I’m not sure that the donation model can be considered a business model. After all, you are counting on being able to convince people to give you money in exchange for the warm fuzzy feeling of helping you and not a product or service. Some people, as in the case of Karyn Boznak and Jason Kottke, were very successful with it but the majority of others languish in obscurity.
The trick to maximizing your donations lies in communicating the value of helping you. People have to find your “cause” worthy enough to go through the trouble of completing a Paypal transaction. For example, I am more likely to give money to someone who needs it to feed their family over someone who needs it to pay server costs. The former prods my sympathy for my fellow human being while the latter seems to me more of a business expense that should have been accounted for.
Whatever the cause you are championing, below are a few tips to help increase the likelihood of your web visitor clicking on the donation button.
Ask for the money
People can’t donate to you if they don’t know you need it. Think about it. Who are you most likely to give money to? The friend who approaches you or the one who needs it but never asks.
With so many things commanding your visitor’s attention you cannot just slap a Paypal icon on your website and hope someone clicks on it. You need to be more aggressive than that and write up a page about your needs. Place a link to it in on every page of your website. Make the hyperlink title eye catching. “Help me buy a computer” sounds much more compelling than “Donate to this site”.
I do not recommend directly contacting other bloggers and webmasters and asking for money. Not only is this considered the internet version of panhandling but everyday cyber citizens are flooded with email from scam artists doing the same thing. Your email will probably be deleted and worst, you may be reported to your internet service provider for spam.
State what the money is for
Telling people what the money is for accomplishes two things. First it builds trust. If I believe that the money is going to be spent on things like cigarettes or alcohol I say no. I’m no puritan but I don’t believe in supporting other people’s bad habits. While you may get this reaction from some people, others may feel differently but you won’t know until you ask.
Secondly people like to feel as though they are making a difference and letting them in on your goals is the perfect way to foster this sense of involvement.
Let people get to know you
People help people. They don’t help causes or corporations. No matter the cause, somewhere along the line promoting it will help other human beings and that is what they hone in on. The point is to avoid being another faceless blogger in need. Get out there in the blogosphere and mingle. Comment on other blogs; be active on forums and social networking sites. Not only will this help bring more traffic to your site where people will come in contact with the donation button, they will also feel better about clicking on it because they know you.
Have a recognition system in place
Though it is intangible, recognition is one of the biggest motivators when it comes to donations. Let’s face it no matter how much we may deny it, we are vain and we like anything that boosts our ego even just a little bit. This is why many companies both online and off have some sort of recognition program in place. This can be seen in libraries where they usually have a plaque naming all of their supporters. Forum owners will usually reward members who donate with a special tag on their profile.
Don’t underestimate the power of recognition. Some people may scoff and criticize the practice but the truth is that people like to be appreciated when they contribute. Have a page that lists all those who have donated on your website or give donors a banner that they can put on their website or upgrade their forum status.
Some sites even off their donors an advantage over other members by allowing them privileged access to donors only parts of their site or early access to software releases. No matter what you decide to do, it is essential to have some way of recognizing people who support your cause in place.
Be creative with your thank you notes
I once donated to a site that sent me to a page that said “Thank you. Your donation has brought me one step closer to realizing my dreams.” Yes, it’s corny I know but it served its purpose in reaffirming the notion that I was making a difference.
Place your donation link on all of your web pages
Make it easy to donate by placing your donation link in a conspicuous place on all of your web pages. This helps keep the idea top of mind. Web surfers are inundated with information and are easily distracted. If they are thinking about making a donation but surf to a page on your site without the donation button they may forget.
Combine with other fund raising tactics
Improve your donation mileage by combining it with other fundraising tactics such as holding an auction or a blogathon (blogging marathon). This helps increase member participation with your cause and may bring in more money than just a static donation campaign.
The donation model can be unpredictable in its results which is why I highly recommend that it be used in conjunction with other revenue generating models. In the next article we are going to look at one of the more popular, a possibly most hated, ways to make money online. Advertising.
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