What is Digital Fundraising?

A new fundraising playbook for today’s online economy.

Watch 2-Minute Overview

It’s about time we rethink how we fundraise.

Yes, you read that right. There’s no denying that times are changing. Social media has connected us in ways we never thought possible. Many of us stay glued to our phones for longer than we’d like to admit. And, for better or for worse, we send and receive (100+) work and personal emails 24/7/365. The internet and the connections that result from this technology have transformed the way we live– and the line between our digital and offline worlds has become blurry. Now that our lives are fundamentally different from how they were a decade, let alone a half-century ago, it’s high time the nonprofit world followed suit. Some say our industry is slow to change: that we’re stuck in our old ways. But sometimes, that’s because it takes resources, both time and money, to keep up with these new trends. And, as we all know, these are two things nonprofits and charities are seriously lacking. There’s good news, though. Fundraising methods that take advantage of the relationships we’re all building— both online and offline— may be exactly what you need to draw attention to your cause in a way that doesn’t just “rent” attention, but instead is built on the bonds you’re forming every single day.

The key is to use your connections—your community, to build support around your cause. We call this digital fundraising. At CauseVox, we believe Digital Fundraising isn’t just future of fundraising, it’s happening now, and it can help your organization thrive.
Let’s talk about how you can incorporate digital fundraising into your everyday approach to fundraising.

What Is Digital Fundraising?

Digital fundraising is based on the passion and voice of your network of supporters– your donors, volunteers, board members, clients, advocates, nonprofit partners, government officials, and anyone who plays a role in your organization.

But instead of just asking them to donate (which you do anyway), digital fundraising is all about their engagement. Over time, and with the right cultivation, implementing digital fundraising methodology helps arm your supporters with the passion, knowledge, and guidance they need to add a human, relational element to your fundraising and friend-raising.

Digital fundraising converts your supporters into advocates.

At CauseVox, we see digital fundraising as an approach that you can base all your fundraising activities around.  Eventually, your supporters will use their voices to help spread the word about why your cause matters to them, and why it should matter to the world.

Chances are, you’re already dabbling in digital fundraising without even thinking about it.

Are you occasionally asking people to share your Facebook posts? Do you often request that supporters fundraise to participate in a special event such as a 5K? These are prime examples of digital fundraising!

Why Use Digital Fundraising?

A Look At The History & Evolution Of Modern Fundraising


Localized Fundraising

Localized Self-organized Callaborative Personal outreach

Small meetings Canvassing


Mass Fundraising

National Mass, industrail-style Undifferentaited Direct response Cost/response

Telefundraising Mass mailings TV ads


Internet Fundraising

Global Mass but online Automated personalization Cost/click

Email blasts Display ads Social ads

Digital fundraising has always been a resource development technique, but it has evolved dramatically over the years.

Nonprofits and charities have always relied on word-of-mouth referrals to boost their donor base. However, these interactions were usually in-person or over the phone and were personalized, specific asks. Most often, a prospective donor would only be considered if someone believed they would have an interest in the cause.

Over time, organizations began using targeted advertising via direct mail, the phone, and eventually online through ads and emails to spread the word. But this resulted in a ton of messages, most of which went unread and unanswered. This blanket marketing got organizations in front of people but didn’t include any “buy-in” factor. Messages like generic emails, Google Ads, and social media advertisements are, as we all know, really easy to ignore. This was all just rented attention– and it didn’t work at converting a nonprofit’s audience into true supporters.

But some good has come out of the social media revolution– it has connected us all in unimaginable ways. Now, whatever we personally think, feel, and want to convey is literally a keyboard click away. And whether it’s your donors posting pictures of their adorable children, ranting about a bad day, or touting the awesome things your organization is doing in the community—there’s an audience of eager listeners out there who want to hear more.

This organic reach is why digital fundraising matters. The method, when used with each touchpoint and every pre-planned fundraising activity throughout the year, builds on your supporter’s buy-in and then converts it into natural word-of-mouth marketing.

