IFC Online – Using the Internet to Connect with Major Donors


This May (12-14) the IFC Online Conference is taking place. I am really excited about this event “the world’s first fully web-based international fundraising conference”. Over the 3 days the conference will explore digital and new media fundraising. 

There are some phenomenal speakers taking part including:

 Another is Vinay Bhagat, Founder of Convio USA, who will  speak about “Using the Internet to connect with middle and major donors

I thought this was a really interesting topic as I believe most non profits don’t think Online = Major Donors.

Vinay has carried out research in the area with donors who have contributed $1000+ to a single nonprofit  in the previous 18 months. He worked with  23 major nonprofits and collated a list of about 40,000 donors and through a web based survey had about 3,500 responses.



This week I had the chance to get in touch with Vinay and find out a bit more about his thoughts on the Web and Major Gifts and crucially what you should be doing to make the most of it. Here is how we got on…….


1.       Let’s start with you! Tell me a bit about Vinay and Convio?

 I spent the first three years of my career in management consulting in Europe and Asia and then attended business school at Harvard University.  After that I joined a software company where I was responsible for helping Fortune 500 companies implement their e-commerce strategies. 

While answering the phone at a pledge (fundraising) drive at our local public TV station, I was struck by how inefficient the whole process was, and how the Web and technology could really be leveraged to help this organization.   They were not managing relationships strategically, e.g. collecting information about people’s interests and aligning appeals to them.  They were certainly not leveraging the Web effectively. So, the idea for Convio was spawned.

I left my job and spent six months conducting several hundred interviews with nonprofits, and in November 1999, I raised venture capital and started to build the companyI served as the company’s CEO until July 2003.  I then recruited a seasoned operating executive to join us to help us scale and transitioned to serve as Chief Strategy Officer,

 Today, Convio is a leading provider of online solutions for nonprofits, we have about 1300 clients and helped our clients raise $780 million online last year.


 2.       Why did you decide to engage in this piece of research?

 About two years ago, I started to dig into the topic of major gifts.  Most people previously believed that the Internet didn’t play a meaningful role in securing major gifts outside of providing a venue to do donor research.  I believed that the Internet was actually already playing a role with major donors, and could be leveraged much more strategically by nonprofits.

In April 2006, I wrote an article on the topic to provoke debate (A great article which I will post later in the week).  Mark Rovner, of Sea Change Strategies wrote to me saying that he agreed and wanted to collaborate on a formal research effort.  He brought an audience research firm called Edge Research in to work with us and the three of our firms collaborated together on the research.


3.       What was the finding that surprised you the most ?

That there was a clear “psychographic” segmentation among donors ranging from “relationship seekers who want a highly communicative, engaged relationship with their nonprofits to “all-business” donors who prefer far less communications.  This was a particularly important insight as it told us that organizations cannot take a one size fits all approach.

Our key hypothesis that major donors are active online, and influenced by their online interactions with nonprofits was affirmed very strongly.


 4.       Would it be fair to say that a lot of fundraisers wouldn’t think Online = Major Gifts?

Absolutely.  Mainly because they think of online, as online donations and email solicitation, versus strategic engagement and communications.


5.       What can we or should we do to change that mindset?

I’ve actually found that major gift officers/leaders have been pretty receptive to the message.  I think the more people we can get to read the research, and start to embrace the recommendations, the better.  Online marketers need to include major gift/development people in their Internet strategy development, and major gift officers need to ask for a seat at the table.


6.       You speak about the Wired Wealthy’s online expectations not being met. What do organizations need to do to meet expectations?

Treat the Internet as a strategic channel and assess investments not just in terms of online revenue potential, but the potential of the Web to influence offline giving, and source new donors and prospects.  Make sure your Web presence represents your organization effectively.  Make it navigable, easy to find key financial and mission impact related information.  Make sure it’s adequately inspiring.  Let donors control their e-relationship with the organization – managing their email subscriptions in terms of frequency and content.  Make sure that email communications are well written, impactful and resonate.  Invite major donor feedback.


7.       After the online gift are donors being contacted in other ways, for example is the major gifts office contacting them over the phone?

Candidates are identified due to either making a large online gift (>$1000+), or a series of moderate gifts over a sustained period of time, followed by wealth screening to indicate capacity.


 8.       If this is happening is it ok with the donor?

 Yes, in a vast majority of cases.  Usually, the call is a thank you followed-up by an invitation to an event.


 9.       Did you come across any examples of donors who had been moved further up the donor pyramid?

 I don’t have many great examples to share yet as this is an emerging strategy.  A Red Cross chapter we work with received over one hundred $1000+ online gifts in response to Hurricane Katrina.  It followed-up with those donors in an integrated multi-channel fashion, encompassing tailored email outreach, phone contact and an invitation to tour their facility.  I don’t know what the strategy yielded in terms of subsequent larger gifts though.


 10.   Can this happen online?

 Online marketing can play a significant role in major donor cultivation and stewardship. Human contact will always be important, but a lot of donor engagement and intelligence gathering (learning what’s interesting to donors) can be done via the Web.  Doing so, leads to large efficiencies gains.


 11.   Who is doing the best job online in your opinion?

In terms of supporting their major gift operations via the Web, Conservation International is doing the best job I’ve seen.  I will be featuring a case study about them in my presentation.  Defenders of Wildlife is doing a great job of sourcing new major gift prospects online, and reports that 1/3 of all new major donor prospects are being sourced by their online marketing efforts.


12.   Do you think organizations can achieve their online objectives just as effectively with a blog instead of a website?

No.  A blog can be a good part of an online communications strategy that engages people in a cause and helps create a more personal connection, but donors expect a well structured, compelling website, coupled with well written email updates.


13.   If you had 3 top tips to give to a charity what would they be?

a)      Upgrade your Web presence.  Eighty-six percent of Wired Wealthy donors will visit a nonprofit to donate prior to making a gift to a new organization.  Make sure your Website adequately reflects your organization – clarity around your mission, your impact/ return on donor dollars invested.  Make sure it is easy to find key information in particular financials; to donate; to manage email subscriptions. 

b)      Focus on quality vs. quantity for email communications.  Don’t communicate for the sake of schedule.  Make sure what you send out is compelling, inspirational.

c)       Provide more control to donors.  For example, let them manage the frequency and type of content they receive via email.


14.   What can we expect to hear during your IFC Online session?

a)      A high level review of the key findings from our research. 

b)      Practical and actionable recommendations that nonprofits can immediately begin to implement.

c)       An early case study of one organization that’s embraced the key recommendations of the Wired Wealthy research.


Some Useful Links 


3 thoughts on “IFC Online – Using the Internet to Connect with Major Donors

  1. Pingback: Major Gifts and the Internet – An Untapped Opportunity? « Conor’s Fundraising Blog

  2. Interesting interview, thanks for posting it. I caught some of the session @ifconline but will need to go back to the recorded video to see the rest.

    “Absolutely. Mainly because they think of online, as online donations and email solicitation, versus strategic engagement and communications.”

    Interesting quote and so true although a lot of Charities are not even doing the basics of online donations and email very well

  3. Pingback: IFC Online – Using the Internet to Connect with Major Donors | Social Media Fundraisers

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