How to: Start planning for online Christmas fundraising

February is the perfect time to review last year's Christmas online fundraising campaign.

The cold light of the early months of the year, when all the cash has been counted, is ideal for casting a critical eye over last year's performance and preparing for next Christmas.

Experts believe that young adults (those aged between 20 and 45) are more likely to use the internet to donate than older generations. Although they are less likely than older donors to be rich, they will eventually become wealthier and potentially more generous. Charities that are able to engage these young adults, either as web donors or activists, are likely to reap future rewards.

We asked two fundraising experts and one charity for their tips on exceeding targets next Christmas.

1. Know your donors
"At review time it's likely that fundraisers will congratulate one another because income from online fundraising has increased," says Niroo Rad, chief executive of business software consultancy ASI Europe.

"But they often forget to ask the right question, which is 'did we fulfil our potential?'"

To find the answer, fundraisers must get the right information. To review an email campaign, for example, fundraisers need to know which recipients made a donation and how many donated, not just the percentage that responded. Once you know who your supporters are, you can target more people like them next year.

2. Check your information
Does your back office system give you the answers you need when you interrogate it? "For example, does it allow you to identify those donors that forwarded your email campaign message on to their friends?" asks Rad. "If you can't find out who did, you will miss out on inspiring them and their circles to give again next year."

Graham Sharp, planning director at marketing agency Target Direct, advises charities to set realistic targets when planning the next year's campaign.

"The evidence shows that core charity givers tend to use the web as a magazine rather than a way of donating, so be prepared to start small," he says.

3. Budget for the right site
If your current site isn't providing the information you need, it may be time to persuade those who hold the purse strings to upgrade it in time for next year's campaign. "Your online Christmas campaign should be in place by October, and installing a new system won't happen overnight," says Rad. "Have a timetable ready now and get the investment right."

Charities can be tempted to buy software and create their own websites.

At about £300, this can appear cost-effective, but Rad says it might be a false investment.

"Just two Christmases ago, most charities were reluctant to spend money on their websites, but now that's changing because we know young adults love the convenience of donating online at one of the busiest times of year," he says.

Allocate a moderate budget to your website - perhaps between £10,000 and £18,000 for a charity with voluntary income of £2m. This should buy the website as well as the interrogation and cleaning tools you will need, and will allow you to send out precisely targeted emails.

4. Aim high
Be ambitious - try for double-figure percentage increases in online income next year."An increase of 25 per cent in a year is perfectly achievable," says Rad. "If not, your organisation will be falling behind disproportionately because many charities are chasing the same wallets."

Help the Aged more than doubled its fundraising target with the launch of its Cows 'n' Things virtual gifts website for Christmas 2006. The site attracted more than 25,000 visitors, and more than 2,000 of them bought gifts. The charity says it is currently "crunching the data" with a view to expanding next year's range of gifts to include items of higher value.

5. Get the content right
Small and medium-sized charities should mimic household-name charities to improve their websites' presentation. For example, Help the Aged plans to adapt its Cows 'n' Things site for occasions such as Mother's Day and Easter.

"Today it costs less than a quarter of what it cost two years ago to produce a powerful e-marketing package," says Rad. "That's the beauty of technological evolution - it is no longer the privilege of the big charities."

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