What to Do When Your Board Asks for an Online Fundraising Campaign?

Since the dawn of the ice bucket challenge, nonprofit boards have asked staff to launch successful online fundraising campaigns - preferably ones that will go ‘viral’. At lunch last week with a fantastic nonprofit director, I saw the look of doubt and then the same line I’ve heard over and over, “Well, I tried an online campaign on (insert software choice) and nothing happened. We raised $55 and I donated the first $50.”  

To date, Swell has powered over 650 online campaigns and events.  Like anything with volume, there are patterns for success.  Below, I outline the 5 major steps -- in short, we encourage clients to approach online fundraising just as they would an event (just without the demands of a physical gathering).   Or, the fastest thing to do is just call us. 




Here are the elements of a successful online campaign that we share (and remind) Swell clients of daily.

First: Set a clear, easy-to-define project or goal. This may take the form of a matching gift, a project at your organization or funding a program. Donors for online campaigns will not think for a long time and thus the impact needs to be easily defined. One of my favorite online campaigns funded back to school uniforms for girls at $27.50, $48 increments. With excellent messaging, it is possible to distill your mission into a bite-sized funding. 

For some nonprofits this is harder than it sounds, when we are so close to a cause it's hard to paint the big picture.  One way to do this is to take a minute and answer the following: What did my organization solve?     How did it make a person feel when we solved that problem?   We love this video about messaging and hope it helps you craft your own in a more compelling way.

Second. People-Power. Determine who is best to carry the fundraising appeal to your community. Support them, empower them, thank them and even honor them.  Great fundraisers have the following qualities:  Positivity, Energy, Community-Commitment.   Peer fundraising can often allow someone who has a limitation feel empowered by impacting your cause. 

Third. Fundraising Tools. Create fundraising tools and informational support for your fundraisers. As nonprofit staff, it is our job to help our fundraisers be informed, equipped and supported so that the only thing they are left to do is email, call or post. A fundraising toolkit will include example social media posts, example emails, compelling images and stories about your cause.   For peer to peer campaigns, you become the fundraising coach.  

Fourth. Create a Fear of Missing Out. Online campaigns need to create enough dialogue online for it to take the form of an “event”. Through messaging, tagging, good humor and encouraging others to ‘talk online’ you can essentially create an event that others want to join. There are several steps to highlight the online activity and fun in giving including: (1) Thanking donors online through tagging, (2) Asking your board members and supporters to thank a donor online.  (3) Create lists of 1st 10 donors, 1st 50 donors, Startup circle etc.  anything to create a feeling of fun and a need to join. 

Fifth. Crisis Fundraising. It’s impossible to plan for crisis fundraising but it is essential that nonprofits are ready. When the news cycle shifts or tragedy strikes, nonprofits who are prepared to respond with swift, online campaigns can channel funding into effective, local needs.  In these cases, it's helpful if your software vendor is already in place.  


We work closely with nonprofits to help them leverage our software to raise funds online.  


What is unique about Swell?    Our software is an easy, online giving platform where nonprofits can also access mobile giving tools like text-to-donate, QR codes and email communication to take your online campaign anywhere.  

Here is a short summary of the Swell platform features but nothing can replace a free consultation call with one of our Campaign Specialists. 


Interested in reading about successful online campaigns?  Download our case studies.

Download Example Campaigns



Successful online campaigns require skill, planning and proper execution. It goes far beyond creating  a giving page. As a result, we include a 4-class series alongside our software… because software alone does not raise money. Swell Online Success (SOS) provides the step-by-step process and tools necessary to succeed.