With digital fundraising, your donor’s value isn’t tied to a donation amount— it’s the passion they convey to others that determines their lifetime worth.

Today, digital fundraising comes in many forms, including peer-to-peer fundraising, online crowdfunding campaign, social sharing of your campaigns or messages, or interactive online and offline fundraisers, and special events.

What Are The Benefits Of Digital Fundraising?

We know what you’re thinking. I’m stretched thin enough as it is. Can I really introduce a “new” way of fundraising into the mix?

Yes, you can, because the benefits are significant! Here are the major benefits of digital fundraising:



Relationships are all built on connections. What digital fundraising does is build on the connection you have with supporters—quite organically we might add—through engagement.

The minute someone takes the step, not just to give, but to use their influence to rally others to get involved, they’ve shown their commitment and their dedication. You’re building a stronger relationship in the process, helping ensure a retained supporter for years to come.

Online Presence

New Prospective Donors

We’re all online, a lot. It’s one of the main ways we discover, evaluate, and ultimately buy (or “buy into”) something new. Sure, targeted online ads work in some cases, but they’re not the most effective way to reach people online.

The best way to get your message across is through your supporters. When they share your posts or tidbits about your organization with their friends and family, those networks are inclined to listen. These folks are your potential donors!

Social Sharing


There’s a lot of noise out there. We’re all bombarded with emails and marketing efforts. Again, setting your message apart from all that loud congestion happens when it comes from other people.

For starters, if your online campaign is shared by one of your supporters, it’s more visible to an online audience than if you shared it on your own social media page. (For more on this, check out our post on Facebook strategies)

So, there you have it. Digital fundraising helps you engage and retain your current donors, get in front of a new, larger audience of prospective donors and ensures your cause is noticed in our busy, noisy world.

The Many Variations 
of Digital Fundraising

As you may have noticed, digital fundraising isn’t yesteryear’s fundraising strategy. It’s different because it involves mobilizing your supporters into action to help your nonprofit or charity raise friends and ultimately, funds.

Thankfully, there are many ways to implement digital fundraising within your annual fundraising plan.

Launched by Organization

Events & Campaigns

Race, walks and runs Event-driven peer-to-peer Annual funds Crowdfunding

Giving Days & Project

GivingTuesday and other giving days Virtual events Capital projects Program campagins

There are many ways an organization like yours can run fundraising event that includes elements of digital fundraising. Whether it’s a 5K race, an annual fund drive, or a #GivingTuesday campaign, there are definite ways you can inspire, activate, or rally your supporters in almost every activity you plan.

In most cases, your organization-led efforts will fall under these two categories: crowdfunding and special event fundraising.


Nonprofit crowdfunding is the process of raising a small amount of money from a large number of people. Most often, this is done online via an online fundraising campaign. This fundraising technique is often used to collect money on special days of giving such as #GivingTuesday, to collect annual campaign dollars, to fund capital improvements, and to support additional programming.

Anyone can set up a crowdfunding website to raise money for a cause, whether it’s an organization or a person. But crowdfunding requires a social component. After all, you can’t raise money from people without reaching out to them.

Therefore, crowdfunding relies primarily on social sharing, including these common actions:

  • Supporters sharing your campaign on their social media pages or “Tweeting,” “Liking” or otherwise interacting with your posts and pages.
  • Supporters sharing personal stories about your cause online and in- person with their networks

A community is vital to the success of a crowdfunding campaign. When you have the support of those who are connected to your nonprofit or charity, you have the potential to get in front of an exponentially large audience.

Special Fundraisers

Activity-based fundraisers, such as marathons or other interactive fundraisers are another way to use digital fundraising. In these fundraisers, your supporters are rallying for your cause by doing something active or different to show support and raise money.

Whether it’s a 5k or a mustache-growing challenge, your community is interacting with your organization on many levels. First, they’re participating in something fun and funky and second, they’re raising money to do so.

