Let me first say – I have the greatest respect and admiration for Charity: Water. Their business model, their passion and commitment to what they do and of course their entrepreneurial spirit – are frankly infectious. And the founder, Scott Harrison, (incidentally a graduate of my alma mater – NYU) is an incredibly dynamic and inspirational leader. To be his age and have that kind of charisma and passion is very, very impressive.
In my experience as a fundraising and nonprofit management consultant serving many nonprofit organizations in the US and Canada, ranging in size from $1.0 million to well over $100 million in annual revenue, I see a wide range of online fundraising efficiency and effectiveness.
Some nonprofits we serve raise a very, very small percentage of their annual revenue online, while others are raising a much more substantial amount in the range of 15%-20%. For those with a strong online presence the percentage is increasing every year.
Granted, all of these particular organizations were in existence well before the Internet was even invented. But then again its been 17 years since the first graphical websites were even being used – thanks to Netscape and the other GUI browsers of the time (around 1995 for those young folks out there)….
But why is it that in spite of the Internet 17 year tenure some organizations are achieving only a 10-20% of online revenue while other Internet “pure-plays”, like Charity:Water, are raising 100% of their funds online?
This is a fundraising conundrum to put it mildly. If a traditional off line nonprofit is raising approximately 90% of their funds offline; is it possible that an online pure-play, like Charity:Water, could be raising substantial amounts through off-line methods such as direct mail… Okay, there – I said it… Direct Mail!
The reality is that Direct Mail still works. It’s that simple. The vast majority of funds being raised by nonprofits are still raised through direct mail, major gift solicitation, planned giving and grants/foundation work – not the Internet or other online channels. Will this change over time – of course it will. Substantial forces are at play, including cultural and demographic changes, human habits, paperless society concepts, globalization, and so forth.
Online giving plays an important part for most organizations fundraising and communication but its a growth area for for most organizations; not the area of revenue sustainability – yet, anyway.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a TOTAL evangelist of online efforts, including online donor acquisition, donor cultivation and donor stewardship and awareness building through websites, blogs, Social Media and other digital methods.
Back to the main point of the blog post today.
Is Charity:Water leaving money on the table? Are they, perhaps, missing a HUGE opportunity to increase the funds raised?
I would venture to say – yes – they are missing a rather significant opportunity for revenue growth. I can only speak from my experience and what I have read about other organizations and the studies I have followed. And all indicate Charity: Water could benefit, perhaps substantially, from developing an off-line fundraising and marketing strategy.
One minor example is that I gave a gift to Charity: Water online and NEVER received any follow-up solicitations or communication (other then the online automated receipt for the initial gift) – no correspondence - not online or off-line. This defies ALL basic nonprofit fundraising best practices that I am currently aware of. We still live in a multi-channel world. It;s that simple. People are not single channel communicators.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, Charity:Water hasn’t even attempted to engage me – even though they have both my online and off-line contact information – including postal addresses.
There are some great studies out there from The Case Foundation, Network for Good and Blackbaud – they are well worth exploring to better understand the trends that are taking place in the online/offline fundraising world.
What do you think? Should Charity:Water embark on a direct mail fundraising strategy?