We’ll start with a common scenario.  After careful deliberation and a lot of internal discussion your nonprofit organization has decided it’s time to undertake the creation of a new website.  That’s an exciting conclusion that can help your nonprofit grow into the future (of course we’re a little biased).  But when you start shopping prices reality sets in.

How are you going to fund this project?

Websites are expensive.  Of course there’s a lot of variety in companies and prices, but these sites cost a lot more to develop than you thought.  You’ve heard all the justification about how it takes time to do it right and a lot more work goes into the website than you can see.  And that’s all certainly true.  But ultimately you need a great website that’s informative and helpful to your nonprofit that you can actually afford to make.

Small budget, short timeline, BIG goals? Check out our website platform.

If you can afford the development of a new website with funding you’ve already secured that’s great!  Stop reading this article and start reaching out to web design companies.  But if funding your new website is going to be a little tougher for your nonprofit, hopefully some of the following ideas will be helpful to you.

Before getting into specifics on how to raise funds, it’s helpful to discuss how to effectively frame the need for a new website in the first place.

How to Discuss Your Need for a New Website

No matter which route you ultimately decide to pursue to fundraise for your website project, there’s a good chance you’ll have to explain to others (less enthusiastic than yourself) why you need a new site.  When doing so, it can be helpful to frame the conversation with the following tips in mind.

A New Website is an Investment, Not an Expense

Many people that aren’t bought in when it comes to the value of a new website will view it as an expense.  Try to frame the new website as an investment in your nonprofit organization.  Focus on the website as a capacity building tool that will help your nonprofit more effectively fulfill its mission.

To solidify the idea that it’s an investment, highlight any of the following that you think will be most compelling for your audience:

  • A website can help you raise more money and pretty quickly pay for itself
  • A website can help you connect with new donors
  • A website can help you recruit more volunteers
  • A website can help you gain more recognition for the work you’re already doing
  • A website can help to establish your authority within your field and make you stand out as a leader

A New Website Can Work for You Every Second

It’s important to reinforce the idea that a website can work to further your mission every second of every day.  It doesn’t sleep.  It doesn’t take long lunch breaks.  And it can handle hundreds of people at a time.

If you include information throughout your site aimed at educating those interested in your cause, your website can be spreading the word for your organization at all times.

This may seem like a small point, but it’s a very important one.

A New Website Can Improve Efficiency

In organizations across all industries it often seems like there’s never enough time in the day to do everything that needs doing.  This is especially true in the nonprofit world.

Focusing on the ways that a website can improve efficiency within your organization can help you prove the merits of a new website.  With a new website, you can automate many key time-consuming processes, including but certainly not limited to:

  • Donor management including accepting payment, capturing donor information, sending thank you messages and asking for continued support
  • Volunteer management including registering volunteers, communicating event information, reminding volunteers of upcoming events and asking for continued engagement

In addition, it can be helpful to highlight the fact that new content management systems (CMS) which are used by administrators to run a website are much more robust nowadays.  A modern CMS can allow you to keep the website updated much more easily, freeing you up to do other things.

Website Information is Very Important to Potential Donors

Providing concrete statistics about donor behavior can be a very effective way to objectively support your claims that a new website will be beneficial to your nonprofit.  Feel free to mix and match the following information to suit your needs and appeal to your audience.

A study on the various factors that influence individual donors show that of people that do research online prior to giving, 71% look for information on a nonprofit’s “effectiveness” before giving.  While the idea of “effectiveness” is subjective and vague, an outdated website certainly doesn’t help convey a sense that your nonprofit is effective.

The same study found that foundations trusted information from the “nonprofit itself” far more than any other source of info.  80% of participating foundations said they would trust the actual nonprofit to provide the information they seek.  By contrast, the next highest trusted source of information was a “nonprofit info/evaluation organization” with 53% of participating foundations listing them as a trusted source.  Your website is a great opportunity to give those seeking info what it is they’re looking for.

A study on the ways that young people (age 20-35) interact with nonprofits found that 71% of respondents prefer to seek information about a nonprofit through a web search.  The next closest preference was for email communication from the nonprofit organization, which 62% said they preferred.  As such, it’s crucial that your website is optimized to show up prominently in search results.

The same study found that young people that donate online prefer to do so directly on an organization’s website instead of through a third-party service.  49% of young people that donated did so online via the organization’s website whereas only 17% gave through an online donation site.  Additionally, 58% said they preferred to donate through an organization’s actual website compared to only 21% that preferred an online donation site.

