Considering the influx of fundraising e-mails to inboxes, it's no surprise that the Web is an increasingly important place for holiday charity campaigns. Though e-mail usage by nonprofit organizations in the final months of the year continues to increase, social media, search marketing, and other online tactics are gaining in popularity as more organizations clutter the online holiday fundraising space.
Indeed, as nonprofits scramble to coax dollars from thin recession wallets, they can expect more online donors than in years past. According to a Forrester Technographics study conducted in Q4 of this year, over 63 percent of Web users plan to use the Internet to donate to charities during the holidays, up from 51 percent last year.
Organizations are hoping to lure those online donors through several ways, including e-mail. Last December, e-mail traffic among clients of nonprofit software firm Convio was 32 percent higher than the monthly average for the year, according to the firm, whose clients include American Diabetes Association, Easter Seals, and World Wildlife Fund. The company said around 45 percent of e-mails sent through its system in the past two years were delivered during the last quarter.
"An organization that might send one appeal per month is probably sending six to ten during December," said Convio Chief Strategy Officer Vinay Bhagat.
The Twitter Effect
Though she uses e-mail, Twitter has become especially important to Alicia Staley, three-time cancer survivor and founding director of the Staley Foundation, which provides funds for cancer education, advocacy, and patients in need. "Everything we've done has been all virtual," she said.
The small-budget organization has a staff of four, and last year raised $3,500 in 24-hours solely through Twitter promotion. "It was totally a word-of-mouth campaign," said Staley, adding, "I found Twitter really valuable last year." This year should be no different, as another end-of-year Twitter-centric fundraiser has been planned.
"We try to keep an active dialogue with our donors and our sponsors throughout the year," through social media like Twitter and Facebook, said Staley. "There are more people engaged on our Twitter and Facebook page than last year."
According to the Forrester study, nearly 25 percent of respondents said that what family and friends say in social media and in e-mails influences their decisions about which charities to support.
"Are you hurting @ Christmas? Feel good & #give to tots who've lost much more," wrote 2BlueStarMom on Twitter recently, promoting the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes, a nonprofit group supporting troops severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. The surfeit of #donate and #give hashtags in Twitter posts of late is certainly an indicator that holiday charity campaigns are flooding the short messaging site.
Corporate Support -- and Clutter
According to Staley, this year there are more organizations than ever vying for attention online from potential donors. Cause-related marketing efforts by corporations are helping to clutter the space, she suggested. For instance, a Facebook initiative from Chase Community Giving has propelled lots of activity from nonprofits online. Following an initial round of voting, the bank has chosen 100 nonprofits, each of which will receive $25,000 and go on to submit ideas for how they would use $1 million. Another round of voting to choose the best idea will begin January 15.
"I'd rather have us be able to focus on a couple of key initiatives," said Staley, who chose to keep the foundation out of the contest. "I don't want to spread the name too thin," she said, adding she doesn't want to battle with thousands of other organizations.
One corporate offering she has chosen to use is a free toolbar from software firm Conduit, which will donate to the foundation whenever supporters download the toolbar and click its "Click to Give" button. "It's another way to bring people in, and for us it didn't cost anything," said Staley.
St. Louis Children's Hospital is also using the Conduit toolbar offering. While the hospital's marketing team doesn't do a lot of holiday-related fundraising (that's left to its fundraising division), Director of Marketing Steve Kutheis said it does plan to create YouTube videos featuring doctors, patients, and their parents discussing things that are meaningful to them during the holiday season.
Indeed, as more and more organizations have flocked to Twitter, Facebook, and other online venues, competition has intensified. This is also a factor in paid search, where nonprofits have access to grant money toward search advertising from Google, which subsidizes AdSense ads for qualifying charities and advocacy groups.
Donation-related searches on Google turn up ads for a large variety of nonprofits bidding on holiday and charity related keywords, including Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation, Covenant House, and Make-A-Wish Foundation, all of which include the word "holiday" in their ad copy. Google would not provide ClickZ with information about use of Google Grant money during the holiday season.
While additional e-mails or Twitter efforts don't always cost nonprofits additional money during the holidays, search marketing does -- especially if they are not funded through the grant program. At the end of the year, said Convio's Bhagat, "One area of additional spend is search engine marketing."
Bhagat has also seen an increase in the use of online gift giving catalogs, which allow supporters to choose incentives like stuffed animals and other gifts in exchange for donations; such incentives have become especially important during the recession because people have less money to give. Nonprofits are also pushing for donations to be gifts themselves. Typically organizations send an e-mail, card, or gift notifying people that a donation has been made on their behalf. "It extends the philanthropic to the consumer," said Bhagat.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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