Eight lessons for online fundraising

​Lessons from the Wikipedia year-end fundraising campaign.

Written by
Corinne Bekker
May 20, 2012

There is a lot of debate about whether online fundraising works. In this article, I want to tell you the story of one major online fundraising success: the 2010 Wikimedia campaign.

Wikipedia is one of the most popular websites in the world. As I write, it contains over three and a half million articles in English and hundreds of thousands of articles in different languages. Wikipedia is supported financially by the Wikimedia Foundation (a registered nonprofit organisation in the US) that receives a mixture of private donations and grants. In the past few years, it has launched several online campaigns and has achieved success.

The foundation’s mission statement is ‘to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally.’ It was started with a view to raising money to keep Wikipedia running and also to allow it to develop and grow.

Wikipedia may be freely available (for anyone that can go online) but it does incur some running costs. For instance, there are servers around the world ensuring easy access to the website; and there is the paid staff of the Wikimedia Foundation (which was 54 people in November 2010). Wikipedia is largely maintained by unpaid, well-informed volunteers, many of them as committed to Wikipedia as a social movement as they are to the idea of freely available information. For this reason they are willing to make an extra effort to ensure the success of our fundraising campaigns.

​The fundraising efforts of 2010: raising 16 million dollars

Wikipedia can only remain free if enough donors and sponsors are willing to make regular contributions. In 2009, the end-of-year fundraising appeal raised about eight million dollars worldwide. This was achieved by placing web banners on the top of every Wikipedia page. After clicking on the banner, the visitor could read a letter (with a clear ask) and then click on to donate.

The challenge in 2010 was to double the amount of money donated, setting the target at 16 million dollars. Funds were essential to keep Wikipedia going as well as paying for other projects and server space. The campaign achieved its goal of 16 million within six weeks of being launched.

Here are some of the reasons why this campaign was so successful:

  1. Wikipedia is already among the five most visited websites worldwide; there is enough traffic to the site. At the time of the campaign 340 million people visited Wikipedia every month.
  2. Wikipedia is seen as a social movement and has attracted a large number of committed volunteers – there are currently about 100,000 active volunteers, many of whom worked on the campaign.
  3. Both visitors and volunteers are used to the internet and use it often.
  4. Using web banners as the fundraising mechanism was entirely appropriate for the prospective donor population.
  5. The Wikimedia Foundation had a good idea of what makes their (intended) donors tick: after allowing them to use the website freely for ten years, they knew that many would empathise with its philosophy of keeping information and knowledge free and available.
  6. Paying was easy and kept in line with what donors wanted. There were several ways to donate. Visitors were asked to pay online, using secure paying-in services; but it was also possible to transfer money to a Wikimedia Foundation bank account.
  7. The Wikimedia Foundation ensured they had enough support and technical staff available to make this success happen. There were many tests to change the banners, their timings and to see what worked best.
  8. While the 2010 campaign only took six weeks, much of the year was spent on pre-campaign planning which involved the various Wikipedia ‘chapters’ around the world.

So can any organisation reproduce this type of success? The simple answer is ‘of course you can’ if you are able to put into place a similar kind of system. For an online campaign to be successful your potential donors should be already online and they need to have an idea of what your mission is and empathise with your work. One of the biggest hurdles is ensuring that you have donors that are willing to pay online. You also need to organise the campaign well in advance so that the technical staff are ready and your other staff members are well trained to deal with problems.

In light of my experience, I would say that online fundraising is a possibility for everyone. But it certainly shouldn’t be taken up lightly.

This article was originally published on 101 Fundraising Crowd Blog.

About the author: Corinne Bekker

Corinne Bekker

Corinne Bekker has worked as a fundraiser and consultant from her own company 100% Bekker since 2007. Previously she worked as a lecturer and researcher in ethics, gender and diversity at Utrecht University in the Netherlands,

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