Get Concrete In Your Explanation

Many people, especially those that didn’t grow up immersed in internet technology, have a tough time picturing the tangible benefits of a website.  It will likely prove helpful if you can concretely explain your vision for the website.  Tell them clearly what the website will do, whether it will accept donations directly on the site or allow interested volunteers to search a calendar and sign up.  Explain the processes you see a website helping to automate and the substantial benefits this automation will have on your nonprofit.

The more specific you can get, the more likely it is that someone will believe in your vision for your website and help you fund it.

Now let’s get into ideas for how to actually raise some money to fund the creation of your website.

Try to Get the Website Donated

The simplest way to make a website more affordable is to get it free of charge.  While a lot of web design companies won’t be able to donate a website project, it’s worth checking.  I’d suggest starting with a local search in your search engine of choice.  Type something like “YOUR CITY web design” and see what comes up.  Some companies will advertise a specific program they offer catering to nonprofits in the area.  Others will just have a contact form that you can submit asking if they have any deals for nonprofits.  It’s probably a good idea to start with local companies since there’s a better chance they’ve heard of you or been somehow impacted by your nonprofit in the past.

If you are fortunate enough to get a website donated, it’s important to remember that you’re looking for a quality site that will actually benefit your nonprofit.  The downside to a donated website is you run the risk of being put on the backburner as the web design company services their paying clients.  To avoid such a situation as much as possible, try the following:

  • Ask for a timeline at the beginning of the project that details the whole project including a launch date
  • Ask for a detailed scope of work that you can both sign that outlines what the website will do
  • If the scope of the donated work does not meet your needs, ask if you can pay for your desired work in addition to the website base that has been donated
  • Ask the donating web design company how they handle balancing your donated project with all of their other work and how the process on your project is different from a typical paid project
  • Be nice, but hold them accountable to meeting the terms (both in scope and timeline) that they detailed at the outset of the project

But don’t worry, if you can’t get the website donated, there are still options you have to fund your website project.

Use Your Current Web Presence

If you are in a position where you need to fundraise in order to undertake a website project, think about how to strategically leverage your existing web presence.  Your web presence is any way that your nonprofit organization is represented on the internet, and may consist of:

  • Your current website that you are looking to replace
  • Accounts you’ve set up on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Foursquare
  • Your email newsletter
  • Accounts you manage on sites like Google or Bing Maps, Yelp or Citysearch
  • Listings for your nonprofit on third party websites like GuideStar or Charity Navigator

Since everyone’s web presence is different, there’s no universal way to leverage it when fundraising for a new website.  But here are some suggestions that may prove useful or at least get you thinking about ways you can apply them to the web presence you’ve established.

Post Your Fundraising Effort on Your Current Website

If you have a current website that you can make changes to, it could be hugely beneficial to create a prominent page about your fundraising effort to create a new site.  Doing so can have numerous benefits for your organization, including:

  • Help Spread the Word – There’s no way people are going to donate to your website project if they don’t know it’s happening.
  • Centralized Place to Link – If you can create a page that details the project, you can send everyone that’s interested to one place.  For instance, if you Tweet about your fundraising effort, it would be great to have a page to consistently link to that details the project.
  • Outline Your Changes – A page on your current website is a great place to be self-referential, pointing out the changes you’d like to make and how those changes will improve your nonprofit’s ability to fulfill its mission.  You can even make jokes about parts of your current website that are in particular need of an overhaul.  Poking fun at yourself can be a great way to connect with a visitor.
  • Give Concrete Ways to Support – You can include specific information about how to get involved if someone is interested.  You should provide all relevant links to places someone can donate as well as the best phone number to call.  You can also send people that have more questions to your contact form or a specific discussion on your Facebook page.  Make it easy for someone that wants to help to do so.

Set Up a Donation Page

If your nonprofit doesn’t currently have a way of accepting donations online, now is a great time to get it set up.  There are many different ways to do so.  If your current website gives you the flexibility to add this feature in, that’s ideal.  But if you have to send potential donors to a third party website that’s okay too.  For more details on picking the solution that’s best for you, check out this article on how your nonprofit can accept donations online right now.

Include Information in Your Email Newsletter

Email newsletters can be an incredibly effective way for nonprofits to connect with potential donors.  If you’ve already established an email newsletter list, make sure you are using it effectively to spread the word about your new website project.  Make it a lead story.  Make it prominent.  Include all relevant links and donation information so people that are interested don’t have to hunt to find it.  If you’ve created a specific page on your current website, link to that as well.

