How One Non-Profit Raised Millions on the Web

How One Non-Profit Raised Millions on the Web

Creative thinking increases donations

By: Karmelle Chaise


June 13, 2005

You may know Heifer International as a nonprofit organization that helps people become self-reliant through gifts of animals and training. You may not know that we have raised millions of dollars online over the past three years. For an organization that is not relief-based, we have had to rely on innovation, integration and great expectations to help us succeed online.

Four years ago, we developed a very innovative online catalog that has become the main reason for our fundraising success. This was no ordinary online catalog; it was a unique way of packaging what we do and a vehicle to make it easy to give to us. Almost immediately our donors began to respond. They were asking us to create things they had seen on's Web site! It took some time but we thought innovatively and developed the functionality they had requested. We developed online Honor Cards and allowed donors to customize them. Innovation can be expensive but, for us, it has paid off in many ways including the savings of labor costs, postage and printing of cards.

Once the online catalog was on-track, we started to focus on integrating our offline and online fundraising. We saw how successful it was to put our Website address on the direct mail "Gift Catalog" we sent out every year; now it was time to see how we could connect other offline requests for support with online information and donation capability. For very little cash, we developed an online donations section where people could donate to special projects that were coupled with direct mail appeals. We integrated the offline and online appeals and have had good fundraising success.

We have always looked to those who lead online and taken our cues from what they are doing; that sometimes means we are not looking at other nonprofits but examining the best practices of for-profit businesses online. Our team's mandate is to stay ahead of the crowd when it comes to online fundraising and Heifer's online presence; a tall order filled with great expectations. Bonnie Jean Walker, Ph.D., who has successfully launched many corporate Internet initiatives and consults with nonprofit organizations, had this to say about us, "Heifer has successfully blended visionary beliefs, strategic planning, and innovative implementation. They are truly an Internet success story among the nonprofit sector."

That is not to say that that we have been able to stay ahead in every way. As our organization has grown and changed so have the Internet skills and expectations of our supporters. We are currently working on a new site that is a departure from our brochure-type site and will be used more as an educational tool. And, we have a new idea for fundraising online.

So how does our experience help other nonprofits with online fundraising? I think there are three main lessons here:

  1. Be innovative in your approach to online fundraising. Look at what your organization does and ask yourself what is most tangible and compelling about it. Then, package what you do in a unique and engaging way for your donors online.
  2. Integrate everything. Marketing efforts are most effective when online and offline efforts are integrated. If you host a dinner, make sure the website address is on the handouts. If you send an email, make sure people can click to go right to your donation portion of your site; make it easy to give. Create a way online for your supporters to learn about you and to give to you right then.
  3. Expect results. Look at the best sites, in the nonprofit and the for-profit world. See what really draws you in and take notes. Don't let your lack of experience with the Internet keep you from doing the fundraising you want to do online. You can start small with a package online fundraising system that is not too expensive but the key is to remember to think big and expect results so you can keep adjusting the site until it is a successful online fundraising tool.

About the Author:

TechSoup thanks Karmelle Chaise for contributing this article.


Faith (for Content):