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Online Fundraising
The Next Generation - Online Fundraising!
By Cynthia Kirkeby
Apr 5, 2009 - 11:07:21 AM


So, you just found out that your class has to raise funds. Don't panic. You’ll be glad to know that there are new and exciting ways to raise money these days! Taking control of your fundraising by going online may help your organization raise millions of dollars. 
A whole new style of fundraising has been created in recent years, and online fundraising is starting to take center stage in the fundraising industry.  To keep you in the know, here’s the 411 on some FAQs regarding online fundraising:

How does it work?

Online fundraisers can take many different forms, but 2 forms are taking the lead right now.  For the purposes of this article, let’s call them 1) Full Online and 2) Hybrid-Online.

1) True-Online

A Full Online fundraiser takes place entirely online.  The company you’re working with will usually supply you with an online fundraising store, which you register for and personalize online.

With a Full Online fundraiser, you also promote your fundraiser online.  Some companies will add your campaign to a directory so that you can be ‘searched’ by friends, family and anyone else who comes across the main company website.  Others will have built-in features like email invites that allow you to email a link to your online store to supporters.

A good online fundraising company will also provide you with reporting to show you how much you’ve sold, who has participated, and how much profit you’ve made.  Typically, you receive profit checks on a monthly basis either through a service like PayPal, or through regular mail.

2) Hybrid-Online

This form of online fundraising isn’t really online fundraising.  Hybrid-Online campaigns provide products and information in an online setting.  When you fundraise with a Hybrid-Online fundraising company, you’ll be shopping for fundraising products and information through the company’s website, and then placing your order either online or by phone.

The products you purchase will actually be sold offline – geek-speak for ‘out in the real world’.  Basically, you buy a product (like chocolate or lollipops) online or by phone, receive your order, and then sell the product.

Essentially, it’s traditional fundraising that has a beginning online component to make things easier.  For the purposes of this article, we’ll be focusing on ‘Full-Online’ fundraising.

What will I be selling?

The products in your online fundraising store will vary depending on the company you work with.  Some will provide a variety of products (department store-style), some just one or two products (specialty store-style), while others allow you to choose from a list of products or stores you’d like to promote (mall-style).  

All styles generally work the same way, but typically, you get a higher payout from specialty store-style companies that provide one or two products for you to sell.  This is because the company will usually have a special deal with the product supplier, allowing them to purchase products at a lower cost, so that you can re-sell at a higher fundraising profit without having to sell over-priced products.

How do my group members participate?

For companies that provide a built-in email feature, group member participation is a breeze!  You send emails to notify your group of your fundraising campaign launch, and then your group members access the same email feature to send email invites to their friends and family.  The invites will have links to your store for easy access by your supporters to let  them make purchases at any time.  The idea is very similar to the “tell-a-friend” features you find on many websites.

When working with a company that does not provide a built-in email service, you may need to create your own ‘launch’ and ‘invite’ emails.  To provide a link to your fundraising store, simply copy and paste the address exactly as it appears in the address bar when you send ‘launch’ emails to group members.  Also encourage them to either create their own invites with links, or to forward your email to their friends and family.  We recommend Unlike, your guests don't have to be registered to read the invitation, and they won't be spammed afterwards.

Is it safe?

Buying and selling online is actually quite safe these days.  If it weren’t, big companies like eBay and Amazon wouldn’t be so popular.  But not all companies use "best practices," so you should look into a company before working with them.  Here are some things to look for when checking out an online fundraising company:

  1. Are they certified by a third-party organization?  
  2. Look for logos from organizations like Thawte and VeriSign.  These logos mean an outside organization has declared the website secure.
  3. Do they have a privacy policy?
  4. If you don’t see a link to a privacy policy anywhere on the site, run!  Any reputable company will have a privacy policy that tells you exactly how personal information is used, such as mailing and email addresses. Look for a company that clearly states that the information you provide will not be shared or sold.
  5. Do they ask for your credit card number when you try to register?
  6. Unless there’s a cost to register, there’s absolutely no reason the company needs your credit card number.  If you’re not making a purchase, and they ask for your credit card number, find another company! If there is a cost to register, you should consider finding another company anyway.  There are many great fundraising companies that offer their online programs for free.
  7. Are they a well-known company?
  8. Ask people you know if they have ever worked with the company, or know of anyone else who has.  There are also many online forums that discuss fundraising programs and ideas, as well as the different companies that provide them .
  9. Check the Better Business Bureau
  10. This is a quick way to find out if the company has been having any major problems with other organizations like yours.  If there are a lot of unresoved issues, you might want to look for another group to work with


Can I actually raise money this way?

Yes!  Online fundraising is becoming more and more popular because it actually does work.  If you still aren’t convinced, most online fundraisers are free, so you aren’t risking anything to try it.  If you’re new to online fundraising it is a good idea to run a traditional fundraising campaign (for example, a chocolate or lollipop sale), and a free online fundraising campaign alongside it.  Since you know the traditional program will work, any money you raise online will be a bonus.

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