Stephen Pidgeon: Online is just one piece of the puzzle

Online fundraising should be used with other methods to create a multi-channel approach, says our columnist

Stephen Pidgeon
Stephen Pidgeon

Here is a statement designed to bruise the boundless confidence of online fundraisers worldwide and introduce a little reality into current fundraising planning: "Online giving in the US falls by 8.6 per cent."

Of course, the statistic needs some context - the figure is from the software giant Blackbaud's Index of Online Giving for February 2011 and describes online giving in the three months to February 2011, compared with the same period in the previous year.

This earlier part of the comparison includes the US giving response (an astonishing $1.4bn) to the Haiti earthquake, which happened in January 2010. The Haiti emergency broke all records for online giving - 19 per cent higher even than the response to the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami.

But here is the really interesting statistic: even in the US, and in a year when one emergency significantly hiked online statistics, web donations still accounted for only 7.6 per cent of all US giving.

This figure is based on a sample of 1,438 non-profit organisations (total funds raised - $5.1bn) and appears in Blackbaud's fascinating 2010 Online Giving Report. Its analysis is as interesting as it is exhaustive.

Online giving in the US during the 12 months of 2010 grew by 34.5 per cent compared with the previous year, but that average hides a mere 7.4 per cent increase in donations to healthcare charities, compared with a growth of 131 per cent in giving to international charities.

Some internet devotees would have us believe that online fundraising will shortly take over the world. At 7.6 per cent in a very busy year, I'd say it still has a long way to go. And let me give you some more significant statistics from yet another Blackbaud report - the 2009 DonorCentrics Internet Giving Benchmarking Analysis.

Again from the US, these figures describe not only online, but also the committed use of all media in strategically coordinated ways: direct mail preceded or followed up by email; printed media advertising; SMS and follow-up telephone working together, and so on.

This is the new world of multi-channel fundraising and the results are impressive. The median revenue per donor in the 2009 study, for instance, was $339 for multi-channel, $180 for online and only $88 for direct mail.

According to the study, first year retention rates were 51 per cent for multi-channel, 30 per cent for direct mail and 22 per cent for online supporters.

Online is the solution to very few of today's challenges, as is the case with offline. The reality is that the future is in the combination of such media, designed to please the supporter, not fundraisers.

This realisation will force many charities to reorganise their fundraising departments - an interesting and challenging prospect, I am sure.

Stephen Pidgeon is chair of Tangible and the Insitute of Fundraising's standards committee

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