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What Makes Online Donors Tick

"Discussions of online fundraising tend to focus on technology and the latest new bell, whistle or widget. Raising funds online is not about technology, any more than raising funds through the mail is about paper. It's about the relationship between the nonprofit and the donor who wants to support a cause."

—The Online Giving Study

On December 8, 2010, Network for Good and TrueSense Marketing released an analysis of online gifts made through the Network for Good platform between 2003 and 2009. The Online Giving Study: A Call to Reinvent Donor Relationships examines 3.6 million gifts totaling $381 million made through charity Web sites, giving portals, and social networking sites by 1.879 million unique donors to 66,470 different nonprofits of varying sizes and types.

The primary conclusion? "It's still about relationships." The vast majority—64 percent—of the donations in this study was given through charity Web sites. Another 26 percent was made through online giving portals, such as the Network for Good site and GuideStar, and 10 percent through social networking sites, such as Causes on Facebook,, and YourCause.

Further, donors who gave through online donation pages that looked like the rest of a charity's Web site made larger gifts and were most likely to increase their contributions over time than donors who gave through generic pages not branded to specific charities. "The level of connection to an organization that a donor experiences online is directly tied to their likelihood of giving more—and more often," the study asserts. "... there's no excuse for not improving the online giving experience with the donors who do want a relationship. ... even a small nonprofit with limited resources can and should make meaningful connections with their donors online."

Other Findings

  • One in ten of the donors in this study gave recurring gifts, mostly monthly. "Recurring giving is a strong driver of donations," especially on charity Web sites.
  • Charities often fail to follow up with donors who donate via giving portals.
  • Online giving via giving portals and social networking sites aren't going away. On the contrary, "They are a valuable service to donors, and they're proliferating. They likely funnel gifts to organizations that wouldn't have received them otherwise." They can also introduce donors to new charities or causes.
  • Online giving spikes in December. One-third of online gifts for the year were made in December, and 22 percent of online gifts for the year were made on December 30 or 31. Between 2007 and 2009, December gifts were nearly 52 percent higher than donations made in other months. December giving is influenced by donors' relationships with charities.
  • Online giving also spikes during disasters. The proportion of disaster giving made online has grown from 10 percent after 9/11 to nearly all of the contributions for Haiti. Donors giving online after a disaster are more likely to consider giving to charities they haven't supported before but less likely to become long-term donors.

The study presents other statistics as well as tips for encouraging recurring gifts, cultivating donors from giving portals and social networking sites, taking advantage of the December spike in online giving, and managing disaster giving. It can be downloaded for free from the Online Giving Study site.

Download the study

Suzanne E. Coffman, December 2010
© 2010, GuideStar USA, Inc.

Suzanne Coffman is GuideStar's editorial director and editor of the GuideStar Newsletter.

Topics: Fundraising