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Multi-Channel Fundraising: Tips of the Trade


Multi-channel fundraising has received a lot of attention lately, but is it really worth all the hype? Yes! With today's ever-expanding communication choices and ever-changing technology, multi-channel fundraising deserves consideration from the nonprofit community.

In order to understand fully multi-channel fundraising, one must first get a conceptual and visual definition. Conceptually, multi-channel fundraising is the idea of using various communication mediums to convey key messages to an audience or audiences. Multi-channel fundraising moves beyond a simple one- or two-tactic campaign to embrace the unique preferences of individuals while effectively using popular communication channels.

To get a better understanding of multi-channel fundraising, let's look at the most commonly used channels:

  1. Direct mail: This channel includes everything from postcards to newsletters that are mailed via the Post Office.

  2. Internet: This category includes a broad range of sub-categories that each use the Internet in some way. Nonprofits can use the Internet to communicate with constituents via e-mail, e-newsletters, blogs, RSS feeds, and social networking sites, to name a few. It is also important to remember that an organization's Web site is itself a communication channel.

  3. Phone: This used to be a pretty simple communication tool. With advances in technology, however, the phone can include more than an audio conversation. With today's cell phones and the increasing use of text messaging, the phone has become a multi-channel device.

  4. Face-to-face: Just because technology has created more choices doesn't mean that the good, old-fashioned face-to-face conversation has gone away. These conversations can occur one-on-one or in group settings at events. Many nonprofits know and understand the impact and power of these interactions, and they should not be forgotten in any multi-channel discussion.
With so many communication channel choices, one of the greatest challenges of effective multi-channel fundraising is determining which would be most appropriate to convey a particular message, while taking into account constituent preferences. As the number of communication choices continues to climb, the ability to decipher effectively the most appropriate message/medium/preference combination will prove vital in fundraising strategy.

Makes sense, right? But how can nonprofits determine the appropriate message/medium/preference combination? What can nonprofits do to help establish an effective multi-channel fundraising initiative? Below are seven tips for accomplishing this goal:

  1. Ask constituents their preferences: Most constituents appreciate it when an organization asks them how they would like to be contacted and what they would like to be contacted about. Some constituents might prefer to receive appeals via direct mail, whereas others may prefer a phone call. Taking note of these preferences can be done in most donor management systems and will provide a way to categorize constituents based on communication preferences.

  2. Use Web analytics: Web analytics provide a way to help an organization learn about its constituents. The information gathered by Web analytics can help an organization determine which causes or appeals are the most compelling and which channels are most utilized. Web analytics serves as an extra ear for organizations. It gathers information about constituent behavior that can be used to make better decisions.

  3. Segment the database: Most nonprofits already segment their databases. A different set of criteria exists when using multiple channels, however. Traditionally, nonprofits have used segmentation as a way to communicate targeted information to particular groups or to establish appropriate ask amounts. When using multiple communication channels, nonprofits should also consider a constituent's preferences as part of the segmentation criteria. This approach may lead to more mini-campaigns, but the results and impact are typically greater.

  4. Set up a social networking page: Setting up a social networking page is an easy and cost-effective way to build a micro-community for your constituents, who can then help spread the word about your organization's mission and goals.

  5. Create cross-functional campaign integration teams: By developing cross-functional teams that include representatives from all types of fundraising, IT, program, and administration, nonprofits can help ensure the most effective and executable multi-channel strategy.

  6. Enable incoming multiple-channel communications: Nonprofits should enable constituents to communicate however they wish. Organizations should give constituents the option to call, e-mail, visit a Web site, or send a postcard in a single communication piece. For example, a postcard appeal can provide a simple mail-in reply but can also give a Web site address and phone number where a constituent can learn more or even donate. The idea is to be always available and give constituents a convenient way to engage with the organization.

  7. Maintain consistent messaging: One of the potential drawbacks and most common mistakes when employing a multi-channel fundraising strategy is the failure to provide consistent messaging. Consistent messaging doesn't mean that every communication must have an appeal or the same content. It means that the overall message and image the organization would like to convey should remain consistent across channels.
These seven tips provide a basic guideline for nonprofits considering a multi-channel approach to fundraising. Because today's donors have so many choices when it comes to communications and each has his or her own unique interests and preferences, multi-channel fundraising is quickly becoming a necessary fundraising strategy. Nonprofits should use the seven tips mentioned above to create an effective multi-channel fundraising endeavor that empowers constituents to communicate on their terms while enabling the organization to meets its goals.

David Lawson, October 2007
© 2007, Kintera®, Inc.

David Lawson is vice president for market strategy for Kintera®, Inc. Kintera provides software as a service to help organizations quickly and easily reach more people, raise more money, and run more efficiently. The Kintera technology platform features a social constituent relationship management (CRM) system, enabling donor management, e-mail and communications, Web sites, events, advocacy programs, wealth screening, and accounting.
Topics: Fundraising