Yes. It's that important.
I love that time of year...when the Blackbaud Index comes out and I can geek out for a bit digging into the data. This year was really no surprise, though. Even when overall giving trends were down, online giving continues to rise!
This can't be ignored, and this is going to redefine everything about philanthropy, especially stewardship.
You must, absolutely must, steward online donors with as much fervor as all the others.
First of all, demographics are important. No, I'm not about to say only millennials give online- that's been debunked (boomers are actually the largest growing segment of online donors)- but it is important to know who is giving and try to get to the root of why they're giving. If you suddenly receive a gift online from a 29 year old woman who you've never engaged before, you need to do your best to determine what that was about. Impulse donation through your social media? Recent news article that inspired her? Contact from an alumnae group that had her feeling nostalgic (and generous)? This is where tech solutions are very important....if you could track her click through social media or the website or an email sent by an Alum officer, then you can begin to tailor her stewardship experience to her.
Stewardship is vital- even, no especially, with online giving. I give lots of small gifts online to many, many organizations. I've had one, Operation Smile, follow through with excellent stewardship. I've been so impressed with their follow-through that I am reallocating my annual giving for next year to invest a significant amount in Operation Smile....all thanks to their incredible stewardship.
The online experience is important, as well. Every once in a while, click through your donation process online to make sure everything's running smoothly and no information or links need to be updated. Is it a hassle to get from social media to the donate page (we use a plug-in from QGiv that allows users to donate right on our Facebook page without ever leaving the platform)? Is the donation page simple, intuitive, brief, and clean? Does it "feel" safe? Also make sure to check out your donation process on a series of devices, from smart phones to tablets. Once you've walked through your page, go to some other organization's donate pages...pick some large, like national NPO's with slick, albeit expensive, interfaces, and some really small local places. Take notes of what you like, and use what you can to refresh your site.
Once you've taken stock of who's giving, established a plan to steward online donors, and made sure your tech is up to handling the traffic, sit down and really start establishing an online giving plan. Things to consider:
Where to reach donors. Look at where they're already coming through, and target there.
What is our budget? Online giving is vastly less expensive than traditional direct mail appeals, but there are still items like Facebook ads to consider. Be realistic.
What is our call to action? A one-time gift, or encouraging monthly recurring gifts? If the latter, ensure your system is set up to automate recurring gifts. Establishing a theme for an online giving campaign helps with a cohesive message across platforms- meet with your Marketing team and establish an appropriately branded online giving theme.
Determine the channels you'll be using, in what order, and schedule them in advance. If you know Facebook has highest views at 8:30 pm and emails have highest open rates at 9 a.m., schedule your posts at peak times.
Set your goals. Don't limit yourself to financial goals! Set a goal for getting a certain amount of shares/retweets on a social media post, and encourage your followers to help you meet that goal! Set an internal goal for the email open rate, then tweak subject lines to find what works for your followers. Using goals for every aspect of a campaign gives you a set of benchmarks to judge not only what worked, but what didn't and how to avoid that in the future. Your data is your friend!
Get the team involved! Everyone in your fund development office can benefit from online giving tools. This is not a competition- it's a tool. Even major gift officers and alumni officers can benefit from presenting their prospects with another channel for giving.
Online giving is not going anywhere, and online donors are not going to suddenly revert to writing and mailing in checks. Develop an online giving plan as seriously as you plan other appeals, and go out there and smash your goals!