Cybergiving clicks: Online donations catch on nationwide
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The individuals who use the telephone to raise money for Point Park University are accustomed to alumni and other prospective donors on the receiving end of their calls requesting information through the mail before they commit to make a gift to the school.
But the school is learning not to necessarily expect to receive donations back via the U.S. Postal Service.
Instead, people who receive follow-up information in their mailboxes are clicking on their computers to make online donations.
"It's about giving people more options," said Maria Villiotti, manager of annual giving for the Downtown college, which has seen online donations jump by more than 35 percent in the fiscal year that will end in August.
In an effort to drive more potential donors to its website, Point Park has been posting its Web address on all correspondence whether it's paper or an e-mail blast.
The next step is to explore how to make more of an impact in social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
"We're looking at where our donors are and where our alums are looking so we can reach them," said Ms. Villiotti.
The bump in online giving at Point Park mirrored national trends last year when cyber donations rose by 34.5 percent, according to Blackbaud Inc., a South Carolina firm that provides consulting for nonprofits and tracks giving statistics.
Online donations accounted for 7.6 percent of all fundraising in 2010, said Blackbaud's survey, which included data from more than 2,000 nonprofits nationwide.
Month by month, January 2010 generated the most online donations as a result of a spike in giving for earthquake-ravaged Haiti. A total 18.4 percent of all online giving for 2010 occurred that month while total online donations for the fourth quarter including October, November and December -- considered to be a peak time for charitable contributions -- was 31.3 percent.
"A recovering global economy, online response for disaster relief, peer-to-peer fundraising and the role of social media in the nonprofit sector all shaped 2010," Steve MacLaughlin, Blackbaud's director of Internet solutions, said in a statement released with the survey.
Girls Hope, a Baden nonprofit that provides housing and support for disadvantaged girls ages 10 through high school seniors, has targeted online giving as a major fundraising focus this year.
"We redesigned our website in January so donors can give directly through it," said Beth Exton, director of development.
A third-party vendor previously handled electronic donations for Girls Hope but overseeing the site "gives us more control," said Ms. Exton. "Our focus is to attract the next generation of donors. We looked at how we were communicating with donors and how they liked us to communicate."
For the fiscal year ended in June 2010, Girls Hope raised $700,000, but less than 1 percent of that came from online donors.
While it will continue traditional mail campaigns, the organization has made it easier for visitors to its Facebook page to link to its main site where they can donate; and it plans to post monthly electronic newsletters that provide quick news updates and a link for donations.
"We'll tell a story in the e-newsletter and then say here's how you can support us," said Ms. Exton. "It's more action-oriented than print."
For Venture Outdoors, the South-Side based nonprofit that organizes activities to promote outdoor recreation, a letter sent to members seeking financial support "is still the standard," said Rob Walters, membership director.
But the organization has stepped up its electronic communication and has seen significant success raising money online.
Last week, for instance, Venture Outdoors sent an e-blast to lapsed members urging them to rejoin.
The message include free passes for kayak rentals and $20 worth of credit toward future programs.
The e-mail generated 400 membership renewals, which range from $15 annually for students and seniors to $50 for families, said Mr. Walters. "So online was very effective. If we have to give away a little to get something back, [we hope] they'll want to stay."
During Pittsburgh Gives Match Day last October -- an online event for nonprofits throughout the region -- Venture Outdoors received more than 100 individual donations, up from about 20 in 2009, Mr. Walters said.
"That's a really big help. The number [of donations] is more important to us than the dollar amount because it's more broad-based. It's touching a lot of folks."
Another positive of online fundraising, Mr. Walters said, is reduced paper costs and paper waste.
"It's good for the environment. Instead of sending someone five pages, we're being environmentally conscious and conscious of people's time."
First Published February 24, 2011 12:00 am