Launched by Supporter


Third-party events Memorials and tributes Challenges, weddings and birthday campaigns


Personal crowdfunding cause-based fundraising

To understand supporter-led fundraising, look at peer-to-peer fundraising, a form of supporter-led fundraising that takes your fundraising a step further. Not only do your supporters share your cause socially, but they also dedicate themselves as personal fundraisers. By taking on this role, they set a goal, create a fundraising page, and take it upon themselves to reach out to friends and family to raise money. But it’s not all up to the personal fundraisers to meet their goals. Your organization should give them the tools to do so, via a support contact person (usually someone within your organization) and a fundraising toolkit. There are also other ways for your supporters to raise money and connect others with your cause. These include:

  • Personal crowdfunding: Supporters fundraise on their own for your cause (also known as DIY fundraising).
  • Challenges and events: Supporters participate alone or on teams to complete a challenge or participate in an event.
  • Memorials and tributes: Supporters raise money in memory or in honor of a lost loved one.

In the process of fundraising for your cause, your supporter is engaged, connecting you with a larger audience, and building a deeper connection with your cause.

Digital Fundraising Methodology

There are three elements of digital fundraising: Inspiration, Activation, and Rallying. Incorporating these activities can help you drive growth and build deeper relationships with your supporters.

Inspire your community to become supporters

More often than not, unless someone feels emotionally connected to your cause, they’re not going to go out of their way to give (let alone engage). So, that’s where you need to start.

Connecting with your supporters usually starts with a story. The story can take many forms, such as written word, an image, or video. Although nonprofit stories come in many forms, each has similar elements, including introducing a problem and a solution provided by your organization.

In his work Contagious: Why Things Catch On, marketing guru Jonah Berger stresses that negative emotions work just as well as positive ones in getting people to care about something. However, activating sentiments such as excitement or anger work more effectively to get people to act opposed to sadness and contentment. Therefore, stay away from the guilt, the hopelessness, and the melancholy and instead, think about how you can convey emotions like anger and delight to inspire.

At CauseVox, we highly encourage our customers to use nonprofit storytelling whenever and wherever possible because it’s always a good idea to remind people why they should involve themselves with your cause.

Take This Action Now:
Use stories to inspire your supporters and build trust and loyalty.

Activate your supporters to become fundraisers

You can’t just give your audience inspiration and leave them without something concrete to do with it. Your audience needs direction now that they’ve received all that emotion-inducing inspiration.

The “activate” step involves providing a proper call-to-action to activate your supporters into action, such as by donating or connecting via social media. CauseVox’s Jeff Chang explains it like this: “You’re looking to activate potential that already exists. You’re not trying to convince them to do more than they’re capable of doing.“

So use their inspiration to encourage their next efforts, in a way that’s both comfortable for them and helpful for you. Focus on activities that your supporter is already capable of doing, keeping in mind that their value isn’t just money, but also time and influence.

Take This Action Now:
Make opportunities for activation exciting, and not an obligation.

Rally your fundraisers to be advocates for your cause

But there’s more to do (of course!). At this point, you have a solid connection and a supporter who’s gotten involved with your organization in some capacity, most often as a donor or active audience member. Whatever you do, don’t leave them hanging!

Use this opportunity to rally your donors, volunteers, and online audience to go the extra mile. Naturally, the best use of their efforts is to continue influencing others to learn about your nonprofit or charity.

Do you remember all those variations of digital fundraising we discussed before? Now’s the right time to rally your supporters in a crowdfunding campaign, peer-to-peer fundraiser, or another special event.

Lead, but don’t manage their rallying actions. Yes, the fear of losing control over your carefully crafted narrative is scary, but it’s this freedom that opens up the opportunity for deeper connections. Keep in mind, in our digital economy, the key is to see this freedom as an opportunity, and not as a risk.

Try offering examples, highlighting the work of other advocates, and presenting a best practice list– all of which can help them feel guided without being scripted and full of jargon. For example, you can provide your personal fundraisers with a toolkit to help prompt their own story, but combine that empowerment with the freedom to express why they got involved and why others should too.

Take This Action Now:
Provide a support system for rallying supporters, but give them space to create their own version of your story.

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