit participants, and attract potential donors and sponsors via the web. The key is to be focused, and therefore more efficient, when you market your events online. Decide the scope of activities you'll undertake after considering the following techniques.

Create a dedicated event website

If you intend to market your fundraising event online, the first thing you should think about is creating a fundraising website. Think of this website as an extension of your organization's website. Remember that this is a reflection of your nonprofit, your brand, and your cause.

Should you choose an online fundraising partner, ensure that you're able to customize any template designs so your event website is in keeping with your organizational site and brand image, and that there are software tools to help you efficiently plan and manage your event through your web portal. Building a professional, informative website that is easy to navigate can help you be more successful in your efforts. Use this site as your fundraising hub — a place to share information with all audiences. Not only will you be able to register participants and collect online donations, but this is the logical platform to tell stories about what you're aiming to accomplish, explain how funds raised will be used, post pictures, sponsor logos and share inspiring quotes.

Encourage participants to embrace this resource by creating their own unique pledge page, which can be personalized with individual goals, photos, and mission statements. Remember, your fundraising website is the first place many potential donors, volunteers, participants, sponsors, and media representatives will go to learn about your upcoming fundraiser, so you want the website to look good and be informative.

Spend some effort on social networking

Be sure to spread the word through your social networking channels: Facebook, LinkedIn groups or Twitter. Keep followers and fans informed with updated announcements about fundraising event activities, donations received to-date and how much is needed to reach your goals. Post occasional "congrats" messages when participants bring in large donations or sponsors get on board. Make the conversation ongoing so people can follow your progress.

You might also consider creating a fundraising blog where you can post personal stories, photos, and highlight sponsors or participants who have made a difference throughout the duration of the fundraiser. Interview someone from your organization who can explain what will be done with the funds raised. Post videos of pre-fundraising event parties and fundraising events from previous years to get participants excited. You could also shoot a video with interviews of people directly affected by the cause (for example, interview someone with a disease sharing their personal story, and how funds raised for their charity have helped them overcome challenges). Go viral. Upload these on YouTube and then post links on your Facebook page. Reach out to like-minded blogs to see if they'd be interested in sharing your story with their readers. Don't forget to invite your fans to comment with their personal experiences and ask them to help you spread the word within their network.

Don't forget old fashioned media outreach!

Mass communication has become easy for everyone, but it's important not to overlook the importance of more traditional media outlets. Reach out to targeted media organizations to help you spread awareness of your cause and promote your fundraiser. Distribute press releases and media advisories online to announce your fundraising event. Be sure to include basic details of your fundraiser (event cause, date, location, etc.) but also mention entertainment, celebrity appearances, and some kind of "interest factor" or element of surprise...something to spark interest and draw media to your event.

You may also want to highlight a specific success story of someone fighting for this cause who is significantly influenced by the efforts of your organization, or offer a detailed interview with a particular event sponsor about their reason for supporting your event. Often these ancillary stories may be just what editors are seeking for an upcoming feature story. If your fundraising event or supporting story is picked up in a local newspaper or an online blog, this can provide an excellent opportunity to reach a much broader audience at no cost.

Target communications through email marketing

Email is still an excellent way to reach a large audience of potential participants, donors, volunteers and sponsors. Sending an initial email to your entire database to announce the fundraising initiative is a great way to inform your network of supporters and partners. Include a link to your fundraising website in your email message, making it simple for potential participants to sign up and donors to make online contributions.

Throughout your fundraising efforts, implementing an email campaign can help you stay top-of-mind and allow participants and donors to share your message with their network of friends. Of course, you will want to be conscious not to send too many emails, so you aren't spamming your supporters. However, occasional email correspondence shows that you care to keep people informed, and email also allows for a very personal touch that social networking posts does not provide.

The nice thing about email messaging is the ability to personalize messages and customize communications to distribute to different groups. Technologies such as databases and online fundraising software can help you make use of the data you collect from online registrations, sponsor or volunteer sign-ups, and online donors.

You can make use of these various lists to inform participants about details specific to each group, for example sending day-of-event registration details to participants, keeping donors informed on how their financial contributions will be used, and thanking sponsors for their support.

Case Study

The Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (SSNS) does an excellent job with online fundraising promotion. SSNS has a detailed fundraising website for their Road to Recovery walk-a-thon that provides an excellent "go-to" portal for participants, sponsors, potential donors, and media. The site includes: photos, stories, fundraising tips for participants, donation links to personal pledge pages, a sponsor highlight section, and more. More than 75% of 2011 walk-a-thon donations were raised through the organization's online fundraising website.

SSNS also uses email extensively to promote their walk-a-thon and solicit online donations. They partner with like-minded mental health organizations (i.e. Health Coalition of Nova Scotia) that forward SSNS email messages to their database, allowing the organization to reach even more targeted prospects. The organization also distributes media releases to promote their walk-a-thon and direct people to their fundraising website to learn more about the event or make online donations.

Additionally, SSNS uses social media to attract potential donors and spread the word about their cause. They use their website, Facebook group page and Twitter to promote their fundraising initiatives and keep supporters continuously informed. The organization has created a dedicated SSNS blog where they share highlights of their fundraising events, thank participants and donors for their support, and post touching photos showcasing people who directly benefited from funds raised. Not only has their blog received awards, but SSNS has also recently been invited to contribute on other industry blogs including the Let Abilities Work Partnership Society and Organized Wisdom.

Kari Kiel, is a marketing consultant who currently leads marketing efforts for online fundraising software provider, DoJiggy LLC. Kari has more than twelve years experience developing and executing strategic event marketing plans. She has produced large-scale community fundraising events for nonprofits, and has consulted for various companies to help them extend their reach and improve results through integrating targeted online marketing campaigns.

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