Use Your Social Media Presence

If you’ve already established a social media presence, it can be a great asset to fundraising.  But, before you start sending out message after message about your website project, take a moment to reflect.  You absolutely do not want to start spamming your followers.  You want them to support you, not get annoyed and block you.  Figure out what you’d like to accomplish in sending it out to your followers.

  • Do you want them to actually donate? – Send them to your donation page.
  • Do you want them to visit your current website to find out more? – You should clearly be sending them to your current website.
  • Do you want them to help spread the word? – Then ask your followers to share your fundraising project.

And don’t forget, you still need to share the kind of content you typically share.  It’s fine to incorporate a call for help into some of your messages, but your followers have expectations based on your past actions.  The last thing you want to become in a time of need is an annoyance.

If you are just starting out on social media, it can still provide tremendous value.  But you’ll have to focus on relationship building out of the gate since you won’t have an initial following you can leverage.  Instead, put time and effort into building your social media persona by sharing content and connecting with relevant people.  It’s fine to include your call for help with your website project, but make sure you’re also connecting with people that you’ll maintain relationships with long after your new website launches.

Host an Event Dedicated to Funding Your New Website

Targeted fundraising events can be very successful.  In general, when people donate to a cause they like knowing where their money is going.  In fact, a study on the motivations of high net worth donors found that 72.4% of these donors “give when they believe their gift will make a difference.”  It’s your job to illustrate to potential donors how their donation will be making a difference in your nonprofit and ultimately within the community you serve.  While the details of the type of event will vary based on your organization, a targeted fundraising event could be beneficial to funding your new website.

Approach Specific Donors Individually

I’ll preface this suggestion by saying your ability to approach individual donors about funding your website project is totally contingent on the relationships you’ve developed with these donors.  If you don’t maintain an active relationship with them, approaching an individual donor may alienate them from donating to your cause in the future.

If you maintain strong relationships with donors this can be a huge resource for you in funding your website project.  Of course some donors will be far more receptive to funding a project of this nature.  I’d suggest starting with donors you think are more tech savvy since they’re more likely to fully grasp the potential benefits of a new website and view it as an investment instead of an expense.

As I mentioned above, regardless of whom you approach I’d suggest using some of the talking points outlined in the first part of this article.

Apply for Grant Funding

While often more restrictive than a lot of other sources of funding, grant funding is worth considering when it comes to financing a website project.  While many grants are aimed specifically at facilitating programming, there are a variety of grants available that are given to support capacity building and supporting operations.  While you likely know far more than us when it comes to finding appropriate grants, remember to frame the new website in terms of the concrete benefits it will bring to your nonprofit.  The more concrete you can get with regards to benefits, the more likely it is you’ll provide a convincing case in support of the need for your new website.

Appeal Directly to Members of Your Board

Your board can be hugely helpful when it comes to financing a project like the creation of a new website.  They’re already deeply committed to your cause and invested in the success of your organization.  If you can weave a compelling narrative around the need for a new website, they may either fund it themselves or connect you with people that may be open to funding such a project.

Approach a Local Business

There’s a good chance your nonprofit has developed relationships with members of the local business community over the years.  This could be an opportunity to appeal to those people you think may be open to supporting your website project.

In exchange for funding the site, you could put a message in the footer that says “Our website was made possible by the generous support of Company X” with a link to their site.  They get good PR (and a bit of SEO value) and you get a new website.  If you can find the right partner it could be a good situation for you both.

Why Crowdfunding May Not Be a Good Fit

Something that’s been getting a lot of attention lately is the idea of crowdfunding, which basically means soliciting a group of supporters to collectively fund a project via the internet.  However, this relatively new model of funding isn’t ideal (at least at this point) for funding a nonprofit website project.  Many services don’t accept charitable donations or charge a much higher processing fee than handling the donations yourself.

That being said, if you’ve found a crowdfunding platform you think has a lot of potential for funding a nonprofit website project, please let us know via our contact form.  We’d love to check it out.

And lastly, good luck.  It can be tough funding a website initially, but the rewards to your nonprofit and your cause are well worth it in the long run.


Millennial Donors Report 2011 – Achieve and Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates

Money for Good II: Summary Report – Hope Consulting

The 2010 Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy – The Center on Philanthropy

Image courtesy of Terry Presley, Flickr