The Executive Director of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, Steve Loflin (@sloflin) invited me to Boston to make a short presentation about online fundraising at the Annual Meeting of Collegiate Honor Societies.  I’m making the presentation today at 3:00, and I wanted to share some of my notes below.

Intro to online fundraising 

  • Fundraising is about two things: (1) relationships and (2) storytelling.  For all 35 of my clients, no one ever gets a donation unless there is a relationship between the donor and the place they are making a gift.  In recent years, there’s been a trend that has reshaped fundraising in some incredible ways.  A second type of relationship has started mattering more than ever.  That’s the relationship between a donor and her friend.  Using any number of online tools, after someone makes a donation, they can now alert large numbers of friends and in some cases they can even solicit them on behalf of the organization to match their gift.  This phenomenon is changing the way schools, nonprofits, and political organizations are allocating their resources.
  • No longer do you want to spend close to 100% of your resources on soliciting new donors and cultivating current donors.  Instead of that, organizations are spending more and more resources on enabling their current donors to tell their friends and family about their own donations.  What’s the ROI on this type of activity?
  • Traditional “new donor acquisition” methods tend to net a “.03%” conversion rate of prospect to donor.  We see friend-to-friend techniques netting a conversion rate of about 30%.  That means that by some important measurements friend-to-friend fundraising is 100x more effective at new donor acquisition than traditional fundraising.

The long history of friend-to-friend fundraising

  • People have always known that friend-to-friend fundraising is the most effective way to raise money, but until five or six years ago, it was too expensive to do on a large scale.
  • Previously, “friend-to-friend” fundraising was limited to large donors who give $25,000 or more.  It was cost-effective to organize those large donors to ask their friends to match the gifts. 
  • Additionally, on a smaller scale, many organizations have a history of distributing pre-stamped stationary and pens to encourage current donors to contact their friends.  Problem with this was that if the materials went unused, the organization operates at a loss. 
Where things stand
  • Online fundraising pages.  This is a very simple concept where you take all of the friend-to-friend communication and you put it online on a single personal fundraising page.  
  • Eliminate production costs and greatly reduce the resources required to communicate with the volunteers = a very compelling return on investment.
  • Add in non-fundraising communication platforms like Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter to supplement tools that are geared specifically for fundraising.  This ensures that the focus stays on fundraising even as activity migrates to large social networks.  
Will Marlow co-founded AlumniFidelity to help his clients reposition their fundraising to benefit from Web 2.0 technology and marketing techniques. He’s working with clients such as UVA, the College of William & Mary, the University of Oklahoma, Bowling Green State University, Randolph Macon College, and he loves nothing better than a thorny marketing challenge.  Read more about Will Marlow here, or email him at