I was in a meeting a few weeks ago with some colleagues that run a somewhat small nonprofit. They were quite excited because they had just purchased an email list of a few thousand high net worth individuals. I checked in with them a few weeks later and asked them how their response rate was. It was not surprising to me; their answer was that they had gotten only about 50 replies. I think even that might have been an exaggeration.
While technology (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) is definitely a way to build connections in this day and age, it is not how one builds relationships. I think sometimes we tend to forget the difference between a connection and a relationship. Connections are easy to make, but relationships take work.
I tend to relate this example to online dating. One creates a profile, they receive messages of interest, and they may in fact, interact with this person in the messaging platform. I have had some friends, in fact, that have messaged a person back and forth for months. The messages are sweet, endearing, interesting, and exciting. However, even though there is a conversation happening, it is still just a connection. It is not a relationship.
In many cases, the two people never meet. Why? Well, basically because once you actually meet a person, there is a chance of it going from a connection to a relationship. I may even further that argument in that meeting in person prompts a commitment. Even if the commitment is small (a coffee), it causes a potential relationship to be explored.
My point here I suppose is that while online fundraising can certainly bring in revenue, the commitment will be small. In order to engage a donor in a real and personal way, face-to-face meetings are crucial. In the online dating world, until you get to actually meet the person and see how you interact, a relationship cannot truly be formed.
It is the same with fundraising. Borrowing from the marketing research, people buy because of emotion. They buy because they want to feel good about something. Donors donate because they want to feel good about what they are donating to. The only way people feel good about their purchases is through the EXPERIENCE of the purchase. In other words, they want to have the experience of a relationship with the organization they are donating to.
The donor makes a commitment to an organization, the organization then needs to make a commitment to the donor. A relationship indicates that expectations are being managed, there is a give and take, and that both parties feel respected.
Email marketing is fine for engaging the small occasional donor. However, if you want to go for those donors that will make a true difference in your efforts, building a relationship is the key. The next step from an interested online prospect should be to form some sort of relationship beyond a simple connection. This could be in a phone call, a meeting, a site visit, or even an event. You want to demonstrate your commitment to them, just as you expect a commitment from them.