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Advocacy: The Spirit of Giving

Online donations are trending upward after receiving a pandemic boost.

By Dawn Yankeelov

Many nonprofits, churches and advocacy groups have pushed “Donate Now” activity online for the past decade and if anything good has emerged from the pandemic, it has been an increase in online giving.

With the launch of Giving Tuesday in the state in 2012, nonprofits have been trying to leverage their donations even further. Giving Tuesday, aka #GivingTuesday, is the Tuesday after Thanksgiving in the United States. Last year, an estimated 35 million U.S. adults participated in the Nov. 30 event, a 6% increase over 2020. The day raised an estimated $2.7 billion, which was a 9% increase over 2020.

The pandemic heightened online donation participation overall to where most institutions now know they can’t live without it. Give for Good Louisville, hosted by the Community Foundation of Louisville, is the biggest day of online giving in Kentuckiana, raising $42.5 million since its creation in 2014.
Oftentimes the participation funnel is created and driven by webpage design. Some entities use apps and emails for the automation.
The Blue Grass Community Foundation, which serves Fayette and 14 other counties, has seen an increase in its Good Giving Challenge, which runs from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2 each year.

“One-third of all donors give to a new nonprofit each year, so this event is a good way to educate others about the market’s nonprofits,” said Lauren Parsons, director of strategic initiatives and communications for Blue Grass Community Foundation.

The pandemic saw giving online balloon, Parsons said, because it has become the easiest way to make a gift for individuals. More than 200 nonprofits have gotten wise and now participate with Blue Grass Community Foundation, up from 130 in 2019.

The minimum donation is $10 and it is all processed through Stripe. The average gift per donor has risen to about $160 per year.

Nonprofits are seeing more dollars from one-click wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay, as well as those using their credit cards. People want to give via mobile devices when they look to respond to special needs like catastrophic events or other needs-based situations.
Re-occurring donations are often better done online, Parsons said.

Some groups have turned to online auctions as fundraisers for an extra push from donors. Michael Drury, owner of Louisville bourbon tour company CopperTop, said he has donated tours to Cedar Lake Lodge and Home of the Innocents and online efforts have been successful for the nonprofits.

“I like to see nonprofits taking advantage of online giving methods and this gives me a way to give back,” Drury said.

“I would say that most of our individual giving is done online in some capacity,” said Melody Murphy, chief brand officer for United Way of Louisville. “Our state has really been on the cutting edge of this transformational model, particularly for community impact causes and issues. At United Way, even at the national level, we are all looking more at community needs and leveraging online campaigns.”

Giving Tuesday, which took place Nov. 29 for United Way of Louisville and others in the state, had a goal of $180,000 this year for the organization.

“Online we are seeing more donors but at lower averages—like $10, $20 or $30. Our development team looks to meet them where they are.

“Maybe they want to participate in text-based giving campaigns or hear more about where their money is going by being added to our email list. We do generally look to engage them live at a thank-you event as well. When we steward them correctly, those donations grow over time,” Murphy said.

Streamlining the giving experience
United Way has developed its own online giving platform, so it does not generally use outside apps.

“We look to offer an experience as good as Apple and Amazon on our website for online donors. It may be a bit more time-consuming for the finance team on the backend, but we look to make the public-facing user experience a priority, Murphy added.

She said donors can contribute on Instagram and Facebook or even create their own campaigns to support United Way.

“We’ve seen a decrease in company campaigns, due to the nature of workforce changes. Online donating is here to stay and has grown every year we’ve been involved in Giving Tuesday,” she added.

Schools, especially parent-teacher organizations, also use online giving methods. The J. Graham Brown School, usually called The Brown School, is a small magnet school in downtown Louisville that has turned to online giving for its PTA activities.

“We’ve joined MemberHub, a software tool used by PTAs,” said PTA President William Mansfield. “It has assisted in increasing our revenue by 43%, giving accessibility electronically to parents, moving us away from traditional cash.” All our concessions are now through Member Hub.”

Under their branded name “Bear Bucks,” the school can allow parents to charge set amounts on their credit card to issue coupons for students to use on school activities.

“This allows students to learn about money and budgeting as well as allows for a delivery system for parents to budget without using or sending cash in,” Mansfield added.

Brown is the first in the Jefferson County Public Schools district to do this and it is working well, he said. It also allows for ad campaigns on merchandise like T-shirts and other school items, he added.

“I reached out to our national PTA headquarters to learn more and they have offered help and guidance on the best ways to use this tool,” he added.

Churches have also discovered the ease of online giving.

Some churches, like Consolidated Baptist Church in Lexington, use tools like CashApp while a number of Kentucky churches such as Mother of Good Counsel in Hazard and Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Crestview Hills use online tithing tools like Vanco. Vanco’s technology connects more than 45,000 faith-based, nonprofit, professional services and education organizations nationwide and goes back 30 years.

Vanco just announced a new strategic partnership with The Episcopal Network for Stewardship to offer their members access to Vanco and its giving platforms. Vanco reports that churches see an average increase in giving of 26% with its online solutions.