If vision is the steering wheel, funding is the engine that drives nonprofit organizations.

Although donors represent an important piece of the funding puzzle, donation levels are a constant source of concern for most nonprofits. But here’s the good news: technology has created new opportunities to connect with donors and a new 2014 M+R Benchmarks Study shows that a stronger online presence is the key to increasing donor funding.

How important is your organization’s digital presence? According to the M+R study, nonprofits typically receive 60 cents in donations for every website visit.

So, if you’re a typical nonprofit and you want to raise an additional $60,000 in donations, you’ll need an additional 100,000 site visitors, right? Let’s say you want to raise an additional $600,000 in funding. Does that mean you need to attract an additional 1,000,000 site visitors to get the job done?

Not exactly.

Every nonprofit is different, so while it’s helpful to look at industry benchmarks, it’s more important to track your own statistics. You may experience a very different donation per visit metric, based on the type of nonprofit you run, the competitiveness of your space, the quality of your website, and your organization’s reputation with both new and existing donors.

If you are averaging only 30 cents for every website visit, that’s fine. But it may be time to devise a strategy to ramp it up to 40 cents per visit. If you hit 40 cents, shoot for 50 cents a visit. It’s all about having a plan, executing it, measuring your progress and continuing to improve.

When you develop a plan to improve your donations per site visit metric, here are a few best practices to keep in mind:

  • Start with a great website. If your website is a few years old, you are probably due for a redesign. To be a valuable fundraising tool, your website has to look great, feature compelling content, and be designed to accomplish both your goals and the goals of your site visitors. It sounds simple enough, but if your site isn’t strong, don’t expect it to play a meaningful role in your fundraising efforts.
  • Use Google to raise your visibility. Find someone who knows search engine optimization (SEO) and hire them. What you’ll quickly learn is that with a concerted effort to acquire traffic from search engines and SEO best practices, your website traffic will increase. Every new site visitor is a potential donor, so securing SEO talent is a high ROI investment.
  • Capture contact information on your website. Building your prospective donor list is the most important thing you can do as a nonprofit fundraiser. When a potential donor visits your site, it’s critical to solicit their contact information, if you can. This requires compelling content and engaging calls to action. At this stage, it’s not about asking for money–it’s about asking for the name and contact information so you can ask for money later.
  • Make it easy to donate. If your online donation program is limited to a small donate link at the bottom of the page, you’re not being aggressive enough. The option to make a donation should draw the eye on every webpage within your website. When site visitors do click on the donate button, the process needs to be easy and it needs to work. In many ways, the online donation process is the most important part of your website, so make sure you do it right.
  • Provide a monthly recurring donation option. Many donors are more than happy to make a recurring monthly donation, which can result in larger total donations per donor and can turn a “one and done” donor into a lifetime supporter. Make sure your website developer builds this feature into your website.
  • Follow up with email communication. According to the M+R study, email accounted for one-third of online revenue in 2013. While there were significant variations among sectors, it’s clear that regularly corresponding with potential donors via email is critically important. Our recommendation is that you send two fundraising-only messages per month and balance that with two non-fundraising messages. (Of course, once somebody makes a donation, stop sending fundraising emails–at least for a while.)
  • Buy a list if you have to. If you are a new nonprofit, it can take time to get enough website traffic to build a good donor database. Obviously, the bigger your donor database, the easier it is to raise funds. For this reason, we often recommend that nonprofits buy lists of potential donors and use them to anchor and expand fundraising efforts.
  • Embrace social media. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are natural partners for your nonprofit’s website, blog or other digital assets. The M+R study showed that on average, nonprofits are annually growing their number of Facebook fans by 37% and Twitter followers by 46%. Although social media alone won’t substantially move the dial on donations, a proactive social media strategy can generate buzz and attract new donors to your cause.

There you have it. The biggest mistakes that nonprofits make include underinvesting in their websites and failing to continually ask for donations throughout the year. If you are only fundraising in December, you are missing out on a ton of donations!

Last but not least, make sure your messaging resonates with potential donors. Small things like subtle changes in wording or sharing stories regarding the people you are helping can result in a big uptick in donations. There are some good online tools out there that allow you to test the impact of these small changes and they are relatively inexpensive.

In our experience, a good plan coupled with good execution can work miracles for a nonprofit. Every nonprofit is different, so it’s tough to promise a specific ROI. But it’s not unusual for us to help a nonprofit achieve a very significant improvement in their results.

If you have questions about how to improve your nonprofit website or increase your fundraising proceeds, let us know. Our Digital team’s nonprofit marketing consultants serve a variety of industries, but we have a special place in our heart for folks like you who are committed to doing good each and every day.